Published on October 14th, 2015 | by Carla Sameth0
WE HAVE PETS: Carla Sameth on Love and Loss
“Why are we stopping here?” my son Gabriel demanded as we pulled into the all-too-familiar HMO hospital parking lot and walked downstairs to the lab.
My son was five years old, and I had begun looking into having another baby on my own through sperm donor.
The most beautiful, hopeful, scary, almost orgasmic words I’ve ever heard are still “you’re pregnant,” which is what I’d heard a few days ago. But I’ve learned that early pregnancy is driven by numbers — human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is produced during pregnancy, and the numbers need to be going up fast, at least doubling every couple of days, if it’s a strong pregnancy — and my numbers were low to start with.
There are degrees of being pregnant and not pregnant. Sometimes you don’t know for sure if you’ve lost the pregnancy in the early days. And there are all sorts of terms that mask the despair of a miscarriage: “blighted ovum…” “spontaneous abortion…”
I had returned to ask about my about my hCG results. Was I still pregnant? The numbers were lower. “You should discuss this with your doctor,” the nurse said.
I knew what those numbers meant; I left, sobbing.
As I drove through the Hollywood traffic toward the freeway, my doctor called me. “Carla, do you understand what this means? That you’re having a….” He spoke to me like he wanted to slap me to get my attention; I interrupted, heaving sobs.
“Yes, I know,” I said. For a second I let my head rest on the steering wheel, almost at a stop. I hit the windshield wipers on as if they might wipe the tears from my eyes and clear my vision. I resumed driving. The doctor continued to talk. It was unlikely that I was anything but miscarrying. He did not tell me to go home and rest, only, “It’s so early there shouldn’t be much blood.“
The news of my vanishing pregnancy threatened to blow me up.
After I gave birth to Gabriel — my seventh pregnancy following multiple miscarriages — Dr. Beer, the famous reproductive immunologist who had helped me, said I should try to get pregnant again within the first 18 months. But within a year, my husband and I had separated.
Dr. Beer had often seemed like a mad scientist, with his weird, often painful and expensive treatments. Our HMO doctors only shook their heads; their motto seemed to be “just keep trying and you might get lucky.” Still, there were many “Dr. Beer” babies. And my son, Gabe, was one of them.
I couldn’t really give myself over to the idea of going through it all again. I knew I didn’t have the financial resources. After Gabriel was born, a benevolent family member paid off the house-size debt. Now I was on my own, a single mom.
When I tried to have my first child, I had trouble understanding people who became obsessed with having a second baby. I believed one baby would be enough — manna from Heaven. But then it wasn’t. And even if I couldn’t have the three children I once wanted, I began to hunger for a second. I felt I could handle two. I had left the non-profit world so I could improve my own economic mobility, and I had more or less figured out how I’d manage. I never got any rest anyway, so why would it be any different with two; basically I could kiss any sleep, relationships, and writing career goodbye for another 18 years or so. If I had to choose, I was choosing a second child. The rest could come later.
I arrived home, no longer crying, and called Dr. Beer. He told me sternly that I should have been in touch with him before I got pregnant. He instructed me to take another pregnancy test immediately. Just in case I was pregnant with twins and one had died, causing a temporary dip in numbers. And to immediately arrange for the costly IVIG treatment (Intravenous Immunoglobulin) I’d had with my previous pregnancy.
I felt sick in the pit in my stomach — it seemed ridiculous to spend thousands of dollars trying to preserve a lost pregnancy. My HMO doctors would think his “possible twins and still pregnant with one” theory was nuts.
I flew out of my house to pick up my son.
Gabe was a concrete, living, breathing, sweet body curled up next to me at night.
The next day I didn’t rush to the lab; I didn’t call the home health service and order the IVIG treatment. Instead, I went on Gabe’s school field trip, as planned. Gabe wore a stuffed animal snake around his neck; the students were instructed to bring a stuffed animal or a picture of a pet on the field trip to the zoo.
“We have pets,” Gabe told his classmates, not to be outdone by their boasts of dogs, cats, birds. “We have ants, termites, a bird and her babies,” he said, referring to the one of our loud San Gabriel birds who had built her nest in the hibiscus tree in the middle of our cluttered patio. I considered her skillful, a bohemian twig artist.
“We also have fleas and skunks,” Gabe said.
Later that day I joined Gabe, his snake, and classmates for lunch, “Hey, we didn’t go to see the Lakers,” he said. “Playoffs – ‘member mom?”
I hadn’t realized that all of the Lakers flags hanging from cars and being sold on the street meant that L.A. was in the playoffs. Going to the NBA playoffs was not anywhere on my list. “Who’s the ‘bestest’ player?” Gabe asked.
