Emma Lily Rose was her name. My little Emma-Fair. I had been working on her for almost a year. Going to fertility specialists, acupuncture, more specialists...planning, taking my temperature, tracking my period, more planning, more acupuncture, and finally, the day came when I felt life awaken inside me. It was a miracle. At least, it felt like one. That is, until an unexpected trauma turned the tides.
I wasn't eating, or hydrating, or sleeping well after that. Apparently, I was in shock. At least, that's what I was told. Post-traumatic stress was also a part of it. Even weeks after the event, I was crying. Depressed. Could barely get out of bed. But I felt her anyway. My Emma. I felt her movement. And that's when I began eating again. That's when I began hydrating. Even if I had to literally crawl from my bed to the kitchen to do so. I was alone in a new city for a new job; my support system was 1,000-miles away. That meant I had only one choice--to go where there were people who cared for me.
Did you know that by the second trimester, a baby's eyes, nose, mouth, and ears have developed? There is a heart beat. Between 100-160 times a minute! Tiny buds protrude that are now bendable arms and legs. The lungs, or angel's wings, have emerged. There are even finger nails. And I could feel all of it happening inside me. My tiny miracle.
Since I was too far along to get on a plane, the car was the only way for me to get to the people who could care for me. Took me a few weeks to get my strength up, but I finally felt ready to make the 16-hour drive across six states from Atlanta, where I now live, to New York, where I still have a home. My son's birthday was in three days, and, a week-and-a-half after that, Christmas.
I was excited to share the good news about Emma with my family in person. I even had a picture! My healthy girl. Big, too. Bigger than doctors expected, but my son was a long baby as well. And like her brother, my Emma was kicking like crazy. I'll never forget sitting on my couch in Atlanta and suddenly seeing the right side of my belly pop out. By the time mid-December rolled around, Emma was remarkably active. Other than suffering shock from the earlier trauma, I was feeling pretty good. Just tired. Having to do everything on my own was a drain, but I was living my dream--it was worth every effort.
My sleep was limited the night before the trip. I've had difficulties since the unexpected trauma I referred to earlier. I packed the car, brimming full of gifts for the holidays, even bringing ingredients to cook favorite foods for loved ones; that task ended around 1:30am the day of my journey. I got to sleep by 2:30, but sadly, like clockwork, awoke at 4:15am. And for the next three hours, no matter how desperate I was for sleep, it would not come. So, accepting that I'd be driving 14-16 hours on less than three hours of sleep, I got up, got dressed, ate a pop tart, and off I went!
Every day, since learning Emma-Fair had arrived, I would rub my belly and coo to her. Sing to her. Talk to her. Tell her stories. Play music for her. Tell her all about her big brother. Her many cousins, uncles, aunts, and all the people who would love her. The people who would believe in her. The people who would never run away, never abandon her, and always let her know how smart, talented and beautiful she was. The day of my drive was no different. My hand was on my belly when it wasn't on the wheel. I had to pee a million times though; I hadn't even driven an hour when the first urge struck. By the time I hit Tennessee, I'd already stopped three times in as many hours. Some man made the mistake of checking me out at one of the rest areas. But Momma Bear was on the loose:
"What the fuck are you looking at? Yeah, keep walking, bud. I'm fucking pregnant, dude...what the fuck!"
Emma, whose ears were developing, was getting a crash-course in what-it-means-to-be-a-woman-101. And, how to talk like a trucker, even with four college degrees, including graduate and post graduate degrees. In English.
By the time I hit hour-six of the drive, I began to feel cramping. But that happens during pregnancy. So I wasn't about to panic. But it was getting bad. I kept myself calm while rubbing my belly in circular motions:
"It's okay, Emma...stay with me, good-girl. You stay with Mama. Mama loves you. I know this is uncomfortable, but you stay with me, girlie."
At some point, the cramping became severe. I began sobbing, aware that I was losing my long-awaited, hard-earned little one. I kept my hand on my belly and cooed, "It's okay, Emma...Mama's not mad, just sad. You can go if you have to, but I really wish you'd stay. I'll stay with you until you do. We'll meet again in the future. I promise. It's okay, Emma-Fair. It's okay...Mama loves you, baby-girl."
But it wasn't okay. I had to pull off at some random exit in Kentucky. No travel center in sight, it was just a dinky little gas station with a onesie bathroom. The moment I sat down, someone knocked on the door. I yelled, "Occupied," as a gush of blood and tissue mercilessly emptied out. I was crying, alone, and so sad, scared...but the knocking came again. I stood up, and looked at what had happened. A wail escaped my mouth as another knock annoyingly echoed back at me. I opened the door, tears streaming down my face, "You'll know when I'm done."
