My hands are wet. I washed them before I left the house but didn't dry them, the towel in the bathroom already used to clean up some of the blood. I dry them now, wiping them down the front of my shirt, palms first, then the backs. I do it four times in total, palms first, then the backs, the repetition relaxing my anxiety-tightened skin.
There is still some blood under my nails, gathered in the corners, so tight it almost looks black. I raise one finger to my mouth, ready to dart the point of a canine between skin and nail, but stop myself. That wouldn't be right, tasting that blood.
Blighted Ovum, she called it in that distant, matter-of-fact way doctors have of imparting medical information to the layman, almost like an afterthought, added to the end of a conversation they were only giving half their attention to, the next patient, the next file, already drawing their mind. Blighted Ovum. Everything has a name, a title, a designation, from things so small, so insignificant, we are blind to them, to events so irrevocably life-changing they echo through our lives forever. Most of us don't know these names, until circumstances cruelly insert them in our our lives. Blighted Ovum. A harsh description for a harsh experience. An apt description in its harshness. Blighted Ovum. Blighted. Blight. Something that impairs or destroys. Yes, very apt. And what it destroys more than anything else is hope.
I crave a cigarette before remembering I gave up in solidarity with Jane when she gave them up after we decided that we were going to try for a baby one more time, and for all intents and purposes I did quit, sneaking the occasional one or two in work, or when out for a few drinks with friends. One or two, here and there. A vast improvement on the thirty to forty I used to smoke a day. And when that pregnancy stick had declared us pregnant I had stopped, completely, no more ones or twos here and there, not even keeping packets hidden in my usual hiding spots around the house.
With no cigarette to smoke I put my hands in my pockets, as though that might ease my cravings, my fluttering hands restrained, and sit on the wall, staring up at the clear night sky, thinking without thinking, yet thinking about everything.
The sperm fertilizes the egg, and the egg in turn attaches itself to the uterine wall, but the embryo itself doesn't develop. Cells develop, a pregnancy sac is formed, and the body believes that it is pregnant and acts accordingly, from swollen breasts to morning sickness. And positive pregnancy tests. Weeks can pass with the happy mother and father believing that there is a healthy baby growing inside the woman's womb, right up until the first ultrasound at twelve weeks, when it is revealed that the the womb is empty, or the pregnancy sac is present but empty.
Or the mother might start bleeding, which might mean nothing, depending on the amount of blood, but when added with painful and regular cramps can mean miscarriage.
Even though the sky is clear I can't see a single star, so maybe the sky isn't as clear as it looks, because where we live, on a clear night, the sky dances with stars. I can't see the moon either, but that is simply because it's behind me on the other side of the house. If the bedroom curtains were open the moon's light would be shining on Jane as she lies on the bed. But the curtains are closed. I know this because I closed them, after it was all over, the only illumination the digital display of the beside clock.
Most nights we would leave the curtains undrawn, capturing a piece of the sky to gaze at as our eyes closed. And on full moon nights the room would be coated in a ethereal shine, a silent lullaby. Some nights, with the air warm, we would leave a window open, the natural silence of the night a comfort, occasionally interspersed with the gentle language of nocturnal animals, the perks of living in the country, our nearest neighbour a mile away. I must admit, born and growing up in the ever noisy city of Dublin, it took me some time to adapt to such a sudden silence, the absence of sound louder than the constant audio of city streets, while Jane, a country girl through and through, couldn't have been happier moving here, even if it was out of depressing necessity, with house prices in Dublin beyond our budget.
When the empty sac is discovered there are two possible routes to take. You can allow the miscarriage to run its course naturally, which can be speeded up by taking a tablet with the name Misoprostol, which breaks up the sac so it can more easily pass. Or you can have a D&C, or dilation and curettage, which involves opening the cervix and scraping the uterine wall. Both are unpleasant and painful, to say the least, but in most cases doctors would rather not perform the D&C.
