It began with a positive pregnancy test in the days leading up to the publication of my first book. It was an unplanned and protected against pregnancy that took me four pee sticks to actually believe was real. Then things went something like this:
Day 1: I decide I can’t have a third child. I need to have an abortion.
Day 2: I decide I can’t have an abortion. I need to have a third child. I buy prenatal vitamins, and start taking them. I sense, giddily, that after two boys, the sesame seed-size soul inside of me is my little girl.
Day 3: I decide I can’t have a third child or an abortion. I recall yearning, desperately so, for a baby in the months before I became pregnant with my older son. I bring myself back to that space and think about other families who are there now. I spend the better part of the afternoon on YouTube, looking through poignant videos made by would-be adoptive families. My husband, who feels our family is complete with the two kids that we have, tells me to think on it. But I’m not thinking; I’m just fantasizing about making someone else’s baby dreams come true. I decide I’ll be the best birth mom ever. I’ll even send the new parents pumped breast milk for good measure.
Day 4: I decide I’ll be the worst birth mom ever, because at the end of nine months and childbirth, I would struggle mightily to hand over a newborn to someone else. And then I’d crush the baby dreams of one of those beautiful YouTube families. So it’s back to Day 2, then Day 1, then Day 2 again. My boobs are sore now, but my regularly scheduled migraines are dormant. Hormones.
Day 5: I decide that the sesame seed-size soul and I are going to spend at least another couple of weeks together. I’m going to put the decision off until I get back from New York, where my co-author and I are about to launch our book with a big party and a week packed with press interviews.
Day 6: I’m spotting. The doctor says watch and wait.
Day 7: I’m finishing up a live radio interview about the book, and I realize that something isn’t right. I’m bleeding — a lot. The interview wraps, and I waddle to the bathroom and call the doctor, who tells me to go to the emergency room, where the OB on call says that I’m miscarrying. When my husband comes to pick me up, I burst into tears. There is no decision to make now, and I’m surprised how awful that feels.
Day 8: I cancel an interview with VICE about my book, which is a co-authored collection of essays about — get this — living with loss. I’m not a method actor. There’s no way I can communicate coherently about that while I’m bleeding out my baby, which is still happening.
Day 9: I go back to the doctor for blood work. My pregnancy hormone is going down. I’m cleared to travel, which is good because the book launch is T-4 days.
Day 10: I am having what feel like contractions on the airplane and bleed through my clothes, which are thankfully black. At one point, I consider asking if there’s a medical professional on board, but when the flight attendant walks by, I just ask for water. And soon, it’s just standard-issue cramps, and I’m feeling much better. I go back to watching Battle of the Sexes with Emma Stone.
Day 11: I’m bleeding and passing clots large enough that I say the Mourner’s Kaddish in the shower. I retrieve the remains from the floor of the shower, wrap it carefully in toilet paper, and gently place it in the bathroom garbage can. I feel OK enough to walk to Century 21 for new sunglasses to replace my broken ones, and write out the answers to a Q&A with Lit Hub.
Day 12: I wake up early — nauseated, passing clots. I get up and vomit and shower and vomit again. Then shower again. I call my doctor back in LA, and they tell me to go to the emergency room. An ultrasound confirms that there is nothing in my uterus. My miscarriage is complete, they think and I think (but read on).
Day 13: Weak AF, I do two live radio interviews about the book. Then I get a call from the lab back in LA to remind me to come back in for blood work when I’m back. Glamsquad comes to my room, I get my hair and makeup done, and head to the book party, which feels like a wedding with relatives and childhood friends and former colleagues. I get home and I can’t sleep. There’s so much going on.
Day 14: I still haven’t slept by the time we have to do a live video interview the next day. So I run on adrenaline, and it goes surprisingly OK. I treat myself to a giant Nutella pastry from Dominique Ansel. I start to feel queasy but chalk it up to having just eaten a pastry the size of my face. I see my friend’s play on Broadway and bawl at the curtain call. I’m really proud of him. Also, there’s so much going on.
Day 15: I see my old therapist (because #nyc), meet my co-author for lunch, do another interview — the newspaper where I used to work is doing a column about the book — and head back to my hotel room to pack.
Day 16: I fly back to LA, feeling mostly OK. I decide to forgo in-flight WiFi, which is crazy expensive and hardly works anyway. I watch “Spotlight” with Mark Ruffalo and flip through Dwell magazine instead. Also, Us Weekly, where our book is featured in the “Buzzzz-o-meter” column, just above news that Hydroxycut has rejiggered its formula. Back home, I hug my husband and children and feel fiercely grateful to be on back on the other side of the country and the other side of this miscarriage (but read on).
Day 17-18: I spend the weekend telling my kids I love them. I say it so frequently that my almost 4-year-old senses something’s up. “You just said that, mom,” he tells me.
Day 19: I go back for blood work. My pregnancy hormone is down, but barely. I’m told to come back in another week, but also to go to the emergency room if I experience heavy bleeding or cramping.
Day 20: I head to the bookstore where our LA book launch is scheduled two days from now. I drop off 14 bottles of wine and massive amounts of the seltzer that was on sale at Pavillions (and tastes much better than La Croix, IMHO).
Day 21: I have a breakfast meeting with my co-author to go over tomorrow’s run-of-show, and then head to work.
Day 22: I buy plastic cups and paper napkins. I review the run-of-show. Glamsquad arrives for hair and makeup. At the bookstore, I feel mildly ill, definitely clammy. I attribute it to nerves and whatever is going around. Another book launch/live storytelling — this one feels less like a wedding, but it’s fun and meaningful all the same.
Day 23: I take the kids to school and run errands and supervise the exterior of our house being power-washed. I marvel at how much better it looks with clean stucco.
Day 24-25: This weekend, there’s a playdate + a dinner date with my husband + a spin class + another playdate. There’s a pain in my left side, which is mild enough to go on with my day, but persistent enough to make me wonder.
Day 26: I’m back at Kaiser medical center for blood work, I find out my pregnancy hormone is going back up. In fact, they’re back up to what they were before I left for New York. Multiple sonograms. There’s a pregnancy in my left fallopian tube. Doctor orders a shot of methotrexate to end the ectopic (and therefore totally unviable) pregnancy. As I’m waiting in a hospital bed, there’s a Code Blue. A laboring mother, barely making it to the hospital, gives birth in the hallway about 50 feet from where I’m connected to an IV, awaiting the shot. When things calm down, I ring my call button, and ask after the baby. It’s a girl, the nurse tells me, healthy. “A happy emergency,” he says, and I smile, feeling genuinely happy. Then a medical resident comes in with a shot. I say a little prayer, and what began with four positive pregnancy tests is finally almost over.
Gabrielle Birkner is the co-founder of Modern Loss, and the co-author of the new book Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome.