I wasn’t going to write about Callie today, but then Carin at Matilda Magtree posted a nonreview of Kerry Clare’s The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood and talked about her own ectopic pregnancy. Funny that she posted today of all days, the anniversary of the day I lost the only daughter I’ll never have. Callie would be 22 now, had she not wandered off into my right fallopian tube instead of taking up residence in my uterus where she belonged.
Her dad and I had two little boys already in the summer of 1991, and I’d convinced myself that the baby growing inside me—no bigger than a fig at this point, an 11-week fetus—was another boy. Joe and I knew how to make boys, we knew what to do with them once they arrived, and we planned to name this one Paul—Joe’s middle name and my father’s.
All summer I’d been preparing for our first-ever family reunion on the farm in Saskatchewan on the August long weekend. The self-appointed family historian, I had charted out five generations down from Martin and Manda, the Croatian couple with so many descendants that the chart I drew on a newsprint roll-end wrapped all the way around the farmhouse built by their fourth son, my grandfather Anton, in 1916.
A few days before I packed the boys and our tent and sleeping bags into my road-worn Plymouth and set off for the prairies caravan-style with my parents in their car and my sister and her kids in theirs, I started spotting. “Spotting” is code for what every pregnant woman dreads seeing: blood in her underwear, a sign that something’s gone wrong. My doctor advised me to stay home, but there was no way in hell I was going to miss out on this gathering of my tribe. I assured Joe that I would be fine, pushed my anxiety out into the farthest outposts of my psyche, and backed down the driveway, waving and smiling.
A thousand miles from home, I set up camp in my cousin Greg’s yard, midway down a row of tents that housed the rest of my cousins and their families. From Friday night’s welcome campfire under the northern lights to Monday morning’s farewell pancake breakfast, I kept a nervous eye on the situation in my underwear. It wasn’t going away.
After breakfast on Monday morning, August 5th, I confided in my sister, who drove me straight to the emergency ward at City Hospital in Saskatoon. Concerned that I had had a miscarriage, the staff there performed an ultrasound.
Fig’s heart was beating.
My relief was short-lived. “The fetus is implanted in your fallopian tube,” the doctor told me on August 6th. “It isn’t viable.”
Viable. (ˈvaɪ ə bəl) adj. 1. Able to live. 2. Capable of normal growth and development. 3. Workable or likely to survive or to have real meaning.
A laparotomy was scheduled for the 8th. During that procedure, a decision would be made to remove either the fetus alone (salpingostomy) or the fetus and the fallopian tube (salpingectomy). I didn’t want any of this. It felt like a forced abortion. But the doctor made it clear: if I did nothing, I would die.
By now, my tribe on the family farm an hour south had disbanded. My mother and sister had jobs to get back to. My aunt Lou offered me her airline ticket so that I could fly home when I was discharged from the hospital, and she took my place in the caravan heading west. Joe and I spoke on the phone, bereft. “I know we can have another baby,” he said. “But I want this one.”
I wanted this one, too.
On August 9th, a nurse came into my room and asked me a pointed question: “Would it be harder for you if you knew the fetus had been one sex or the other?”
It would be harder to lose a girl, I said. I already had two beautiful boys and I wanted a daughter so much that I couldn’t even let myself wish for one anymore.
Not an hour later, the hospital’s grief counsellor came in to see me. “The fetus was a boy,” she said, straight-faced.
Just because I’m lying here dazed and limp, I didn’t say, don’t mistake me for stupid. I appreciate your attempt at being kind, I didn’t say, but I am not so dense that I can’t figure out when someone is trying to dupe me.
Fig was a girl. I have no way to prove it, but I know.
I named her Callie.
Two years later, I came out as a lesbian and left my husband. On August 8th that year, I thought of Callie, as I’ve done every year since 1991. I realized then—and I still believe now—that if Callie had been born, I would never have had the nerve to leave the safety of my marriage. Somehow, being a single lesbian mother of two was imaginable while entering a foreign country with three kids in tow was not.
If you’ve ever known anyone who came out of any kind of closet, you’ll know it involves a period of self-absorption. In a way, it’s a birthing process where one conceives and delivers and nurtures a new self. At the time I was going through it, I was fully aware that I was birthing myself in lieu of Callie. I felt—I still feel—that she gave up her life so I could live mine: a workable life, a life with real meaning.
August 8, 1991. My daughter, Callie, gave me such a gift. I will never forget.