Friday, June 29, 2012

"Conception Came Out"--The Story of Me, The Story of Many

My husband and I had been married only a month when I took the pregnancy test. I can still remember my heart pounding with anticipation as I waited for the second pink line to appear in the little window on the test strip. Various thoughts went through my head. No, no, I can’t be pregnant, I don’t feel pregnant, how could I really be pregnant? Nah, I’m probably not pregnant. Just a fluke in my menstrual cycle; that’s all this is.

A feeling of awe came over me when the second pink line materialized next to the first. I think my eyes probably bulged out of my head in astonishment. Somewhere inside of me a tiny being was growing—someone who was part Mommy, part Daddy, but 100% unique.

It is an intriguing feeling when one is both overjoyed and flat-out terrified. I couldn’t wait to meet this new member of the family, but at the same time anxiety surged through my veins. How would we be able to afford this newcomer? How could we pay for a babysitter while we both were working? How? How? How?

Fortunately, my husband and I have both been blessed with supportive families. During the next month or so, they acquired for us a plethora of baby gear at various yard sales; and my in-laws even gave us my husband’s old crib. One of my cousins bought me a week-by-week pregnancy book. I enjoyed following our baby’s progress. Look, this week our baby is the size of a kidney bean. Ooh, arms and legs are forming! Aw, now Baby’s the size of a plum!

As the weeks progressed, we selected possible names for Baby—Katerina if it was a girl, and Ambrose if it was a boy. The due date was March 24, 2011; four days before my twenty-second birthday. I’d joke around, saying that I hoped Baby wouldn’t decide to be late and end up sharing a birthday with me.

It didn’t.

At the end of my first trimester, I began spotting. I called my doctor in a panic, and he said that I was probably going to miscarry. I prayed so much that the spotting meant something else, that Baby would be okay. I went to the doctor’s office with my mother the next day and my doctor listened for the heartbeat but could hear nothing. They sent me over to the hospital for an ultrasound. My husband met us there. The three of us went into the ultrasound room together; grim as we awaited the inevitable news.

The ultrasound technician put some goo on my stomach and ran the probe over it again and again to pinpoint the baby’s location. My heart began to sink as I watched the screen. There was no baby! Then the technician switched tactics and used a vaginal probe on me. That’s when my heart plummeted.

I knew our baby was dead as soon as I saw it on the screen. As I said before, I had been following Baby’s progress in the book my cousin gave me, and at 13 weeks it should have had arms and legs and resembled a human being in some way or another. The motionless child on the screen looked like a curled-up shrimp with a human head. In other words, Katerina/Ambrose had died five weeks before at only eight weeks gestation.

It all felt like a sick joke as I recalled the past month of choosing names and filling the baby’s room with all the paraphernalia befitting an infant. My body was a traitor, having lied to me about the well-being of our child for so long. Why did it wait that long to let me know our baby was gone? I don’t know, and never will.

It took me five more days to miscarry. I awoke on the morning of September 25, 2010 in severe pain and spent the next five hours sitting on the toilet as blood and tissue came out of me in agonizing contractions. I thought I was going to die, I was bleeding so much. And there seemed to be no end in sight.

I finally caved and decided to go to the hospital. We got to the emergency room at around noon. As it turned out, the reason that the contractions weren’t ceasing was because the baby and amniotic sac were both fully intact and lodged in my cervix. The ER doctor assigned to me had to puncture the sac to get it all out.

“The conception came out,” he announced when he had finished.

Not “baby.” Not “embryo.” Not even “product of conception.” What was I saying about a sick joke?

It was all I could do not to kick him in the face. And oh, how I wanted to hurt him! He had just reduced our only child to utter worthlessness, which to him, it probably was. This was all in a day’s work for him, I suppose. For me, it was the soul-crushing end of my dreams.

“You can at least call it what it is,” I snapped back. (I was not feeling very Christian that day.)

“But that’s what we call it,” said the nurse assisting him.

They had stuck our baby in a tiny jar. “I want to see it,” I said.

The nurse plucked the jar off the counter and held it in front of my face for about two seconds. I couldn’t even see inside of it because there was a label stuck to the side, and I never was able to develop X-ray vision, to my chagrin.

We were told that they would take the remains to a part of the hospital called “Pathology” for examination. The word conjures thoughts of infectious disease and quarantines. They never did tell us why our baby was sent there, or what the results of their examination revealed. We asked that the remains be returned to us for burial and a death certificate issued. We had already received permission to bury our child above my grandfather’s grave, and we assumed that the hospital would grant our wishes, especially since it was a religious institution.

