My ob/gyn grasped my hand to pull me up and asked how I was coping. I slouched at the end of the exam table in the crepe-paper robe, and to avoid crying uncontrollably, I spoke ill of my sister-in-law: “She’s an 18-year old dropout and just had a baby.”
“God protects the young and the dumb,” Dr. Sanford offered. She had just finished my pelvic exam, checking my uterus to see that my miscarriage was complete. I had returned from Houston, all white-sun sky and gray ground, the day before. My mother-in-law insisted my husband, Jake and I be there for the birth of our nephew. To be fair, she didn’t know I was miscarrying that last weekend in May, checking and changing my pad in the bathroom between elevator rides up to the hospital room where Dylan had just been born the day before and where I learned Nicki wasn’t going to try breastfeeding. “Gross,” she scoffed in her smeared eyeliner and crooked ponytail, reclined in her hospital bed. Dylan was across the room in the clear bassinet.
“Hey—can you watch him so I can go out for a smoke?” She peered at her brother, my husband, over her glasses. They look nothing alike. “It’s been months.”
We nodded, and she was barely out of earshot before I began my hushed tirade about secondhand smoke for the newborn swaddled and sleeping just out of reach.
I was only five weeks along, so I wasn’t too concerned about hemorrhaging to make the five-hour drive. This was my third miscarriage, so I knew, as much as one can, what to expect when one is no longer expecting. The second morning in Houston, I rose before the humidity was oppressive and walked and walked and walked on the cracked sidewalk, blaring Kelly Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You” on repeat. I pumped my arms and sang into the weighty air. I hadn’t brought water and relished the discomfort, the soreness in my heels. Endorphins kicked in, and by the time I returned to the hotel, sticky and flushed, I felt sturdier than I had in months.
I found out Nicki was pregnant from her MySpace page. I was about to turn 38 and had had my first miscarriage a few months before. As her belly mushroomed, I became pregnant and miscarried again. I ate green beans for snacks as she ate double-decker Taco Bell tacos and neglected to make prenatal appointments until her second trimester. I learned these things from tracking status updates about her sketchy boyfriend or YouTube clips of screaming bands. I did this as I dodged friends my age who were pregnant. Unable to attend baby showers full of pastel cupcakes and Boppies, I also found reasons to get up from the table at a barbeque when talk turned to kids. I did things that felt as distant from motherhood as I could imagine. But even at a George Michael stadium show, as songs I hadn’t heard in over two decades pulsed in time with flashing lights, flooding me with yearnings from high school, concert-goers with sphered bellies stopped me cold.
In the yellow hospital room, I urged Nicki to open our gift bag: baby Vans, Peepee Teepees, and Boynton books. “Aww,” she crooned. “Thank you, Aunt Carrie.” She pulled out Snuggle Puppy and began reading to the baby lying between her legs on the bed: “I love what you are/I love what you do/oooo/I love you.” Jake, sitting in a chair, arms crossed on his knees, glanced up at me and raised his eyebrows, a gesture meant to both steel me and give credit to Nicki. He had witnessed how my world had shrunk; he had not figured his mom’s first grandchild would not be his; and his co-workers asked him constantly when we’d start a family. But the night before, after turning off the hotel lamp, he smoothed my hair with his palm and said: “It’s not her fault.” I opened my mouth to make a snide comment about birth control but stopped. I knew, of course, that wasn’t what he meant.
Nicki closed the book, gingerly lifted Dylan, and pecked his shock of dark hair. “I have to pee,” she said. “And it hurts like a bitch.” She leaned toward Jake: “Can you hold him?”
“Let me,” I said, rising from my corner chair and moving in with open arms.