The Other Side of Midnight
PRELUDE – Start with a joke…When I was young and single, I purchased a huge box of condoms. It cost a lot of money, and after having spent that money, I thought to myself, “Man, I had better not need to buy condoms again for a very long time. Then I thought “Hey, wait a minute, that’s not what I want.”
When I was older and not so single, we purchased in large bulk ovulation kits and pregnancy tests. Having spent that money, I thought to myself, “I hope these don’t all go to waste.” Then I thought, “Hey, wait a minute, that is what I want.”
JULY FIFTH – Then continue to laughter…Clancy asked me what the look on my face was. I glanced over, and said, “I’m debating whether to tell you something.”
Words which are almost never followed by anything but actually telling somebody something.
“Go ahead and tell me,” she said, warily.
“I’ve decided on a name.”
“A name? Really? I’m afraid to ask…”
Words which are, in themselves, asking.
“Marvin K Mooney,” I said, holding my breath. I wasn’t sure how it would go over. Whether she would scream at me, or find it as amusing as I did. I breathed out just a moment later, when she processed it, and burst into laughter.
MAY 3 – “The Time Has Come”Clancy came to me and said “Take a look at this and tell me if you see a line.”
I saw what appeared to be a line, Very, very faint. We went through a whole thing where there was another test and another faint line. Then she showed me what a negative test looked like, and I was sold on the idea, or at least renting it with an option to buy, that she was pregnant. And so, along with an increasingly exhausted Clancy and relatively minor morning sickness, Marvin made eir introduction.
We weren’t exactly prepared. It wasn’t that we’d been trying, but it was expected that there would be A Medication involved. There was health care that was supposed to have been lined up prior to the pregnancy, without which it wasn’t exactly expected that pregnancy would occur. Further, we couldn’t get to see a doctor. We couldn’t get necessary medication. Not for weeks. That was, until Clancy had the idea of calling the physician in Arapaho. “This is what’s going on, and here are my questions.” And so health care was accessed from across the continent. Medicine was shipped.
The gap, as well as other concerns, loomed large in our minds. We’re both worriers by nature, and both prone to being thrown off by the unprepared. We had initially resolved not to tell anyone for the first trimester. On further reflection, however, Clancy decided that if things did go wrong, she needed a support network in place.
The rule is that Clancy gets to tell whomever she wants to, whenever she’s ready to. I can, after she has, do the same. She told her parents, and I told mine. A little bit later, she told her siblings and I told mine. We said, over and over again, that it was really early. That alone was reason to be cautious about getting too optimistic. Further, there were some other complications (the medication), and Clancy’s age. There was all the reason in the world to be cautious and we preached caution.
Just getting it out there, however limited the network, did start to make it feel real. While the risks were real, we were being excessive with our caution and we knew it. But it helped keep us grounded, and prepared. Just in case.
JUNE 22 – “You can go by foot.”One of the questions Clancy asked is, when Marvin came out, whether or not I wanted to see the corpse. I told her that I did not. At this stage of a pregnancy, the remains would not likely be too recognizable as being human. The attachment had not, at that point, formed yet. There wasn’t even a name, as Marvin was not es name yet. This was, hopefully, a bump on a journey between two children. It was better to leave it at that.
But about those remains, there are three ways to deal with what remains of em. The first is to let nature run its course. The second is to help nature along with pharmaceuticals. The third is surgery. I gave Clancy counsel as I could, but ultimately the choice was to be hers. I was hoping that she would go the first or second route, but if knowing the risks of the third she felt that was the right course, I was prepared to support her entirely. It would, if nothing else, put an end to this sad affair and allow us to move forward.
She chose the second route, which I also thought was the most prudent. I’m not sure any of us realized the toll that decision would take.
MAY – “The time is now.”Sometimes, it’s the minor things that get you through uncertain times. As we dealt with a pregnancy that might not come to term, some euphemisms entered our vocabulary before Marvin became es name. The most comforting was, rather than putting in terms of life or death, putting it in terms of whether then-unnamed Marvin was going to choose to stick around or leave. I can’t describe why that framing brought me comfort, but it did.
JUNE 23 – “You can go by cow.”I had myself come to terms with what had happened, as best as could be reasonably accomplished. I knew there would be pangs of hurt over the next few days or weeks, but it would be a part of a process of moving on. The problem, it turned out, is that you can’t move on until something has actually passed. Or, in this case, someone has passed. And one of the hardest things in the world is waiting to move on. Waiting for the chance to grieve, but being unable to do so because it’s still a process in occurrence.
