This post is long and not related to food at all. If you were visiting this blog strictly for the food – well you can easily opt out of all this and enjoy the food and eating vegan in a happy drama free environment. This is post is follow up to our post from December The Overdue Update. Since posting that we’ve had hundreds of women write to us and a few men telling us how much it meant to them to have someone publicly discuss issues they were also dealing with but felt culturally conditioned to never discuss with even their families and friends. Again I can’t stress enough – if you’re just here for the food – you can just skip this. It was a hard post to write but again I hope the message comes though in the end.
They say you should wait 6 months after a traumatic “episode” to do anything major in your life. They warn that in a desire to escape or rebuild too quickly, you might be compelled to do something you normally wouldn’t do. Marry someone you wouldn’t even normally invite over to board game night or buy a house in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. I think we all know at least one person whose done something like that. They’re our “rebound cautionary tale” we go to whenever we find ourselves checking out what an apartment in Venice, Italy would cost – ya know just for fun.
These past 6 months since we lost our baby, I’ve had some pretty fabulous ideas of what I wanted to do next but I’ve been waiting. I’ve been holding out for that 6 month mark to avoid finding myself working at juice bar on some Greek island with Dan and the kitties – living offline in sandals with a nice tan or in a 500 square ft. apartment in London where Dan and I can work on our novels. Yeah neither of those sound that bad really but I know that I would always look back and wonder if I gave up too soon on being a mother. There is no escape scenario that doesn’t include that.
A few weeks ago we hit that 6 month mark. The weeks leading up to it were the definition of agony brought on by anticipation. See what is unspoken by this is 6 month rule is a silent promise that one morning you are going to wake up and have that Ah-Ha moment that is usually set to a choir of angels in movies. I’ve been struggling with the reality that this anniversary came and went and there were no angels waiting to sing my song. If I’m honest with myself – I’m not 100% sure I even knew what kind of answer this Ah-Ha moment would bring and until I was in a church in Portugal last week – well I wasn’t even sure what the question was.
In 1755, Lisbon was hit was a massive earthquake that was followed by a fire. Now if you know anything about history – well you’re like – that’s sad and all but haven’t all major cities had some major disaster that burnt down the city so it coud be rebuilt fancier and more modern? Yes – fellow amateur historian – you are correct. But the tragedy in Lisbon was unique because it happend on All Saint’s Day in a remarkably religious city where the Spanish Inquisition had taken place. Something like 15,000 people were crushed in crumbling medieval churches or died in fires when the modern gold-leafed wooded sculptures in the newer churches caught fire from all the candles. Then there were those who fled to this huge open square near the water – The Terreiro do Praco to escape the debris, only to be washed away by tidal waves. Seriously – this was an epic disaster that people all over the world talked about for a least a century. Even today there are still ruins and moments all over Lisbon to remind us of the day when nature/God/this beautiful city turned against us.
Last weekend, I sat in one of the churches that survived that earthquake and I cried. Igreja San Domingos (Church of Saint Domingo) is not the most famous church in Lisbon but it is where in 1506, hundreds of Jews were murdered in the name of Christianity and today it remains a burnt out shell with charred walls and pox-scarred pilars that have remained disfigured since the 1755 fire. Walking into this hull of a church knocked the air out of me. I’m not really all that religious. I’d prefer actually not to discuss my beliefs here but here’s what did happen… I finally realized that I may not know the answer to this 6 month riddle yet but I finally knew the question I’d been waiting to ask for 6 months. It had been lingering under the surface like a sleepy fish waiting.
What if this time I die?
Right now I’m about to talk about something I haven’t even really talked about with my closest friends. It’s in a way wrong to share this with strangers via the internet instead of over coffee with those who love me but it’s also easier because I don’t have to look any of you in the eyes when I talk about it. But as much as our tragedy has been pretty public – way more public than I would ever have imagined or intended something like to be – I have never really talked about the fact that the day we lost our baby – I could have died.
Every year in this country around 700 women die from pregnancy related complications and 34,000 almost die. Right now you’re doing the numbers in your head and deciding if that number seems high or low to you. If you’re one of those women or love one of those women, it’s too high.
