March 2011 was the first time I visited the Grand Canyon. How different life was back then. Only six weeks before, we’d spontaneously decided to leave New York, our home for five years, for California. With little time to spare, we packed up our Brooklyn apartment, rented a car, and, like so many before us, headed west. The long drive across the country, with our giant dog stretched out on the backseat, culminated in a detour to the Grand Canyon. We didn’t know where we would end up living (Los Angeles, San Diego, or San Francisco) or how we were going to reinvent our careers in the middle of a recession, but leaving New York was the promise of a fresh start. If you had asked me then where I thought I would be three years later, I would have answered: settled in a sunny home strewn with the toys belonging to an exuberant toddler…
But life doesn’t work like that. Not for me, anyway.
This time last year, life was looking hopeful after a very difficult few years. We were still living with DH’s parents as we worked on our new careers. DH, a lawyer, had passed the CA Bar Exam (nigh impossible) and after finally being admitted (a year after taking the exam) had transitioned into a new area of the law (no mean feat). I, too, was making strides in a career change of my own. I was getting straight A’s in my graphic design classes at my local community college and was beginning to get some freelance work. I was studying Wu Style T’ai Chi Chu’an and had been asked by the head of the Wu family (a descendant of the man who developed the form) to begin training to become an instructor. I had been in San Diego for almost two years, had made a few friends, started exercising for the first time in my life, and thought that, even though things weren’t perfect, I had finally found my place on earth.
And then I got pregnant, and it was the icing on the cake. Finally, finally, after years of waiting to try to conceive, it had happened — and so quickly. This was proof that things were turning around, that our pragmatism in waiting for the right time had paid off. We were going to have a baby and my life finally made sense.
This time last year, I never would have imagined being where I am now: coming out of the wreckage of a short pregnancy, brokenhearted, with the new knowledge that my body is also not only broken but never to be fixed, and a shattered spirit that I have haphazardly glued into place to will myself across the finish line that is somewhere, if only I could see it…
DH has had a rough year too. The stress of trying to support his batshitcrazywithgrief wife, discovering his own pregnancy belly antennae by proxy, trying to process his own shock and concerns whilst holding down a full-time job has been challenging. He began, we think, developing a stomach ulcer. For the past two weeks he’s been on two kinds of antibiotics for H. Pylori, a bacteria which causes of 80% of stomach ulcers. The antibiotics were strong — enough so that it was recommended he return to our RE’s clinic to give a back-up sample — and no doubt they stripped his digestive tract of its natural flora and fauna, because he got terrible food-poisoning. The violent vomiting began the eve of our trip and I knew three things:
- that he would be determined to go, but
- we would not be leaving at 9am, as planned, and
- I would be the one driving with a sick DH huddled in the passenger seat.
One of the earliest lessons I learnt from my miscarriage is this: if I can get through this, I can do anything. It’s a mantra that has served me well this year. And this is how I came to single-handedly drive all the way to the Grand Canyon from San Diego — a journey of 587 miles (944 kms) — via an overnight stop two hours north of Phoenix, Arizona.
Twenty-four hours later, we were with our friends, D and A, chatting and laughing as we hiked along the rim of and partway into the canyon. For two days, there was no cell phone coverage, no wifi in our room, just each other’s company against the backdrop of one of the most jaw-droppingly fake-looking majestic views on earth. It was respite indeed.
That first night, we four friends went out for dinner. Over a margarita, D (DH’s friend from high school) and A (his wife) asked about how the DEIVF was going, so we filled them in on where we are in the process. When the conversation moved on and had naturally divided between the sexes, I plucked up the courage to ask A that should she become pregnant, I would appreciate her telling me by email. I clumsily explained that once you have been painted with the infertility brush, other people’s pregnancy announcements are very hard, and that the pain doesn’t magically disappear once you have children of your own (so I’m told). And do you know what she said? Not only, Of course! but Actually, I was telling D that one of the first things I have to do on this trip is order something alcoholic so Lauren will know I’m not pregnant. I stared at her, tears of gratitude welling in my eyes. Finally, I said, A, you speak like a woman who has miscarried… To which she replied, simply, I don’t think I have, but I do know grief and loss. My heart soared with the luckiness of being next to a (relatively recent) friend who understands me. We ordered a second margarita and celebrated our friendship.
The next morning, the 31st, it was a Buddhist mantra that made me cry. One moment I was sipping tea in my pyjamas, the next there were tears rolling steadily down my cheeks. DH quickly set down his coffee and rushed over, concerned. I’m okay, I laugh-cried. I am crying for the last time this year; but it’s with mostly relief that this terrible year is about to end and I’m still here; but also for gladness, that I should be with dear friends and at so magical a place as the Grand Canyon to bid farewell to the worst year of my life.
Shortly before midnight, we piled into the car to seek a spot overlooking the dark chasm beneath a sky lit up with more stars than I have ever seen. There were no fireworks and no crowds. Just four friends who have all known loss having a good, quiet time — we women with our cameras, our men with their stargazing apps, pointing out Jupiter. My 2013 ended not with a bang, but a whimper; and 2014 began with a hug of acknowledgement of pain and hopeful new beginnings, and a relatively early night because we planned to watch the sunrise.
On January 1st 2014 at 7:10am, it was still shadowy but bright. We drove to a secret spot and hiked 20 minutes along a service road that led us to the edge of the world. But for a local woman and her dog, we were alone on a rocky outcrop. The sun’s rays pierced the horizon and a fiery orange glow painted the landscape before us, casting purple shadows this way and that. The respite within the respite.
And when I returned to our hotel room, I saw, as I had suspected I might, that my period had arrived. CD1 on first day of the year is hopeful indeed because it heralds my going on birth control pills (on CD2) to sync me with our donor. Nellie is already on birth control, and our nurse will coordinate our cycles for a retrieval in February. Today, Epiphany, Nellie reviewed the agreement with her lawyer. If they have changes, they revert to us for our review, but our lawyer says the other side is like us, “casual and relaxed.” We are all confident that the contract will be executed by the end of the week, at which point Nellie and I can exchange email addresses. (Yes, I have already started working on my email to her!) I am cautious to minimise my expectations, but I also can’t help feeling as though we might possibly like each other too.
Almost three years later, I am changed. I have been pregnant but there is neither a home of my own nor a toddler. I know what it is to experience the concave pressure of a broken heart. The implosion of grief. The flood of anxiety. The all-consuming otherworldly out-of-body panic attack. I know what it feels like to have some of the people you trusted most turn their back on you.
But I also know that the kindness of a stranger can take your breath away and that friendship can be found in the unlikeliest of places — even across the digital synapses that bridge continents in an instant. That friendship can be with another grieving woman whose face you’ve never seen but long to touch. That friendship can be deepened by baring one’s soul and trusting in vulnerability. I am better at knowing what to say and what not to say; and better at judging when to speak and when to listen when someone is in pain. I have learned the hard way, the only way, that the language of loss transcends cultural barriers. I know that an outstretched hand to help you up or a hug, whether physical or digital, are gestures we all need. And I have learned that others’ darkness isn’t so dissimilar to my own and, frightening though it may be, it is often outshone by our collective light.
UPDATE: Shortly after I published this post, our lawyer contacted us to say that Nellie approved the agreement without making any changes and that we are ready to sign! Our lawyer is now in possession of our signed copy of the agreement, and once she has Nellie’s signature, we are legally cleared to make contact and begin DEIVF!