What I Gave to the Fire

Author’s note: My experience with two miscarriages brought me to my knees. There, in the darkness, I heard a calling to write my story and share it in the form of a book. The process took eight years, but I did it! This is the first chapter of What I Gave to the Fire, now available in its entirety on Amazon.com in print or Kindle format. For more information, please visit www.whatigavetothefire.com

LIGHTNING STRIKE
Chapter 1 of What I Gave to the Fire
by Kim Flowers Evans

I see the blood in my underwear and know it is happening. Now it is more than spotting. Now it is thick bright blood; fresh, emergency-red that screams when it sees daylight. Whoever said lightning doesn’t strike twice must not have lost two pregnancies.

I look at the bathtub and notice the stubborn mildew stain that persists no matter how hard I scrub. I can’t handle this again, God. It’s too much for me. Come on, you wouldn’t give me this to deal with again, would you? I wipe my nose on my sleeve. I thought you liked me. I’m a good person. I’m nice to people. I bend over backwards to make them feel comfortable. Isn’t that what you want me to do?

The tiny bathroom feels like an elevator shaft, going down, the walls silently absorbing my words.  

Two miscarriages in a row? Me? I’m healthy. I try to be a good mom. Why in the hell is this happening? Time is running out for me, and you know that. But you just sit there, in the clouds, or wherever you are, watching this happen.

I pull generous amounts of toilet paper off the roll and wipe several times to soak up the flowing stream of blood. I put my underwear in the sink and turn the cold water on. Suddenly I recall my very first period and Mom’s words to me: Cold water keeps the blood from setting in.

I walk through the house, naked from the waist down, to get a fresh pair of underwear out of my bedroom dresser. I return to the bathroom, find a pad, and rip the backing off.

I make my way to the kitchen, grab the cordless phone from the kitchen counter, and call my husband at work. I am dizzy, spiraling deeper down the elevator shaft, thoughts racing. I was right all along…God is nothing more than a cruel puppeteer…I’m never going to be able to understand or accept this…Why? This is personal. My ability to bear children is under siege. Why? WhyWhyWhy?

Hello?” The sound of Trent’s voice melts my despair into tears. I cannot speak.

What’s wrong?”

I’m bleeding – quite a bit more,” I tell him.

Oh shit,” he says, “I’m on my way home.”

Today is his 39th birthday. I don’t feel like singing.

Happy Birthday, Dear Tre-ent. Our baby is gone.

I call the doctor’s office next. My hand is shaking so much, I almost drop the phone.

“…This is an emergency, I need to speak with the doctor…What? She’s not in?”

Dammit.

“Yes, have her call me as soon as she gets back to the office.”

I look at the clock. It’s 2:30 already. Olivia’s bus will be here soon.

I quickly brush my hair, splash water on my face, and walk up the street. The bus pulls up, right on schedule. I half-heartedly smile as Olivia hops down the stairs, her blond hair bouncing. Her smile fades as soon as her eyes meet mine.

“What’s wrong, Mom?”

She’s always been able to read me with stunning accuracy.

“Nothing,” I lie. I take her purple backpack and sling it over my shoulder as we walk home. “I just don’t feel well today. It’s not a big deal. Come on; let’s get a snack. SpongeBob is about to start.”

I know she doesn’t believe me, but I don’t want to delve into it further with her. It was only last week that we told her about the pregnancy, huddled under her loft bed in our pajamas. Her face turned pale, and she told us she didn’t want a baby brother or sister. How would she feel now, if I told her the baby may not come after all? This is a lot for a 6-year-old to process.

Olivia sits on the couch. I feel her eyes follow me as I walk to the kitchen. I pour some Goldfish crackers into a bowl, grab a juice box from the fridge, and take them to her. She’s already kicked off her shoes and settled on the couch. I walk back to the kitchen, open the oven door, and brush barbeque sauce on the ribs for Trent’s birthday dinner. I feel more blood trickling from my body as SpongeBob’s laughter streams in from the television. Reality is pin-balling back and forth between crisis and normality. My eyes scan the kitchen walls. Trent recently painted them a pale yellow color called “newborn” to celebrate the pregnancy.
Newborn. The color of hope.

I close my eyes for a moment, then place the ribs back in the oven.

When Trent walks through the door I can’t look at him. A combination of anger, sadness, and fear tangle up inside me. I feel like a failure.

“How are you? Has the doctor called back?”

The phone interrupts our conversation.

It’s the doctor.

“I’m sorry to take so long to return your call,” she says, “I’ve been attending a long labor and delivery at the hospital.”

Her reference to another birth delivers a punch to my gut. For a fleeting second I have an intense desire to yell at her for being so insensitive.

“How much bleeding are you experiencing?” she asks.

“I don’t know. I lost track of how many pads I’ve been through. A lot. I’m bleeding a LOT.”