I tried to think. “ Shaq O’Neal? He’s more of a team player then Kobe, right?” I said. That started a heated discussion amongst the kids and the adults present. I was surprised to find how much Gabe knew about each player.
I was glad I went on that field trip.
That day I told myself that if I could continue my life, my very precious life with my living son wearing the blue-green Converse tennis shoes and stuffed snake, I would be okay.
Late that afternoon, I got another blood test. My HMO doctor had ordered it, though he clearly thought Dr. Beer was wacky. He knew there was no baby; it was another miscarriage.
I called for the test results. “The number is down to 16,” the nurse said.
Now I had eight pregnancies under my belt – two abortions, five miscarriages, one live birth. Gabe. My miracle son.
“Sometimes adults get scared when life is dark?” Gabe asked me one night at bedtime, soon after my last miscarriage. We were cuddling after his bath and book, the Jewish lullaby tape with songs from around the world playing. He didn’t like to sleep alone, in the dark.
I made him repeat his question; it was too deep for me. That was my five- year-old son, the one who insisted on sleeping next to me because his feet got cold. But I was the one who clung to him at night that week after I lost the last pregnancy. Each night I asked myself why I didn’t go to sleep when he did, as he begged me to. Each night I attempted to put him in his bed, me in mine. I didn’t want to use his need to mop up my sorrow. But he always ended up next to me, spooning close.
That’s true,” I answered my son. “I’m not afraid of the dark anymore but sometimes… sometimes….” I trailed off.
I wanted to show bravery, rise to super-mom status, albeit wounded, and not tell him just how alone an adult can feel. “Sometimes you feel a little scared, but then you get tough,” I said.
In the wee hours of the morning, when I awoke, things felt the most stark. Gabe spooned up next to me and I was reluctant to move, but his gentle kicks got me up.
In reality, I felt relief that I was still functioning almost a week after my eyes burned at the sight of the fallen hCG number telling me I wasn’t going to have this baby, who likely would’ve had close to the same birthday as Gabriel, another Aquarius: creative, already a dreamy intellectual. I was just relieved that I hadn’t crawled under my covers for good.
Responding to Gabe’s needs pointed me in the direction of the resilience I carried with me most of my life. I fed, bathed, played with, and cared for Gabriel, even while getting hit with heavy cramps the first days. I still had hot flashes from all the hormones I was taking. Carrying around a thick cloud of defeat, I put one foot in front of another.
I made an appointment with a therapist specializing in single parents, infertility, and adoption decisions. I knew enough about adoption to know that it was not as simple as going to the store and picking up a baby the way some threw it out flippantly, “Just adopt.” It was money, time, potential loss when an adoption fell through. But unlike my attempts to carry another baby, with adoption, if you persisted, you did end up with a child.
Denial was no longer possible; I knew that I couldn’t risk going through more miscarriages, thrashing myself physically, emotionally, and financially the way I did the first time around before I had Gabe. I now had a five-year-old, and if I were to be put on bed rest during the pregnancy, that would be a good chunk out of his young life. I was finally ready to at least open the door a crack to adoption.
Early one morning, I wrote Gabe a letter that stayed in my journal, apologizing for my shortcomings as a mother, explaining what I was doing during that time in his life, “I want to tell you that when you were almost five-and-a-half, I decided to try to have another baby. You were always asking me about a brother or sister, and I always wanted more. I used to want three when I envisioned a family that included two parents…and “real” pets like the other kids.”
I apologized for not having the energy to read to him every night, for sometimes falling asleep mid-sentence, for not always learning his tap routines to practice with him before his dance performances. And for not picking him up at school every day early at the “goodbye song” when the stay-at-home moms arrived.
Gabe woke up asking for oatmeal; I put down my pen.
Years later, I wrote a story imagining my own death. In it Gabe was a writer living in Brazil. He had to come back and to go through all my piles of papers, snippets of writing he couldn’t read, he wasn’t sure he wanted to read. And I wondered if he would ever see that letter I wrote, shortly after I had that last miscarriage.
So much seemed possible during that little window of time: I was pregnant with a potential second child, I had made an offer on a bigger house in the neighborhood, work was growing with two new potential contracts. If I had to pick between these events in my life: baby, new house, and growing business, it was the baby that would win – hands down – even though one might argue the other two would help to support that dream of expanded family. The first to go was the baby, then the house and possible clients. Everything lost its shine — at least for the first months following the miscarriage.
That summer we went out and bought a leopard gecko. Gabe named him Michael Jordan and fed him crickets.
Flowers sprung up outside. Gabe said, “God provided them.” At the end of the week, he smashed the roses with strong bursts of water. I was sad, but I figured that, in time, the roses would grow back.