by Alisan Keesee
There’s a song on my favorite Halsey album called ‘More’. In it, she sings, “They told me once/ Nothing grows/ When a house ain’t a home” and later, “They told me it’s useless there’s no hope in store/ But somehow I just want you more.”
The song details a miscarriage Halsey had just before going on stage to perform. Having not even known she was pregnant, she found out only after she lost the baby. Halsey’s miscarriage was caused by endometriosis, which is a condition that can make it extremely hard to get pregnant, let alone bring a baby to full term.
Despite having not known she was pregnant, her miscarriage took a huge toll on Halsey, both physically and mentally. She still went on stage and performed that night, but sobbed when she got off stage.
There were two revelations I had when I first heard the song in January 2020. First off, as a young woman who has never been pregnant, nor really wants kids at this time in my life, it never occurred to me how unfair it was that so many people who genuinely want children and would be good parents suffer miscarriages.
The second was that your body could be the sole reason you lose a baby. You cannot drink, avoid caffeine, cut out deli meat and tuna, exercise the perfect amount, feel the baby kick, and want that child more than anything on this Earth. Yet, an imbalance of hormones, a weak cervix, or the fact that tissue grows on the outside of your uterus can make the difference in if your baby lives or dies.
It’s unfair. It’s unfair that I know so many people who have had miscarriages. Some have had multiple. Some had children after and some before. It’s unfair that we can control so many aspects of our body: what we put into it, what we adorn it with, and the way we exert it. Yet, we can’t choose if our body is equipped to nourish a fetus or whether it’s a good home.
The first daffodils were springing from the ground the day we found out about you. It was a Monday. The city was beginning to decide it was spring. When I came home from work it was light outside, my coat felt a little too thick, and it felt impossible not to feel a small sense of unadulterated happiness. Even if it was just as I walked to my apartment.
My mom asked me to call her. The ominous text message that I’d received many times before normally was innocuous. It rarely meant bad news. Yet, as I walked from my car to the package room to my apartment, I couldn’t shake my gut feeling. It was trying so hard to be optimistic because it was beautiful outside.
I dropped my things and changed. I started dinner and called, letting the frozen vegetables thaw as I listened to the two short rings.
I’d known something was wrong when I picked up the phone and my mother’s voice was weak. It wasn’t weak because I’d woke her up or because she had a cold. It was weak because she’d been crying. Was still crying.
Pregnancy comes in two forms--wanted and unwanted. The wanted pregnancies, even when a surprise, are a cause for celebration. They lead to parties and preparations. It’s another checkbox in life that gets ticked off with a ballpoint pen. Unwanted pregnancies--however--cause anxiety and dread. Sometimes they can become wanted and other times they never do. Wanted pregnancies rarely become unwanted.
“So, it’s ectopic then?” I asked.
Here’s the thing. Other than being 47, there was only one problem with my mother being pregnant. She doesn’t have a uterus. There was nowhere for this baby to go, to implant itself in a healthy uterine wall. Not only was it dangerous now, but the baby had no chance of survival.
During the ultrasound, no heartbeat was found. Yet, the baby was nearly 16 weeks into development. Just under halfway through the pregnancy. With some quick Google searches, I learned that the longest an ectopic pregnancy lasted where the mother survived was 20 weeks.
My throat went dry.
At 16 weeks, your baby is the size of an avocado and weighs roughly 4 to 7 ounces. The nervous system is beginning to form and this is the first time mothers may begin to feel fetal movement. The eyes and ears will have moved from the side of the head to their more finalized positions. The facial features will begin to look more pronounced and at this point, the face will start forming expressions, though the fetus cannot yet control them.
The sex of the baby is normally determined between 18 to 21 weeks. Though, in some cases, it may be possible to find out as early as 14 weeks. However, it’s around week 7 that the chromosomes of the baby determine the sex. If the baby received two X chromosomes, the baby will be female. If the baby received one X chromosome and one Y chromosome, the baby will become male.
Over the next month, the baby will double in size. 16 weeks is a turning point in a pregnancy where the baby will begin to grow quicker and develop more personalized features within the coming four weeks.
“Are they going to do surgery?”
“Did they give you iron supplements?”
Every question I can think to ask I do. Based upon all of my late nights Googling things that could kill me and remembering the various OBGYN videos I’d watched throughout the years, this was nearly impossible. Ectopic pregnancies on their own are rare with fewer than 200,000 cases per year in the United States according to the Mayo Clinic. Let alone an ectopic pregnancy in a 47-year-old woman without a uterus and whose tubes were tied well over a decade ago.
The solution the doctors gave her doesn’t surprise me. My mother doesn’t have a choice. This baby will kill her. If her tube doesn’t rupture, then the fetus will eventually cause sepsis. When the baby was discovered, the placenta was no longer there. Combined with no heartbeat found, if he was still alive, he would not be for long.