Little did I know that the sick joke would continue full-force. After twelve days of waiting for “Pathology” to call me and tell me to come get our baby, I called the hospital to see what was going on. The woman I was eventually connected with informed me that the hospital does not permit parents to have their child’s remains returned to them if the child was under a certain number of weeks gestation. Yes, you read that correctly. DOES NOT PERMIT. Instead, the remains are sent to a funeral home (one that I had never heard of), cremated, and sprinkled Lord-knows-where.

Needless to say, we never got a death certificate, either. The woman told me that we would receive an invitation to a memorial service for all the miscarried babies. Other bereft parents would be there, too. But we never got an invitation. So much for that.

The sick joke lives on to this day. My menstrual cycle has become so irregular that I have thought I was pregnant again on other occasions, only to go through another round of soul-crushing depression when my period returns. We have tried and tried to conceive again, to no avail. “But you’re still young,” people have said to me. “You have plenty of years ahead of you to have another baby.” Yes, I may be young now, but I will not be young forever, and neither will my husband.

I’m not sure why I’ve written this. Maybe it’s to get the closure I never received, or to fix the brokenness that never healed. Or maybe it’s just to share my story, which is not just mine, but the story of many. I know God has a plan in all of this. I just haven’t figured out what it is yet. I can only pray that my heart will mend and I can find forgiveness for those who robbed us of our baby. I can only pray that someday there will be a little one who looks like us running around calling us Mommy and Daddy. I can only pray.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Night of the Living Adverb

The night has fallen swiftly over the land, and thunder rumbles menacingly in the distance, rattling the windows in their panes. You curl up languidly on the sofa in front of the hearth with a book, where the fire crackles merrily as it slowly warms the room. A new bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon sits silently on the small table beside you, waiting to be poured seductively into a glass by your hunky manservant Tank, who mysteriously has not yet returned from taking out the trash. 

Suddenly a noise--a scream!--outside makes you sit up startledly. The voice belongs to Tank! Your heart pounds racingly in your chest as you rise from the sofa and creep carefully to the window. You peer warily through the rain-streaked panes, when you see them.

Rising eerily from the ground for as far as you can see are adverbs. Moaning creepily and clumsily shaking the dirt from their decaying corpses, they slowly make their way toward the house.

You are rooted to the spot. Tank would save you, but tragically other adverbs have already nabbed him. You can see some of them dining ravenously on his flailing body. His torn, white muscle shirt hangs loosely from his torso. You shut your eyes, not being able to bring yourself to look at the brutally awful treatment the adverbs are inflicting on him. You weep bitterly.

Suddenly another noise meets your ears. This time it is a soft scratching sound, directly behind you. You whirl around hurriedly in fright and nearly faint when you see that even more terribly evil adverbs have somehow made it inside the house and into the very room where you now cower in frighteningly petrifying terror.

The adverbs close in around you. Not an ounce of heavenly mercy shines in their dead eyes.

You realize there is no escape.

Or is there?

Stephen King once said that the road to hell is paved with adverbs. Over time, I have come to agree with him. Adverbs, while not bad in themselves, tend to clutter up sentences that would fare much better without them.

My early writing, just like everyone else's, was loaded with adverbs. It still is to some extent. I've been working to overcome that along with many other flaws in my prose.

I was having a conversation about adverb elimination with a friend the other day. I was talking about how the sentence itself should convey its intended meaning without having to tack on unnecessary adverbs. Here are some examples of how those nasty adverbs can be annihilated.

"We need to talk," she said coldly.


She folded her arms and gave me a hard stare. "We need to talk."

In other words, if you show how a character is acting, you do not need to say what her voice sounded like. Her mood should be made clear by her stance.

Bob crept quietly up the stairs.


Bob crept up the stairs.

It isn't necessary to say that Bob was being quiet, because creeping is quiet in itself. I have never heard anyone creeping loudly, and besides, in that case, they wouldn't be creeping anymore, would they?

And to take an example from the opening vignette:

The night has fallen swiftly over the land, and thunder rumbles menacingly in the distance, rattling the windows in their panes.


Night has fallen over the land. A menacing roll of thunder sounds in the distance, rattling the windows in their panes.

And one final example, which I have stolen from Seize the Night by Dean Koontz, which I am currently reading. The character Chris Snow says,

I was breathing shallowly through my mouth, not solely because this method was comparatively quiet.

Now I love Dean and his books and all, but if I were to rewrite this sentence, this is what I would say:

I took shallow breaths through my mouth, not just because this method was quiet in comparison.

The second sentence looks much better, don't you think? ;)

In conclusion, I hope that these few examples have given you some idea as to how you can save yourself from those vicious, undead adverbs that have invaded your living room and/or prose.

If not, here's a dude with a flamethrower. I've heard they work great in situations like these.

Bailey out.