Birthdays aren’t the best day.
The eve of my birthday is the anniversary of the day I started gushing bright red blood, after 14 weeks of amenorrhea that I honestly thought was a pregnancy. I was sick and fatigued and nauseated like a pregnancy. I even had wiggling sensations that I told myself might be kicks, but they were actually my hiatal hernia and all the noise from the severe IBS that flares up when my Poly-cystic ovary syndrome flares up. I didn’t have a diagnosis of PCOS just then. At the time, I was nothing but a chronically ill woman who’d been given a chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia diagnosis by the cheery pro-life Catholic internist whose clinic was named after the Holy Family. He had recommended homeopathy and a psychiatrist.
I went to an OB-gyn about the amenorrhea, reluctantly, because last time I saw a gynecologist he’d told me my odd symptoms were because I was fat. I tried to explain that every time my fatigue, dizzy spells and cramps got worse, I would also gain some weight, but the weight gain came last as if it were a result. But the gynecologist didn’t believe me, so I took the humiliation on the chin and never went back to the doctor. I was just a fat person with an odd case of fibromyalgia and occasional iffy blood sugar, that was all. This time I went to the OB-gyn and begged for a pregnancy blood test, because the home tests were negative but I didn’t know what else could be wrong. The nurse practitioner said they’d take one blood test now, and if the results were unusual they would take another one a week later “to confirm.” I mistakenly thought that meant they’d only do the second test if I had tested positive. So when they called me to schedule another test, my heart soared.
A few days later I bled, and I crashed. I thought the giant chunks of endometrium pouring out of me were chunks of a baby. I cried all night. The next day, my birthday and a Sunday, I tried to go to church, wearing four maxi pads to hold it all in. Of course I ended up in the ER with a dizzy spell and dehydration. The ER doctor was the one who told me that the baby had never existed. The OB-gyn declined to biopsy my thick endometrium because “people your age don’t get uterine cancer.” I eventually got on prescription antacids and a bland diet for the IBS. I didn’t get a PCOS diagnosis for five more years.
I’ve never known how to properly mourn a baby that didn’t exist. I don’t know how to say goodbye to a person I was excited to meet but I never will even if I go to Heaven, because she never came to be in the first place. The Church doesn’t have a blessing for this. She doesn’t have a blessing for me at all– an opinionated woman with religious trauma; a queer woman in a valid marriage but with only one child, a woman appalled by how stunningly abusive the Church has always been but who still believes that Christ is real and the Gospel is worth my time. The Church doesn’t want me, and would rather I went away.
I went to Mass again a week after my ER trip, still exhausted, still bleeding. This time there was a family there, a beautiful family with seven children. The oldest was a brand new Franciscan sister in her veil and habit with a three-knot belt. The youngest was a toddler born late in life to a graying middle-aged mother. I love families with seven children. I call them “Sound of Music Revival Families.” They are my favorite. I always wanted to be a mother of seven. After Mass, this family asked the priest to take their family portrait as they stood on campus in front of the statue of Saint Francis, holding hands, oldest to youngest in their Sunday best. The priest took the photo. He complimented them a thousand times. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for your beautiful witness to life!”
And then he walked past where I was sitting on the side of the planter, letting my one daughter climb on it to blow off steam after church. He glanced at me, but did not offer a blessing or a “thank you” for my witness to life. Mothers of one never get blessings.
That is one reason why I hate my birthday.
That is one reason why I didn’t end up going to Mass at all last Sunday. It’s far from the only one.
That is one reason why I had such terrible depression yesterday. I was too sick to eat all day, and I found myself crying in the Kroger parking lot in the last thirty minutes before it closed. I’d driven there to try to get myself a dinner, but instead of going inside, I held the steering wheel of the borrowed car and cried until the store closed, and then I drove home.
At home, Michael showed me the pillows and the Google Play gift card he got me for my birthday, but I cried instead of smiling.
I got on Doordash and ordered myself a breakfast at eleven o’clock at night. I ate it in bed while Adrienne played with her tablet and kept me company. “I can’t afford to buy you a present, so I built you something in Minecraft,” she said.
The birthday gift was a virtual party: a large corral with villagers and pandas and llamas milling around inside, and “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” inscribed on the wall in bricks.
I wanted to say something poetic and profound, something from the Psalms or Saint John of the Cross. I’m the person who talks about Catholic theology in her day to day life, but I’m not feeling terribly Catholic at the moment. All I can think of is a lyric from The Rolling Stones. “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.”
This is my witness to life.
image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.