Just a few decades ago, I probably would’ve lost my mom to this. Before the widespread use of ultrasound and availability of the necessary drugs, the maternal survival rate for an ectopic pregnancy was 0.14% and the fetal one even lower. Even today, ectopic pregnancies account for 10-15% of all maternal deaths in the United States.
I could tell my mom was struggling with this. This non-decision. Not knowing there’s a baby growing inside of you doesn’t make this situation any easier. My mom--even before she is a woman or a wife or a human--is a mother. She loved this baby even if he wasn’t alive or ever would be.
To me, there was no question. I love my mom and I need her here. I knew that if the situations were reversed, if I were the one with an ectopic pregnancy, I know my mom would tell me to do the same. To take care of myself first. Though, I know I would feel the same way. The weight of this non-decision would haunt me, probably for years and the rest of my life. Even though I don’t want kids right now and I have no qualms against deciding what to do with your body, not having a choice, not having the power to give a baby life despite the fact that it grew inside of you for weeks, months.
Not knowing doesn’t make a baby any less wanted.
You can pick out asphodels by their thin white petals that seem to grow upward as if craning their necks to look up at the stars. Thin, wiry, and delicate, the petals look durable, fragile, and like they may prick you. Like a cross between a pine needle and a rose petal. They are native to the warmer parts of Europe, Africa, India, and the Middle East. Yet, today you can find them in the warm parts of nearly any country.
To most, they will walk past such an ugly plant, not finding anything too special in a shrubby, cone-shaped plant. Though, they may one day recognize it when the light parts and they come across a field full of these white or yellow flowers. Asphodels tend to look best in the dark or dim light. Those who come across it at moonlight are the luckiest.
In Greek Mythology, asphodels came to symbolize the Underworld. Not only due to their grim appearance in the sunlight, but also because they poisoned mice and remedied some snake bites. Ironically, the bloom of the Underworld preserved life and crops.
Perhaps this is why Persephone wore them in her crown. The daughter of the harvest Goddess she brought life every spring and departed with it every autumn. I imagine that like how the yellow and white petals of daffodils are the first sign of spring on Earth that when the Asphodel fields bloom, the residents of the Underworld know that their queen has returned.
When you die, there are may places you could go in the Underworld. Most people--who lived neither particularly good or particularly bad lives--went to the Asphodel Fields where their shadowy figures lingered. The particularly bad found themselves flung into the depths of Tartarus, where we can only imagine the carnage. The particularly good--the heroes of Ancient Greece such as Achilles, Heracles, and Odysseus found themselves in the Fields of Elysium.
Normally, only heroes, demigods, or the rare mortal god found themselves in this paradise. The ones with temples and cults for them in the land of the living. The ones who memories and mythology would survive for millennia.
There was one exception.
Children and babies who died danced and played in the Fields of Elysium. The gods--despite their selfishness and penchant for injustice--recognized that these children never got the chance to become heroes or saviors. Therefore, they should not be punished for what they never got to do.
Their living families built temples and shrines. Some especially prominent children even saw cults form in their honor. I like to think that whenever a child died, it was not Charon who greeted them at the banks of the River Styx, but a beautiful woman with asphodels in her hair.
When the shock settled, we all began to accept that death is inevitable. Everything with an ounce of life will die one day. Whatever your beliefs--in an afterlife or not--most believe that once a life ends, it is peaceful for the majority. Even in cycles of samsara or reincarnation, your current life ends and a new one begins.
I like to think that little Mason Henry Hell died as the daffodils sprung from the ground so that the mother of the Underworld could cradle him in her arms. And when she returns to the Underworld in six months, she will carry him against her chest like a mother as she crosses the River Styx. The goddess will carefully lay him in the Fields of Elysium where her fingers brush against the new gray asphodel blooms.
Here, he will have endless friends to play with. He was supposed to be the first son born on the Hell side of the family. Yet, in the Fields of Elysium, he is the only son who carries the name. By rare chance your living soul visits the Underworld, you may be surprised how alive it feels. For every spring, Persephone brings the souls of those who never got a chance with her, so they may, too, experience life and see those left behind.
Like asphodel, their blooms are yellow and white, though more vibrant than the gloomy buds of asphodel. Daffodils derive their name from the sacred plant of the Underworld. Maybe because they share the same color petals, though I like to think it’s because with death, comes new life.
I would like to end with a line from Dante. Referencing the work of Virgil, Dante describes the scene from the Aeneid where Aeneas visits the Underworld and comes across his father, Anchises, who died earlier in the epic, in the Fields of Elysium.
Dante writes, “With such affection did Anchises’ shade reach out, if our greatest muse is owed belief, when in Elysium he knew his son.”