My body tried to warn me, but I didn't want to listen. So, it sent a back pain. I ignored it. A stomachache. Not feelin' it. The spotting was the final hint, and then the geyser came. Another miscarriage was dashing my hopes for motherhood.
It was 10 o'clock in the morning and I was midway through an experiment in the laboratory that would just have to wait until I could get back to it. My mind had flipped into mushroom mode, and all I could think of was getting back home to the comfort of my own bathroom, where I could hide from the world and cry in peace.
The drive home was mercifully brief and required enough concentration to block out everything but the pain. But when I got home, there was no more escape from the voices in my head. It was my fifth miscarriage in two years, and each one took another piece of my sanity and yanked it from my psyche. Alexis the Perfectionist couldn't do the most natural thing in the world. The rows of prenatal vitamins, immunological and Progesterone boosters, and herbal remedies mocked me from my medicine cabinet. I couldn't hide from the reality of my failure and the treachery of my uterus. Seventeen years ago, when I hadn't wanted to be pregnant, I was. Now at age 34, when I wanted to get pregnant, I couldn't. So, there I sat in my cream-colored bathroom, crying. Again. Just as I had five months ago and three months before that. I was sure this was some sort of punishment visited upon me by a vengeful God over the innocent life I had taken in my youth. My past had come back to haunt me; seventeen years ago, I had aborted a child.
Only my mother and my husband Terrence knew. To the rest of the world, I was a perfectionist ice queen who had probably never thought about love or sex for that matter. Instead, I had spent seventeen years immersed in books and research, clawing my way through college and grad school, then letting my Ph.D. and my "I'm in Control" attitude open new doors for me and slam shut on the disaster of my youth and my ill-fated attempt at love.
My marriage to Terrence had shocked my co-workers, but he had broken through my ice shield with an overwhelming barrage of warmth and laughter, pulling me out of my career-minded rut and giving me a reason to try to love again.
We had met when my lab needed an IT consultant to create a system for the reams of data that threatened to drown us. Terrence was completely in his element, sweeping in, learning everyone's jobs, designing a database that would fit who we were as scientists, and giving it enough bells and whistles to make us want to use it. All that with a laid-back "I Got This" attitude that was so different from our pressure cooker environment. In fact, I found myself cooking up excuses to be around him, presumably to help him tweak the database. He knew how to make me laugh at myself. And I loved it. After his contract was over, we started dating.
I remembered the night I had told him I'd been pregnant before. I had orchestrated it as the crucial moment in our relationship that it was. We had not yet had sex, but since the attraction was there, I wanted to tell him early -I didn't want it to be a secret. So we met for dinner at a seafood restaurant; I picked a place we'd never been to before to symbolize exploring new territory. I told him just before the check came.
"Terrence, there's something I need to tell you, and it could change how you see me as a person, but it's important. I think you know how much I like you. I hope we'll become very close, but you also need to know how seriously I take birth control. I got pregnant when I was seventeen. I thought I was in love, and I didn't understand enough about sex. I didn't think that one time would do it. But it did. The only thing I did know was I didn't want to be a teenaged mother or waddle through my senior year pregnant."
I stopped there. I'd never told another man. I'd never wanted to get serious enough with anyone else to trust them with that one piece of information, or rather those three pieces: I'd had sex at age seventeen, gotten pregnant, and aborted the child. It wasn't that I was ashamed or had remorse. I simply knew too many people wouldn't understand where I was coming from back then. For me, the abortion had been a pragmatic decision. There had been no angst at all, but no one liked to hear that. I was supposed to have anguished about this for days and weeks, teetered on the fence with it, and contemplated keeping the child and raising it myself. I did none of that. Instead, I aborted the child within me and never looked back.
I was not prepared for Terrence's reaction. With an uncharacteristically serious look on his face, he reached across the table, took my hands in his, kissed them, and told me it didn't matter to him. "Our pasts are in the past." Terrence paid the check and walked me to my car. He said, "Call me when you get home." Not, "I'll call you..." The door stood open to possibilities.
The relationship turned serious after that as I allowed myself to fall in love again. This time, to a man who could be silly, crazy, and competent at the same time. A man who had liked me enough to break through my ice queen exterior and awaken my inner child.
About three months after our dinner conversation, Terrence presented me with a nice, big, gift-wrapped box of condoms. We used them up quite gleefully in a short period of time. So, he bought more. A year and a half later, we eloped, honeymooned in Aruba, and started the fun-filled task of making babies. We'd been trying ever since... and two years later, we were failing miserably.
Because Terrence knew about my first pregnancy, it had never occurred to either of us that we'd have any problems creating a child. But after the second miscarriage, we went to a specialist to see if anything was wrong. We both checked out fine, so I started researching miscarriages and ways to prevent them. I followed every instruction and tried every remedy. The miscarriages kept happening. But this was the one that crushed me.
All of the other pregnancies had ended within a month, so when we got into the second month, complete with morning sickness and too-tight jeans, I'd gotten cocky. Terrence and I had fun trying the Old Wives' Tale of dangling my wedding ring over my belly. We knew we'd made a boy when it moved in a circle. I'd even peeked in the maternity section at Macy's. Their pants looked as though they were made for women who were in the third trimester, so I figured I'd just have to wear something elastic. Yes, that's how far it had gotten. But no, it was not meant to be.
Terrence came home early when he couldn't reach me at work. I'd already been in the bathroom for 5 hours, sobbing off and on and bleeding non-stop. I didn't want to come out, so he talked to me as I sat on the throne, saying anything he could think of that might comfort me but not really having the words. Finally, after he brought me hot herbal tea and Aleve, he started to talk about God. He told me that he prayed for my happiness more than he prayed for a baby - that a baby would come when God was ready to send us one. Sadly, I wasn't convinced and cried some more.
