Grief and Miscarriage — in Quito, Ecuador

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay,” Robert Frost

One of my first little class activities for my students is to use cut-out lines of this poem (one per student, in groups depending on the size of the class) to try to put the poem back together based on content, rhyme, and chronology. Sometimes the students vaguely remember this poem from the book The Outsiders, and it’s fun to see when that lightbulb turns on. It’s gratifying to see the students working together to figure things out like, “Oh my gosh, these lines rhyme!” or, “Maybe because this line says ‘first,’ it should be the first line!” Then we get to discuss their choices and, ultimately, the poem itself.

As I begin prep work to tutor a student this year (as I am not full-time teaching anymore), I came across the activity and poem again. Wonderful memories of first days of school flooded back. What a joy it was to teach. What a joy it was to get to know the students and form real relationships with them.

I read this poem again, and my heart is flooded with something else, too.

Grief.

One of the very beautiful things about poems is that you go into them with your own life experiences: your burdens, your hurts, your joys, your worries, your faith, yourself. To a fourteen-year-old, this poem might mean a loss of a friendship, a loss of a love interest, a loss of closeness with parents, a loss of parents’ marriage, a loss of “childhood” and the time that came with it, or even a loss of identity.

I empathize with my students. It is not easy being a teenager and navigating the relationships, the friendships, the politics, the parents, the social media. It’s completely overwhelming, and I’m glad I made it through. But I’ll never forget how hard it was.

But for me in this season of life, I think of the golden excitement of being pregnant . . .
and then not being pregnant anymore.

~

Trigger warning: Miscarriage description. Graphic.

~

Two Thursdays ago, I peed and noticed some pink color. I had just gotten home from a particularly rough city-streets-and-sidewalks bike ride, so I thought there was a chance I had exercised a little too hard. And when it was just the one instance of pink over the course of the next few days, I exhaled a huge sigh of relief. The following Sunday I went to get my blood drawn to “prove” to the insurance company here in Ecuador that I was, indeed, pregnant. My HCG levels were in the 7-week range, even though I was 10 weeks. I was a little concerned, but I knew worrying wouldn’t help anything. I tried to put it out of my mind. Then on Wednesday there was that pink color again, but more. And then the pink turned a little more red. But it was really slow, and I had zero pain. I thought maybe I had twins and I was losing one of them. I googled it, and I had all the symptoms: I was older, I had lower HCB levels, the pain was on par with a mild period.

I had hope.

Thursday came, and I was still bleeding, slowly but steadily. I decided to make an appointment with an OBGYN. I got on the phone with him directly, and he told me to go ahead and come in that evening, that he’d make room for me. My kind-hearted neighbor offered to take me, my other neighbors offered to watch my kids, and, because Steve was still at school and somewhat unreachable, I accepted the help. (I am learning to accept help. It is a work in progress. But I was incredibly thankful for the kindness of my neighbors. I will bake them bread in the near future.)

The ultrasound clearly showed an egg sac.

But it was empty. And it was an irregular shape (not perfectly round). My kind doctor told me that the baby was not in the sac and that the sac had started detaching from the uterine wall. There was a teeny tiny little shape just below the sac, and my doctor said that it might be the baby.

Such a sad little gray lump on the screen.

He measured the sac and told me it measured about 7 weeks. He drew a line to show me how big a 7-week baby would be. He then drew a line about quadruple that, and way beyond the size of the sac, to show me how big an 11-week baby would be (which on that Thursday was the size baby I was supposed to have). I learned that something had gone awry around 6 or 7 weeks and that it was just now physically manifesting in my body.

We finished up with the ultrasound, sat back down at his desk, and discussed options: pills to expedite the process, a D&C (dilation and curettage — basically a scraping of the uterine lining to get everything out), or waiting it out. I chose to wait. I had done this three times already, so I felt I knew what to expect. I knew the worst was coming. I could brace for that.

I walked back out to the waiting room and cried as I hugged my neighbor. She drove me home. Steve was then at soccer with the boys, so I texted him “Miscarriage.”

I ordered Sushi on UberEats. I enjoyed what I wanted before anyone else got home.

My 9- and 6-year-olds were very sad about the news. My two-year-old was sad because he could see that I was crying; he opened his eyes wide and said, “Awww.” It was cute, in the most devastating way.

After reading a chapter of Christopher Mouse to the boys and tucking them in, I went out to watch some Netflix with Steve.

And wait.

I didn’t have to wait long. The blood started flowing heavier and heavier. Oftentimes, shuffling back from the bathroom to watch a few more minutes of our show, I didn’t even get to the couch before I had to turn around and head back to the bathroom.