“And this has been going on for how long?”

I glance out the window and notice the evening light on the grass in our backyard.

“About four hours.”

“Okay.” she says with a clinical tone that infuriates me. “If you are having a miscarriage, you basically have two choices. You can either miscarry at home, or come to my office in the morning for a D & C. I will only be available in the morning, so if you want to have it done, it has to be then.”

I’ve heard the term D & C, but I have no idea what it is. I don’t want to ask, either. The thought of it, however undefined, makes me cringe. I do not want this pregnancy to end by artificial means.

“What can I expect if I miscarry at home?”

“That depends on your pain tolerance.”

I don’t ask her to elaborate. Instead, I fill in my own details, remembering my previous miscarriage three years ago. There was a lot of bleeding and sadness, but not unbearable physical pain. And with Olivia, I had an epidural, but I felt plenty of hard contractions before and after, when it came time to push.

“I want to stay home,” I tell her.

I hang up the phone.

“I have to lay down,” I tell Trent.

“Okay. Tell me what I can do to help.”

“You can make this stop happening,” I snap. The anger momentarily brings relief, then regret. “I’m sorry. I just need to lay down. I’m not going to be able to finish dinner. The ribs will be done in about thirty minutes. You and Olivia go ahead and eat without me. I’m sorry to ruin your birthday.”

“Don’t worry about that,” he says. “I just want you better.”

I glance at him, his big brown eyes meet mine for one desperate moment before I leave the kitchen.

I lay in bed, covers wrapped around me. The cramps are starting to develop a jagged edge, and I can’t bear them without moaning. I know I am scaring Olivia, but I also know Trent will take care of her. I hear her footsteps gently padding, then stopping at the bedroom door.

“Mom, are you okay?” She approaches me, with eyes full of concern. I am shocked at how blue they are in this moment.

“I’m going to be okay, honey,” I say through gritted teeth, “It just hurts and then it goes away. I’ll be okay. You and Dad go ahead and have dinner without me.” I hope she doesn’t ask about his birthday present, a new set of bass guitar strings I had forgotten to wrap.

She leaves me alone, which is all I want. This is between me and my body. I take a deep breath, beginning to sense a rhythm to the bouts of pain – like waves rolling through me – labor pains – only these empty waves will bear nothing. I think of my labor with Olivia again. Each time I tell her birth story, I say the same thing most mothers do: the pain didn’t matter at all, because in the end, I had her. It starts occurring to me now that this empty labor might hurt just as much as delivering a baby. Why didn’t the doctor didn’t tell me that this would be labor? I wasn’t expecting labor. This pain is for nothing. I bury my face in the pillow and breathe in the smell of dusty feathers.

Evening transitions into night without my knowledge. I twist and turn in bed, drifting in and out of sleep. Suddenly I’m awakened by a stab of pain. The wall of my uterus feels like it is tearing in half. The red glowing numbers on the alarm clock read 3:00 AM. I reach over and shake Trent.

“I can’t take this any more. We have to go to the emergency room.”

He reaches for his glasses on the nightstand, nearly knocking them on the floor.

“I’ll wake Liv.”

Olivia appears in our bedroom doorway like a sleepy angel in her pink nightgown, rubbing her eyes. I kiss her warm cheek, catching the scent of her sleepy breath.

“We have to go to the hospital, honey.”

She stops rubbing her eyes. “Are you going to die?”

I shake my head. “No, honey, I’m not going to die, I just need to find out what is going on with me.”

Suddenly I feel another contraction. I break eye contact with her and drop my head to hide my clenched jaw. I pray she won’t panic. I can’t imagine how frightening and confusing this must be for her.

Trent helps her change out of her nightgown while I find my tennis shoes. I make no effort to change out of my pajamas. I don’t give a damn what I look like. We step into the cool night air and load ourselves into the car. The road in front of our house is silent and wet from rain; the glow of streetlights reflect on the pavement like smashed lightning bugs.

I cringe and twist in my seat as Trent navigates the curvy road to the hospital. Why didn’t I call Mom and ask her to stay with Olivia while we do this? The question pounds in my brain. Why am I putting her through this? Mother guilt intensifies my pain.

Truth is, I had already been to the hospital with Mom 18 hours earlier, before the bleeding became heavy. I had been spotting, not feeling pregnant any more, and I was getting worried. She drove me down this very same road, attempting to distract me by chatting about random things like weather and where we could go for lunch later. But it didn’t work. In my 38 years, diversionary tactics never worked. I longed for the truth.

Mom accompanied me to the emergency room and found a seat by the window. After I checked in with the receptionist, I sat next to Mom as she pulled out her electronic Boggle game and began to play. I didn’t say anything.

Soon, I was called back to the reception desk and notified that I couldn’t be seen by the doctor currently on duty, because I wasn’t an established patient of hers. My doctor was out of the office.

