Published on March 20th, 2017 | by Carla Sameth1
After almost four years of trying to become a mother and three miscarriages, I was pregnant again. I had reached my tenth week—the furthest I’d ever gotten. My husband and I were renting a three-bedroom house that looked over the San Gabriel Mountains in Los Angeles. It was January of 1994.
Larry and I had met when we were both working at the same labor union. Then I moved to San Francisco after becoming engaged to someone else. When this didn’t work out I left for Europe. I boarded a boat in Bari, Italy bound for Corfu, Greece. I bought a red leather coat and mini-skirt in Florence, my makeshift wedding dress. A consolation prize. I sailed away having lost a baby, fiancée, job and life in San Francisco—what was supposed to be my own personal “city of dreams.” The boat I was on caught fire in the middle of the ocean. Women, children, then dogs were boarded first onto the lifeboats. Some of the men were left on board. In my lifeboat, everyone was crying and crossing themselves. All except for me, the Greek sailor and one woman devoted to rocking and comforting her baby. Through the night, I kept thinking, “It’s as good a time as any to die, I’ve lived a full life and I’ve been through enough.” I looked at the mom with her baby. Then, I began to cry. I felt myself split in two with the thought, “But no baby.”
When the sun came up, we were rescued by another boat.
I returned to Los Angeles. I had planned to get pregnant on my own. My family initially appeared to support my pursuit of solo motherhood. It turned out that they were much happier with the idea of a husband. They ran an ad for me in the Jewish Journal. I attended “Single Mothers by Choice” meetings and the lesbian mom-to-be support group, “Maybe Baby,” in Hollywood. I wasn’t entirely certain which group I’d fall into.
I ran into Larry at a party. I remembered that he’d been shy and had a crush on me. His voice is what drew me to him, his soothing, smoky, slow radio voice that made you think you ought to listen. I’m a sucker for voices, especially when they say certain phrases like “I’d like to grow old with you” and most of all “Wanna have my baby?” At age thirty three, after two abortions, I was feeling the passage of time, but something else too: a tiny shred of fear that I might not get another chance. Larry told me that in his working-class African American family, he was already old for not being a father. Twenty-nine.
On our third date Larry asked me where I’d gone the night before. I told him about my lesbian prospective parent group. It turned out that in addition to wanting to have a baby as soon as possible, we also shared the experience of being attracted to members of the same sex at some point in our lives.
The first time we’d tried to conceive our child, which was literally the first time we slept together, I’d gotten pregnant right away, no problem. But, at first, the home pregnancy test didn’t show positive. I cried a lot and drank too much. Later, when my period still didn’t come, I took a blood test. It was positive. For a moment, I felt transformed by the news, light as if I’d fly away. Inside my body I held a precious secret that changed everything. When I called Larry to tell him the news, he told me his car had just been repossessed.
A few weeks later, I met my friend Lisa for lunch. In the ladies’ room, I suddenly felt wetness going down my leg. Bright red blood.
Larry and I went to Hawaii. He wanted to take me since I had never been. He used his income tax refund. He also paid me back the loan I made him to get back his car. He proposed to me at the top of Mt. Haleakala. Because we told my parents, a bouquet of flowers arrived at our hotel. My dad told me. “Well I hope he can dance. Or you’re in trouble. A Jew without money and a Black without rhythm.”
I had my second miscarriage two months later. The doctors still told me there was probably nothing wrong, but I was scared.
I had seen Larry lose his temper in a labor negotiation once, but it wasn’t until sometime after my second miscarriage that he got that angry with me. He had disappeared one night and didn’t call. When I questioned him, he screamed at me and raised his fist. But after it was over, and he told me he’d go to counseling, I felt comforted when he sang “Oo-ooh Child things are going to get brighter, Oo-ooh things are going to get easier.”
We got married in November. At the wedding the African Americans, Latinos, Jews, Japanese and Chinese American guests danced the hora and followed the elaborate rituals of Ketubbah signing, unveiling of the bride and the broken wine glass, ate the tamales from the Mexican caterer and the Chinese wedding cake. There was a Black jazz band that played “Dodi Li” for the processional. They wore tuxedos and played jazz, salsa, funk and Middle Eastern music. We brought in a DJ who used to host NPR’s global music show. My Uncle Morris shimmied along to the Electric Slide. Larry’s aunts sang gospel. My brother-in-law, Matan, turned to me and said “If only all of LA were like this!” I didn’t want to say that even our marriage wasn’t this harmonious, only our wedding.
