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The After Series: Learning from the Baby Who Would Never Be

by Kelly Burch

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We spend so much of our waking lives avoiding death—in more ways than one. When it comes to talking about the inevitable, it isn’t always easy. So the Orange Dot is aiming to shine a light on these stories, in hopes that it may help others. The After Series features essays from people around the world who’ve experienced loss and want to share what comes after.

I laid flat on my back looking desperately at the screen displaying a grainy black ultrasound image, but even my untrained eye could tell there was no heartbeat. The fetus that should have been a recognizable human form by now was instead just the cluster of cells found in very early pregnancy. There would be no baby.

I’ve always been someone who believes in fate. My Australian husband and I, a New Englander, met in a random bar in London on a Tuesday night, after which we fell quickly, deeply in love. Eight years later, I still look at him amazed by the certainty with which I know we were destined for each other. After impatiently waiting to conceive our first child, I fell pregnant just in time to have the spring baby I had always wanted, and my daughter was born on my ill father’s birthday, providing healing to a family in desperate need of it.

This pregnancy, the one that would not yield a child, was also meant to be. My husband and I spent hours talking about whether to have another biological baby or adopt. We moved forward with both options, waiting for our sign, and days after our first foster care class two pink lines appeared on a home pregnancy test. It was my husband’s birthday and his graduation from a program that he had been working toward for years. Our baby was due on Christmas. I felt the universe had shown me the direction our family was supposed to take.

“It looks like you’re not quite as far along as you thought you were,” the ultrasound tech said as I sucked in my breath.

Even as I left the house, bleeding, to go to the hospital nine weeks later, I said to my sister, “This is too perfect not to work out.”

And yet.

“It looks like you’re not quite as far along as you thought you were,” the ultrasound tech said as I sucked in my breath. I knew my dates. The tears started to flow, and as she prodded inside me with the ultrasound and I knew she wouldn’t find the heartbeat I desperately wanted to hear.

I always thought I would wail and scream when confronted with loss, railing against whatever higher power may exist. Instead, I felt a stunning sense of acceptance. It was not OK, and it hurt like hell, but I knew immediately there was nothing I could do and there was no deeper meaning to glean from this tragedy. As I waited for the doctor to come in and officially tell me my baby was dead, I turned on a guided meditation, closed my eyes and breathed deeply, engulfed in the moment.

In the days and weeks following the miscarriage, I was immersed in this odd sense of acceptance. I suddenly had a powerful conviction that sometimes, things just are. There was no reason for the miscarriage (other than a cruel fluke of biology) and—more challenging for me to accept—there was no meaning. This wasn’t a sign that we were meant to be a family of three or to adopt. It was purely bad luck.

As I grieved, I learned to address loss without needing answers. Normally my response to something unexpected is to plan meticulously for the future. But in this case, things were entirely out of my control, in a confronting way that was impossible to deny. At a follow-up appointment with my doctor, I resisted the urge to ask about statistics and testings, steering clear of the questions that normally plague me: why? What does this mean?

I knew I could be consumed if I started worrying about future pregnancies and what my family might one day look like. It felt dangerous and unhealthy to use my limited emotional energy to try to plan for a future that I could not control. I had always known that practicing mindfulness was something I should do, like flossing and eating my vegetables. Suddenly, however, mindfulness became a lifeline. The present moment was my refuge, where I could find joy or ride a wave of sorrow without being angry about the past or fearful for the future.

Accepting the miscarriage didn’t mean I was at peace with it. Some days were thoroughly unbearable. But I was able to experience that without torturing myself trying to identify a “why” I would never understand. Instead of trying to dam the flow of grief by assigning a reason to the miscarriage, I allowed my emotions to wash over me, even when I felt I may be swept away by the flow. Through this process I realized that there isn’t always a deeper level to reach—sometimes it is enough to just be present with our human experiences, however painful they may be.

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Submissions for The After Series are now closed. We continue to explore and discuss mental health (and everything else that occurs around life and death) on The Orange Dot. To get a sense of what else we might be looking for, read our guidelines for submissions.

Kelly Burch

Kelly Burch is a freelance writer, sharing stories of mental health, family, and anything else that catches her interest. When she isn't lost in a story, she enjoys getting lost in the New Hampshire woods with her daughter and dog. Connect with Kelly at kellyburchcreative.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter @writingburch.

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