“I think I might be having a miscarriage,” I told her, “What am I supposed to do?”

She put her pen down. “Your only option would be to go to the emergency room if it gets worse,” she said, “I’m sorry.”

Her apology didn’t begin to comfort the sinking feeling I had. I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to grab her around the throat and squeeze until she felt the same level of pain as I did. Maybe then she would listen to me and allow me to receive some medical attention.

But a voice sounded in my head, silencing me in my tracks: Don’t make waves.

And now it’s 3 AM, and I’m back. We enter through the automatic doors. The receptionist gestures Trent and Olivia to the waiting room where CNN is flickering on the television. Trent wraps his arm around my shoulder and squeezes. Olivia places her head gently on my stomach and gives me a hug.

“I’ll see you soon,” I tell them, wishing they could stay with me, but also desperately wanting to be alone.

A nurse meets me and walks me to a cubicle, gesturing to the chair beside her desk. She wraps a blood pressure cuff around my forearm. As the cuff squeezes, I feel tightness in my chest and throat. Tears pool in my eyes. This is utterly sad and terrible, I think. Sad and terrible things aren’t supposed to happen to me.

She asks me questions and records the information on a clipboard. “Okay, let’s get you into a room.”

The hallway is spotless and bright. The floor is lined with color-coded tape. The nurse opens a door swiftly and hands me a paper gown.

“Go ahead and put this on, opening in the front. Someone will be with you shortly.”

I undress, put the gown on and carefully climb onto the table. As I lay back, the paper pillowcase crinkles under my head. I squint at the bright lights. I feel like I’m in a laboratory. Time stands still.

I hear the voice of a different nurse.  “How are we doing in here?”

“Not too great,” I tell her. Understatement of the year.

“Let’s clean you up a bit.” She uses a towel to sop up the blood between my legs. It feels soft and warm, and I am comforted by this care and attention.

“I’m sorry Kim, I’m going to have to insert a ureteral catheter to get clean urine for the lab.”

I hold my breath as the nurse attempts to distract me with small talk.

“Do you have any pets?”

“Yeah,” I answer dutifully, “Cassie, a yellow malamute/lab mix.”

I don’t tell her about Sheena, my 19-year old tortie cat which we had to have euthanized just last month. Not long before that, Mystery and Patch were both hit by cars on the highway in front of our house. I hadn’t fully realized this vortex of loss until now.

The nurse interrupts my train of thought. “I have two huskies at home. Great dogs. Crazy, too. Just last night they tore a hole in my living room carpet. But I love them.” She sat back on her stool. “Okay, we’re all done.”

Next, the doctor enters into the room, looks at me from behind his clipboard, and announces I need a pelvic exam. The nurse stays, and I am glad.

After the exam, I wait for the lab results. Thankfully, the contractions have subsided. I wonder how Trent and Olivia are doing in the waiting room.

Finally, the doctor returns.

“Well, Kimberly, I looked at your lab results. While your hormone levels are low, they still indicate a pregnancy. I recommend you go home and rest, then call your doctor later this morning. You can get dressed now.”

He exits the room. The door clicks behind him.

The nurse hands me my clothes, conjuring a smile. A rogue wave of hope splashes over me.

“Is it possible that this isn’t a miscarriage after all?” I ask her.

“Don’t give up hope just yet,” she smiles without looking at me.

I try to believe her, but deep down I know it is over.

Finally, Trent and Olivia are permitted entry to my room. Their faces look sleepy and concerned. Olivia gently approaches me. I take her hand and I look up at Trent.

“Let’s go home.”

We stop at Burger King to pick up some breakfast, and drive home as the sky turns pink on the horizon. Tucked under the covers of my bed once again, I fall asleep as the sun begins to rise.

A few days later, I am in the bathroom, still shedding blood, when I feel a warm clump of tissue gently exit my body. I hear it drop into the water. At this moment, several thoughts run through my mind: Was this the fetus or just more blood? Should I collect it and take it to the doctor for analysis? Should I bury it under the tree in our back yard? I look into the bloody water. The tissue is out of my sight. There’s nothing I can do except flush it away. It is gone. Sadness spreads slowly through my chest like thick syrup.

My doctor visits continue. There are subsequent needle pricks and lab results as she tracks the progressive drop in my hormone levels and my pregnancy slowly fades away.

I learn that a miscarriage isn’t a black and white kind of thing. It’s a continuum: you’re pregnant, then you’re sort of pregnant, then you’re not so pregnant, then you aren’t pregnant any more. During this time, the doctor offers no conclusive answers or explanations about why this happened. There are no pamphlets, books, or support group information. She simply sends me on my way with a recommendation that I wait a full year before trying to get pregnant again. And I know fully well that at age 38, I can barely afford another year.

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