Just a spark

By Rachel Lippolis

The statistics aren’t a secret. Most of us have heard that up to one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. Typically, they’re caused by chromosomal abnormalities; the egg or sperm was damaged, the baby wasn’t going to develop properly, and the body is just protecting itself. It’s no secret that this must happen to a lot of women.

And yet, our own miscarriages ARE secret. We hide our pregnancies from public knowledge until we pass that magical three-month mark, counting the days (10 weeks 1 day, 10 weeks 2 days, 10 weeks 3 days…) until we feel safe (even though we’re never really “safe”). Before then, we pretend we’re not really pregnant. We pretend there’s a different reason we’re not drinking wine or caffeine. There’s a different reason we feel sick and fatigued. And if we lose that developing baby, we don’t have to tell anyone. They don’t console us because they don’t know we’re grieving.

When I miscarried last fall, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. I wanted to cry out, “I was pregnant, and now I’m not!” Typically, I’m an extremely private person; it’s very hard for me to open up and reveal things about myself. But part of me wanted people to know that I felt betrayed by my body. I wasn’t very far along. I’d only spent a few weeks knowing I was pregnant before I lost it.

Still, it was enough time for me to imagine an entire childhood for this spark of a person. Ultimately, I was too scared and embarrassed to shout it from the rooftops. I only told close family and a couple friends, as well as an amazing group of women online who knew exactly what to say.

Rachel and her son Miles, soon to be 3 years old.

In June, while this lost child’s due date quietly passed, I also noted slight movements in my belly. As I struggle to make sense of my feelings—my great joy for my son, who will be three in October; my occasional guilt and grief for the child that will never be; my excitement for the next little boy, due in December—a deep level of rage also courses through me. There is a criminalization of women and pregnancy across the country.

  • Last month, a young woman in Alabama was charged with manslaughter after she was shot and her five-month old fetus died. Charges were later dropped.
  • In 2015, a woman in Indiana was “sentenced to 20 years in prison neglect of a dependent and feticide.” The woman said she miscarried her fetus; the state argued she took abortion-inducing drugs.
  • In 2007, a teenage girl was indicted for “depraved heart murder” a year after her daughter was born premature and stillborn. An autopsy of the infant revealed “traces of a cocaine byproduct,” and her death ruled a homicide.

The examples are depressingly numerous. They didn’t begin with the Trump administration, and they won’t end with it. We must create a society that supports and has compassion for women: help them prevent or end unwanted pregnancies; provide excellent maternal care to reduce the United States’ high infant mortality rate; require parental leave so that all new mothers and fathers have the time to bond with and care for their new baby. It seems so simple and somehow so difficult.

Pregnancy is hard. Losing a baby is hard. Being a parent is hard. And yet our government, ostensibly to “protect” a spark of a person, neglects and punishes the bearer of that spark. I want our pregnancy stories—including miscarriages, abortions, and decisions not to have children in the first place—to be more out in the open, not just in hushed conversations or private online groups. I want an army of women from various backgrounds and with a variety of experiences to lead the necessary policy and cultural shifts.

I guess this is my attempt to do my small part. To share a little of my story in order to feel less alone and, maybe, help someone else feel less alone. Because each time I heard another woman say, “I’m sorry – that happened to me, too,” I felt better. Lighter. I think we all ought to be louder with our stories. Each of us, as well as the society at large, would be better off for it.

Rachel Lippolis: Doing her part.

After ten years working in a library, Rachel currently stays home with her toddler son, returning to the library with him two or three times a week. She hopes he’s as crazy about books as she is.

Editor’s note: Rachel and I have been online friends since 2011, when I discovered her excellent blog. We finally met in May 2016 when I visited her in Cincinnati, her hometown, during a road trip I took to see Major League Baseball games in three Midwest cities. As much as I love Rachel;s writing, I equally admire her progressive values.

