Water Abstract. Photo by Stanley Zimny. https://tinyurl.com/34asd8xv

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A Feeling to Name

The doctor apologized while he dragged scraps of fetal tissue out of my cervix with tiny forceps. He apologized again when he spread each pink scrap carefully on a paper-towel-covered tray like a collection of tiny deer hides, skinned and stretched and ready for tanning. I wanted to make a joke about it, but the closest I could get was a grimace and a shiver. My mom reached for my hand. The doctor apologized again, and I watched the wet spots spread around the shrapnel of my baby. Mom asked if I wanted to call my husband, and I said no.


Three months earlier we had moved to Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia, our fifth home in our six years of marriage. Two weeks after we moved in, Brian deployed. Two weeks after that, I found out I was pregnant.

The next two months I spent in a fog, dozing in and out on the sofa while my two-year-old sang and danced with Minnie and Mickey in front of the TV. When I went for my first ultrasound, I asked the tech if it was normal for the baby to be so still, and she said yes, sometimes. The heartbeat was strong, so there was no reason to be worried except that nothing felt right.

The days bled together while I Doordashed strange pasta dishes from a Dungeons and Dragons–themed restaurant and took our daughter to Chuck E. Cheese on the days I felt like I could stand up for an hour. I dissociated at the Skee-Ball lanes as long as I could convince her to stay there and then dragged along behind her as she bounced from game to game.

So, I agreed to go on the beach vacation with my family only because it seemed overwhelming to keep doing so little.


When the doctor was finished, Mom wiped the blood off of my thighs, threw my used-to-be white shorts in the biohazard can, and said I needed to call my husband. She picked up my prescriptions while I sat in the car with my iPhone and pressed his name five times and listened to voicemail pick up every one of them. It was 4:00 a.m. in Afghanistan and I didn’t expect an answer but wished I hadn’t called until I knew he could. It seemed cruel to text but worse to not, so I wrote: “I had a miscarriage. I lost the baby. Call me.”

On the phone he sounded like a faded version of himself, and we had a conversation without many words. He said he’d try to come home, and I said don’t. But he did.


When I married Brian, I knew I signed up for a life of endless transitions. I was prepared to move across the country every two years, prepared to say goodbye to him before deployments and training, and I knew those transitions would be hard and that the only thing I could really predict about army life was it would be unpredictable. But it turns out that goodbyes are the only predictable part of army life. A goodbye may be delayed or rescheduled, the drop-off location may change, but on the other end of it I know I will be here and he will not. And with a goodbye you know exactly how you’ll feel afterwards: “sad” is a feeling with a name. And a feeling you can name is one everyone around you can understand. But there’s no word for the stress of hellos.

“You must be so excited he’s coming home!” they say.

And I am. I always am. But they’ll never understand what it’s like to spend a year calling a weekly phone call from a crackly satellite phone a marriage. And they’ll never understand that to make that year bearable you have to keep turning off things inside of you until you can become someone who wants nothing and needs less. Becoming that person is hard, but making the transition back is an entirely different animal. None of us will ever make it all the way back to who we were. We always know what happens after a goodbye. But after a hello? We have to figure out how to be a family again.


Anxiety overwhelmed me while I waited for Brian at the airport. I choked back sobs and couldn’t think about anything but the pad I was wearing and the blood pooling in it. I wished I had stayed home. I wished he had stayed in Afghanistan. I sweated through my dress; I snapped at my daughter.

And when he walked through the gate, I still felt all of those feelings. But I knew I wouldn’t have to feel them alone while he was home.