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After Months of Grieving the Miscarriage of my Twins, I Began to Find Myself Again

Monday, November 29, 2021

By Anne Zimmerman

Illustration by Rebecca de Araujo

I was laying underneath a bright, white light when the esthetician asked me a perplexing question: “Do you sleep on your left side?”

“Yes,” I said. “Why?”

“Well,” she said, chuckling, “since you were here last, you’ve developed so many more wrinkles. But only on the left side of your face.”

Six months earlier, I had miscarried twins at nine weeks. What had begun with a rice-sized dot of bright red blood in my underwear ended seventy-two hours later with a tiny, pearlescent-pink amniotic sac the size of a large cocktail onion falling into my toilet. I’d scooped it out of the porcelain bowl and carried it to my husband in the kitchen. He stood in the spotlight of the metal bulb we’d clamped to the edge of a shelf, buttering a piece of toast.

“Look,” I’d said, holding out my hand. “There they are.”

His face went dark. “What are we going to do?” he asked me.

The months since then had been rough. I’d felt it in my belly, with its residual roundness and irregular menstrual cycles; in my low back, which always felt tight; and in my head, which was perpetually anxious. But my face? And not just my face, the left side? It was November, one day after my forty-first birthday, and life felt impossibly cruel.

“Well,” I finally said to the woman at the spa. I had been hoping to relax. Instead, I confirmed what I already knew: I was damaged. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Sleep on your back?” she said. “Or try the other side?”

As she scrubbed my face and then slathered it with lotions and oils, I tried to think of a better explanation for my lopsided lines, something that went beyond the laziness of consistently falling asleep in the same position.

I tried to make light of my wrinkles and wondered if anyone could look closely and see the imbalance in my face — or the pain in my heart.

I thought of the years I’d slept with my first and then second babies, nestling them into my left side, protecting them from the snoring mountain of my husband. I thought about how decadent it had felt when my children had grown up and into their own beds. How I loved it when my husband wrapped his arms around me, pulling me close, my legs sliding under his in a delicious tangle.

But lately, sleep had felt reclusive. It had been the only reliable time in my day where I could turn away from everyone and everything. I looked forward to shutting my eyes and diving into a relentless list of concerns: aging, peri-menopause, and infertility. I’d press my palms together, tuck them under my cheek, and recite the Hail Mary until I fell asleep, just as I had done as a child. The diamonds in my wedding rings pressed divots into my cheek and temple while my husband sat awake beside me, reading.

After I left my appointment, I texted my best friend.

“It’s getting worse.” I told her what the esthetician had said. I tried to make light of my wrinkles and wondered if anyone could look closely and see the imbalance in my face — or the pain in my heart.

“Isn’t that what happens to long-haul truckers?”

I was not a long-haul trucker but for the first time in my life, I felt haggard and unmoored. In the past six years, I’d birthed two healthy babies and enjoyed even the taxing aspects of motherhood — diapers, tantrums, fevers. Another child had felt inevitable and when I got pregnant for the third time, I was not surprised. Nor was I plagued by any of the worries that had consumed the early weeks of my other pregnancies. I’d continued to drink coffee and I bought a pair of new stretchy pants the week after I took a pregnancy test, never once considering it might not work out.

But then, nothing happened. I didn’t get sick, didn’t blanch at the sight of raw meat or the smell of fresh garlic. I wasn’t tired. I took my still-slim waist as a good sign. I told myself this pregnancy would be “easy,” but deep inside I’d wondered if something was wrong.

In the weeks after my miscarriage, I’d struggled most with the loss of control. I had known all along something about my third pregnancy was different but had been powerless to diagnose or fix it. The phone calls I’d made to the obstetrician’s office during those early weeks had been met with curt retorts, just like the questions I’d sent to my gynecologist about recovering from my miscarriage. I didn’t feel like myself, but no one seemed to care.

When I got home from my facial, I told my husband I was going to start sleeping on my back. Then I told him why.

“It’s going to get better, you know,” he said.

It was a statement, not a question.

When I rolled my eyes he added, “This isn’t really about the wrinkles.”

My husband is seven years older than me. In the seven years of our marriage, he has buried his mother, his father, and his only aunt and uncle. I was married to someone who knew a lot about love and grief.


The next day, over bagels, a friend told me about an acquaintance who had miscarried her third child and then suffered a nervous breakdown.

“She thought about leaving her husband,” she whispered. “Or jumping out the window.”

My face was blank. I had not told her about my own loss. But in the back of my mind I thought, I could do those things.

But no, I could not. Leave him, leave them, simply because my body felt broken and old? Because the future felt uncertain and dark? Never. That night in bed, I worried over a new puzzle. How could I be so devastated over the loss of children I had never even known?

I would get a tattoo, I realized. Blood red ink on my inner thigh, the physical discomfort both a punishment and a salve. When I told my husband, he didn’t disagree but I could sense his misgivings. His bland reaction confirmed what I already knew: a tattoo would not make me feel any better. I never booked the appointment.

Instead, on the six-month anniversary of my miscarriage, I went to a hot yoga class. The body wants what it wants, and it turned out what I wanted was to move in a room so warm that afterward, I would feel like my bones and organs had been carefully wiped clean.

Midway through class, I put my head against the mat and felt the pressure of my heart against my knees: Child’s Pose.

“Acknowledge what was and what was never meant to be,” the yoga teacher said, her soothing voice breathy and calm. “You won’t always feel like you do today.”

She was so young; her body perfect and functioning. She never had to read, endlessly and obsessively, the medical diagnostic reports that arrived via email and Google, the problems that might arise if two babies shared one placenta.

It turned out what I wanted was to move in a room so warm that afterwards I would feel like my bones and organs had been carefully wiped clean.

She could not possibly have pondered making deals with the Devil: Would it have been better to miscarry or carry a dangerous pregnancy to full term? Would it have been worth it to risk my life — and theirs — just to see those tiny faces? The answer was always the same: The miscarriage was confirmation that my body was intelligent and efficient. To miscarry had been the best thing. This truth made me feel impossibly heavy.

That night, as I lay on my back trying to fall asleep, I thought about pricey serums and satin face masks and wondered if anything could erase the experiences that had etched themselves into my face. Then I thought again about bagels, about the woman who got so sad after a miscarriage she wanted to leave her family or jump out the window. I realized I might always feel like something — or someone — was missing. But things would never be that bad.

The real truth was this: My husband stayed up late. The lamplight radiating from his side of the bed kept me from sleeping. Usually I rolled to the left, towards the dark corner of the room, towards my dreams, and sometimes, towards my nightmares.

But starting that night, and many after, I turned to the right. Towards my husband bathed in the soft light of his reading lamp, towards the night lights radiating from cracked bedroom doors nearby, my sleeping children. I was not able to escape death, but maybe the lines on my face would become even.


Anne Zimmerman is the author of An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher, a product of extensive research at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library. She edited two subsequent collections of Fisher’s work: Love in a Dish and Other Culinary Delights and M.F.K. Fisher: Musings on Wine & Other Libations. She lives in Portland, Oregon and teaches for Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program.