My reflection in the mirror held my gaze. My brown eyes filled with worry. Sweat turned my braid-out to frizz. Goosebumps formed on my brown skin as the chills, from my anxiety, ran down my spine. As I stared at the girl in the mirror, I could see she didn’t know what to do.
The alarm jarred me out of my trance. The longest three minutes of my life were up. My palms were sweaty. My heart pounded in my chest. I thought to myself, “People taking the bar exam must feel like this.” This test was far worse. I picked up the stick sitting on my sink. My heart sank. A pink plus sign stared back at me.
“This can’t be right.”
I failed the biggest test I had ever taken. As I glared at the stupid, little stick, which had become my nemesis, I realized something amazing. The horizontal line was a bold pink. But the vertical line was faded. That could only mean one thing.
I sighed a breath of relief. My shoulders relaxed. I knew my logic was sound.
To prove myself right, I consulted the instruction paper. As I skimmed through it, my heart sank once again. The smile slowly vanished from my face. The instructions stated that no matter how faded, a positive is a positive. It had the nerve to show a picture of a positive pregnancy test with a bold horizontal line and a faded vertical line. My worst fears were confirmed. I glared back at my nemesis as it sat there mocking me.
I stared at the girl in the mirror again. Her eyes were lost. Her life was over.
I was in denial for a couple weeks after that. I did not want a baby. Especially not one with a father who decided he no longer wanted anything to do with me. His actual response was, “Yeah, that’s not my problem.” Then he left.
My blood boiled at his words. I almost went after him, but a wave of fear hit me hard. I was frozen in place. I sat in that coffee shop unable to move for quite some time. The place itself was bright, filled with natural light from the big windows. Yet, everything seemed so dark. I was twenty years old, working at a hardware store part time. I lived with three roommates in a two-bedroom apartment. I had recently graduated with my degree in Business Management and was getting ready to join the Navy as an Officer. Being pregnant was ruining my life plans. I certainly did not want to be a single mom working part-time, living with three roommates.
I kept my pregnancy a secret. It was a chore hiding it from my roommates with all the morning sickness. Luckily, I didn’t live with my parents. They were so proud of me for completing my Bachelors in two years, and that I was set to become an officer. I was proud to be a daughter they were proud of. I did not want to disappoint them. They would’ve just encouraged me to get an abortion. I thought about it, but I was too much of a coward. I just couldn’t bring myself to give it serious thought. I considered giving the baby up for adoption, but that still meant the pregnancy would put my life on hold.
All of the fear and worry evaporated when I had my first ultrasound at ten weeks. When I saw that tiny being on the screen my heart lifted. A warmth filled my chest. I laughed out loud. Cool tears streamed down my cheeks. That proof of life inside me gave me absolute joy. I was no longer afraid. I knew I would be okay.
The next few weeks were pure bliss. I told my roommates about it. They squealed a lot. They were excited. They started planning how we would arrange the apartment. Then they got to talking about a baby shower. The decided theme was marigolds, my favorite flower. The bright yellowish orange always made me happy. They were my light in the dark. I began thinking of my baby as my own marigold.
I still couldn’t muscle up the strength to tell my parents.
One night I woke up to cramps. They were mild, so I didn’t think too much of it. After about twenty minutes they became sharp, and more intense. I doubled over in pain, gripping my stomach. With my free hand I shook my roommate awake.
She stared at me sleepy-eyed for a minute, then her eyes grew big.
“I’ll take you to the hospital.”
I don’t really remember the car ride there. Or how I got to the hospital room. Or really what any of the nurses were saying. I can really only remember the pain and the dreadful fear that I was about to lose the only true joy in my life.
That fear came true.
At fifteen weeks I went into preterm labor. There was nothing wrong with the baby or me. An ultrasound confirmed the heartbeat was strong. There was nothing wrong that they could see. My baby was ready to be born. And for a moment, I was ready too. My baby had chosen it’s debut and there was nothing I could do except submit to the birth.
“Is it a boy or a girl?” I asked after I pushed my baby out.
The nurse eyed me cautiously.
“I’m sorry hon, but you lost the baby.”
“I know. But could you please tell me if it’s a boy or a girl?”
She nods. Her eyes brimming with pity.
“It looks to be a girl. Would you like to hold her?”
I don’t know what I expected. I was surprised by how small she was. Her color was a translucent red. I could see her veins. Her tiny features were adorable. A smile lit up my face. I’ve never experienced love like this. My heart was full.
They had given her to me on a pad, still attached to the placenta. They let me hold her for the couple of hours I was there. When it came time to discharge me, I had to give her up. I wanted nothing more than to take her home with me. Once she left my hands a crushing weight descended upon my chest. Tears spilled from my eyes. I couldn’t control my sobs. I felt more alone in that room full of nurses than I ever had in my entire life.
A woman named Mary, from the hospital, called me a week after. She was in charge of organizing funerals for lost babies. She was compassionate and kind throughout the whole process. She asked if my baby had a name. Which I told her was Marigold. She informed me that I would also receive a keepsake in memory of my baby. That woman was a godsend.
The funeral happened two months later. The sky was gray and the air had a cold bite against my skin. The gravesite was filled with so many parents who had also lost their babies. The babies were already in a casket and buried. Which was nice, because I really did not want to watch a casket of my child being lowered into the ground. I made sure to find Mary and give her my appreciation. If it wasn’t for her, I would have continued thinking the hospital threw my baby away or experimented on it for scientific studies.
Before the funeral I was angry. I was angry at whatever god was in the sky above for allowing it to happen. I was angry at the doctors for not saving my baby. I was angry at myself for not being able to carry my baby to full term. The funeral gave me closure and allowed me to move onto the next stage of my grieving process. I didn’t cry that day. But a few days after I received my keepsake in the mail. It was like a small picture frame with a stand, except the material was more like a mix of paper mache and cardboard. Marigold’s name was written on the back. On the front was a softer material, like a foamy clay, where her tiny footprints and handprints were impressed. I dropped to the floor. My eyes flooded with tears. I wanted my baby back. My chest was a gaping whole filled with pain. I lost my heart.
It’s been a year since I lost her. I still don’t fully understand it. I wish I could have kept my baby. But I have accepted it. Her birthday just passed and I chose to celebrate, because even though I may not have been able to keep her, she still blessed my life.
“Alright. You’re all done. How’s it look?”
I look down at my right forearm. A beautifully drawn, yellowish orange marigold decorates my skin. I can’t take my eyes off it. Seeing this marigold doesn’t make me happy. But I’m not sad either. I don’t really feel anything concrete.
“Lovely. Thank you.”
“Why’d you decide to get a marigold?”
I raise my head to meet the kind eyes of the buff, bald tattoo artist who so delicately needled my skin.
“It’s my favorite flower.”
My chest tightens. I fill my lungs with a deep breath and exhale. The lightly decorated white walls and marbled floors match the calm energy flowing through me. I get up and grab my jacket. The artist instructs me on how to care for my tattoo and I slip him a tip for his beautiful work. As I turn to leave, the tattoo artist says one last thing.
“You know a marigold has two meanings. On one side it represents joy, happiness and good fortune. On the other side it represents grief and mourning. Some cultures even use it to honor the dead.”
A chuckle escapes my lips. I smile as I walk out the door, into the sunlight.