Here’s my experience with miscarriage: when it comes, you know. The bleeding becomes very heavy and there are blood clots, ranging in size from very small to two inches in diameter. It’s terrifying.

And you know that one of those clots is the fetus.

This miscarriage was so sudden, I had a difficult time managing it. And in Ecuador, the plumbing is such that you are not supposed to flush toilet paper or the toilet will clog. So all the bloody toilet paper started piling up in the little wastebasket that sits next to the toilet. Clots splashed. Blood splattered onto the toilet bowl and somehow onto the bathroom floor and wall. Blood dripped down my legs.

The word that came to mind was “massacre.”

I decided to move to the shower to clean myself up. But the simple act of taking off my clothes and walking one foot over to the shower proved difficult. More blood dripped onto the floor, but I made it to the shower. In the shower, though, the blood was flowing so heavily, I started to worry I was losing too much too quickly. Clots stubbornly got caught in the drain. I felt dizzy. I decided to get out of the shower and try to just lie down. I grabbed a big bath towel, squished it between my legs, and waddled out to try to find a place to lie down and get warm. I ended up on the cold wood floor with Steve trying to get blankets and pillows to keep me warm and make it more comfortable. I didn’t have a fever, so I figured it was safe to try to rest, even as the blood flowed. At a couple points, I thought I was going to throw up, so a trash can was my sleeping partner for the night. Eventually, I felt able to get into bed. With a new bath towel acting as a the world’s biggest pad, I was able to get some sleep in a bed.

In the morning, I felt like I had given birth that night: sore, tired, mentally exhausted, and dizzy at times.

But there was no newborn sleeping next to me. Just a trash can on the floor and lots of blood in the bathroom.

It is Saturday today, and I am taking breaks from writing this to go change my pad. But the blood is very slow now, just a drizzle to remind me of the massacre that’s taken place.

When I posted about my miscarriage on Instagram, several people reached out to offer condolences and to thank me for sharing.

Several of those several people were former students. It makes me well up just thinking about the fact that my students care about me. Teaching is a job that is so much more than a job. It is the potential for life-long friendships. It is the potential to make a lasting difference in lives — both teacher to student and student to teacher (Students, do you realize you make a difference in your teachers’ lives? You do. You matter, so much.) Maybe a poem like “Nothing Gold Can Stay” resonates with a student and stays with her for the rest of her life. Maybe the poem makes her realize that happiness is fleeting and that’s OK. Maybe she realizes that trying to prolong happiness with people and things is an act in futility but on some level it’s still worth it.

Life is not simply long stretches of happiness. And it’s the big lie if you think it is supposed to be. There are massacres along the way. And they suck every ounce of happiness right out of your body — maybe for a day or three or 58.

So we move on as humans, beaten in spirit and body, but not broken. When I am beaten, I look at my kids and soak in the love. I hug my husband hard and know he cares about me on a deeper level than any human alive. I accept help from kind neighbors who have become like family to me. I pray to God and know that there are better things to come. I talk to my parents and know that they love me on an ethereal level, whatever that means exactly.

Perhaps it’s true that nothing gold can stay. And that’s OK. It’s a good reminder to appreciate what we have. So go hug your people. Call your mom. Tell your teachers thanks. And do your best in this life to be the kind of human that makes a positive difference in other people’s lives.

Sending you all the love.

J.

Getting Rejected and Other Fun Things About Publishing a Book

At the beginning of [chess], there are no variations. There is only one way to set up a board. There are nine million variations after the first six moves. And after eight moves there are two hundred and eighty-eight billion different positions. And those possibilities keep growing. There are more possible ways to play a game of chess than the amount of atoms in the observable universe. So it gets very messy. And there is no right way to play; there are many ways. In chess, as in life, possibility is the basis of everything. Every hope, every dream, every regret, every moment of living.

Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

What an analogy to life! You make a decision, thinking you know the outcome or the desired outcome or the correct outcome. We moved to Ecuador for our family to have a new experience and make a difference in our community and become bilingual. And while the first two are actively happening in wonderful ways we could not have predicted, the third is sliming along at a snail’s pace. Not what we imagined. I tell myself that the time and effort it is taking for all of us to learn Spanish might provide experiences and (embarrassing) memories that we will come to cherish. This time and effort might be making us into better humans. I can only hope so. Because if I don’t, my forehead will start looking for the nearest brick wall.

You might remember my announcing with great grandeur and flourish that I’m going to write a book, a terrifying but exciting decision. But I felt ready. I had the support and encouragement of a successful author and educational consultant. I had a good idea. I had the work ethic.

