Every winter, I’m reminded of you. Every winter, I’ve been missing you. It’s taken me years to write this, but I’ve been writing…I’ve been writing your story, our story.
And now that winter is turning to spring, the ice has thawed and vanished, and the air has lost its bite, I feel that I can breathe, and I feel that you’re OK.
I feel it’s time that I’ve finished; it’s time to share your story.
I know it’s not much, but these words are the one way I know how to honor you.
This is for you.
* * * Part Three * * *
That was my HCG level before they took you. That number is forever engraved in my memory.
I carried it with me each time I peeled myself off the couch to stumble to the bathroom.
I carried it with me each time I stared down at the blood red water and remnants of you.
I carried it with me when my husband’s arms wound tightly around me as I closed my eyes, but my mind was wide awake.
I carried it with me when the street lights turned from red to green.
I carried it with me when I talked with people, and days of tear tracks hid beneath my makeup.
I carried it with me everywhere because it reminded me of you.
Some days, it depressed me to think that in a way, to the world, you were just a number. Some days, in the thick of it all, it was hard, even for me, to not think of you as that number because I never got to meet you. I never got to see you. I only saw the storm.
But each time I was weak, I fought myself. I fought to keep you, imagine you as beautiful and precious as you would have been if you’d made it to September. I would always fight to keep you that way because even though we never met, we were connected.
And that’s how I felt when I stood in the elevator–it was March 17, 2014–I was waiting to get to the second floor, standing next to the young woman rubbing her perfect, round bump. I looked at her out of the corner of my eye; she didn’t know I was a mother too. Is it horrible that I wanted to strangle her with my childless hands? I wanted to boil over with jealousy, but I fought to make myself cool. I continued to swallow the rock in my throat and stared blankly at the door, praying that it would open, praying for it to let me out. That minute felt eternal. And as soon as the doors parted, I slid out as if I’d caught fire. In a way, inside, I had.
In the lab waiting room, I was surrounded by more mothers. I studied them while waiting; some were sweet, first-time moms, emitting that new motherly glow. Some were obvious veterans: just another child to add to the tribe, and the tribe was there too, next to mom, dangling their feet and rustling through hospital magazines.
And then there was me, waiting to get the first of many blood draws to monitor my HCG levels from the child, my first child, that I’d just lost.
I wrestled the urge to cry. I sank in my seat, knowing that this was just the beginning. This was the first week I would be pricked in the crook of my arm and given a number that was hopefully, significantly less than the week prior. I didn’t care about the needle; I could handle the needle. It was the mark–the greenish, bluish little bruise–that would stay behind after the needle that pained me most. That bruise was a constant reminder that you were once a storm of cysts in my womb. It was a constant reminder that I could get very sick, even after you were gone. It was a constant reminder that I may never reach the end, to be free to try again. It was a constant reminder that they would always label you: my “complete mole.”
How could I possibly heal this way?
“Does it matter which arm?” I asked her.
“Nope. Up to you,” she said while logging my name into the computer. I saw my name, listed next to HCG as the “reason for visit.” I kept wondering how many times I’d see this woman. How many times would she have to log my information? How many times would I have to pick an arm? How many times could I layer my bruises?
And when would I heal?
“This one I guess…” I said as I presented my right arm. She tied off my bicep, creating a pulsating, eager vein on which she smeared with the sterilizing solution. The lab nurses worked quickly. They didn’t ask your story, and I didn’t want to tell it.
I got queasy as I anticipated the needle going in and the vile filling with blood. That vile weighed heavily on my mind. That vile of blood was the groundwork, the map for the journey ahead. Would it be long or would it be short? Would I find hellish fire or would I sail quietly? I would soon find out.
I winced. She was not swift. But before I would say something, that was it. It was in and then it was out, and it was done–the first of many.
“When will I get the results?” I asked as she turned away from me, disposing of her materials and preparing for the next person. “Someone will update your chart or call you, tomorrow at the earliest,” she said.
And she sent me on my way. I gave a fake grin to the sea of mothers in the waiting area and disappeared into the elevator where the rock in my throat resurfaced. I would not cry, but I wanted to. I was terrified. I was lightheaded. I hated this. I hated blood. My journey had officially begun, and I knew I’d ride that elevator dozens of times, with gauze and a bandage squeezing my arm. I thought it would get easier, maybe it would, but that day, it was the worst. That day, it hurt. That day, it seemed as though everyone I passed wondered why I was there, why they needed my blood. They didn’t know, I was a mother, and I was mourning.
I wouldn’t bend my arm, and I cried the entire drive home.
The next afternoon, I got the call.
“I’m happy to let you know that your levels are at 4,400!” Nurse Katie said. “That’s much more than a 50% drop, which is what we typically like to see. This is great news!”
