The day I found out I was pregnant, I installed an app on my phone that guesstimated — in exclusively fruit and vegetable comparisons — the size of my might-be child. My pregnancy made it from the size of a sweet pea to the size of a blueberry, and during that time I kept a wire-bound journal with “Sweet Pea” written on the cover.
I was only pregnant for seven and a half weeks before my miscarriage. There was no body, no breath; there was no measurable part of a lifetime spent together. I’d only known there was life inside my body for three and a half weeks, and yet the experience seems to still have a heartbeat.
The loss fractured my life into two distinct timelines: what is and what might have been.
In my Might-Have-Been, this month sees me celebrating my child’s first birthday. Who can say what else would be different in the might-have-been. My one-year-old and I might be still living in California. My hair might still be brown and not bleached blonde. It’s impossible to know the full shape of the might-have-been, but for all of its fuzzy details there’s one that is always in focus. I would have had a child. That child would now be one.
I might still be married.
My wife and I had been trying for a year before I finally got pregnant, but despite all that trying, it still somehow took us by complete surprise. I was so accustomed to the disappointment of getting my period that when I was a few days late, I took the pregnancy test with divided attention, just before heading out for an appointment. I waited alone in the bathroom for the plastic stick to tell me what I already knew: I wasn’t pregnant, again. Instead, when the stick flashed PREGNANT, I gripped the side of the tub to keep from falling to my knees.
My wife was in her studio one room over, working on her music at the big wooden desk that was my Dad’s when I was little. He called it his “first piece of adult furniture.” I staggered into the studio and, hand shaking, held up the stick at her eye level.
She reeled. I reeled. We froze, eyes locked together in that tiny room in our rented Altadena home, and laughed like two people gone mad.
I got my bloodwork done right away — first to confirm the pregnancy, then a few more times to make sure things were moving along properly. I was in a constant state of awe as my body filled up with this you’re-totally-really-pregnant chemical called HCG. As the HCG number ballooned, it felt like my skin was getting thicker. I felt like a superhero.
“Did you know the baby is SPROUTING EYES right now???”
I said this to my wife (who, I’d correctly assumed, would delight in the insanity of the information) a day or two before we flew out to Wisconsin. At the time we both worked at A-Camp, an adult sleepaway camp for queer women and trans people of all genders; I run the camp as a co-director and she’d been coming for several years as a musical performer. This year was our second time at a new campsite and it was our biggest camp to date — a welcome distraction from the fact that eyes were sprouting inside of my body.
I brought my sweet pea notebook to Wisconsin. On the plane, I wrote letters to my blueberry-sized future baby.
Our first task onsite was unpacking camp supplies. I could open boxes, but not lift them. I told most people I’d hurt my back, but I had let a few of my closest friends in on the truth about the blueberry. It was on that first day that I started spotting.
Spotting is totally normal, I told myself (it is).
The baby is fine, I told myself (it wasn’t).
We’d spent $300 on groceries at Whole Foods on our way to the campsite so the blueberry would have organic grain bowls rather than a camp taco bar. My wife spent every free moment of those first three days ensuring I had water, food and anything else my body needed while I busied my mind with setting up the campsite and readying for 350 campers to arrive.
Months later, when we were in the throes of our divorce, I’d remember her hand-delivering me a hamburger while I sat surrounded by plastic bins sorting pens and pencils, and have to grip the side of the tub to keep from falling to my knees once more.
The morning after the campers arrived on the campsite, the spotting shifted. I was seeing red. Something was definitely wrong.
This being a camp that centered the experiences of queer women, of course I was surrounded by an Avenger-like team of Miscarriage Preparedness. One of my staff members was an OB/GYN; one of my roommates was experienced in handling trauma and crisis; there was a mother next door, and another staff member who’d lost several pregnancies herself. Out of the mere handful of people let into this experience, each one had a specialized skill set; each of those became a different support to hold both me and my wife up as things progressed.