In the long bush that runs along the wall I'm leaning on, the silence of the night is broken by some animal scurrying, and as though this was nature's starting gun, I hear an owl hoot in the far trees and something like a cat pealing in heat, though I have never seen a cat in this area in the three years we've been living here. Just as quickly as they began, the noises cease, silence ruling the night again. I strain to listen, waiting for some further sound to ignite it all once more. But there is nothing. Nothing, as though I am the last living creature left alive in the world. I feel a need to hear a sound, any sound, the silence feeling thicker as it presses against my ears, so I cough, short and sharp, but a noise all the same, a noise that it is quickly swallowed by the muted night.
I shiver, without feeling cold. It isn't a cold night, hasn't been for a least a week, summer finally making an appearance, two weeks into August. Which reminds me. It will be my birthday tomorrow. Forty-one. Not the most viable age to be a father, the endless literature we have consulted tells us, the various problems that can arrive in any pregnancy greatly increased the older the father is. It's not the worst age either, fatherhood possible for most men into their sixties, seventies, but the likelihood of various genetic deformities occurring...
But would it matter what was wrong with your child when you've been trying for so long, waiting? You wouldn't love them any less, would you? Besides biological programming, it would be a cold heart that couldn't swell at the sight of your newborn baby, their brand new lungs screaming their first cry of broken music. I'd like to think I would love my baby no matter what. I know I would. Now, at least, now that I'm older, wiser...
We've been married for nine years now, Jane and me, and for five of them we've been trying to have a child. We've been successful, to a point, Jane becoming pregnant twice already, but sadly both pregnancies miscarried, the first at six weeks, the second at nine. We didn't think we'd try a third time, the two miscarriages hard on both of us emotionally, while the physical strain was hard on Jane, her body having to endure that pain and stress, while all I could do was hold her as her body betrayed her. But we wanted a child, that never went away, that need, that almost consuming desire to increase our family by one, by two. And it would increase tenfold when we saw our friends with their newborns, the mix of delight and tiredness in their eyes.
No, I must be honest, if to no one but myself. When Jane said she wanted to try again, one last time, her declaration seemingly coming out of the blue, but which, of course, was something she'd been mulling over for a while, coming at it from all angles, as she always does before making any big decisions, I was hesitant. I was coming to some kind of peace that I would never be a father, though peace may not be the right word. A reluctant acceptance, possibly, a whisper of the realization that this was punishment for... past choices. Whatever I might call it, and however right or wrong I might be in the name I gave it, Jane wanted to try again, one last time. Third time's the charm, and all that. One last time. And if not, then not, we would accept what we could not have, our family staying at two, not three, not four. Two. And being two is better than being one, being alone.
We opted to go the route of letting the miscarriage run its course, with added assistance from the tablet, or tablets to be precise: four innocuous looking white ovals a pharmacy might give you over the counter for a headache. That evening, coming home from the hospital after the ultrasound had revealed the empty sac and broke our hearts, Jane took the four tablets. We were told that it would take four hours for the pills to take effect and that the process could take up to twenty four hours from start to finish. Any longer than that, or if there was too much blood, Jane was to return to the hospital immediately.
I held her hand as she swallowed them down, and continued holding her hand as we sat on the bed, not even attempting to find comfort in inane small talk; after all, what did the weather, or elections, or disasters in far-flung lands mean in the shadow of what we were waiting for? We simply sat there looking at nothing, waiting. After thirty minutes we both lay down on the bed, hands still held, and looked at the ceiling, I seeing mistakes of my past writ large on the ceiling, Jane seeing I don't know what.
Time passed as time does when you are waiting for it to pass.
The tablets had been taken at four-twenty-four, and at seven-fifty-two, the pain arrived.