Looking down at what was my baby-girl, now just a mass of blood and tissue floating in a random toilet and an even more random gas station, I stood, stunned. I didn't want to flush that toilet. I wanted to stand guard over it. I wanted to gather up the pieces of my girl, go find a spot near some mountains, and bury her there. But the knocking came again, this time, with verbal complaints. I had nothing with me but my hands. And to be honest, I did not have it in me to scoop out all the tissue. To soak my hands in her blood, my blood, and look for a human being when there was no body. There was only globs of gelatinous material. Dark purple. Bright red. Amidst the toilet water and paper remnants from a previous traveler.
I didn't want to flush that toilet though. But I wasn't about to let anyone else do it either.
I said a quick prayer in my native tongue and with tears streaming, did the unthinkable. I left the bathroom, still bleeding rather profusely, greeted by a line of angry women. I have no idea what was said as I left. Have no memory of the name of the exit either. Or, how I even got back on 75-North. I just drove. The sobbing happened next. Uncontrollable. I wanted to die in that moment, and many moments thereafter. Wished that the opportunity to fall off a roadside cliff or into a lake would somehow present itself. I was talking, to no one in particular, or maybe to the ghosts that seem to travel with me, trying to make sense of what had just happened. Would I ever have the chance to open another door for Emma? I truly hoped so....
I had to stop again many more times, to continue to expel blood and tissue. By the time I arrived in New York, my pad had soaked through to my pants. It was snowing for a stretch, and I did my damnedest to die, going 90 miles an hour on slick, icy roads...it was just me and the random tractor trailer at that time of night. Kept hoping one might jack-knife, maybe take me with it. No such luck.
My son, in his 20's, was home to greet me. I'd gotten pregnant with him at 17, and never had a chance to build my family thereafter. Obtaining my education, including a Doctorate, working as a professor, writing and editing international best-selling books, and going on tour with Comic Con, all while coaching baseball, soccer, and basketball, being a room parent, running a nonprofit, and surviving a few brain tumors kept me rather busy. Having another child was something I always wanted but had put aside, thinking it just wouldn't happen. Then, I met a doctor who told me that it was not only possible, but probable. The catch? I couldn't wait even a year to get started. The concern was that it might take years before I could successfully conceive. Luckily, a healthy lifestyle turned potential years into mere months. I was finally pregnant with my beautiful Emma less than half a year after that meeting. It felt like a gift after the inevitable hardship and sacrifice that follows the life I chose because I chose life. The age difference in my children was never a big deal for me--life is beautiful, no matter what challenges there may be. Though I had an adult-child, I was still young myself. It's common for people to have second families these days--especially when your first began when you were a teenager. Besides, I'm an immortal...we don't raise families so much as generations. Except, I wouldn't be raising another generation now.
My son helped me unpack. We talked until about 1:30am, then, I fell into my old bed and crashed. But not before telling my best friend what had happened. He held me, tenderly, let me cry, wail and weep in his arms. The next day, I couldn't get up. Just couldn't. There was still terrible cramping. I was still bleeding. A friend insisted I call the doctor. I did. Even though I prayed Emma somehow survived, tests confirmed she hadn't.
When my son heard me crying, which was pretty much all I could do that terrible day, he came into my room. He just laid himself on me in a giant hug and asked me what was wrong. I told him about the success on my fertility journey but that I had lost the baby during the drive. He patted my shoulder, hugged me tighter and whispered, "It will be okay, Mama...I'm so sorry."
After a few minutes, he kind of chuckled and said, "Why couldn't your mid-life crisis be more normal, maybe include a red convertible and some nice lesbians???"
Even though I was still crying, I couldn't help but laugh a little.
Good-bye, Miss Emma-Fair. Even though our time together was brief, it was amazing. I'm sorry you couldn't stay longer. I'm sorry I can't try to open another door for you. But you will always be loved, baby-girl. And one day, when you're ready, you'll find your opening. Maybe it will be with me...I would be one lucky Mama if it were.
About the Author
Rebecca Housel, Ph.D., known as "The Pop Culture Professor" (TM), is an international best-selling author and editor in nine languages and 100 countries. Rebecca, listed in the Directory of American Poets & Writers for her work in nonfiction, was nominated by Prevention magazine essayist and best-selling author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot, to the National Association of Science Writers for her work on cancer. Rebecca has published with best-selling author of The Accidental Buddhist, Dinty Moore's literary nonfiction journal, Brevity, and with commercial publications like Redbook magazine and online journals like In Media Res. Her recent interviews appear in publications such as the LA Times, Esquire, USA TODAY, The Huffington Post, Inside Higher Ed, Woman's World magazine, and Marie Claire as well as on FOX news, and NBC. Former President of the New York College English Association, Housel was a professor in both Atlanta and New York, teaching popular culture, film, creative writing, literature, and medical humanities. Dr. Housel currently works on the Editorial Advisory Boards for the Journal of Popular Culture and the Journal of American Culture; she has also worked as a reviewer for Syracuse University Press and Thomson Wadsworth. A writer of all genres, Housel has written and published both fiction and nonfiction in over ten books and 398 articles, essays, book chapters, book reviews, and encyclopedia entries.