Clancy’s employer gave her a couple of days off, which we appreciated. That was, however, insufficient for the amount of time it was going to take Marvin to move on. And who knew how long that would take? Could take weeks. Could even take months, though at some point we would bite the bullet and she would get a D&C. And what could you do? All you can do is sit, sit, sit, sit, and wait for nature (and drugs) to take their course. And, as it turned out, the remains of Marvin were in no hurry.
EARLY JUNE – “The time has come.”Clancy knows how to read an ultrasound. Due to the particular dangers – A Medication as well as Clancy’s advanced maternal age – we got an ultrasound especially early. I saw a blob, but she could point at it and say here are the eyes and there is the arm. We had a heart beat and we had movement. It was a start. Or so we thought. A few days later, we were given some vitals that were very concerning. Instead of being roughly 5mm in diameter, the yolk sac was 9mm. The heart beat was out of danger range, but not strong enough to allay concern over the yolk sac and… everything.
The yolk sac was just the first indication that our earlier concerns had been justified. And we hadn’t been excessively cautious. We had, evidently, been just the right degree of it. Her physician in Arapaho was a little more upbeat, saying that while there were concerns, he wouldn’t be preparing us for the worst just yet. But when searching for reasons to be hopeful, the most I saw were positive anecdotes on message boards. And Dr Arapaho wasn’t wrong. The bad signs were all pointing in the wrong direction, but it was still “increased odds” rather than actual doom. It’s just that there was nothing especially positive to hold on to, and try as I might to ignore that, I couldn’t.
Quietly – as we did not discuss our fears too openly – Clancy was going through the same process.
LATE JUNE – “Marvin K Mooney, will you please go now!”The weeks that followed were some of the longest that there were. Marvin had chosen to go, but es remains stubbornly remained. And es presence had a tendency to swallow the room.
We had other things to tend to, of course. I was dealing with Lisby, our sick but recovering dog. I was having to set my alarm to go off at three in the morning to let her out so that she wouldn’t have an accident, which she would end up having anyway. I was watching after our living and breathing girl, which kept me busy even if I was relying a bit more on Sesame Street than usual.
Clancy, of course, had to return to a full time job. Which may be a blessing or a curse, but for her it meant that she simply had to table her grieving and – to a greater extent than I – was incapable of waiting in grief for things to move along. While I would alternate between trying to stay busy and stealing moments for myself as best I could, she was committed to the former and had little time for the latter.
Within our marriage, I am often looking for ways that I can unload her burden. I was anxious, for example, to take over nightly Lain duties many moons ago if it meant that through my contributions, Clancy could get a full night’s sleep. In situations like this, though, there is only so much I could do. The best I could do was that if she needed to be alone when she got home – instead of customarily greeting Lain and Lisby and giving me a break – I would take Lain down into the basement so Clancy could escape upstairs. But I couldn’t do much more than that, and it was heartbreaking. I often referred to the pregnancy as “her show,” by which I meant that all of the significant decisions (about who to tell and who not to, what kind of medical care to receive, etc) were strictly hers and I was merely in an assistant capacity. And this was her show, and she carried the primary burden and I could only feel the weight of watching her do so.
And for weeks on end, we lived a life surrounded by sadness. Unable to move on until the past had passed, unable to move forward with trying to have another child, knowing our time was becoming just a bit more limited every day that something didn’t happen. Searching for places to put our mind that didn’t involve the deteriorating corpse inside Clancy’s body. And actually hoping that Marvin was deteriorating, if that made em pass sooner rather than later. Operating on a hair-trigger temperament, wanting to scream at a remote that happened to fall off the sofa cushion and would be a pain to retrieve. Trying to be as patient and understanding with our live daughter as possible. Trying not to go off on the dog who peed on the kitchen floor again because her bladder is infected.
Living life on an emotional borderline. Treading water. Periodically needing to leave the room to cry, or sensing that Clancy needs to and trying to figure out whether to take the girl downstairs so that she can. I’d had a plan for this. For the potential grief. It was a plan that involved a quick exit, though. It might have involved Kelly Willis, if I was feeling particularly mopey. It didn’t involve dark humor surrounding a Dr Seuss character, laughing to avoid breaking down. It didn’t a long waiting period, along that emotional borderline, for the mere ability to move on. It didn’t involve anything like the contemplation of a grave.
In some ways, Marvin had become more tangible in death than e had in life. In life, there was no name. There was not even knowing what really was, in a way, as we lived on a different borderline between a future with a second child imminent and one with its absence. Marvin’s death, and the persistence of Marvin’s continued occupation of my wife’s uterus, was exactly what it was with much more limited uncertainty.
At a later point, I told Clancy that I had changed my mind and that I did want to see what remained of Marvin. I had, in fact, visions of digging a small hole in the yard. It was past the point where I could simply see em as a bump on a journey. Marvin was Marvin, whatever that meant, and… I didn’t really know. Maybe I just needed something to close the chapter. Clancy would have the passing. I would have, what? A tiny little grave? This article?
