Sunrises and sunsets have always signified calm and renewal for me. Now it’s dawn in January and my husband has one arm wrapped around my shoulder and the other absently patting my newly-burgeoning baby bump as we wait to board our plane to the Florida Keys. Our joke was that we finally got around to having a honeymoon— four years after getting married and approximately 13 weeks in the family way. We’d originally planned this trip to celebrate my birthday, so joining us on the trip was my best friend and her fiancé; not as romantic as us being alone as a couple, perhaps, but super fun and a chance to celebrate multiple happy events.
We’d been trying to get pregnant for about 18 months, and for 17 months in a row I took a pregnancy test and waited with bated breath and then received very bold notice that, no, not this month, not this time. When the test was finally positive, the wind was knocked right out of me.
I was in awe once again when we finally arrived at the Florida Keys. We were staying in Islamorada which was as vibrant as its name suggested. It felt as though we were in another country, especially since we were coming from the depths of winter in Alaska, where my husband was stationed with the Army at the time.
When we landed, it was 80 degrees and sunny, which is my kind of weather, and I’d packed little more than cute dresses and sandals. I was eager to display my bump — the kind that at some angles could be mistaken for a big pasta gorge the night before. We spent that day dining on fresh seafood and key lime pie and watching dolphins play in the water against a purple and pink sunset backdrop.
The next evening, as we dressed for a night out with our friends, I began to feel unwell. The way my body ached and tightened is hard to describe, but it was something like the onset of the flu and intense period cramping. In the bathroom I was met with the strong iron odor I knew too well — blood — and there it was, pooling in my underwear.
I laid down with my legs up as my husband called our nurses in Alaska. When the woman on the other end of the phone assured us that bleeding happens during pregnancy, I breathed a sigh of relief. Out our hotel window the sun was setting over the mirroring waters and it helped me loosen up and relax.
That night we all went out for another wonderful meal, during which I got up to go to the bathroom and check myself no less than 8 times. No blood at all. After dinner we went back to the house for a swim and nightcap for those who could imbibe.
I left the group early to go lay down. But back at the house, my anxiety returned and pulled me under. So I slept.
When my husband came to check on me, I threw the covers off my body before I was even fully awake: something felt wet. He shined his phone light on me and saw what we hoped not to. There was so much blood.
He started the shower for me, then he and my best friend and her fiancé packed up my things for the hospital. I remember tracing my fingers along the beautifully tiled wall of the shower as I cried— and what I don’t remember, but was told later, is that I was screaming for help. Then I was sliding down the wall of the shower with blood swirling into the drain — and next, in one fluid motion, the baby we’d long fought and prayed for entered the world on the floor of a shower in a vacation rental.
Details about the rest of the night come back to me in pieces. We drove to the hospital with towels for me to sit on and a pair of borrowed shorts from my friend. My lap filled up with blood, and I began to feel incredibly weak. They rolled the windows down at my request, and as I rode to the hospital at midnight that night, I realized two things: it was a lovely evening, still, and now it was my birthday.
We arrived at the hospital in Key Largo, and they ran tests and took samples and spoke words around but not to me. I heard “spontaneous abortion” and “early term loss” and “miscarriage.” They then realized I had lost two liters of blood, and discussed airlifting me to Miami for a transfusion.
A doctor with a thick Carribean accent came in to talk to me. “These things happen,” he said gently as he patted my hand. I remember how much it hurt as he accidentally jammed my IV deeper into my skin. I found his accent rather soothing as he went over the details and gave me his condolences.
They took my vitals one last time, and were astonished to see my blood pressure was 70/30. The doctor came back in and said that couldn’t possibly be true: he had just seen me get up and walk to the bathroom, with my best friend trailing behind me cleaning up the blood clots that kept coming out. True, I could barely see or walk, but I was just determined to get out of there. They checked my blood pressure again. Same result. After giving me some Gatorade and a few minutes to get worked up about the possibility of my getting transferred to Miami General, they checked a final time—it had climbed to 90/62. That moment was the only one I can remember being relieved about that night: all I wanted to do was go back to the house and sleep. A nurse brought me a pair of her pajama pants and I wore them home with a giant maxi pad tucked in between my legs. It was 4:30am when they released me, and I slept in the car on the way back to our vacation rental.
I woke up the next morning — really just a couple hours later — to an Islamorada sunrise. I felt my husband next to me and I nestled deeply into him, and him into me. I fell back into slumber and the next time I woke up, my friend had brought me coffee and her fiancé had taken my husband fishing and get his mind in a different place. I couldn’t utter the words then, but I’ve told my friend many times since how it felt like tragic serendipity the way things unfolded. Having her there to help us mourn and recover was right; nothing about the trip felt like a coincidence.
She and I padded barefoot out to the pier and sat in the hammock, not saying much for a long time. I remember the sense of disbelief and utter numbness—but I also remember striving to be grateful. I was surrounded by love and tranquility, and here in this beautiful place I would begin to heal. My soul would be reset, eventually, and the long process would begin right in Islamorada. There are no sunrise or sunsets in Alaska in January, really, but here, with the evidence right in front of me, I could feel certain that the sun would indeed rise again.
In the two years that followed the loss, we would move away from Alaska and back home to North Carolina. There, we would be closer to friends and family, which was a comfort — though I always feared the same trauma happening again. When I got pregnant with our daughter, we kept it a secret for 22 long, stressful, and high-risk weeks. I wanted to be certain that we’d be able to meet this little person before getting everyone’s hopes up again — and meet her we did. This spring, the three of us will be heading back to Islamorada on a family vacation. I can’t wait to share that sense of renewed hope and serenity with our daughter, whom we named Eva, meaning “life, living one.”