In the summer of 2004, soon after my miscarriage, my family moved for a year to Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania so Daddy Sparta — my soldier/policeman/husband — could study at the Army War College. Sparta and I decided to pursue adoption while still “trying.” In the chill of an East Coast February, in the middle of our adoption home study, I found out I was pregnant.
I was depressed almost immediately. Even though I’d struggled with the complexities of adoption, I had already begun imagining our blond son holding hands with his adopted Hispanic sister. I’d already imagined them laughing and sharing childhood secrets. And I was ashamed of my grief. I should be grateful, elated.
Then, the fatigue and nausea hit. Such a good sign! my friends told me over the phone. Such a good sign, I told myself, so different from the last time, when I lost the baby. But I was sinking into a twilight ocean. My arms and legs were giant oars that I had been paddling for too long. Old scars became heavy cargo again. There is no one to take care of me. I have to take care of everyone. Who will take care of me? I can’t do this.
In Carlisle, I didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant. It was too early. So, no one knew that I was struggling to take care of my three-year-old boy when he got home from preschool. In the afternoons, Niko and I would lie in my bed with his books:
“Then Scooby and the gang headed around back to investigate. There they saw . . . and dinner . . . seashore . . . baby . . .”
“Mom! You AREN’T reading!”
I’d pull out of the eddy long enough to suggest he watch a video, then I’d close my eyes and swirl under.
One March morning while my son was in school and I was tired of my house, tired of the cold, tired of being tired, I strapped on my CamelBak and headed for the frozen trails of the post’s golf course. I trudged through the grey landscape, longing for spring. Hoot-hoot-hoot intersected my reverie. Hoot-hoot-hooaw. I looked up and saw a barred owl, maybe 20 feet from me, on a branch of a nearby tree. We stared at each other for a long time. When I walked on, I felt lucky, like I had been chosen.
I walked a little faster. Rolling from heel to toe, I sprang into the next step. Vitality flowed through my body, my arms swinging back and forth, carrying me forward. But suddenly I stopped, spooked. Wait a minute. I’m not struggling against a pulling tide. I don’t weigh 300 pounds. Oh god. Oh shit. I feel better. I’m going to lose the baby.
In April, I play with a Rubik’s Cube in my mind, turning recent events — my first miscarriage, our plans to adopt, the pregnancy, my second miscarriage — over and over in my head, fitting this part here, turning another there, trying to find a pattern that makes sense.
My doctor reads the pattern this way: It is age coupled with bad luck.
I twist the cube and turn the colors so a different pattern appears: I couldn’t embrace the pregnancy. I wanted to feel better. I couldn’t gut it out. It’s my fault.
Twist it, turn it again: The pregnancy felt wrong somehow, right from the start. I had some sort of intuition about what would happen. I lost the baby because I am supposed to find my daughter a different way.
One May night, I say to Sparta, “I’ve got no friends in Carlisle. There’s no one I can talk to.”
“Maybe if you made more of an effort.”
“More of an effort? Life takes all my effort. I’m overwhelmed with renovating our house long distance, with moving back to California, with . . .”
“But did you send Terry that thank-you note yet? Did you get flowers for Anne when she was sick? Because I think that’s why people don’t help you more.”
I start to cry. “I just had a miscarriage! I just spent ten weeks pregnant and puking — the last week knowing the baby had died! Can you give me a fucking break on the thank-you notes?”
Sparta looks pained and is silent for a long time, then says softly, “It’s just getting too hard for me to watch. I know it’s sad, I am sad too, but I just drive on. That way I don’t feel it as much. Please. I don’t want to feel it so much. Can’t we just drive on?”
Through the late spring and summer, I take my son on a trip to Budapest to see our Hungarian relatives. I have our windows replaced and the floors refinished at the California house. I pack us up and move us home to California, where I immediately give the go-ahead to start construction on a cottage in the backyard. Sparta takes command of a brigade in the Army Reserves and begins a new job at the police department as the chief’s right-hand man.
One August day, I go to the local YMCA for a low-impact aerobics class. But when I arrive, the teacher announces this is a new class, called NIA, or “Neuromuscular Integrative Action.” The class is part dance, part martial arts, part pagan ritual. Loud, whooshy music swirls as the teacher encourages us to touch earth then sky. She exaggerates her exhalations into the microphone: HeeAAAH, HeeAAAH. We are waves, swooping then breaking. We are cats growling, RAER, RAER. We receive, jutting our hands forward and scooping into our bellies an imaginary bounty. The music grows louder, and class members begin to whoop. Now, send the energy out! the instructor cries. We are punching now–side, side, front. I want to hear your breath, HUNH! HUNH!
I feel ridiculous, but I allow myself a tentative “Hunh.” It feels damn good, and soon I am hammering with my fists and bellowing, “HUNH! HUNH!” During the final crescendo of sound, the teacher tells us to follow your own bodies, just let it all go, no one is watching, no one is watching, just let it go. I writhe and whirl while being careful to avoid the lady next to me, who is curled up in fetal position.
Let it all go, no one is watching. I close my eyes and let my body follow an internal current. Colored memories flash up from the deep and spread out around my body, through my shoulders and elbows and down my legs to my toes. I realize it really doesn’t matter how I fit the pieces together, and while no one is watching, I stop dancing and let the tears fall.