When I was twenty my eighteen year old girlfriend got pregnant. We'd been careless one too many times, too drunk to bother with a condom, too horny to wait to buy some. Statistics won out over dumb luck. We weren't the first to fall into this lazy trap in the history of the world, and we certainly were not the last. Neither of us was capable of being parents, adults in age but not in manner or mind, our youth and our relatively new freedom constantly colliding, and though we'd been together for three years at that point, both of us knew without knowing, or, at least, admitting, that we were not going to be together forever. In truth, our relationship had already run its course, a shared loneliness delaying that realization from becoming a fully conscious thought yet.
And we had been unfaithful to each other many times, in that cruelly casual way young people can be, such deceits easily forgotten when the heart is young, old hearts not as resilient, as myself and Jane foolishly know after too much drinks one night led to the wrong choice on Jane's part, an act that she confessed to, and something I have come to terms with, though it took me a long, angry time, the stress of which possibly contributed to the first miscarriage...
At first my girlfriend wanted to have the baby and keep it, while I wanted neither. Right from the very start I did not want to be a father, could not picture myself as a father, the very thought of it frightening me like I'd never been frightened before, the possibilities in my future suddenly limited. And as the weeks passed my feelings and fear did not change. Neither did my girlfriend's. She was adamant about having the baby, yet she had yet to tell her parents she was pregnant, stern Catholics to the bone. I hadn't told my parents either, but for very different reasons; they would have simply viewed it as further proof that I was a waste of space with no prospects beyond the dole queue. I could not, would not, give them that satisfaction. So over many weeks I leaned on my girlfriend to have an abortion, saddling her imagination with all the responsibility raising a baby would entail, and the ending of all those freedoms she had just been introduced to, turning eighteen. I convinced myself I was doing it for the both of us, that it was the right thing to do, though of course I was doing it for me. I knew that, even as I was doing it. I am not proud of it, but what's done is done, I can't change it. And if I did change it, if I could actually go back and change it, what would my life be like now? I doubt I would be with Jane, and I love her. I can't imagine my life without her. Why else would I have forgiven her her infidelity if I didn't love her? Why else would I be willing to have a child with her?
Eventually my girlfriend changed her mind. Or gave in, would be more apt. She went to England to have the abortion. I did not go with her because we couldn't afford the money for the procedure and two flights, though her sister went with her, so at least she wasn't alone. Another moment not to be proud of, not going with her, and, another moment of being honest with myself, I didn't want to go because... because... I don't really know. I just didn't want to be there when the pregnancy was gone.
Less than a month after the abortion our relationship did what it had been preparing to do for months and collapsed in on itself. We went our separate ways, and... that was that.
I'd like to say that not a day goes by that I don't regret not going over with her, but I'd be lying. In time the abortion fell to the back of my mind, and it was only when Jane had the second miscarriage that I thought about it, the taste of cruel irony on my tongue as I held my crying wife, my own sadness shaking my body.
And now this Blighted Ovum, this blight.
In the hard weeks after Jane's second miscarriage I made the foolish mistake of mixing alcohol with Facebook and looked my old girlfriend up. There I found her profile picture, her smiling face much as it had been twenty odd years ago, three mini clones of herself sharing the picture with her, along with a man standing proudly behind her, the same man she started dating after we broke up.
I was struck with an icy jealousy at first, seeing her with her beautiful children, her proud husband, but it slowly gave way to a bittersweet acceptance, and a happiness that she, to all appearances, seemed happy and fulfilled. She did deserve that. She did.
I held Jane's hand as the Misoprostol did its devastating duty, sitting on the edge of the bath as she sat on the toilet, pain crushing her stomach and shaking her breaths as she cried. The two previous times that she miscarried I'd been with her, holding her as her body rejected the ill-formed fetus. I held her as she cried and gasped in pain, bloody lumps making sickening sounds as they fell into the toilet bowl. But those times were nothing like this time now as the tablets forced her womb to push out the empty sac. I had never seen her in so much pain. She was pale and sweaty and crunched up with it. So much pain she couldn't bear the pressure of my arms around her, so all I could do was hold her hand and whisper "It's okay," and "It'll be over soon," sentiments which sounded empty even before they left my mouth, her grip growing tighter and tighter, while her other hand held the side of the toilet seat.
