Spin Cycles: the excruciating anxiety of trying (and trying and trying) to get pregnant

The man at the garden store looks down at the crumpling brown leaf I hold in my palm. “Sunburn,” he says.

I sigh with relief.

“It’s going to get ugly as the summer goes on,” he says, “but it’ll probably live. I’d leave it where it is this year. Next winter, move it to a shadier spot.”

My heart drops. Move it? I can’t just move the tree. He wouldn’t understand. Maybe we could cover the tree with shadecloth or make sure to water it more, de-scorch the leaves with hydration or something?

“There’s nothing else to do?” I ask.

“Nope. Dogwoods do better in partial shade.”

Shit. OK. What we had thought of as the perfect spot for a tree to commemorate our far-too-early-born child, the tiny embryonic culmination of the two of us buried under the roots, was not a perfect spot at all. It was possibly fatal for the tree. How did we not know this?

I leave the store unsure of how to proceed. I sadly explain the situation to my husband when he gets home and he simply says, “Misplanting of a miscarriage.” He shrugs his shoulders and gives me that sensible look of his that simultaneously pisses me off and makes me appreciate him for his lack of sentimentality or superstition. I mean, I’m thinking, “What could this possibly mean?” Spiritually, you know? I don’t ask him that because he’d probably roll his eyes. Instead I try to put aside my emotional attachment and say what I know he would say, “Well, I guess if the tree dies of sun exposure that’s a lot worse than moving it. Them. Both of them. We’ll try to move both of them.”

He looks into my eyes and softens. We remember the winter day when we waited for the miscarriage to happen, when I squealed with surprise as I walked towards the dug out hole where the dogwood would go, how I felt the amniotic sac and placenta push through the gates of my body, how we marveled at the intact beginnings and endings in my palm. How we lay the could-have-beens in the soil and covered them with compost, covered them with the sprawling young roots of a tree whose flowers would reach their faces skyward.

The dogwood budded out in early spring, seemed to be thriving as the days grew warmer, as lilacs bloomed like they did the week our daughter was born, as grass sprouted in the back field of our farm. The young tree’s leaves unfurled and opened themselves to the lengthening days of sun. I touched each pale green and yellowish-white leaf with wonder and joy. Life can spring from death. Dramatic, yes, but oh so true.

When I first noticed the curling brown edges despite consistent watering and care, I thought it might be a sign of some sort; that somehow I couldn’t care for the unborn one even after their burial. Or maybe it was a sign about my fertility: withering leaves, withering eggs?

Every month since February, my emotional life has been orchestrated by my cycle. Not in the stereotypical watch-out-I-have-PMS way. Obsessive tracking on two apps about my cervical fluid and predicted days of ovulation. Trying to time the sex, trying to make it sexy instead of dutiful, trying not to get up too quickly afterwards, wondering if I should lift my hips to help the swimmers slide on in when I could hardly keep my exhausted body from falling into a deep sleep. Not able to sleep thinking of all the things I had to do that hadn’t been done yet because my two-year-old simply wouldn’t listen or cooperate while I tried to vacuum or weed the garden or have a two-minute phone call to the bank and why the hell do we think having another child is a good idea.

Waiting. Buying multi-packs of pregnancy tests. Hoping that what feels like cramps aren’t really cramps but simply a sore back from picking up my thirty-two-pound toddler or somehow the beginnings of the lower back pain or loose joints associated with pregnancy. Thinking the pregnancy test might not be accurate. Hoping that the blood on the toilet paper is implantation not period. Admitting two days into a heavy flow that it is definitely a period. Admitting that a baby will not be born in nine months. Panicking that another month has gone by not pregnant and another month brings me closer to turning 42-years-OLD and you know what they say about shriveled up eggs and birth defects and early menopause.

I didn’t think I would be “that woman.” That woman desperate to get pregnant.

We got pregnant so quickly three years ago. I got home from a long distance sailing race to Alaska and was finally ready at 38-years-old to go for the whole family thing. Less than two months later, I was knocked up and ecstatic. My pregnancy was uneventful and beautiful except for a few months of constant low-grade nausea. Seasickness from the ocean inside. Months of women approaching me in public to share pregnancy tips and birth stories. Or just huge smiles and congratulations. Like I’d done something right.

We started trying last summer and were surprised it took us six months to get pregnant. The miscarriage happened only seven weeks in. Was our first healthy pregnancy simply a fluke? Did I drink too much black tea or not take enough vitamin C or am I too old to support another baby? What am I doing wrong this time around?

All the doctors say I am healthy, that I have a younger body than my years, that all the systems seem in order. I’m taking all the freaking supplements, eating all the right foods, my husband is a lot younger than me with (presumably) healthy sperm. “How is this not happening?” I ask every month I stare down at the unwelcomed blood.

I have to say here that there is a bit of relief, too, the three cycles I’ve found out I wasn’t pregnant. I know. I know! The ambiguity about having a second child is surprising to me, too. It’s confusing. How can I want this baby so bad and also feel relief at not having to go through the process: the fatigue, anxiety-producing genetic testing, morning sickness, and lack of control that is pregnancy. All the uncertainty about who the baby will be or who I will be as a parent to them. Wondering how the hell I could love them as much as I do my little girl. Wondering if having another one is fair considering the catastrophic imminent displacement and suffering of millions with climate change.

Is this ambiguity the problem? Maybe the little souls who may be hovering sense my hesitation and therefore hesitate themselves, aren’t sure if they’re welcome. Of course you’re welcome, little one! Just as long as you’re perfect, OK? Just kidding. I mean kind of.

I want to trust the universe and all that. And I want to be OK with just having one child if that is how it turns out. I want to stay open to all the possibilities.

And it’s hard. To wait. To trust. To believe it is all for the best, not simply a punishment for some unknown violation. To figure out if this is love or ego driven (I said I would do it, therefore I must). Yet, as I’ve learned in the three years since I got pregnant the first time, I can’t really ‘figure out’ much when it comes to birthing and parenting, I just have to take some sort of action and see what happens.

The dogwood tree is a ghost in our yard. Wisps of white garden fabric float sideways in the breeze, the majority tied to the wire fence guarding the tree from deer and goats. The sun-damaged fabric that has protected carrots for several seasons now offers glimpses of the sunburnt leaves of the tree, the thin, slightly crooked trunk, the branches up-stretched to the wisps of clouds floating by. I whisper to the tree: I will protect you. I will move you if we need to. I will do what it takes to honor the needs of the living.

I say this to the tree and to the one who was born in a tiny golden orb the size of a cherry. I say this to my daughter and to any souls hovering about my womb waiting for a sign to jump on in.

I’m not sure, I’ll never be sure, but I want this anyway.

I water the roots of the tree under the downy layer of wool we used for mulch. I tie the fabric back onto the fence where it has pulled away. I wait.

That’s all I can do.

That’s all I can do.

Originally published on my website.

Jenny Goff is a sailor, farmer, chef, and writer living on an island north of Seattle, WA.

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