I felt lighter.
“Ugh thank you. I feel so much better,” I said. “So I want to see at least a 50% drop each week then? What happens if I plateau or it goes up?”
She paused. “We’ll just take it week by week, but I don’t foresee that happening. Your first result is a very good sign that this will continue to go in the right direction. Of course, we both know anything can happen, but let’s not worry about that unless we need to. OK?”
“OK…” I said, dissatisfied. I wanted to know. I wanted to prepare myself for the letdown. I always wanted to prepare myself for the worst; I always thought it could make it hurt less, though it never did. She sensed my dissatisfaction.
“If you happened to plateau, we would just continue to watch. Some women even go up a little, but then a week or two later, their levels continue to decline. This is OK. If you continued to plateau or your levels continued to increase, we would start discussing methotrexate.”
I swallowed hard.
I just breathed on the line.
“Alyssa, let’s not think about that right now. Let’s be positive. You got an outstanding drop, so let’s be happy right now and hope things continue moving in this direction,” she said. “OK?”
“OK, ya. Just wanted to prepare myself, in case,” I said, trying to focus on the number 4,400 as people walked past me in the stairwell at work.
“I understand, but Dr. S. and I feel good about this. You should too,” she assured me, and it did help. “I’ll call you next week with your results.”
I thanked her again. She was selfless and attentive. She was the same nurse that had urged me to come in and get my second opinion. I trusted her; she had been there from the beginning. She understood me when no one else could. I couldn’t thank her enough.
“And Alyssa, stay off Google,” she said, and we hung up.
Every week, I went back. Every week, I rode the same elevator, sometimes alone; sometimes with the old man confined to his wheelchair who never spoke; sometimes with new babies in strollers, or a growing baby in a belly, or a toddler tugging her mother’s hand. It never got easier, no matter who was there, no matter how many weeks it had been. I knew all the nurses, and they knew me. I knew the ones that were gentle, and I knew the ones that were harsh. The blood no longer bothered me, but the bruising never stopped. The bruising was always there. At work, I covered myself with a light jacket because I didn’t want anyone to see. At home, I joined molar pregnancy and miscarriage online support groups. I confided in women who had lost multiple children the same way, and some, other ways too. I read and I followed the raw, emotional journeys of women, some younger than me, struggling through treatment and battling cancer, all while trying to mourn what they’d lost. With time, I would open up outside the support groups, because it never got easier to hide. I received genuine, heartfelt sympathy that I did not want and heartless remarks that will forever burn on the inside.
“You’re young and healthy; you’ll be fine.”
“It just wasn’t meant to be.”
“At least it wasn’t a baby.”
She said: At least it wasn’t a baby…? Because my baby became a storm of cysts, my baby was not real? My baby was not real to her, and she told me to my face, despite my broken heart. But my baby was real to me, and to my husband, and to God. God knew. He understood, and it took those words for me to realize that. Those words, I will never forget: they left a wicked scar only I could see; though, I knew he saw it too. From then on, I tried to focus on God each time I felt my wounds reopen, each time I thought I might self-combust.
I began to feel the difference. I noticed: God started to go with me, every week, and I think he waited with me, every week, for that phone call. Maybe he had always been there, but I was buried deep in my grief, so I didn’t see. But I think he was there.
He was there on March 25, when I reached 880.
He was there on April 1, when I was at 316.
He came on April 8, when I hit double-digits: 99.
He was there on April 15, when I was at 41.
He was there on April 22, when I reached 17.
He came on April 29, when I made it to 9.
He was with me May 6, and I was at 5.
He was there on May 13, when I reached 3.
He was there for me May 20, when I was 3 again.
He came on May 27, and I was at 2.
He continued to be there, even at the end.
He was there on June 25, when I was less than 1…
…and on July 23, when I was still less than 1…
…and on August 20, I was free.
On August 20, 2014, there was no more sign of you except what was in my heart. After half a year, the doctors sent me on my way, released me back into a world that didn’t seem as dark as that winter I’d lost you. I could see, the world looked differently, and I know now that, it is because of you. I know now that, God took care of me, and he will take care of you. I have found comfort in knowing that; I’ve found comfort in knowing you’re not alone, and I don’t know why I ever doubted that. I hope you know that I do, and always will, still think about you, and though it may seem that I’ve moved on, know that I’ll never feel normalcy as your mother. The bond that we have is not normal, it’s extraordinary. I am left with scars, but I’m no longer afraid to bear them. I’m sorry it took me so long to get courage, to be unashamed, to have faith that you are and always will be a part of me. So this is it: this is your story, and this is mine. We will always share this story, our story. And one day, when the time is right, know that I’ll tell our story again.
One day, when the time is right, I’ll tell it to your brother.