Wherein I Have Promised To Marry A Marshmallow

Rental car guy: “Alright, Miss, your car is right this way.”

Billie: “Hey, Mom?”

Me: “Yes, love?”

Billie: “if I ever die can you do me a favor and marry a marshmallow?”

Rental car guy: “Whoa. What??”

Me: “Hmmm. What is the logic behind me marrying a marshmallow?”

Billie: “Well, I know you would be super sad if I ever died. But, you would also be married to a marshmallow. And that is hysterical. So as sad as you got, you could still be able to find the funny in the situation.”

Rental car guy: “Ok, real talk: that is the craziest thing I have ever heard. But then she explained her logic and now I agree with her. I’m really thinking you should marry a marshmallow. I feel really crazy for agreeing with her. But, man, I agree with her.”

Me: “Welcome, bro. You get used to it.”

Wherein I Have Promised To Marry A Marshmallow

When The Hurt Comes

A lot of parenting is navigating pain. Sometimes it’s hers. Sometimes it’s mine. Sometimes it’s physical. Other times emotional or mental.

And every time, Every. Time. It’s exhausting.

Now, I’m not particularly adept at processing emotions. Especially when it comes to anger. Anger has always been an ephemeral beast to me – A cloud of awkward rage that I usually combat with humor and whisky. One would think that becoming a parent would magically embolden me to slay this splenetic nemesis. Yet, I stubbornly stayed true to my tactics of avoidance. So Anger upped the ante and gifted my daughter with a rage so pure that, when combined with her unforgiving wit, tends to shatter my well oiled defense mechanisms to tiny, tear soaked smithereens.

This hot tempered reality is particularly tough to navigate when both of us are in pain. You see, my seven- year- old, Billie, has always wanted a sibling. I assumed it was the typical ‘only child battle cry’ that affected all kids in her situation. But the intense fervor with which she requested a sibling only escalated as time went on and her request went unfilled.

Naturally, we eventually agreed with her assessment and decided to start trying. But our attempts were unsuccessful. They left me broken and exhausted, spurned and betrayed by my own body. After the third and final miscarriage left me hospitalized and in need of an emergency D&C, I found myself a fleshy extension of my mattress. Sure, I went to work. I ran errands. I posted witty things on the internet. But I was completely depleted. Worse than the debility was the quiet antipathy that shuddered through my body when I inhaled too deeply. I had been depressed before. I could handle pain. But the anger? It immobilized me at the weirdest moments. Scrolling through my Facebook feed, shopping at the grocery store, and picking up Billie from school were all innocuous times that I could expect to be seized with a hatred so pure that it would catch in my chest and leave me vulnerable and frozen.

Now, Billie often asked me for a sibling. In the past, She knew enough about the reproductive system to know that the actual pregnancy part is the woman’s “job” so  my husband, Doug, was largely exempt from her persistent questioning. But the questioning had begun to get more persistent, more desperate, more angry.

So I brought it up to Doug. I informed him that the sheer quantity of Billie’s begging and pleading for me to “put a baby in” my “belly” was wearing me down.

But how could he possibly understand the extent to which the request broke me? He tried to relate, of course, but there was no way for him to understand that every pleading question from her brought me back to that emergency room, shuddering in the over-starched hospital gown and bent over at the waist from the pain. I couldn’t explain that I could still feel the pressure in my abdomen, that I could taste the bile burning my throat, that I still, even now, see that damned heartbeat flickering in my mind’s eye. He was receptive and kind and all the things he could be. He informed Billie that babies took a long time sometimes and, other times, never came. Ultimately, the decision was up to us and she would have to be patient. But Billie’s questioning persisted.

Originally, we had made the decision to not tell Billie about the miscarriages. When I was in the hospital we simply told her that mommy was sick and needed as much rest and love as possible. She was happy to oblige. But less than one week removed from the hellish incident, she seemed to forget herself. She angrily stomped into the living room, where I had propped myself up with pillows, and began yelling about all the opportunities she had missed out on because she didn’t have a sibling.

I watched her, still aching and reeling from what I had gone through, and shifted myself so I could look her in the eye. “Billie,” I said sternly, “I can’t…” But then I lost my nerve. My eyes flooded with tears and my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. “I can’t with you. I can’t do this with you. Go talk to your father.”

It was the first time I had ever shied away from a tough conversation with her.
Usually that’s my forte.
I’m the master of the tough talks. You want to talk about sex? Menstruation? Racism? Sexism? The short lived discontinuation of Betty Crocker’s Rainbow Chip Frosting? I’m alllll there. I love those moments. I live for them.
But not this one.
“Just go,” I snap when I see she hasn’t moved, gape mouthed at the fact I’m silencing the dialogue, “Go to your dad.”

