We lost our first child on April 27.
I was so young I barely understood how my body worked.
I was still shy when my husband looked at me in the light.
Eleven months earlier the old man doctor
had noticed my innocence was still intact.
I sat up on his exam table,
grabbing at the corners of my paper gown, trying to cover myself
while he smacked me on the shoulder and chuckled.
“Good job,” he said, “I don’t see much of that anymore.”
“I’m getting married,” I said.
Then he tossed me a free pack of white pills
as if they were a trophy.
I stopped taking those pills in November.
We were twenty-two and twenty-four.
Earlier that spring I had bought a white cotton nightgown
with lace around the sleeves,
and years later, when it had turned ivory,
my husband told me how beautiful I had been.
We were both shy in the beginning, I guess.
But that first April 27 I was sitting on a toilet trying not to scream.
My arms were shaking and I couldn’t make them stop.
We were losing the baby.
Over the phone the doctor had told me, “Catch the tissue,”
but I knew it wasn’t just tissue, so I was shivering.
I knew what I was about to see.
The pains came, and each shudder threw my hands into convulsions.
I held that jar between my bare legs and I was
so scared about hitting the glass against the porcelain,
scared that I might break it open and cut her as she fell
or spill her little body down into the water.
If she were still alive, I wanted to catch her gently
and somehow let her know that I loved her.
I had been following her days like a plane coming over the sea.
She was grown enough to have ten fingers, ten toes,
eye muscles that clenched,
a mouth that sucked in,
kidneys that made urine.
She had made me a mother.
My husband held my shoulders upright in that tiny bathroom
and I wailed, no longer ashamed of my exposure,
because my body was no longer mine alone.
There were three of us.
Blood came, rivers and rivers of blood,
blood in the water, blood in my hands,
and that glass jar shook as if the whole earth
were being torn apart by its plates;
I could not keep it still.
Sounds came from me that I did not understand,
sounds from down in my throat.
Then there were strings of tissue falling. Pieces of womb,
Salt water in my eyes. I couldn’t see anything.
I tried to wipe it all away, but more came.
“Oh, God, my baby. Was she in there?”
The edges of the world began to grow black.
I was carried to the car.
I was cold, so cold, and there was so much blood.
At the hospital, my uterus was pulling into knots,
and they stretched me on a bed,
“I don’t know if I caught her,” I said, “I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t know if she is still alive.”
The man who strapped me down
put a cool, sharp line in my arm and the hallway faded.
“Did you see her?” I asked as the lights came on,
“Was she beautiful? Can I take her home? I need to bury her.”
But they had put her into the hospital waste.
Incinerated. A priest had supervised and said the necessary prayers.
That was all they could do, they said.
My husband came to the recovery room.
He pushed my hair to the side and kissed my forehead,
drove me home while I cried into a closed window, looking at nothing.
He carried me to the couch.
I couldn’t stand up for days without blood running out of me,
gravity pulling dust to dust back to the earth.
And then my milk came in.
I held two bags of crushed peas to my chest and wept,
waiting for my body to recognize
that the little sucking mouth I had sustained,
and the two little kidneys,
Twenty years have passed, and I am old now.
Sometimes I trust no man at all, nor God,
but wait only for the next set of contractions,
and then lean deep-deep into a dream
that will numb me like a hospital drug.
But there is a time to be awake,
though your hands tremble holding the glass,
a time to revere what has been lost,
to grieve as you try to catch a few ounces of life and bless it,
kiss it, before it passes on.
Like you, I do not want to look at a world
where the loss of innocence is nothing at all.
That passage of a woman’s life is marked by blood for a reason.
The stained sheets are carried down to the celebration
because it is a sacred occurrence.
And I do not want to look at a world
where the holy union of a man and a woman
and their bliss knit work of child making
is baptized only by two full breasts crying out for a lost son
who was never considered more
than an inconvenience.
You tell me I don’t know, but I do know
what it is like to learn to walk again
after you have been full of child
then emptied of child,
what it is like to leave a concrete building
with nothing but your single body half of what it was.
I know what it is like to hold a lime in my palm
and whisper, “She would have been so small as that,
so large as that,”
and then to move forward into blank years of grief,
watching days on the calendar pass and thinking,
“If she had lived, she would be two today.
Today would be her birthday.”
Rebecca Reynolds teaches Classical Rhetoric and Philosophy of Faith in eastern Tennessee, and is a contributor to the Story Warren website. She’s the author and illustrator of the pediatric series From the Medical Files of Dr. Phineas C. Bones and collaborated with Ron Block as the lyricist for his critcally-acclaimed album, Walking Song. She lives in Kingsport, Tennessee, with her husband and three children.