As it turned out, when I brought it up, Clancy informed me that by that point, it was almost certainly moot. Marvin had been disintegrating in the meantime, and hardly recognizable in an earlier phase would be hard to differentiate from a blood clot at the later phase. Unless you knew exactly at what you were looking at, and I had no idea.
JUNE 22 – “Just go. Go. GO!”
By the time we went in to the second ultrasound, we had reason not to be very hopeful. The MFM in Arapaho had said that, given the givens, he would not be preparing us for the worst yet, but that was the only bright spot in a pattern of bad. We were, in our most private moments, preparing for the worst. Clancy was putting it out of her mind so that she could continue to function, as was I. But it was… there.
The timing of the second ultrasound was not very good. Over the preceding weekend, our dog Lisby had gotten terribly sick. She was urinating all over the place, vomiting, and by Monday morning alarmingly lethargic. I took the dog in to the vet that morning, and they asked us to leave her at the clinic for observation. We also had an appointment concerning Lain that I had to punt. Ordinarily, my going to an ultrasound was not vital and I could go to the appointment while Clancy went to Millsburg, but the cold winds told me that I needed to be in Millsburg with her.
It’s not an ultrasound tech’s job to tell you that the baby is dead. Ordinarily, they take pictures and pass them on to the doctor who will break the news. But as I said, Clancy knows what she’s looking at when she sees an ultrasound. They kept the monitor pointed away from her. I was looking at it, and I wasn’t sure what I saw. There was movement, but it looked mostly like the camera moving rather than a jumping bean jumping. Clancy asked me with an expression what I was seeing. I shrugged. It took her two seconds after the tech turned it around and she was in tears and I was fighting them off while holding the daughter we have.
As I was trying to think of things that would have me as even as possible, I thought to myself, “Poor Ultrasound Tech. Grieving families are not her job.”
JULY – “Just go, go, GO! Please do, do, DO!”Some perspective. It helps.
There are so many greater tragedies out there. There are parents who hold a baby in its few minutes of life, or a life that just didn’t quite come to be. There are parents who had children, loved them, and lost them all too young. There are people who lose everything – their spouse and all of their children – in the blink of an eye. And more similar to our situation, there are would-be parents who never saw it coming. Who were awaiting the assumed arrival of a child one moment, and then one child short the next. We knew this was a possibility. This was early in the process and momentum and anticipation hadn’t built.
And just between my wife and myself, I know who got the worse deal. I had to get the drugs to help Marvin along, while she had to take them. I had to deal with Lain at home, but she had to go to a job that meant, among other things, monitoring pregnancies and delivering babies.
It turns out, there are no trigger warnings for this sort of thing. On Facebook, there are pictures of babies that Marvin hadn’t become. There are pictures of siblings that Lain would not – right now – have. Even on Twitter. At the supermarket, there are babies and there are siblings. And at the library, and anywhere out of the house. Even hearing references to multiple children leads to siblings which leads to the sibling that Lain won’t have in January and could possibly never have in quite the way we had hoped. There is no escaping it.
And there was a video of an abortion doctor that was released, leaving the entirety of the Internet discussing fetal tissue, and the disposal thereof, for days on end. Even headline news was no refuge.
And of course, there was the actual Dr Seuss book with the actual Marvin K Mooney in it. That, however, managed to have a little bit of a calming effect by providing a bit of gallows levity. A mildly amusing spin that poked a little light into the problem that was enveloping us. I feared that by uttering the name, I would taint the book. Instead, through the association, both Marvin the book and Marvin the deceased are more firmly entrenched in the familial echelon.
In the end, I’m not sure how much any of that mattered. There was sadness to be had, and it was had. And it would be had at least until Marvin had made es exit. We didn’t want dark humor. We didn’t want to want Marvin to go. We wanted Marvin to be the newest addition to our family. But with that dashed, we had what we had, which was sadness, loss, and worry.
JUNE 22 – “I don’t care how.”Clancy needed to call her mother. I needed to take Lain home and to pick the dog up from the vet. I would tell my parents in due course.
After having held one another and separated – we’d taken separate cars – I had to gather my thoughts and while she was getting comfort from another I felt it was actually a good thing to have some space to myself, with the girl quietly in the back seat. Life would go on, I reminded myself. It was good that it happened this early. It was good that we found out.
I had planned for this, I thought, and one way or another it should be over very soon.