So she went. And I stayed. And it was at this moment that I determine I had lost it. I’d lost the fight in me. I was tired and hurting and pushing my own child away. I disappeared into the couch.

So I gave myself one day. I wallowed and grieved and pitied the ever loving balls out of myself. And, on day two, I woke up with Billie’s breath on my eyebrows.

“MOOOOOOMMMMMM” she breathes, “I’m awake!”

“Did you know that you were my miracle?” I say to her.
There is no irony or frustration in my voice. I am actually asking.
“Noooooooo,” she says excitedly, “I’m a miracle???”
“Yes,” I say, “The doctor’s said that it would be impossible for me to have kids. But then I had you.”
“They said it was impossible?” she asks.
“They did,” I continue, “And, even now, it will be hard for me to have more children. It will take another miracle.”
“Will it take a long time for me to get a baby brother or baby sister?”
“Yes,” I say, “It might take a long time.”
“NOOOO,” She’s frustrated, “I want a baby brother! Calliope (her cousin) gets one! EVERYBODY GETS ONE. AND I DON’T. It’s NOT FAIR.”
I have to calm myself down. She’s hurting. It stings.
“Are you sad?” I ask.
“Yes.”
“Are you angry?” I watch her body tense before she answers.
“YES.”
“Me too,” I say, “I’m sad and angry too. Super angry. I want you to have a baby brother or sister and it breaks me too.”

She takes it in. Before this, it hadn’t occurred to me to share my pain with her. To let her in. I had made every effort to make myself an island, to not let her see me struggle or even cry. I had shut down and pushed her away. But now, she looks at me.

“You’re mad, too?”
“Really mad,” I confirm.

She hugs me.

“I’m sorry, Mom.”
“Me too, love.”

And that was it. She has brought it up since then, of course, but now, when she approaches the topic, it’s more an act of commiseration and not one of attack. She knows she’s not alone in this. She knows I’m here and hurting too. And it’s not perfect. And it’s not tied up in a pretty little bow. It’s messy and it’s awkward and it’s tough. But we’re here in this messy – awkward – tough space together. Maybe eventually I will disclose the nitty gritty of the situation. But for now she has an ally in this pain. She has a partner. And, I do too. And, honestly, that’s all I need for now.
It’s enough.

When The Hurt Comes

Bodily Autonomy

Doug: “I need you to clean up all the paper in your room, please.”

Billie: “And where, exactly, am I supposed to put all this paper?!”

Doug: “Gee, Billie, wouldn’t it be great if there was some sort of binder that you could store paper in?”

Billie:   “No, dad! I’m not using that binder. No.”

Doug: “Why not?”

Billie: “Just no. No is a complete sentence. You cannot force my body to do something it doesn’t want to do.”

Doug: “Billie. I’m literally just asking you to put paper away.”

Billie: “But you know what’s more important than paper? MY BODILY AUTONOMY!!”
…In case you were wondering what happens when two Communication Studies majors raise a child, here it is folks.

Bodily Autonomy

Pythagorean Vision

Billie: “Did you know that I see math everywhere?”

Me: “You do what now?”

Billie: “I see math. I see it everywhere. It calms me down.”

Me: “How do you see math? Can you explain it to me?”

Billie: “Well look at this tile. It has four sides, right? But inside the square are four quadrants. Each quadrant has its own measurement- Its own number. There are numbers in everything. There are measurements everywhere. And, if those numbers weren’t there, that tile would fall down on top of itself. It can’t stand without its number. And that’s why I like that I see math everywhere. It tells me that things won’t topple down on me. It makes me calm. I like that.”

Pythagorean Vision

The Engagement Pool of Chocolate Cake

Billie: “Mom. That ring was $17,000.”

Me: “Yep.”

Billie: “$17,000, MOM!”

Me: “Yup.”

Billie: “NO. MOM. That’s SEVEN.TEEN.THOUSAND. DOLLARS. FOR. A. SHINY. ROCK.”

Me: “Yup.”

Billie: “A tiny little shiny rock?!? $17,000! Why?? Why, mom?? That’s just a shiny rock. If I am going to give you $17,000 then I want the rock to be the size of me. Yea. And, you know what? I don’t want a shiny rock. That’s what I have a backyard for. I could go get my own shiny rock. You know how much chocolate cake I could get for $17,000? I could fill a WHOLE POOL with chocolate cake. Why do we even have wedding rings when cake exists?”

 

This kid is a revolutionary.

The Engagement Pool of Chocolate Cake

Rage Against The Xbox

Me: “I love that you have lofty aspirations.”

Billie: “I don’t know those words.”

Me: “‘Lofty’ and ‘aspirations?’ Well, they mean-”

Billie: “No. I don’t know those words because I haven’t leveled up yet.”