After two more hours, the worst of it was over. The Aleve had finally kicked in, so I left the bathroom, grabbed a diaper from the linen closet - after the first two miscarriages, I knew the routine - filled a hot water bottle, and climbed into the bed. Terrence lay down with me and rocked me back and forth until I fell asleep in his arms.
The dream started with gentle fluffiness. Then scenery appeared - a yellow room with little bears on the walls in red jackets. The curtains with little piglets and stuffed sad donkeys fluttered in an open window; a lamp with little balloons sat on a bureau in the corner; a cherry-stained wooden crib with yellow blankets and a mobile over top rested against the wall, along with a matching changing table. I was sitting in a rocking chair, barefoot with carpet under my feet, holding a baby. Nursing a baby. So contentedly. Stroking his fuzzy hair, smiling at his chubby little hands, ignoring the slight pain. Then my son let go of my nipple, with white dribble running down the side of his mouth, and looked up at me. He had the softest brown eyes with jet black eyelashes, a button of a nose, and plump cheeks, just like Terrence's baby pictures.
As he smiled at me, he began to fade. His beautiful brown skin became translucent as though I was looking through him at my lap. Then my baby disappeared altogether, and I sat there, bare-breasted, confused, shaken, and wondering where he went. I looked around, and the bears, piglets, and donkeys all looked back at me with sad eyes. The donkeys were crying. The balloons at the lamp base had turned into yellow roses for death and funerals. At that point, I knew my son was gone for good, never coming back. I began to cry.
As I rocked back and forth, sobbing in my chair, another image began to appear in front of me, a teenage girl, a carbon copy of me at seventeen. She had my long legs, curvy hips, rounded chest, and freshly permed hair. Then all of a sudden, she didn't look like me at all. She looked like a female version of Darryl, the boy who had gotten me pregnant seventeen years ago. He'd disappeared from my world as soon as I'd told him I had gotten pregnant. Deciding to abort little Angela - I thought of her as my angel - was even easier with him gone. Darryl didn't love me the way he said he did when we'd been rutting like pigs in the back of his car. My mother hadn't understood why I'd named Angela at all. She thought naming the growing person inside of me would make it harder to get an abortion. But I believed Angela would understand, somehow. I was too young, too scared, too busy, too "teenage," self-centered, too carefree, just-plain-not-ready-to-be-a-mommy. Now Angela stood in front of me with a face that kept changing, sometimes looking like me, sometimes looking like Darryl.
I reached out to Angela, but my arms went straight through her body. Then she stepped toward me and through me; her memories, her thoughts, her feelings, her sensations became my own as we journeyed through her life.
Angela's abortion from inside me was an unpleasant sensation but muted from actual pain; the ability to sense pain was not there yet. But the ripping sensation of her soul leaving the flesh I'd created was unforgettable. Then, almost at once, we settled inside a new womb, one where we could grow healthy and strong. Angela came into the world with a different face, but she was still my daughter. The birth was a frightening experience; the horrible squeezing sensation, the air's frigid embrace, the desperate need to inhale. Then we were enveloped in a mother's arms and pecked on the forehead by a father beholding his first child. All of the pain had been worthwhile. Our emotions changed awkwardly as Angela's sisters came into the world, and Angela went from only to oldest. We longed for her parents' attention as she grew. We made efforts to be noticed and even stifled our shyness so we could bear the ballet recitals her mother inflicted on us - along with pain-filled toes and the overstretched muscles and other changes ballet created in our body. The first bicycle ride seemed as incredible as flying might be, feeling the flowing air, balancing with the grace learned in ballet, and conquering inner fears in order to go out into the world. There were a few scrapes and bruises from bicycle spills, but they were nothing compared with the wonderful sensation of the wind.
Time flew as we strove to master each school subject and earn each A that got Angela's parents' attention. Breasts grew, and menses flowed with the agonizing monthly pain. We discovered boys but kept our thoughts private - we were shy. We longed to be noticed and flinched at rejection when Angela's male classmates dismissed us as too brainy. Then time slowed with the conflicted emotions and new, unexpected sensations from our first kiss, stolen from behind a school building at the late age of seventeen. Overwhelming joy filled us as we raced off on our bicycle, heading home to journal that first kiss. Then the truck slammed into our body as we ran the red light, the wheels crushing the bicycle into our thigh, the broken ribs piercing through lungs and flesh. Then it was all over as our brain bounced and splattered on the roadway, and we could no longer feel the excruciating pain.
As I screamed, I could hear her saying: "Feel my death now so that you will appreciate your children."
Terrence heard the screams I had carried into my own state of awakeness. He held me as my body trembled, and my tears ran down below my ears and onto the pillow. I lay fetal and stayed that way until morning, reliving the feelings of this child who was my own but not my own, knowing I was finally mourning the death I hadn't mourned seventeen years ago.
When the morning did come, I had stopped shaking, although parts of me were still reacting to the realness of the dream and the feeling of crushing bones and hemorrhaging organs. As Terrence went off to work, I called in sick and then went to the front door in search of a newspaper out of some morbid sense of curiosity.
The obituary was on page three of the Metro section. Seraphina Robinson, age seventeen, had been killed in a truck accident while riding her bicycle. I wondered if I should go to the funeral. What could I say to this mother who did not know me and would not understand that this was also my daughter who had died? How could I tell her our daughter had known joy in the moments before she died, had savored her first kiss, had fallen in love? I realized my words could never comfort her, so I decided not to go.
For the next six months, I used a diaphragm while I sorted out my feelings about motherhood and the sanctity of life. When I was finally ready to try again, we conceived quickly, and as I hoped I would, I carried the pregnancy to term. We named our son Gabriel, my second angel.