That afternoon, my OB/GYN Avenger sat down with me privately, asking me detailed questions about how I was feeling, what I was seeing. She explained that she didn’t have the proper tools to make sure I was okay — it could be something that passed on its own, but there could be a blockage, and it was better to be safe. She calmly but firmly told me to look up nearby hospitals and make a plan for whenever I decided it was time to go to the ER. She calmly but firmly reminded me that she was there for anything I needed.
At first our plan was to wait until morning. There was a concert that night.
I walked down the stairs to the theater thinking, “I’m having a miscarriage right now.” Hundreds of sweet camper faces smiled as I passed them, blissfully unaware of everything swirling inside me.
I sat next to my wife.
The cramps got worse.
I started feeling dizzy.
“We have to go now,” I whispered. She didn’t hesitate — and she’s a classic hesitator.
It’s possible that my wife and I were never closer than we were that night. We moved as one being; we barely had to exchange words to communicate.
She grabbed the van keys and we stood up and walked out. Those who knew, knew.
At about 12:30am on May 20, 2017, we started the 90-minute drive to Madison, where I’d read there was a hospital ranked 19th in the whole country. That felt worth the extra half hour, some kind of strange reassurance at a moment when everything felt wildly out of my control, when something I’d wanted so badly was escaping my body.
Another one of my Avengers texted me as the van pulled away: “I just wanted to let you know that I have been in this situation myself, as have so many women. And we are all of us riding with you.”
The pain in the van was the kind of pain where you can’t sit still. I hovered above my seat for a good portion of our journey. For other parts I pushed far back into my seat. I played the radio. I’m certain I couldn’t have heard Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” because it was May, but I have a memory of it anyway.
When we got to the ER, my wife dropped me at the entrance before parking. It felt like I’d already bled more in those two hours than I’d ever bled in my entire life. I ran to the bathroom before checking in. There was more blood, and one massive clot, the vision of which will be burned into my mind forever.
There it was, at the center of the blood clot: a cream-colored little sack, like a pearl. I remembered my OB/GYN Avenger asking me, “Have you seen anything that looked tan or beige?”
I hadn’t. Now I had. This was the blueberry. This was my baby. This was what I was writing letters to in my wire-bound notebook. I threw it away. I put on a new pad. I met my wife in the waiting room, and we checked in.
“What brings you here today?”
“I am having a miscarriage. This is my wife and we are having a miscarriage.”
We were suffering a loss so many miles from where either of us had ever called home, and we were also so afraid of how we might be spoken to or judged. To our surprise and relief, every doctor, nurse, EMT, and receptionist seemed to cradle both of us, equally, in their care. They were treating us, a queer couple, as two parents suffering a loss. They were earth-shatteringly gentle, looking us in the eyes, apologizing for our loss, and explaining every single step of the process.
They started with bloodwork and an ultrasound. The woman who administered the ultrasound told us both that she’d lost a pregnancy just two weeks before. Her husband had been traveling for work at the time. We shared a moment together; she understood.
“It seems to have been a complete loss,” the doctor who saw me next said. He explained that although “complete loss” can be hard to hear, it was actually good. It meant my body wasn’t having trouble releasing the thing it needed to release. He told me he was going to relieve some of my pain by manually removing more of the lining and excess blood. He was more gentle with me than any doctor I have ever had. I don’t remember his name, but I can still see his face: wavy brown hair, thin nose, defined jawline, kind brown eyes.
My wife sat by me, close to the head of my various hospital beds, for the entire four hours that we spent in that ER. She was quiet, mostly, checking in with me to see if there was anything I needed that she had the ability to bring to my bedside. I can’t remember if I asked for anything. Did we share skittles in the intake room? Did someone give her a cup of orange juice in the sonogram room? Did we nap together on one of the beds? I can’t remember.
Shortly before we were discharged, a nurse with short-cropped hair approached us. She said, “I know A-Camp. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
What she meant was: “I am queer like you. I see you. I am so sorry for your pain.”
The doctor gave us paperwork, a pamphlet about what to expect in the coming days, and a poem about losing a child that it took me two weeks to get up the courage to read. He told me that if I wanted to stay working at camp I could, but that I had to be sure to get more blood work done when we got back to Los Angeles. It was 6am.