Me: “-You what now?”

Billie: “I haven’t unlocked that skill, Mom. ‘Lofty’ and ‘aspiration’ are level 8 words.”

Me: “Level 8? You mean, like, age 8? As in, you haven’t learned those words yet because you’re only 7 and not 8?”

Billie: “Ugh. Yes. That’s what I just said.”

Me: “But you can learn any word no matter your age. There’s no ‘locked skills’ in life.”

Billie: “Everything’s a locked skill until you learn it, Mom. You should know that. Aren’t you on level 80 or something?”

…I might be throwing her video games out the window soon.

Rage Against The Xbox

Why I Hope My Daughter Won’t Be Afraid To Use Planned Parenthood

Since she could speak Billie has asked me for a sibling.

As a lightening strike of wit and ferocity, she found it hard to bond with any child her age. They didn’t seem to understand her. Her humor was beyond them. Her thought process was too much a wobbly matrix of adult musings mashed up with poop jokes for anyone her age to follow. As a result, she’s naturally gravitated toward older children and adults. That hasn’t stopped her, of course, from begging me, quite desperately, for a younger companion.

For that and many other reasons, My husband, Doug, and I had been trying to conceive. After two miscarriages in a very short time, we were beside ourselves to find me pregnant again in June 2016. But, by early July, something was terribly wrong. I knew the signs. I knew how it felt in my body. I took one horrified look at Doug and said, “It’s happening again. We have to go to an ER. Now.

The first E.R. visit yielded inconclusive results. There was too much blood, too much clotting, too much everything for the doctor to be sure. She ordered an ultrasound. The ultrasound tech knew the situation. I told her about my previous miscarriages. I was shaking and clutching the thin hospital gown as I relived them. She thought she was calming me down when she showed me the 8 week old fetus’ heartbeat. She thought that would help.
But… wait…” She turned the screen suddenly. “It’s just… the heartbeat is a little slow… I’m sure it’ll pick up! You’ll be fine!

It didn’t and I wasn’t. Within two days my hormone levels stopped increasing at the rate they were supposed to. Another ultrasound revealed there was no longer a heartbeat.

I was in and out of the hospital for the next five weeks as they did test after test. The fetus was not dislodging from my uterus. I was getting weaker and constantly doubled over from the pain. It became hard to walk. We had just moved back to my home state but I refused to see any of my friends. I was in too much pain to see people who probably could have relieved some of it. I was in too much pain to even realize that’s what I was doing.

As we had just moved to a new state, I was dealing with a new primary care physician. He knew the miscarriage wasn’t going normally but he was reluctant to help me much beyond “just wait a see.” I begged him for another answer. At this time it had been 6 weeks since the miscarriage diagnosis. I had already taken “the pill.” The inviable fetus was not detaching. My blood pressure was dropping, I was running a fever more often than I wasn’t, and I was vomiting more than I spoke (and, even for a sick person, I spoke a lot).

The doctor was quick to tell me that this wasn’t really his “forte.
You see,” he continued pleadingly, “I’m a little out of my element. I’m used to dealing with successful pregnancies.
He stressed the word successful earnestly, as if he was hoping that, by drawing the word out as long as he could, he could magically make the dead fetus inside me spring to life and do the Charleston.

My expression did not change.
Yes,” I replied, my heart swirling to dust inside my chest, “this must be really tough for you.

It’s not that,” he continued, “It’s just that you’re asking me for an abortion. You know that, right? I know there’s no heartbeat and it’s medically necessary in your case, but the name of the procedure is an abortion. So that’s what you’re asking me for.

My mother, who is a warrior and a godsend and happened to be in the room with me, turned her eyes into slits while she breathed through her teeth, “Then what, pray tell, do you recommend?

The doctor faltered. He left the room for a second opinion and came back. Turns out the abortion a.k.a. a “D&C” (Dilation and Curettage) Procedure really was my only option. He scheduled one for 2 and a half weeks out on the condition that I do several (6, I think) pre-op appointments before then.

I barely made it out of the waiting room before I lost myself. I doubled over from the pain with tears snotting over every part of my face as I wept gape mouthed and bereft.

Hezzie,” my mother pleaded with me, “You’re not going to make it another two weeks. Please. Turn around and tell them you won’t make it.

But the “abortion” comment threw me. I have long been a pro-choice advocate so I didn’t rightly know why, exactly. I had wanted this pregnancy. More than anything. I could see Billie’s pleading eyes as she grappled my face and begged me for a sibling. I could feel the swelling in my chest in preparation for a child that would never come. I still close my eyes to this day and see the heartbeat on the ultrasound flickering erratically and desperately. Damnit, I wanted this. My whole family wanted this. But now they were recommending I just go to Planned Parenthood and do the D&C as soon as possible. I was barely functioning. That entire 6 weeks was a haze of pain and blood and vomit. But I wanted to follow the doctor’s suggestion. He was, after all, the authority here.