I don’t remember everything from that day because of the morphine and I think that’s a blessing but I can tell you these things happened:
I was losing blood and consciousness and said to Dan before they wheeled we away into an operating room for an emergency procedure: “Please don’t let anything bad happen to me.” I will never forgive myself for that. It breaks my heart to think of what feelings Dan would have had to live with had something really horrible had happened. It was a careless comment made in absolute fear that I wish I could take back.
I remember the anesthesiologist searching my hands and arms and saying “She’s dry. You should have brought her in here before it got this bad.” He asked my name and I said Ana Maria. He said “Ana Maria, you have to stay awake right now.” but I don’t think I did.
The last thing I remember before waking up in my hospital room is saying through my oxygen mask to the nurse “I’m having the worst day of my life.” and she said back “You really are sweetheart.”
But I didn’t die and there I was almost 6 months later in a burnt out church in Lisbon wondering why after all that would I ever consider trying to have a child again. I still don’t know if I have the definitive answer yet. Sometimes I worry it’s because I’m not a quitter. We’re talking stubbornness to the point that it’s a bit of a character flaw. Sometimes it’s because I want someone to share my mother’s summer sauce recipe with and teach to ice skate. I want to tell them stories about the crazy time their official Aunt Cassandra and I made Cake Lasagna and a Vegan Dr.Pepper flavored Jell-O mold. Or how their official Aunt Stephanie talked me into dating their father while we walked around London. I want to put some of my time and effort into making the next generation of people good. Sometimes I think that I owe it to the generations of my people who struggled in places like Sicily, Poland, Russia, the former Czechoslovakia and Armenia to make sure I could exist. Sometimes I think it’s because it’s time and my days of being a free-wheeling bachelorette are long over. Then there are days when I just want to throw myself into a permanent commitment that will give my life more purpose. Most days, I think I would make a good mother. None of these answers are completely right but none of them are wrong either. But I try never to worry about that because I doubt even the best mothers in the world can tell you why they became a mother in a single sentence without feeling that they left something ineffable out of the explanation.
You might be asking yourself why I am sharing this with you at all. Well like I said in last post – these are the things people never talk about. We’ve decided as a society that these things are too painful and “icky” and so they should remain private. Women struggling with fertility issues hide out in chat rooms with initials for names seeking comfort, guidance and support from strangers who share their issues. I still get hundreds of emails from women who have or are dealing with what we are dealing with. They understand why movies like What to Expect When You’re Expecting that wrap up a miscarriage in a 5 minute music montage are just stupid and that our daughter Piper wasn’t a miscarriage but a premature stillborn baby. Many of them had to at one point ask themselves the same question I found in Lisbon – What if I die this time?
The purpose of this post is that as much as I don’t want this one tragedy to define me or this blog… I would be disingenuous and contributing to the shame, frustration, isolation and guilt many of these women have shared with me they feel and honestly I often battle with myself if I didn’t acknowledge that there are legitimate fears that go along with trying to have a baby. Fears that are more real than the simple jealousies, regrets or a battle with our own mortality that made for TV movies lead many to assume couples who have lost a baby feel. I want to explain if only a tiny bit why not giving up doesn’t make me crazy or suicidal. I would also be doing them and myself a diservice if I didn’t find a way to address these fears and remind everyone and myself that you shouldn’t be defined by your ability or choice to reproduce*.
In a few weeks, we are going to start up the whole process of trying to have another baby. We’ve been told it’s safe. They know what’s wrong and it shouldn’t happen again. It’s been over 3 years now since we decided we wanted to start a family and I don’t even want to discuss the odds of us even getting pregnant again. But I can say that last night I couldn’t sleep and as I was laying in our bed I kept thinking of that barren church. Today is Mother’s Day ironically and I’ve decided something… I will not let this kill me – literally or figuratively. We’ll either get lucky this time or we won’t. There are plenty of dreams out there that are just as worthy of pursuing. Maybe I will get to celebrate my first Mother’s Day next year or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll go to Bali or India. I’ve always wanted to see the Taj Mahal.
But if I give up because I’m afraid, well, that’s a whole other tragedy.
*Please know I am not trying to steal anyone’s Mother’s Day thunder but this can be a hard day for some There is only this one post for every million Pro-Flower or Cell Phone ad reminding us that being a parent is awesome and that some women will be getting flowers today for all their hard work raising the next generation.