Virtual Strangers

by: Jessica Zucker

When the unyielding burn of loss seeps into your love, and changes everything…

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“Morning, honey.”

“Hey,” she sneered, while looking out at the light rain. It hadn’t rained in months.

“Is something wrong?”

“Um, yeah, I guess you could say something is most definitely wrong. I’m no longer pregnant. I’m still bleeding. I am haunted by images of the baby emerging, cutting the umbilical cord, hemorrhaging. My head is spinning. I feel alone.”

He stares at her with a convoluted mixture of care and bewilderment. “I understand. But aren’t you relieved we received the test results of the fetus so at least we know why this happened?”

A pregnant pause fell between them.

“Of course,” she sighs with disappointment and a cloud of distance forming between them, practically visible to her. Not at all to him. “Having this information doesn’t siphon my heart’s unraveling. It doesn’t make this miscarriage any less traumatic. We have facts. Evidence doesn’t erase a crime.”

Silence filled the room.

A film formed over the coffee pot during the time it took took them utter words again.

“So, what are you doing today?” he mustered with a mouth full of bagel and sesame seeds.

“Not sure. Bleeding, I guess,” she said with an air of deflated frustration. “Picking Gabe up from school or does he have a playdate today? I can’t remember.”

“What can I do to make this better for you?” he queried lovingly.

She looked into his eyes with the fierceness of a lion, dead set on schooling him. She pictured screaming at the top of her lungs that nothing would “make things better” and the fact that he even asked such a question made her despise his shortsightedness. He wasn’t living through this in body as she was. Nor in mind in a similar way. He got to traipse off to work, muddied in distraction and accolades, while she sat there in a seemingly pregnant body, now hollow.

She wept instead, crumpling over her lukewarm coffee, with annihilating anger and stupefying sadness at war with each other.

“You can’t fix this,” she mumbled plainly. “But what you can do is arrange something for our son today and everyday this week after school so I can rest. I don’t feel comfortable seeing the other moms at school right now and I’m in no shape to mother the way I normally do.”

“Okay, I’ll do that,” he said as he gathered his belongings to set out for the day. “I love you, baby. I’ll text throughout the day.”

“Love you too.”

As she watched him walk to the front door she could feel his unarticulated pain intermingling with her outrage. Her searing emotional pain flung around like a pinball jolting in all different directions without warning. Her usual internal compass was temporarily hijacked and her emotions followed.

This loss changed their love.

FOUR WEEKS LATER

“I‘m taking Gabe to school and then heading to work. I’ve got a long clinical day but I’ll be home for dinner. Tomorrow I have a follow up with my OBGYN. Can you come with me to the appointment?”

“Wish I could but I have a meeting. Why do you have a follow up?”

Her resentment was piqued, spiking what felt like a red hot fever. She tried to control her response whereas not to get into yet another mess of a conversation as she headed into a jam-packed day. She desperately tried to harness focus and calm. The continued disappointment she felt in the context of their relationship harangued her with feelings of hopelessness. She pushed forward, gripping onto the past.

She didn’t know what he was doing with his emotions, but assumed he was doing the same.

SIX WEEKS LATER

She had heard countless recollections of isolation post-pregnancy loss, but experiencing it firsthand in her marriage was scary as hell.

The question of whether or not to get pregnant again was looming. As their communication slowly but surely lessened, so did her fortitude.

“I support whatever it is you want to do. I can imagine being pregnant again will bring anxiety but the doctor said the chances of the same chromosomal issue happening again are slim to none. We can do this.” His positivity gave her pause as did his seemingly glossed over account of the past and the potential forthcoming anxiety. It stung. It made her want to run.

“I need more time,” she said with a pinch of hope in her voice.

“The valley between us is freaking me out!”

“Valley?”

“Yes, I feel like there is this chasm between us ever since the miscarriage. We have to address this before diving into another pregnancy together. I’ve been hurt by you repeatedly. I wish you had been more present for me. I’ve felt pretty much alone throughout most of this and you not being there in a deep way has frightened me.” She hadn’t been vulnerable with him in a while, but this was a moment for intimacy to move to the forefront. “Where have you been? I mean, have you even been sad about all of this?”

“All of what? Do you mean am I sad about the miscarriage? Of course I am,” he shouted with surprise and defensiveness. “How can you even ask me something like that?”

And here we go again, she thought.

EIGHT WEEKS LATER

“It’s not like there is an instruction manual on how to navigate this kind of grief!” he said sarcastically. “I’m tired of you making me feel like I’m doing everything wrong and that somehow this experience didn’t happen to both of us.”

He was right. She had a difficult time grasping his experience because he rarely shared it out loud. She couldn’t read minds and neither could he. Their respective pain turned them into virtual strangers.

“How in the world would I understand the extent of your pain if you never talk about it with me?!”

“Don’t you want to know how I feel?” And with this her tears began to flow – an oozing of the months spent mourning, enraged, anxious and sad.

“I am sad. I’ve been sad. But that baby wasn’t healthy. I feel hopeful that this won’t happen again; that the next pregnancy will go smoothly.”

“Lucky you,” she said halfheartedly under her breath.

“Lucky me?” He had no idea what she was alluding to.

“Yeah, lucky you that you feel a sense of closure alongside a sense of hope.” She softened after a long exhale and moved closer to him. “I’m envious that you feel this way. I will be terrified beyond words to be pregnant again after losing this pregnancy at sixteen-weeks. Plus, there’s no guarantee that the next pregnancy will be healthy.”

There was a meeting of minds in this exchange, after months of fraught fragility. They began to hear one another, allowing the other person’s pain to rush over them, rather than tidying it up or assuming it didn’t exist. Their bereavement paths were completely different. They were lost – adults feeling like kids – with a kid of their own, in a newfound developmental phase without tools.

TWELVE WEEKS LATER

“I‘m honestly too scared to pee on the stick. If I’m pregnant I’ll start pulsating with anxiety and if I’m not pregnant, I’ll be dreadfully disappointed.”

He gently caressed the small of her back and eventually wrapped her into his body for a long, much-needed embrace. She released the mounting tension in her shoulders as they stood holding one another, suspended in the unknown, their future hung in the balance.

“Whatever happens, I know I want to do better this time,” he whispered.

“Thank you” she replied while pulling him even closer. “I want to do better too.”

The truth was that neither of them knew if they could.

 

Jessica Zucker, Ph.D. is a psychologist based in Los Angeles. She is the creator of a line of pregnancy loss cards and the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed and elsewhere. She has been featured on Good Morning America, CNN, and NPR. www.drjessicazucker.com

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