Lemon Seeds

by Vero González

A few months before leaving for Whidbey Island, I start having a recurring nightmare about miscarrying in the woods, alone. I don’t tell anyone. Why would I? I am not pregnant.

I will be at Hedgebrook, a dream writing residency for women writers, for four weeks. I will figure out a structure for my book. I will finish a draft. I will eat good food and take long walks and get to know the other writers. I have been planning my residency for three years—that’s how long it took me to get in.

When I get the tour of the cottages, two things stick out to me: the emergency button that will dispatch an ambulance to my location, and the delicate floral print on the sheets.
      My uterus is task-oriented and good at time management. Every twenty-six days, it sheds its lining quickly and violently. It doesn’t matter what precautions I take; every twenty-six days, I will bleed through my clothes.
      I am afraid to stain these borrowed sheets.

Life at Hedgebrook is idyllic. I wake before my alarm goes off. I journal; I run; I dance in my underwear and floss twice a day. I don’t go on the Internet. I check my phone only to see if another resident has shared a plan to walk, a writing success, a picture of an impossibly beautiful white moth against their white cottage wall.
      Only a week has passed, yet I have never felt so comfortable—in my surroundings, in my body. I have never known so surely that my body is mine. I vow to take better care of myself. I vow to take this feeling home.
      The only problem is the french press in the cottage. It is stainless steel, so you cannot see inside it. I measure carefully, but my coffee tastes awful every time. Still, I make a fresh pot each morning. Each morning I take a sip and throw the rest down the drain.

We plan a party and go into town to buy supplies. We buy wine and tequila and seltzer. We buy chocolate and three kinds of chips. I buy a box of maxi pads and a pregnancy test. It has been twenty-six days.
      I am not done peeing when the test turns positive.

I ask my partner to call me. We have agreed not to speak while I am away. We are sending each other one picture each week. We are taking space. We have been together for seven years. He is not sure if he wants to stay with me. I am not sure if I can stay with him. I want marriage and children and commitment. He wants to figure out what he wants and with whom.
      Even though I shouldn’t be asking, even though he is on a work retreat, he calls me right away.

I stop trying to drink coffee in the mornings and drink water constantly instead. I take long walks after dinner. I speak to the tiny being inside me—now the size of a poppy seed, now the size of a lemon seed with a poppy seed–sized heart. In the shower, I marvel at the smallest thing: how my hair doesn’t seem to be shedding, how my nipples are darker, how for once I don’t hate the swell of my belly. I rub cocoa butter in slow circles over my damp skin. I rarely moisturize at home, but somehow packed a full tube of lotion. I praise my body. I praise my intuition. Is this how self-love feels?
      I pee at least once an hour. I nap on the bed, the window seat, the overstuffed chair for hours in a loop. I send bloodwork to my endocrinologist—my thyroid is adjusting perfectly; she’ll see me when I get back. I skip the goat cheese cheesecake at dinner, the taste of pregnancy sweeter than a dessert I shouldn’t eat. I am determined to do everything right.
      I let myself imagine the moment A falls in love with our child. He will explore my body for changes. He will sing with his hands on my stomach. He will scold me to eat more dark leafy greens. More! Darker! Leafier! I laugh at the image, startling myself back into the present.
      I let myself imagine our families’ joy when we tell them. Maybe we’ll tell them on my birthday. Maybe we’ll wait until they guess. Maybe we’ll blurt it out the minute they say hello. I have a tendency to blurt.
      I cajole my best friend into agreeing to visit in September. He buys a plane ticket from Puerto Rico. He knows I’m hiding something. Maybe he even knows what I’m hiding. I know he will still cry when I tell him.
      I buy a present for my sister. A pair of hand-knit booties with a note that says Titi, cuida bien de mis zapatos. Los necesitaré cuando me conozcas en marzo. It’s perfect—a nod to how, as a child, she could never find her shoes. A way to say to her Thank you for offering me your eggs, but that won’t be necessary. Don’t worry; this child is still yours, too. You are still their Titi Mami.
      I put books on hold at the library. I let my joy run wild. I am at the retreat I dreamed of, pregnant with the child I dreamed of, and for a moment, I let myself believe my luck.