I sat at that chessboard knowing that my first move would be just that — the first move, of many. But I also knew that my first move would be the start of a game that I would win. And winning meant that I was going to publish this book. Not a bad way to play a game, knowing that you’re going to win and knowing what winning looks like.

So I got to work. I wrote, I edited, I pondered life’s mysteries, I drank coffee. I compiled my work into the required proposal format. I sent it off to a large educational publishing company with humility to know that it was my “reach” publishing company. No surprise, I received my first rejection letter a few weeks later. I was pretty sure my first move would result in this.

Oddly, I felt a sort of pride receiving this, knowing that most great authors out there have experienced rejection. I was all set for this rejection to be a wonderful chapter in my becoming a great author story. And, really, this big bad publishing company didn’t even know me. Why would they take a chance on a complete unknown author when they didn’t have to? Well anyway, I changed their message.

Jen
you
are
valuable.
we
are in
Development.

I created the closure for this rejection and moved on in stride. I went back to the proposal drawing board for the next company. Now this company — this company was the one my mentor recommended as a good fit for me and for the type of book I was writing. I pored over the proposal, checking everything. I didn’t want a single apostrophe out of place. Suffice it to say, I was very nervous submitting the proposal. I probably checked over the email and the attached proposal for 20 minutes before simply pressing that blue SEND (while holding my breath and twitching my toes).

In a few weeks, I received the reply.

You know, I felt like I had a knight-fork chess move going with those two publishing companies. Surely I would get one, but there was a countermove I hadn’t expected, and I lost my knight. (Steve helped me with this one: a knight-fork move is when a knight is attacking two pieces at the same time.)

Jen, you again

keep writing.
be
your best

Because losing my knight didn’t mean I was going to lose the game. I still had all my major pieces. I had my queen and two rooks (or if we care to remember the analogy to life — I still had my physical and mental health). I would keep playing and doing my best. But I was sad all the same. And that was OK.

Wipe the tears away . . . and ONWARD to the next publisher I go. I rewrote and reorganized my proposal to fit this publisher’s particular format and even added some details that I thought would help. Looking back, this third proposal really was the best. I had been so confident in my first proposal and then even more in my second, but those two rejections had forced me to see that my best hadn’t been that first or second proposal. It was my third. I was feeling good. Again I waited the several weeks for a reply, and when I saw it sitting unread in my email, I had butterflies. This could be good!

Neat. And, you’re welcome for the bit about the iPad and melatonin! How exciting that you liked that! So so great!

Sigh.

This trying-to-publish-a-book thing is not for the faint of heart. Luckily I have a nice strong heart. So that’s one thing goin’ for me. And a wee bit of creativity to bring me out of the black and white chess game for a little break.

We’re not
moving.
That was
you!

And speaking of movement, I remember another tidbit of advice Mrs. Elm, the wise librarian from The Midnight Library, gave to the hapless protagonist, Nora:

. . . a pawn is the most magical piece of all. It might look small and ordinary but it isn’t. Because a pawn is never just a pawn. A pawn is a queen-in-waiting. All you need to do is find a way to keep moving forward. One square after another. And you can get to the other side and unlock all kinds of power.

All you need to do is find a way to keep moving forward. And I’d humbly add to that: AND NOT GET CAPTURED BY THE ENEMY AND DIE. Simple yet powerful advice for playing with a pawn. And for living life. And for trying to publish a book in the time of COVID when publishing companies have had postponements and they’ve downsized and they’re only going with sure-deals and they’re only looking at known authors and
and
and
and.

Interestingly, two friends recently gifted me with the book Get to the Publishing Punchline, by Joy Eggerichs Reed. I devoured it. It was an easy, fun, funny read, and I enjoyed it. But it was discouraging, too. I read through all the advice Reed gave, and for most of it, I can say that I enthusiastically followed it. But just like reading a chess book can’t prepare you for every possible move you might need to make in a real game, reading a book about publishing didn’t help me for this particular move in this publishing game. But it might for the next move.

That is, when I figure out what that next move will be.

So that’s what’s on the agenda for me: stare at the chess board and do some serious thinking. Perhaps it’s time to pay a little more attention to my pawns.

And, hey, if you know of any good educational publishing companies out there, let me know. I’ll take all the help I can get.

There is always a time to say it with fresh eyes, a fresh voice, and, frankly, an alive voice. And if you are alive, and something is in you to write, get it out.

Joy Eggerichs Reed, Get to the Publishing Punchline: A Fun (and Slightly Aggressive) 30 Day Guide to Get Your Book Ready for the World