My wife and I were still moving as one person. We looked at each other a lot, but didn’t talk much. We didn’t have to. We were sharing in loss, in support, in pain, in love.
We drove from the ER to the Holiday Inn in Madison. We were due back at camp for a live taping of our Buffy the Vampire Slayer podcast at 3pm that afternoon. Most of the camp was set to come to see it.
We slept four and half hours and when we woke up we cried together, briefly, holding each other under the crisp, starched sheets. We joked about how much more comfortable our hotel bed was then our bed back at camp. We drove back in the van, quietly. Holding hands here and there. Her squeezing my arm, my leg as she looked out at the road.
We got back to the campsite around 1pm. I showered. She showered. She called our donor, who was a close friend, to tell him and his wife that we’d lost the pregnancy. The week before we left for camp had been Mother’s Day, and they’d left us flowers on our doorstep. My wife cried on the phone with them. They cried on the other end. The flowers had been so beautiful.
At 3pm, with a hospital bracelet still on my arm, we took the stage. We talked and laughed about our favorite show. In the episode we were discussing Buffy is in the hospital, and I joked with the audience that to fully immerse myself in the experience I had gone to the ER the night before — but not to worry, I was fine now.
So much of a public-facing partnership is routine, practiced. I am the one who rolls my eyes and laughs at my wife when she gets carried away with facts on dinosaurs or space; she is the one who nods intently at me as I talk about gender theory and makes fun of me when I get over-excited about Nightmare on Elm Street. We had practiced so much, but we hadn’t practiced this. It wasn’t part of our routine, but we leaned on each other and navigated it, somehow, in real time. As the room laughed and applauded, we warmed, and allowed ourselves to forget for a few moments.
We had been two, then almost three. Now, back as two, we moved as one.
We took a few months off before starting to try again so that my body could recalibrate. This time I was really going to do it right: I scheduled a year off of co-directing A-Camp to focus on our podcast and our future-baby. I began going to acupuncture and taking special herbs that tasted like dirt to help strengthen my cycle. I swam several times a week and, even though I knew it was crazy, chose to do my laps in the warmer pool for less temperature shock to my body. I didn’t drink much alcohol at all, and ate piles of greens and sweet potatoes.
Our last attempt was in January 2018, nearly nine years since we’d first gotten together and less than two years since we’d first started trying to make a family, which had been three years after we’d gotten married.
Seven weeks before we separated.
Before the miscarriage, it seemed entirely normal to call the eye-sprouter a baby — to write it tiny letters, even. After the loss, I committed fully to the narrative that it had not, in fact, ever been a baby.
But when my marriage began coming apart at the seams, it somehow became a baby again.
We kept working together on our podcast through all of it; one week after separating we hosted a sold-out Buffy prom in Los Angeles. My wife wore a tux and I wore a gown. Both of us had been hard at work in the weeks prior getting our outfits tailored without showing the other. The only other time we’d put so much care and secrecy into clothing was on our wedding night. The night of the prom, there was only one person in the room with us who knew that we were separating. It would be months before we would announce the split publicly.
I sometimes think about being on stage that rainy Wisconsin afternoon, the day after my miscarriage, my hospital bracelet a snug reminder of what, exactly, I’d been carrying, and what still felt impossible to lift. No one in the audience who laughed and cheered had any idea what we’d just been through, and how we were moving together through our pain. This was like that in some ways. We were still leaning on the warmth, the love in the room to lift us and to help move us forward. The shared laughter and the community were still lifting us. Now, though, there is no snug bracelet. There are no rings. We are no longer one.
If I hadn’t lost the baby — the baby — it would’ve become a cherry, a fig, a plum, a lemon, a peach. A sweet potato, a mango, an eggplant. A butternut squash, a Napa cabbage, a cantaloupe, a pumpkin, a watermelon. A human.
My due date was January 1st, 2018. This month, it would’ve turned one. Our baby would be one, now. I think about that a lot.