Tomorrow: John Knapp | To no one in particular

The last checkbox

By Tammy Ellingson

Time flies by so quickly. Something every parent I know says with a stunned expression at the end of every school year; especially those of us who have children marking the end of one milestone and leaping to the next.

Yes, it all flies by so quickly, as we’re watching their journey, wondering how it’s possible they are old enough to walk, talk, go to school, ride a bike, mow the lawn, drive, vote, graduate from high school, college, join the service, get a job, or any number of things we were so sure were far in the future and we had time to plan for.

Yep, it seems like just yesterday they were little and we were young, and there was time, we foolishly thought, to make plans, lists, check all the right boxes in the right order. Some people even put all those milestones in baby books and scrapbooks, or so I’m told.

In the beginning there are doctor visits, monthly weight and length checks. Doctors ask about rolling over, crawling, feeding, and we check the boxes on those developmental milestones. Then the vaccines, accidents, and ER visits because toddlers toddle. Eventually the length checks turn into height checks, and we start giving their age in years instead of months. Whoever thought of that transition was a genius, because I don’t care to give my age in months, do you? There are the all too frequent photo shoots in the early months and years that thankfully slow to once a year when they start school.

One minute we’re focusing on organic baby food, and the next we’re baking whimsical birthday cakes with colorful frostings made with toxic dye. We unapologetically buy and toss plastic utensils, paper plates, and napkins like an environmental Neanderthal because each year the cakes and party themes get more complicated. And, you know what? A pyramid cake, with gold frosting and “Happy Birthday Isaac” written in hieroglyphs takes time, and checks off a few of those “Damn, I’m an awesome mom” checkboxes even if it does lean a little.

We’re signing them up for Tae Kwon Do, because every kid takes at least one or two years of some martial art, don’t they? I mean, I haven’t ever actually seen the official parenting manual, but I’m pretty sure when I find it, martial arts classes has a checkbox just waiting to be checked.

Flash forward to teaching them to drive and wearing out our imaginary brake, signing forms, paying fees, checking the box on car insurance. Then it all goes to hell, from our point of view anyway. We’re needed less and less. From their point of view, the world is an ever expanding smorgasboard of adulting boxes to be checked.

We all get older and life gets more complicated. AARP starts courting us. Oh sure, at first it’s kind of a shock. But discounts, those are good, right?

We’re living our best life, checking the box “hell yeah” for discounts, managing our technology with just a little bit of help from the kids, and then… we happen to hear an ad on TV for affordable life insurance for those aged 56 to 80. “WHAT? 56 to EIGHTY?” we think to ourselves skipping right past that whole “affordable” thing. Whoa, whoa, whoa, how’d we end up in that checkbox already? And what’s after 80? What checkbox is that?

Well, I’ll tell you. It arrived in the mail the other day as an innocuous little piece of junk mail, like the AARP postcard in the beginning, but the ante was upped with a whole lifetime of momentum behind it. This was the bitch slap we all knew was coming eventually, but really, now? We just entered the 56-80 checkbox!

The lovely little flyer tells us it’s time to honor our story, and if I buy one “Pre-Need” funeral now, we can get 35% off on a second contract. Discounts!

The only question is; do we check the box to receive the planning guide via email or in our mailbox? I don’t know about you, but I’m in no rush to check either box.

Tammy Ellingson is a wife, mother, writer, physical education teacher, and an expert at leaving loose ends and unchecked boxes in her wake, so why change now? In her spare time she obsesses about all the unfinished business of life, and then gets lost down a Pinterest rabbit hole.

Editor’s note: Several years ago, a mutual acquaintance recommended Tammy to me as a freelance writer when I was working for the Hillsboro Argus, a sister publication of The Oregonian. The Argus no longer exists, but I’m glad my working relationship with Tammy evolved into a friendship. Turns out I’m a couple of checked boxes ahead of her: Social Security? Medicare? Holy schnikes!

Tomorrow: Jason Cox | The finite universe of opportunities