Ghost-grief for a ghost-baby, or: Why I should have just gone to Disneyland already

For months, it was my plan to spend the now-bygone MLA 2014 at the Happiest Place on Earth. It’s rather incongruous to my personality, but I love Disneyland. I LOVE IT. ‘World too. Really, the more hermetic, the more terrifyingly princess-heternormative, the more give-me-your-money-for-the-“magic” the place, the more I love it. What can I say? I contain multitudes.

But, as some of you know, I spent MLA 2014 tottering around San Clemente, going to the beach, soaking up the sun, and napping. I did not go to Disneyland–it would have been a waste, you see, because you can’t go on any of the good rides when you’re pregnant.

It turns out, I should have just gone anyway.

Today was my first doctor’s appointment since my positive pregnancy test on Christmas. I had been feeling very, very weird since shortly after Thanksgiving, but as I’d just gotten my IUD taken out on Nov. 13, I thought–no, it couldn’t be. I’m 37! The first try? I mean, my husband’s really attractive, so I’ve always assumed he’s virile (ha!), but really? And yet, really. Or, for awhile at least.

I spent my break in California exhausted, mood-swingy, alternately queasy and famished, but elated. I told my family–cautiously–and a few friends. I did the math. If all had been OK, I would be just entering my eleventh week, out of the first-trimester danger zone.

It is not. Today, my husband was with me as I nervously spread ’em and the obstetrician stuck a giant white wand up my lady-parts. “Now look right here,” he said, in that amazing, sweet, TV-doctor kind of way…and then he stopped talking. And then he started asking me questions. And then it became clear: there was no heartbeat. There was no 11-week-old fetus, with arms and legs and a giant head and even eyes. There was only a “yolk sac,” and a small one at that.

He says there is still a very small chance that I am indeed actively pregnant, but only five weeks along. I have done the mental math, and I don’t think that’s possible. I am emotionally preparing myself for what comes next. I have another ultrasound next week to confirm, and some blood work. Then, provided nature has not taken its course, I have a difficult, painful and expensive procedure. I will be ready for this, I think.

My choice to share this with the Internet is unusual, I realize. Most people–especially most 37-year-old crones such as myself–keep their pregnancies tippy-top secret pretty much until the baby can spell its own name on its college applications. Now that I have been pregnant, been an almost-sort-of-mother-to-be for even a month, I know more than ever that I would never, ever begrudge a woman her choice to be private about such a painful event. But I, personally, don’t feel like being private about it. I don’t feel like shouldering this pain and disappointment to an empty room.

I’m not religious. I’m staunchly pro-choice. If this thing had tested positive for any of the trisomies or Tay-Sachs or anything else, I’d have pulled the plug myself–and if a future pregnancy does, I will do so then, and I will be heartbroken about it, but that is my choice and I am very grateful that I still, for now, live in a country that allows me to make it.

I saw the ultrasound, I saw that what I have inside me is just a kidney-bean-sized dot. It’s got no recognizable humanity to it at all. It is not a person. I am not grieving for it like a person. It’s not a death like that. It’s a different sort of sadness–it’s the ghost-grief for a ghost-baby. It is the getting-ahead-of-myself and thinking of names, of plans to move back to the west coast after it’s born, of what it will be like to be a giant sweaty cow in St. Louis in July.

When you have created a future for yourself, and such a detailed one as I did (my imagination is, like I apparently am, quite fertile), and one two-minute ultrasound changes it completely, it’s like everything goes into slow motion. As the doctor talked to me about what comes next, it was like my head was filled with cotton, like I was not sure if it was a dream or real, like I was floating above myself.

I have had two dreams a week for the past month about miscarrying. Every morning I wake up and everything seems fine. But, it’s not.

I know what has happened to me is common, normal even. I know that it’s nothing I did, that something just probably went awry with the chromosomes or whatever, that my own body, being a human body that generally knows what it’s doing, took one look at it, declared it a no-go, and said SHUT IT DOWN. I am proud of my body for doing that, for not forcing me to carry an unviable pregnancy any longer than I had to.

And I’m impatient–I just want confirmation that it’s a dud, a little scrapety-scrape, to watch my (terrifyingly enormous) boobs shrink back down, to come to terms with the fact that the 3.5 pounds I’ve gained are not baby, they’re the result of going “Fuck it, I’m pregnant, no more WeightWatchers!” With the fact that yesterday at spin class, I wasn’t exhausted after three minutes because I’m pregnant, I was exhausted because I’m fat and out of shape. I just want to get back to the WeightWatchers, back to the spin, back to the course prep and the Slate columns and the hate mail. But it’s not that easy.

I will have a sadness around me for awhile. I will be fragile. I will need to be gentle. I am ready. I’m not ready.