It’s just that you’re asking me for an abortion.”

I couldn’t un-hear those words. I couldn’t shut them down as much as my proud feminist self wanted to. Because, in the most technical of ways, I was. I was asking for an abortion.

I went home. Maybe I could wait it out.

Two days later I woke up in the Emergency Room. I had blacked out from the pain. My parents were there and Doug was on his way. The doctor in front of me looked grim as I pulled myself together long enough to relay all the facts. I could only offer bullet points with little to no linear grounding: “3rd miscarriage… I saw the heart beat… No rise in hormone levels… Then no more heartbeat… Bleeding and clotting for 6 weeks… Severe vomiting and fever… Intense abdominal pain… I took the pill 8 days ago… Still no miscarriage.. but… i saw… the… heartbeat…

The E.R. doctor ordered another ultrasound. Sure enough, the fetus was very much inviable and still very much intact. “This is not OK,” he informed me, “You should have had a D&C scheduled weeks ago. You’re going into sepsis. Who’s your primary care physician?

I informed him of what my doctor had said and mentioned that he scheduled a D&C for two weeks out.

The doctor looked at me pleadingly, “Look, you don’t have two weeks. I’m not sure you have 48 hours. You need an emergency D&C.” He turned to my parents, “Do you understand what I’m trying to say? She doesn’t have a lot of time. I’m so so sorry.

The E.R. doctor then called my doctor to inform him of the situation. But my doctor’s hands were tied. You see, D&C’s aren’t really that big of a deal in the hospital world. Even emergency ones. It’s a 15 minute procedure that doesn’t even require a scalpel. You would be hard pressed to convince a hospital to bump a cardiac bypass in favor of an abortion. It’d be like trading ice cream in favor of brussels sprouts. Even those who do it aren’t happy about it. The E.R. doctor then proceeded to check the surgery schedule of every hospital in a 70 mile radius. No luck. None of them had the time or space for a D&C no matter how dire. As a last ditch effort, my doctor called Planned Parenthood. He explained the situation and they were able to get me in the next day.

At Planned Parenthood another ultrasound was done. The tech was super kind and informative. She gave me the option to ask questions and educated me about the state of my miscarriage. When I went in to see the doctor she, too, gave me information and advice on how to move forward in seeking a successful pregnancy. She hugged me. Twice. Then she asked if there was anything I needed before we began.
I smiled wryly as if to say, “I need to not be here. I need to have a healthy fetus in me. I need to have not seen that damn heartbeat…
The doctor cut me off from my thoughts and hugged me again.
Then she explained the procedure and the sensations I was likely to feel. The nurse held my hand and told me a story about puppies.
When it was done I rested and was given some more pamphlets, guides, and even the phone number to a recommended fertility doctor.

When I left the clinic I passed the protesters with the signs that called me a “baby killer.” They shook them at me vigorously as I walked by.

Then Doug took me to get a milkshake.

My mother said it was the closest to death that she had ever seen any of her children. I’m one of four kids and my brother has had more traumatic head injuries than should be physically possible yet still I’m inclined to believe her. I felt very close to death. Some days, when I close my eyes and see that heartbeat, I still do.

I would love to tell you that this has a happy ending where I’m bursting at the belly with a child and all is well. But that’s not the case. We won’t be trying for another pregnancy any time soon.

Maybe the happy ending here is just that I’m alive. That I can continue being a good mom to my daughter and a pain in the ass to Doug.
Maybe the happy ending is that this fucked up horror show that happened to me can somehow help someone else.

I’m not sure.

But I can tell you that I’m thankful. I’m thankful for Doug. I’m thankful for my parents. I’m forever thankful for Billie. I’m thankful for every member of my family that dropped everything to help me.

And I’m thankful that Planned Parenthood stepped up and saved my life.
I’m thankful for all the humans that donated and helped someone like me receive care that other’s would have balked at.

In the future, I hope my daughter uses any of the myriad services at Planned Parenthood should she need it. I hope the stigma of a procedure doesn’t prevent her from receiving life-saving care. I hope she’s able to know fact from alternative fact and get treatment from humans who want her to make the best, most informed choice for her body. Because her mother almost didn’t. Her mother almost let the stigma of a silly name drag her down deep into the bowels of guilt and septic shock.

And, one day, Billie will get her sibling. It might be in the form of a close friend or an adopted child or a latent miracle from my uterus. Who knows. Until then, though, I think I’m just going to hug my family. And be thankful I’m still around to do so.

Why I Hope My Daughter Won’t Be Afraid To Use Planned Parenthood