Giving Up the Ghost Baby

One moment, my body was swimming in a sea of fertility; the next moment, I was bleeding on the sheets

A diagnosis of age-related infertility in my forties had explained why I hadn't been able to get pregnant after several years of trying. Determined to have a child, I suffered through invasive procedures, daily monitoring, injections and blood tests. Finally, the day arrived, when I gave birth to our beautiful daughter with a head full of downy hair and dark, gypsy eyes.

We were understandingly elated upon learning of my second, odds-beating pregnancy, hopeful that our two-and-a-half-year old would have a sibling.

Whereas for my first pregnancy I had gained 70 pounds while subsisting on a diet of watermelon, pizza and juice, which I promptly threw up at sundown like clockwork, this pregnancy was less vital. Although my symptoms were similar—my breasts were swollen like watermelons, I fell asleep by the start of the six o'clock evening news and I constantly sucked on lemon ice pops to alleviate the constant nausea—this pregnancy felt more fragile than the first one, and I wasn't sure why.

My husband was a champ; indulging my cravings (hot fudge ice cream sundaes and feta cheese at midnight on a Monday, no problem), providing back rubs and protection.

The miscarriage happened suddenly in the seventh week, right before sunrise. One moment, my body was swimming in a sea of fertility, the next moment I was bleeding on the sheets.

"Is the blood dark or bright red?" the doctor asked, receiving my frantic phone call.

"It's bright red," I answered. She told me I'd better come in. Hugging my body, I sat frozen with fear, as my husband stoically drove me to her office.

"I'm so sorry you lost the baby," the doctor said. It was an ectopic pregnancy.

"There's something else," she continued. "Parts of the embryo are still growing inside you. We need to schedule you for an injection to destroy those cells, otherwise your tubes could rupture and you could die."

I don't know if I was suffering from sleep deprivation, grief or hormones gone haywire but that's when I heard a whisper in my mind.

"Mommy, I love you," I knew spiritually and viscerally it was my ghost baby boy.

"Mommy loves you, too," I responded, engulfed in a maternal instinct that felt almost physical.

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I couldn't tell my husband what was happening. He had already lowered the portcullis surrounding the moat containing his feelings and obvious sadness.

"It just wasn't meant to be," he told me. "We have a beautiful, healthy little girl, and that is enough."

As I moved through days full of helpless hurt, I'd periodically hear my baby's plaintive cry.

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"I love you too, sweetheart," my mind would whisper back.

And my tears didn't stop flowing.

I wore dark sunglasses day and night to hide my swollen eyes. Seeing my daughter reminded me of what I had lost, so I avoided her, relying on my husband and sitters to do the care-taking.

A nurse administered the embryo-cell-killing injection and then we waited.

"Your hormone levels are still high," the nurse finally told me. "We need to schedule another shot this weekend."

I couldn't get a babysitter, so my husband drove all of us to my appointment at a clinic in another town.

"I'll be back soon," I sadly told my daughter in a monotone, looking for comfort in my husband's eyes.

I remember the stark, fluorescent-lit room where I received the injection from the kindly but impersonal nurse: the injection that would kill all those last lovely cells in my body. But my mind was the one space he could still occupy.

"Baby, I love you," I telepathically told my ghost son one more time with all the strength I could muster.

I concentrated hard, envisioning myself hugging my baby, as I would have if he'd really been born. I prayed he could feel it. The silence that met me lent me hope that he had.

I walked to the car, sobbing, wearing the sunglasses I'd never taken off. Then, as if emerging from a fog, I noticed my daughter for the first time in weeks. She reached out her chubby toddler arms to me, saying, "Mommy. Kiss."

I just drank her in: her cherry lips smiling, the butter from the bagel she was chewing, glistening on the bow of her mouth, and allowed myself to just be present.

I opened the car door, slid into the backseat, put my arms around her and cried. She held my shoulders tightly.

"Mama?" she finally said with concern.

"Mama's OK. I'm sad. That's all," I replied, drained of my sorrow at last.

I was cuddling with my daughter when I got the call that evening that the embryo cells had all been destroyed.

They didn't have to tell me.

I already knew.

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