36 thoughts on “Ghost-grief for a ghost-baby, or: Why I should have just gone to Disneyland already

  1. So sorry to hear it. Truly. Those future imaginings are powerful stuff. But also so glad that you chose to share. I had a long conversation with my sister last night about the politics of discussing miscarriages, and we came down on the side of “It happens a lot. It’s normal. And talking about it makes people feel less alone.” So thanks for that.


  2. Rebecca, all I can do is sympathize. That’s so well written to be about something so awful.

    The only thing I know how to do is pray. I’m keeping good thoughts for you and your husband.


  3. Your essay, your emotions, the news– it’s all put me in a quiet and pensive mode. Keeping you and your husband in my thoughts. We’ve got your back–always.


  4. An eloquent post on an emotionally intense, and very sad, experience. Thanks for sharing. Hope you’re holding up OK there — or, at least, as OK as you can be, considering. As you say, this is a time to be fragile. Take care.


  5. Oh my, passing you a hug. This happened to me with my first pregnancy, and your description of feelings, and thoughts, wow– you’re spot on with conversations I had with my husband, myself, my body, even dreaming about miscarrying. I was so hesitant to share the news the first time, and after I miscarried, there was a part of me that wanted to tell my husband “I told you so.” I admire your openness and acknowledging what you need right now. Take care of yourself.


  6. Rebecca, my deepest condolences. I’ve been through it four times, and it’s a very real loss. Take the time you need. And then some more. Peace to you and your husband.


  7. I am so, so sorry, Rebecca. I absolutely understand not wanting to shoulder the pain and disappointment alone. I don’t think we talk about these things enough, in general, though of course I’d never tell anyone whether or not to share such a thing. I’ve never commented here before, but have been following your blog for quite awhile and am always rooting for you. Sending ::hugs:: and thinking of you and your husband.


  8. There x 2 too and I am sorry! Comedown from pregnancy hormones is a bit rough and comedown from plans is, too. Take care of yourself …


  9. I am so sorry. I had a VERY similar experience to yours with my first preg., blighted ovum at 12 weeks, all was peachy until the ultrasound tech turned very quiet and left the room suddenly to fetch the doctor. In my case it came at the same time that my tenure track crash-and-burn (in German, no less) was underway. As other commentors have said, go easy on yourself…it’s a tough time.


  10. I’m so sorry to hear that Rebecca. And I also think it’s wonderful that you have the strength to share your story. I have had so many friends have the same experience as you and it can be so isolating and sad – for all the reasons you mentioned. I hope that your body continues to be equally fertile and that the next time you have that ultrasound, you will hear and see what you’re hoping for…and those plans (that you make without trying because it’s normal) will get to live out….sending hugs


  11. I am so sorry to hear this. I hope the real life people around you take good care of you. We will burn a light at our place. Take care


  12. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve experienced that same pain (and went on to have a healthy pregnancy shortly after, and have the 2-year-old to prove it!) But you describe the pain so well. And it’s a pain that not everyone understands or knows how to comfort (the “everything happens for a reason” speech is so not helpful.) So I just wanted to thank you for sharing, and for doing a small part to take the stigma away from miscarriage.


  13. I usually come to your blog to read your funny, sharp, incisive words and to find some comfort in the knowledge we are many. I never thought I would feel that same sense of community for something so personal, that unfortunately I too know all too well. I hope you get better soon.


  14. I am so sorry, Rebecca. Take really, really good care of yourself. Thank you so much for sharing your life so honestly.


  15. Rebecca,
    I could have written a very similar piece about 7 years ago – although your writing is amazing and my is nonexistent. I am so sorry for your loss. I can tell you that the sadness does get better! Hang in there. Much love, Marci


  16. Rebecca,

    I’m late on this, but I just wanted to offer my sincerest condolences and well-wishes, and also to thank you for sharing your story. I am fortunate to know something about illness narratives in theory and IRL, and I can’t help but feel privileged to be a member of the audience.

    Thanks, and I hope things get brighter for you soon.


  17. Oh no! Sad 😦 I’m sorry to hear, and wish you and your attractive husband the best 🙂 It’s very brave to share, and I’m glad (reading your next post) and it was a positive experience for you (to share, I mean). Still: sad. Condolences.


  18. So sorry to hear about this, Rebecca. As per usual, you are brave to share it and giving voice to experiences others need to hear. Cheers to your future fertility and as everyone has suggested take care of yourself and give yourself space. We will still be around. 🙂

    Also, the “don’t be a dick” on the comment box is fantastic.


  19. As many have already wrote I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for your bravery and willingness to share what so many hide. I also can unfortunately relate to your story but am glad to say 1 year later I am a proud mother to a 3 month old son. All I can say is please don’t give up.


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