I’m pregnant for the third time, and every time I use the washroom I silently pray there won’t be blood on my underwear. Sometimes, even if I don’t need to go, I run to the bathroom and check.
I’ve lost my previous two pregnancies. The first sign that I’m about to miscarry is always spotting. After my last miscarriage, I asked my midwife if I could have some testing done. She gently explained that you have to experience three losses to be eligible. Third time’s a charm! I thought. Surely the Universe wouldn’t fuck me over like that.
A male, fifty-something doctor conducts the ultrasound in the ER.
“I’m sorry. Unfortunately, there is no heartbeat.”
I can’t speak. My eyes burn with hot tears.
“Don’t worry,” he adds. “You can try again in a month or two.”
I don’t want to try again in a month or two. I want this baby. Now.
The baby’s gestational age was nine weeks. That means I’d been carrying our baby around inside of me for almost three weeks with no heartbeat.
I’m prescribed Misoprostol, a drug for abortions that’s also used in miscarriages; it assists in expelling fetal tissue from the uterus. They give me and my husband, Phill, a plastic container with a white lid to collect the tissue in. At least I can finally get some testing done and try to find out why I keep miscarrying.
I wait a few days to see if the fetus will come out on its own. Part of me holds out hope that the doctor was wrong. Maybe our baby is perfectly fine; it’s not unusual to be unable to find a fetal heart rate. I continue to spot but I don’t see any sign of the baby’s tissue.
A few days later, on a Friday, I insert two of the Misoprostol tablets into my vagina. Two hours later the contractions are intense. My mother-in-law and best friend are with me. I leave them and head to our bathroom. Phill will be home soon.
In the bathroom, I turn out the lights. I put on the playlist I made for the births I attend as a doula. In between contractions I mist the room with labour-ease spray; it smells like lavender and sage. The contractions are hell. Hunched over the toilet, I rock back and forth in excruciating pain. I use the contraction timer I have at births. My contractions are two minutes apart, hard and fast, and they last around one minute each. I am sweaty and naked in the pitch black, silently crying between breaths.
I feel Phill sitting against the other side of the door, quietly holding space for me. He checks on me and brings me blankets, towels, and water. His love is tangible.
A few hours later I pass out on the floor on top of a dark brown towel. I wake up a few minutes later and can feel a full sensation, as if something is sliding down and out towards my vaginal opening.
“Something is happening!” I yell, dragging myself back to the toilet. The tissue comes out in one piece. It’s the size of my palm. It falls into the water with a splash.
“It’s over, babe. It’s out, it’s okay,” I relay to Phill between short, ragged breaths. I feel a twinge of relief amongst the grief.
I remember the tissue.
“I have to get it! I need the container, but don’t come in here!”
Phill passes the plastic container to me through the door and hugs me tightly. I fish out our baby’s embryonic tissue and look at it up close, desperately searching to see if I can see the baby wrapped inside the gestational sac. I place it in the container with a sense of urgency. I don’t want to handle it too much, afraid I might disrupt the tissue and and compromise it for testing.
The clinic doesn’t open until Monday, so we have to preserve the tissue in our fridge. We make space for it and clear the top right shelf.
Over the next few days I pass smaller pieces of tissue and add them to the container. On Instagram, my friends’ kids are at the park or napping soundly on their moms’ chests. Our baby is in the refrigerator.
On Monday, we drive to the Recurrent Loss Clinic at Women’s Hospital in Vancouver with our embryonic tissue in an insulated pink-and-orange cooler bag I won in a gift basket.
Back at home, there’s a space in the fridge where the tissue used to be. My eye is immediately drawn to that empty spot every time I open the door.
That shelf remains empty for a long time.