The Might-Have-Been

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.

Kristin is the co-director of A-Camp, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Everyone Is Gay & My Kid Is Gay, author of This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids, and co-host of Buffering the Vampire Slayer, a podcast about (you guessed it!) Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Kristin has written 55 articles for us.

72 Comments

  1. Kristin, I’m so sorry and so grateful that you shared such a hard piece. Through your writings, your work with LGBT youth, Buffering, Autostraddle–you’ve touched my life and the lives of so many here. If we actually knew each other, not just me knowing the parts of yourself that you share so generously with the world, I would hold you and grieve for the might have beens by your side. I’m so sorry your life had to change so much. Thank you for your kindness and bravery sharing this with all of us. You are so loved.

  2. Kristin, you are incredible. Thank you for sharing this part of your story and being this vulnerable with us. You are so brave and strong and unwaveringly kind. I am in awe knowing what you have done for the Buffering community. I hope you know how much you mean to us and I hope you can feel the love we are all wrapping you in.

  3. I miscarried this week. Only my partner and I knew I had been pregnant at all. It was too early to tell people. I tell myself it happened so early on -not even eyes yet- so it shouldn’t feel like loss but it feels like… absence where there was presence.

    The hormone rollercoaster ended these past few days but while I was still riding the ups and downs I had to carry on with life and work with folks who I hope didn’t notice anything different bc I didn’t want to have to explain.

    During I was braced by will not to cry or mourn until my head felt clear. I didn’t even think I could get pregnant and then suddenly I was and now I’m not. And I’m not sure if I can go through this again. If my body can do it. If I want to try.

    Every doctor and nurse says they’re so sorry and I want to say it’s ok but instead I pause and say thank you bc I know no one has words for how to say the things they mean.

    I was at this camp; I knew something was wrong when you were gone from mealtimes but of course I had no idea why. I remember asking a staff member if you were ok bc I was worried you were sick…

    Please accept my own feeble I’m sorry from someone who sympathizes. And thanks for sharing words that makes what just happened to me feel a little less lonely.

  4. kristin, i can’t imagine what it must have taken to do the work of articulating this experience and the aftermath in words, and to do it like this, so honestly and with such grace, is unbelievable. i’m so grateful for your presence in this community and for this essay, and i hope the process of writing and publishing this has given you something, as it gave us.

  5. Mine wasn’t a miscarriage, just IVF that didn’t take, but I’m still so damn mad at my body, at times when I think about it. Which I know isn’t helpful, but it doesn’t make it less true.

    I’ve appreciated all of the articles on Autostraddle about queers becoming parents and parenting, but I’m grateful to you, Kristin, for sharing your story of the other side.

  6. Thank you for sharing, thank you for adding to the narrative around queer parenthood and the lack that sometimes occurs. I had to make a decision a few years ago, if I would have children or not. I decided that I needed to focus on my mental health as I was falling apart and the pain my body was putting me through was too much for me to bear. Now my body cannot support a pregnancy and there is a part of me that mourns that loss every time I see a child. I sit here in tears as I write this. Most people have no idea that I had to make the decision, I just tell people I can’t have kids, not that I was forced to decide at 30 whether or not I was able. One of my closest friends has two beautiful sons who I call my nephews and I give them the books I would have given my children. They make my heart ache ferociously.

  7. I am very sorry for your loss. I had a couple of miscarriages with my ex-husband. Unfortunately, he was not nearly as supportive as your wife and our marriage fell apart very quickly as a result. I often think about that child as well. He or she would have been 7 this past Christmas. Thinking of you friend, just know it does get a little bit easier each day.

  8. kristin this piece stitched up a gash i didn’t realize i’d only put a bandaid on. i was talking about miscarriage with a friend and said “it’s just that no one really talks about it” and she said “well, don’t they? i think they do now, right?” and i didn’t know how to say that it’s what they don’t talk about when they do talk about it; it’s the year later when you’re the only person who sees the ghost world that could’ve been the real one. that’s when no one talks about it. a trillion little things that you see in two timelines, and it’s just you. that’s the shit.

    i love you and your universe.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    I’ve recently decided I would like to procreate. I’m not in the position to do it now or anything, but deciding this is the path I want to take took a long time and a lot of thought.

    So while I’ve never been in your shoes I know one day there is a likelihood that I might. And I’ll carry these words with me for if I do. Thank you for your courage.

  10. I have spent hours today trying to form a response to this. I was reduced to googling “when you read something amazing” or “heartbreaking” or “powerful”….and I still have nothing. Except thank you for sharing this.

