There is no noun in English which describes a parent who has lost a child. In a culture where pregnancy loss is taboo, I was determined to speak up about my miscarriage. So I did. And I found that many people in my life and beyond have been affected by miscarriage, stillbirth, or infertility. I’ve been writing about miscarriage (and subsequently, infertility) ever since.
Three Minus One: Parents’ Stories of Love and Loss is a collection of memoires and artwork by parents who have lost a child to stillbirth, miscarriage, or neonatal death. The anthology, published in 2014 by She Writes Press, accompanies the film Return to Zero, starring Minnie Driver and Alfred Molina.
I was honoured that my piece, Dear Little Mizuko Bean, was included in this book that helped Hollywood break the silence.
Dear Little Mizuko Bean,
Twice as much time has passed since you stopped growing as you ever lived. I’m learning to live with the void you left.
I had a feeling I was going to get pregnant in January. Then, three days after you were conceived, I was sitting at my computer drinking my afternoon cup of tea and smelled Old Spice aftershave—the kind my grandfather used to wear. And I heard his voice say quietly in my ear, “It’s a boy.” Was it his ghost or my body giving me a message? No matter, you somehow shyly announced yourself.
Ten days later, I enjoyed a margarita with dinner. I told S., your dad, that if my temperature was still high the next morning, I was going to take a pregnancy test. I ordered the best tequila and savored my margarita, figuring it might be the last time I enjoyed a cocktail for a while.
Twelve hours later, you boldly announced yourself with two pink lines. I had long-imagined this moment, and had pictured whooping and happy tears. Instead, my knees knocked and my hands trembled. I’m pregnant. Did I dare say the words aloud? I’m pregnant. S. took a deep breath and said, “I knew it.” He sounded more stressed than happy. I felt more stressed than happy. When those two pink lines appeared, our lives changed forever. I put the test in my desk drawer but kept taking it out again to hold it, look at it, marvel, and let the proof sink in that I was pregnant.
Pregnant. What kind of mother would I be? We sat down to our favorite lunch, a simple meal of bread, cheese, fruit, and homemade habanero-peach jam. I barely tasted it. Pregnant. I tested the word out, feeling my lips, breath, throat, tongue, and teeth form the word. Puh-RE-GUH-nunt. It seemed foreign. Did it really describe me? I looked at the test in my hand. Yes it did. The next morning, another test revealed a slightly darker second pink line. A third consecutive morning, a third set of double lines. The tests lay side by side in my drawer. I looked at them affectionately and placed my hand over my flat belly. There was life in there. I could feel it.
The changes in my body were almost immediate. Tired all the time. Hungry all the time. Thirsty all the time. I couldn’t make it through the night without getting up at least once to pee. My boobs became sore to the touch and swelled a full cup size. I timidly entered a maternity store to pick out a new bra. I was pink with pleasure when I was asked how far along I was. “Five weeks and two days,” I said, and grinned shyly. I was overcome with happiness. To celebrate, I thought about buying myself a top or a tunic to accommodate my extreme bloating and hide the hair band I was using to fasten my jeans. I was tempted, but didn’t want to invite bad luck. As I waited at the checkout counter to pay for my new bra, a pull-on foxy little black lace number, I admired the blonde ahead of me who was about five months pregnant. Now I, too, am part of this club.
I don’t recall feeling happier in my life than when I was pregnant with you, Bean. I made lifestyle choices that would be considered sacrifices by some, but for me it was a delight to forgo coffee, deli meats, soft cheese, and alcohol. I never paid more attention to what I put in my body or on it. I checked myself out in the mirror: my thighs were rounder, my belly fuller, and my breasts heavier. I gained ten pounds, and wondered if my usually fast metabolism would be permanently slower, if I would lose my figure—but I didn’t mind too much. You were coming.
You were coming. We began to share the news of you. When I think back to our friends’ and families’ delighted reactions, there is a tug at my heartstrings.
You were coming, and S. began to get really into the idea. He started touching my belly and referring to you as “the baby.” He was so protective of me, anxious to minimize any stress, because “it’s not good for the baby.” I caught a glimpse of the terrific dad I hope he’ll someday be, and I miss it so much. I miss you so much.
You were coming. Every day, I was aware of minor cramps that felt like stretching, pulling, and tugging. With my hand over my swelling belly, I began talking to you first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and in quiet moments in between: “Grow, little bean. Grow strong, grow beautiful. Grow.” I pictured myself in silhouette: a woman in profile, with bent neck, lovingly cradling her belly, which radiated light.
And then your light went out.
After weeks of a flurry of activity, it slowed down, and came to a grinding halt. My belly felt dark and lifeless. I googled my absence of symptoms, to no avail. I posted on Reddit. I called the nurse at the clinic where I wouldn’t have my first ultrasound for another three weeks. Everyone agreed that a lack of symptoms was nothing to be concerned about. I put it down to first trimester nerves and reminded myself that now came a lifetime of worry. I still had some signs of pregnancy, so I wasn’t too concerned that I didn’t have morning sickness—after all, my mother didn’t until about week eight or nine, she said when I casually asked. But your light had gone out. Deep down, I knew it. I was reluctant to say I’m pregnant. When I did, I felt sheepish. I didn’t feel pregnant. I felt like a fraud.
The day of the first ultrasound came. I noticed my boobs were no longer sore. I was dreading the appointment. I joked with the receptionist about finding out one way or another. Part of me couldn’t believe that I would fall headlong into an unfortunate statistic. After all, what were the chances? Besides, I did everything right. I ate well and took care of myself. I thought positive thoughts. I radiated happiness, felt stress-free, loved the world and everyone in it. I instinctively knew you were there from the moment you burrowed into me. I loved you. YOU ARE COMING…aren’t you?
After cheery (and, as it turned out, ill-timed) congratulations from the nurse practitioner, the ultrasound began. It was like in a movie where a character picks up the receiver and tries to listen for any sign of life at the other end of the phone. “Hello?” they say over the crackle. “Hello? Anybody there? Hello? Hello?” There is no answer, only static. “Pick up!” I begged. When I found out you had stopped growing on the day I began to worry something was wrong, my heart stood still and I felt the blood drain from my face. The most powerful call of my life has been put on hold.
These days, I see the things I will never share with you. Two weeks ago, I was riding in a forest. It was so green. I thought of you—that you would never see color and be so moved by nature. My horse reared up, and I thought of you—that you would never know fear or discomfort. We ambled along a muddy path on a hill past a doe standing nervously and protectively over her hour-old fawn. Something of her wide-eyed and alert watchfulness, assessing if our slow parade of horses was a threat, reminded me of myself. In some small way, I envied her new motherhood.
Instead of looking forward to meeting you sometime in October, I am trying to move forward with the greatest loss of my life. I have never known such visceral grief. I am wrestling with complex pain that ripples into difficult feelings that affect every moment. I don’t know what lessons I can learn from losing you, but I’m determined to not let your loss be in vain.
You were conceived six months ago today, but you are not here. Since losing you I have felt that getting pregnant again would be the final piece in the puzzle to mend my broken heart. I wonder if I am pregnant again: my boobs are tender, and there has been a strange pulsing below my navel. Are you quietly announcing yourself again or is it the most magical thinking? I study my face in the mirror and my intense gaze is returned. I wonder if I look changed, if others notice a perceptible difference in me. Are those the eyes of a woman who miscarried? Do they reflect a small hope returning? Or is life dancing quietly behind them?
Whatever happens, my dear little Mizuko Bean, I will always love you.