JULY 20 – “The time had come. SO… Marvin WENT.”In the end, the degenerated remains of Marvin had to be forcefully evicted. There had been some false starts and false hopes along the way, but it all proved to be illusory and ultimately incomplete. The last push came the day before the scheduled surgery, but it too wasn’t enough. By that point, we felt comfortable that we had given Marvin every opportunity to leave on es own. If, heaven forbid, the surgery did not go well, we would both at least know that we didn’t sacrifice the future for some temporary relief. In The World of Clancy and Will, that sort of thing matters a lot. Tragedy is one thing, but tragedy that could have been avoided is a sin in our way of looking at things.
Just having the end day helped. And, as expected, having it over helped. That it happened right before the trip to Alaska helped clarify the demarcation between dealing with the unfortunate situation, and moving past it.
Powerful stuff Will, thank you for sharing it.Report
If this were me I would have been reticent to share it, especially so soon. I admire the bravery it took to hit “publish.”Report
Thank you for sharing this.Report
Hard stuff, Will. My thoughts are with you all.Report
I wish the world were not this way.Report
This was beautifully written even though it was about very sorrowful occurrence.Report
My deepest condolences.Report
My thoughts and prayers with you both, Will. But in addition to that, there is this: I think this might be the best thing written on this site, ever.
Really strong and emotional writing.Report
Thanks, all. I didn’t actually write this with the intent of publishing it. Figuring, if nothing else, Clancy wouldn’t want me to (and I absolutely wouldn’t have without her signing off on it). I wrote some of it as things were unfolding, because putting an event in the prism of a story can help me deal with stuff. But when I mentioned to Clancy, she was supportive.
Also, a special thanks to Maribou, who took the time to do some editing work on it.Report
So sorry, Will. Take care of each other.Report
I am so sorry. Big hugs.Report
Thanks for sharing Will. My condolences for your loss.Report
One of the best, saddest, and most human things I’ve ever read.
Thank you, @will-truman for writing this.
I need to go weep for you and, most particularly, for Clancy.Report
I’ve been there, @will-truman , it sucks.
Before Bug, there was Bjorn. He was a tough little embryo, the result of our first go at IVF. He would have become Bjorn the Baby, instead of Bjorn the Blastocyst, except he picked the wrong spot to implant. Fallopian tubes can accept an implantation, but they can’t carry it to term (some piss poor intelligent design there, I tell you).
Methotrexate is some nasty stuff, a chemotherapy drug. Usually, it will quickly kill a young embryo, and trigger a miscarriage. Bjorn weathered two doses of it & still was going strong. A few hours of urgent surgery later and he was gone, as were both tubes (and we had a reason why she wasn’t getting pregnant the old fashioned way – turns out endometriosis can destroy fallopian tubes).
We grieved his loss. We still have his picture, a little egg with eight cells floating against a blue background.Report
@will-truman you and Clancy are in my thoughts. Thank you for your and Clancy’s courage to publish. It will help more people than you know and I pray help you both as wellReport
I’m really sorry to hear about this, but please accept my condolences.Report
A most moving essay. Thank you for sharing it. And you and Clancy have my sympathies.Report
I always used to think that Hemingway story was really sad (challenged to tell a complete tale in six words, he thought for a moment and said “for sale, baby clothes, never worn”) and was glad that it wouldn’t ever happen to me. And then, well, it did.Report
Man, that’s rough. So sorry to hear it.Report
I’ve been avoiding reading this, because I kind of grokked what it was about from a glance when it first went up. I just read it and am sitting here with tears in my eyes. Will, I’m so sorry. Take care of your family.
And this is wonderfully-written and presented, as odd as giving compliments on that feels, given the personal nature of the topic.Report
When my son, my firstborn, was but a babe, I went to the wake and funeral of one of my employees. Heather. She was a darling girl who I hired, years before, in high school. I happily hired her back every summer and holiday after she went to college. She was a such a joy. I sort of knew her parents.
One tragic party night, Heather and three of her college friends took a ride in a convertible in bad weather, and there was an accident. I think they all died, but I could be wrong about that. I only remember that Heather died. I went to her wake and her funeral. I wept hard with her mother. Eventually, I said something like, “I could not imagine losing my baby. It would surely kill me.” Heather’s mom said to me something I have never forgotten. She said, “Imagine loving and nurturing your baby for 18 years. Watching your baby grow and flourish into a child and then an adult. Which is worse? Having them ripped apart from you as a baby? Or after you’ve loved them so deeply for so long?”
I agonized over what she said. But because my own baby boy was barely a year old, I had to file it away under Truths I Cannot Face. Eventually, many years later, I came to grips with the thought that there is no point, on the parenting continuum, where the death of one’s child isn’t debilitating.
With enough support, we’re hopefully able to move on.
I don’t know you, Will, but you have my deepest sympathies.Report