And the blood, so much blood. Clots of it falling from her as though it wasn't just the deceiving sac falling from her, but her very insides, her womb, her stomach, her liver, lungs, kidneys and heart, until all that would be left would be bone stained red with what little blood remained.
And then it stopped and I helped her back to the bed, her legs weak and her back an explosion of agony from sitting on the toilet for too long. With a towel beneath her she lay down, keeping her body as still as possible to lessen the pain that was still howling through her body. Then I returned to the bathroom and, without looking into it, I flushed the toilet and cleaned the rim and the seat where blood had splashed, so she wouldn't have to see all that blood if she had to come back and go through it all again, which she did, four more times. Four more excruciating times when she would bleed and howl, then retreat to the bed, while I cleaned up. Four more times until it seemed it might be done, ten full minutes without anything passing out of her body, and even then we let another five minutes pass before I helped Jane back to the bed where, the pain having drawn so much from her that she was too tried to even feel it, she fell into a deep sleep, and where she still sleeps as I stand outside our home, breathing air that doesn't smell like blood, thinking about Blighted Ovums, and blights, and...
All marriages have ups and downs once the honeymoon period has faded, some more than others. Myself and Jane have had our ups and downs, though I don't think we've had more than other couples I know. That hasn't stopped me from wanting to... walk away. Not leave, but simply walk away for a day or two, walk outside the door and keep walking, stopping and walking back when I feel ready to walk back. When Jane admitted her night spent with another man I... I wanted to walk away, and only come back when I trusted her again. But I think if I had walked away then, I would never have come back, because I've never trusted her since, not in the way a husband should be able to trust his wife. I think that is more my problem than Jane's. I don't know.
I do know that I love her. Everyone does. Even my parents, who never liked any of my past girlfriends, love her, my mother insisting that Jane call her mum. While my dad is delighted to have someone to watch soccer with, my interest in sports is non-existent.
And I know she loves me. Isn't that enough? I've seen married couples who clearly don't love each other stay together and be utterly miserable together. Who could want that kind of life?
Asleep as Jane may be, I have left her on her own too long. Yet I do not move, the silence of the night holding me. I can't help but wonder if we'll try again. This last time technically not being our last time, not our third time's the charm, because, according to the doctor who knows so much while knowing so little, there was nothing there. It wasn't a pregnancy in the true sense of the word. It was a Blighted Ovum. There was nothing there to lose, no baby to miscarry and, for this, according to our doctor, we should be grateful, we should take some solace. We should be thankful that there was no baby to lose. Yet, it had been there. Only in our hearts and minds, yes, but there all the same. We believed there was a baby, our baby, growing inside Jane. And while we were nervous, scared that she could miscarry, we grew more confident as we got beyond the six weeks of the first miscarriage, then the nine weeks of the second miscarriage, until we were less than one week from fourteen weeks, that holy grail time when the chances of miscarrying are less than one percent. This baby had lasted longer than the others. This baby might be born, this baby existed, this baby that had various names tested on it, boy or girl. This baby, our baby existed... until it didn't and...
I don't know if we'll try again. It's not something we've discussed, because it wasn't something we could discuss, not during those weeks leading up to the discovery, lest we jinx the baby growing inside Jane. And as our confidence grew with every passing week, it wasn't something that needed to be discussed. I doubt we'll be discussing it anytime soon. My heart, as bruised and battered as it feels right at this moment, doesn't want to risk such pain again. And Jane? Can her heart endure it? Can her body for that matter? While the physical pain of this will fade, the mental pain will last some time yet, I think.
I'm suddenly very tired. I should go back into the house, lie beside Jane, be there when she wakes. But just for a moment I will stand here, under this starless sky and try not to think what has gone before or about what is going to happen. Or about anything at all.