I feel blessed and protected, as if the angels mamí has always said are looking out for me are actually looking out for me. Renewed, as if all of the bad things that have taken place in my body, to my body, have disappeared. As if my body were good enough for good things to happen to it. As if I were.
      As a survivor of incest and sexual abuse, I have long believed that my body is cursed, that my insides are poisonous and cannot sustain life. The fact that I have sustained myself is miraculous enough; it would be greedy to expect more. But here I am. Sustaining life. Expecting more.

When the bleeding starts, I almost don’t take it seriously. That’s how invulnerable I have let myself feel. The fear in A’s voice sparks my own. He is crying. We both are. I will myself to calm down. Stress is not good for the baby. I eye the emergency button: ambulances are expensive; I am not in any pain. I call the retreat director on his cell phone. It is Friday night; the last of my friends departed that morning. I hear myself say I think I’m having a miscarriage. Then the pain begins.

I am on the bathroom floor. I am naked, moaning and rocking on all fours. I throw up from the pain. I want my partner. I want my mother. I am miscarrying in the woods, alone.

When I hear the director’s car on the gravel path outside, I force myself to stand. I force my body into clothes. I grab my purse, a sweatshirt, the charger for my cell phone. I let myself cry on this strange man’s chest. I let his wife help me into their car.
      On the long drive to the hospital, she shares about her own losses. They tell me their love story. I try to hold on to hope.

A transvaginal ultrasound hurts as much as you think it would. I distract myself by thinking about the horrors of forced ultrasound laws. Then the technician says I’m not supposed to do this, but there’s something I want to show you. There are two embryos in two gestational sacs. I’m pregnant with twins. In that instant, everything doubles. My hope and my fear, twinned.
      The doctor says he can’t tell me what will happen. He words everything carefully. He says my cervix is closed tight. That my hCG levels are right where they should be. He says there is no clotting and not that much blood. He says many women bleed; the bleeding could resolve itself. He says there is a fifty percent chance of carrying to term. He says to come back in three days if I am still bleeding. He smiles at me. Tells me to rest.

I have no appetite but I make myself eat. I go through the motions of not giving up. I am obsessed with my body: now thanking it when the bleeding slows, now cursing it when it picks up. I apologize to the lemon seed I had not known was there. I beg it to forgive me. I beg them both to stay. I resurrect all the Catholic saints from my childhood; I bargain with the universe. There is nothing I can offer. I offer it anyway.

When it is clear the loss is inevitable, A comes to us. He takes a train, a plane, a shuttle, a ferry, and a car and arrives just in time to hold our babies in his hand. I have been miscarrying for a week. I am wild-eyed and on Vicodin. I bled on the floral sheets and couldn’t bring myself to care. They were waiting for you, I say, and we both believe it.

I learn or relearn grief. That miscarriages are as common as women. That when men hurt women, women can help them heal. I think about healing. I think about pain. The commonness of it. I think about my body. I think about how there were three hearts inside my body and today there’s only one, stubbornly beating. I think about what it would mean to love myself through this.

Vero González is a queer femme-inist writer and translator from San Juan, Puerto Rico. She has a MFA in Poetry from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, where she was a Dean’s Graduate Fellow and a BFA from Pratt Institute, where she won the Thesis Prize in Fiction. She has received support from A Room of Her Own Foundation (Touching Lives Fellow, 2015) as well as Hedgebrook and the Rona Jaffe Foundation (Hedgebrook/Rona Jaffe Inaugural Fellow, 2018). She lives in Boston, where she is working on a hybrid book about intergenerational trauma, colonialism, and healing. Vero is GrubStreet’s Neighborhood Fellow for Egleston Square.