  11. I was at that Buffering live taping and remember you joking about the hospital. I can’t imagine what you and Jenny were going through during that and still had the strength to act as though nothing was wrong ❤️

  12. I have not experienced the loss of miscarriage, but I know too-well the bittersweet tonic of might-have-been; of imagining what life would be like now if only it had conformed to plans and expectations. And I decided I just had to leave this comment when I saw that our catacylsms occured within days of each other (wow…) in May, 2017.

    In my case it was an impending marriage. And the child wasn’t mine (or hers), but we were a family of three taking care of her together and once the two of us became just me I couldn’t take care of her anymore. Seemingly overnight (though if I’m honest, it was a much slower process than that) three became one. And along with that…everything (lost) changed. Lifestyle. Priorities. Dreams. (Soccer practice, private school, shoes that fit, how much screentime has she had today? buy the healthy bread, please).

    Home again, to an empty apartment. I guess I’ll just…watch TV.

    When life veers off-course it doesn’t take your dreams with it. The dreams just keep spinning on with no traction, like a stationary bike. The actors become ghosts frozen in time. The child is older now but as I knew her she’ll always be five. And you know, consciously, that you’re missing the bounty of the moment caught in the haze of the might-have-been; get off and grab onto something – there’s so much life still out there, dammit! – but you can’t get off the bike right now. Hopefully soon, but not right now.

    There will always exist that other life in a parallel universe. And you might very well wonder about it for the rest of your life. That’s okay. Take as much time as you need on the bike and then one day, when you’re ready, go ahead and get off but let it go on living somewhere in your heart that you take out and examine sometimes in deep corners. And then safely put away again.

    The people who say the best is yet to come; that new lives and adventures and loves await and one day I’ll be SO THANKFUL things turned out this way…well, they might just be full of shit, but I choose to believe them. Because what better option is there to air out the suffocating might-have-beens with your bare face exposed to the cold wind of the maybe’s?

    Maybe someday I’ll get married. Maybe someday we’ll have our own children. Maybe I’ll get to redo this whole saga – would it erase the might-have-been? Recast the same show with new characters? – or maybe life has something even bigger and better in store I can’t even fathom right now.

    Maybe your life, too.

    I see you, Kristin. We will get through this pain.

  13. Thanks for writing this. I love the structure, what Laneia said, about the ghost world that only you know you’re carrying. So true.
    Obviously the process of starting a family is deeply personal and private roller coaster. When you’re in it, it’s something you share with such a small circle.

    Your essay does a such great job of widening that circle and opening up the conversation.
    So many of us walk around carrying in our hearts a big “What if.”

    Tonight I’ll light a candle for your story.

  14. A of rare blessings of Catholic high school was how openly teachers could discuss some things.
    One of those things was how roughly 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, how in love one can fall the instant they find out they’re pregnant and the pain other people can cause by trying to minimize the feeling of loss.
    ‘It doesn’t matter how long, all that matters is how felt’ is what one teacher said to my class when the popular young newly married teacher was on bereavement leave, and (older one)she was the one who later on the senior retreat spoke in detail about her miscarriage to us.

    They, the faculty, were mostly on the up side of 50 felt it was important to know how not alone future us are if or when we miscarried because back when it happened to them they felt so alone, their loss an unspeakable thing best pretended as if it never happened.

    Somewhere out there someone is going read this piece and not feel so alone, be it today(obviously) or somebody years from now.

  15. Thank you so much for sharing your story Kristen, especially a narrative rarely talked about. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever read a story about an early miscarriage. Your strength in sharing your story is incredible, thank you so so much.

    You and your blueberry are in my heart, along with my own little grape. You are loved, and you are not alone 💜💜💜

  16. Oh Kristen, thank you so much for this. I’ve not read a story like this before and it made me feel so much less alone. It feels like a lot of pressure to just be okay because it wasn’t a person yet but it’s the potential and what could have been that you’re mourning. Thank you for sharing such a personal story <3

  17. Kristin thank you so much for sharing this with us. I’m endlessly impressed with the strength it must have taken to share this experience and the elegance with which you’ve written. I know this will bring comfort to so many readers. Holding space for you.

  18. you’re amazing. Buffering has been a cornerstone for me in the most physical sense all year and i am so honored that you put so much effort into a pain-soothing, warm. welcoming piece of the world. you are goals as a person, and my heart is with both of you wherever that leads.

  19. Kristin I am so late to commenting on this, but I’ve read it about nine times since it published and each time I try to comment and am not sure how to articulate what to say.

    I am so sorry this happened.

    Thank you for sharing with us. Thank you for being vulnerable and telling this story. Thank you for everything you do for our community always.

    <3

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.