By the time I got the news of my fifth pregnancy—the third with Larry—I felt hopeful, but I wasn’t telling most people anymore.
At my January checkup, I watched my doctor’s face as he placed the stethoscope on my belly. “If we don’t see a heartbeat when you come back,” he told me, “we’ll have to think about the next step.”
For two weeks I walked around worried I was carrying something dead inside. “There’s nothing you can do,” Larry told me, impatient.
Back in handsome Dr. Harmon’s office again, he put the vaginal probe in me. I suddenly heard a sound, “Isn’t that a heartbeat?” I asked. My first one. I felt alive again.
My doctor didn’t look as happy as I was. “I’m not so sure about the size of the sac,” he said. “Come back in a week.” I tried to put myself to sleep for the week.
It was the night before my next appointment. Larry and I were arguing again. I ran outside. He ran after me and pushed me back towards the front door. He said he didn’t want the neighbors to hear us fighting. He called me bitch. He threw me down.
I went to bed worried that the baby might not be ok after hitting the cement.
Next morning, I woke just as the sun was coming up, eager to get to the doctor. I wanted to hear that heartbeat again. I tried not to think about the night before.
Larry was still dead asleep. I stretched my arms. That’s when I felt it—a sudden jolt, as if a car had hit the house. Then came the rocking and shaking. We were having an earthquake.
I grabbed Larry and hung on. Finally, the ground stopped moving. “I need to check our wedding china,” I said. It was still not put away. I climbed out of bed.
The room began to move again. Two pictures fell down. I heard glass shattering. I thought about the heartbeat.
The bed rocked again but not as hard this time. I waited. Larry said “I think it’s stopped now.”
I went first to the kitchen to see if the Mikasa was intact. “Hey put your shoes on!” Larry yelled at me. There was glass on the floor.
We drank decaf and tried to get a radio station to come through.
From up on our hill, everything was still now, as I dressed for my appointment that felt so important to keep. Many years before, I’d been in Mexico City after their big earthquake. The morning after the quake, my friend Ramon had headed out to his job as usual—having slept through the worst of it. It was only when he headed out into the world that he understood the extent of the devastation. His building had collapsed, colleagues dead.
Now Larry and I were driving up the familiar 2 freeway. The roads were empty. I heard sirens coming from all directions. Larry moved the radio dials for news but I wasn’t really listening. I had to know what had happened to my baby.
When I walked in to Dr. Harmon’s office, I saw file cabinets on the floor and papers scattered.
I put my feet in the stirrups. The doctor spread the sticky gel over my belly. He moved the Doppler around. Nothing. Then he said, “Let me try this.” I felt sick inside my stomach. He put the vaginal probe in and pushed it around.
They sent me over to the hospital—Verdugo Hills. I used to love the view from there. It’s where I always imagined having my baby, looking out over the hills and nursing after my delivery. The faces of the nurses and doctors were grim. They seemed to want to be home with their loved ones or calling their family. Larry was right next to me and I couldn’t bear it. I wanted to ask the doctor if it was true that it takes a lot to dislodge a sturdy pregnancy, as I’d heard. Maybe this one would have lasted if I’d stayed inside the house the night before.
In the operating room, I asked Dr. Harmon to check for the heartbeat one last time. He did.There was none. The anesthesiologist arrived. I asked him how he was doing. “Terrible,” he responded. Then he put my I.V. in and put me out. When I woke up after the D & C, it felt like a pole had been stuck down my throat. As I went down the elevator, the door opened, hugely pregnant women in various stages of labor got on and off. I looked down at their stomachs and sobbed. One of them got on and our eyes met. She crossed herself.
I went home. My cousins Howard and Solita called. The apartment building where Howard’s mother lived had collapsed. His mom was missing. They wanted me to help them look for her.
For several weeks people kept calling me and asking me how I was doing. Over and over, I heard the question: “What was the damage?” It took me a long time to realize that what they were asking about was the earth shaking.