As November is the month of prayer for the dead, it is only natural that my thoughts dwell on my own dead. I still recall with an awful, visceral clarity that afternoon in my obstetrician’s office. I don’t remember the room, or the ultrasound technician, or even my obstetrician’s sorrowful face as he told me my baby was dead.
But I remember having propped myself up on my elbows and craning my head to catch a glimpse of the ultrasound screen. We’d heard the baby’s heartbeat at the last visit and I was simultaneously excited for another peek and anxious to be reassured my baby was alright.
And the feel of the words in my throat as I gasped “Oh my God” a moment before tears overwhelmed me. They were almost too large to speak, the most honest prayer I’ve ever prayed. Perhaps they are the only honest prayer possible.
I remember I didn’t know the phone number for my husband’s school. I could barely remember which school he worked at. The daughter of one of the nurses actually attended that school, she knew the number and called for me. It took forever for him to get there and I had been shunted into an empty office because they did need the exam room for other women. It was the most alone I’ve ever felt in my entire life. And I always feel alone.
Reflecting on this time in a OBGYN’s office, I suddenly remember another. I remember waiting in an exam room with my mother when I was sixteen. I was wearing one of those awful pink paper gowns and I was terrified because I’d never visited an OBGYN before. And the doctor walked in, and without saying a word to me, asked my mother to leave the room. And I said “NO.” I was only there because she’d made me come, because I was missing school because of painful cramps and heavy menstrual periods. I only agreed to go if she’d stay with me, I did not want to be alone in a room, wearing only a paper gown, with a complete stranger, a strange man.
The doctor listened to my complaint, and told me he could put me on birth control. And I said “no way.” I don’t even know why now, although I’m extraordinarily thankful that I did. I remember feeling terribly insulted that he did not take my pain and my problem seriously. He was only offering palliative care, and I knew it.
Looking back, I wonder if he thought I was just fishing for birth control. I don’t know. I’m afraid I don’t care. I wanted to know why I had to experience crushing pain twice a month. Why my periods were so heavy that for the first two or three days I was too embarrassed to go to school. And I got an answer worse than “I don’t know.” I got an answer of “it’s not important.” I left his office with a dislike of OBGYNs that my obstetrician later had to work long and hard to overcome.
And it bothers me. After my second miscarriage, my obstetrician thought I might have a progesterone insufficiency, and suggested I take a hormonal supplement during the first trimester. After a perusal of the literature, I did. That was the only pregnancy I’ve carried to term. But I can’t help wondering, what might have happened had my problem had been taken seriously when I was sixteen. What if I could have been treated? It wouldn’t have just saved me from years of pain, it might have saved my children’s lives.
And yet it’s useless to dwell on these things. The Church teaches that the souls of children who die without baptism are entrusted to the infinite love and mercy of God. And this is a great comfort, that I am not finally divided from them. But despite this, I’m never quite sure whether I ought to be praying for them, or asking them to pray for me.