CW: frank discussions of miscarriage/abortion, blood, and medical procedures
Trade Secret | Non-Fiction
My first day back to work I pretend I have been out sick with a head cold. All fine now, I mumble to my coworkers, my eyes not straying from the shelter of my computer monitor.
I go to the bathroom. I check the pad. The bleeding is increasing. The nurse said this might happen. I am not in the population of post-procedure women who stop bleeding within days. A week has passed since my ten-week ultrasound. Since the doctor told me that my pregnancy was not viable. As I examine the soaked pad, her clipped voice sounds in my mind. “Vascular tissue. Lots of vascular tissue.” My blood vessel rich tissue is the reason I had a Dilation and Curettage, more popularly known as a D and C, in the first place. The doctor feared that if I miscarried on my own, I could bleed to death.
The next day I bleed through a pad on the bike ride to my office. As I change into backup underpants, I calm myself with breathing, remembering that the nurse said physical activity would increase blood flow. As the day goes on, it gets worse. Every trip to the bathroom is thick with trepidation. What will come out of my body now? A bloody torrent of clots? Thick jelly-like black-red goo that plops on the floor as I lower myself onto the toilet? The carnage unsettles me.
Back at my desk, I keep it together as best I can. I don’t Google. I already memorized the post-D and C warning signs: soaking more than two pads in an hour for two consecutive hours, passing a blood clot larger than an egg. The warnings become a silent mantra repeating in my mind as I try to lose myself in forms and spreadsheets, escape into the banal and familiar.
During lunch, I walk to the mall to return hair mousse at Trade Secret. As I start to fill out the return slip, my vision blurs on the address line. My heart races. Oh shit. This is how it happens. I die in the middle of returning Catwalk Ultra-Hold Mousse to the snippy Trade Secret lady whose plucked eyebrow arches every time I step in the store to browse. I feel woozy.
“I’m sorry. I have to call my husband.” I push the half-completed return slip back to her.
I dial his number on my cell phone.
She points at the blank driver’s license number line on the return slip with a perfectly manicured fuchsia fingernail. With my free hand, I rummage through my purse. In my most imperial act to date, I toss my license at her to fill out the return slip. Even as I’m doing it, I can’t believe I’m behaving this way. The image of me splayed on the Trade Secret floor, a puddle of blood congealing between my legs, keeps flashing through my mind. Would Gap be a better place to bleed out?
“Hon?” My husband answers my call on the second ring.
“I think I’m going to pass out,” I say. “I don’t know what’s happening.”
He tells me to find a seat. I brace myself against the counter. The carpet undulates in my vision. A week ago, the foundations of my world, the belief that my body could sustain life, that we would meet the baby growing inside me just shy of my thirty-sixth birthday, liquified. A surf surges and swells around us as we navigate this new post-miscarriage reality. My embryo died. I can die. Sometimes you are on the wrong side of a statistic. It has to be someone, why not me?
The Trade Secret lady refunds my money and pushes the return slip and receipt back to me, her disdain palpable. I stumble through the doorway and find a wooden bench. I shove half a granola bar into my mouth. I feel calmer.
“I think I had a panic attack,” I say to my husband.
“Should I come get you?”
“No, I can make it.”
The thought of waiting for him on a bench at the mall for twenty minutes sounds unbearable. I am surrounded by women tugging children by their sticky hands. Pregnant women file into the nearby Mimi Maternity store that I had eyed a few weeks ago. Headless round-bellied mannequins wearing floral maxi-dresses flank the entrance. The mannequins and me: we are the void.
A flood of tears and a weekend of bed rest later, I feel better. The bleeding slows. I wonder if I’ll forever have some sort of post-traumatic trigger at the smell of Stay Free maxi-pads then realize there will be so many triggers to choose from: the hum of the streetcar which delivered us to the doctor’s office. The black corduroy pants I wore to the appointment. Periods.
I tell my coworkers the true reason for my absence in a group email. Keeping the miscarriage secret made me feel like I had something to hide, that I should feel shame or embarrassment over what I’ve come to learn is a common tragedy. When I hit send, I feel a small weight lift along with a nauseous rush of anticipation of the conversations in my future. Thanks for your concern. We’re okay. We’ll be fine. I feel the need to shield everyone I tell from the enormity of my new reality while also craving the comfort of their understanding. Although I have to fend off well-meaning but hurtful statements: It just wasn’t meant to be. You can try again; I mostly hear stories of similar experiences. Sisters, friends, parents. Until I was inducted into this secret society, I couldn’t comprehend the prevalence or the devastation. As I try to reassemble a world where my body is not an enemy or a failure, I find a quiet liberation in speaking the word “miscarriage” in a voice louder than a whisper.
Katherine Sinback’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, daCunha, Gravel, Foliate Oak, Clackamas Literary Review, The Equalizer, The Hunger Journal, Anti-Heroin Chic, trampset, and Oyster River Pages, among other publications. She publishes her zine Crudbucket and writes two blogs: the online companion to Crudbucket and Peabody Project Chronicles 2: Adventures in Pregnancy After Miscarriage. Born and raised in Virginia, Katherine lives in Portland, Oregon with her family. She can be found on Twitter @kt_sinback.