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When the Missing Part Came Back
I wasn’t the panicked part pretending to be the confident part anymore.
This piece is particularly raw. I need to let you know that the main topic of this essay is that on Thursday, I experienced bleeding and cramping at 28 weeks pregnant. I am okay now.
I can think of lots of good reasons why an essay about bleeding in pregnancy, someone else’s cervix, and engaging with medical institutions may not be an easy subject, so if this isn’t a subject that would be good for you to read about right now, please honor that, and maybe try out another essay from the archive instead, perhaps What If My Life Isn’t a Journey? or Being Trans at Naked Night Taught Me About Belonging.
As always, thanks for being here.
Image: “Inner Worlds,” by Shea in the Catskills.
On Thanksgiving day, I was choosing an outfit to wear to my parents’ house when I pulled down my pants and saw blood. My partner saw it too. “That’s blood,” I said, though it was obvious. “I’m bleeding.”
A part of me left then, although I didn’t notice at the time. The part of me that felt confident, that felt optimistic. The part that said things like, you’re doing it, you’re doing a good job. The part that said, you can do this, and you know what’s right for your body, and you can trust your judgment.
That part of me left, but I didn’t notice because I was too busy folding up paper towels and shoving them between my legs and then pulling them out seconds later to try to see how fast I was bleeding.
I also didn’t notice because a different part of me stepped in, maybe many different parts—the panicked part, the scared part, the part that felt guilty but couldn’t say for what—and together pretended to be the other part, the confident one, the one that had left.
The panicked-part-pretending-to-be-the-confident-part took a deep breath, and with some guilt about it being Thanksgiving, dialed the midwife.
She told me that cervical bleeding can happen in pregnancy, that I could give it an hour and see if it got any better, and if it got worse, we could talk about next steps.
I laid on my bed and cried and my partner held me and I couldn’t stop crying because I knew that it was probably fine but it didn’t feel at all fine to be 28 weeks pregnant and cramping and bleeding like I was having a period.
I thought it had stopped but then it all came pouring out when I got up, which I knew was what would happen because it was just like having a period, but it was so upsetting anyway because I hoped so very much that it had stopped.
Plus there was the biggest clot I’d ever seen in my life. Could it even be a chunk of placenta? The clot terrified me more than the blood and I had to remember to breathe and then the panicked-part-pretending-to-be-confident took a deep breath again and called the midwife.
This time we talked about what hospital I might go to. If it really seemed like preterm labor, the big fancy research hospital would take the best care of a super preemie. But if it seemed more like it was probably fine but I just wanted to get it checked out, the small community hospital with the midwife-led obstetrics unit might be the way to go.
I told her the bleeding wasn’t better, but it wasn’t worse. I was mostly worried about the clot. She said the clot was fine, just my body trying to stop the bleeding.
It seemed like she was saying it was probably okay but I didn’t feel okay and I didn’t know how to feel okay.
I didn’t want to go to a hospital on Thanksgiving day, especially not as a pregnant trans person, especially not yet having met my (high) insurance deductible for the year, but I didn’t want to do the wrong thing and then maybe it would be preterm labor and it would be too late for them to give me the steroid shot to develop my baby’s tiny lungs.
The part of me that trusted myself had gone off somewhere and there were only the other parts of me, pretending to trust myself, pretending to make a decision.
But then the midwife told me what would happen if I went in. She said, “They’ll check your cervix to see if it’s open, and then they’ll connect you to a monitor to measure your contractions. If it’s fine, they’ll send you home, and if they think you’re going into labor, they’ll give you the steroid shot.”
Something clicked when she said that. “I don’t need anyone to check my cervix,” I said. “I’ll just check it myself with my speculum and call you back if it’s open.”
And that’s when the missing part came back. I could feel it re-enter my body, like a jolt to the chest. I could feel my feet on the floor.
Oh fuck no. I do not need to try to get admitted to a hospital on Thanksgiving day as a pregnant trans person with not-great insurance just for someone to tell me what my cervix looks like. This I can do for myself.
I remembered that I could do this for myself because I had learned to do it, because I went to a secret workshop about it at a trans health conference ten years ago, because I thought it was an important thing for me to be able to do for my body.
I remembered I once shamed a sketchy doctor out of unnecessarily sticking his fingers inside me—he said he preferred to do a bimanual exam before placing the speculum, and I said, with genuine incredulity, “You don’t know how to place a speculum without doing a bimanual exam?!” He backed off immediately.
I remembered a decade’s worth of routine gyn exams with a parade of assorted doctors, many of them haplessly peering into the speculum, “Just looking for your cervix…” and me saying, casually, “Oh. It points to my left.” They were always surprised when I said this, and sometimes even surprised that I was correct.
I remembered I am the expert on my body and clinicians are the expert on bodies in general, and it isn’t the same thing at all.
I felt sure of myself again.
“I am having cramping but the cramping is only in my cervix and I am certain I am not having contractions that need to be monitored,” I said.
I was back. I wasn’t the panicked part pretending to be the confident part anymore.
I was able to hear my midwife, what she was probably saying the whole time, that she did not think my symptoms were consistent with preterm labor, that my bleeding was likely to resolve on its own, but that I could get it checked out if I was concerned.
I remembered I could know things in my body, that knowing things wasn’t just about putting a gloss of intellectual understanding over physiologic panic.
I felt sure in my body that I did not need to go to a hospital, that what I needed was to lay down and rest, that either I would stop bleeding or I would know for sure that it had gotten worse.
I rested. I stopped bleeding.
I cried. I rested more.
I have felt sad and lonely since this happened, and I think I miss the person I was before, the person who didn’t think much about bleeding or preterm labor or anything else. The person who didn’t know about how their personal power could exit them all in a rush, while they were panicking too hard to even notice. But I also learned it can come back, it can be called back.
For me, as someone who spent my teens and young adulthood working in the reproductive justice movement, remembering that I did not need someone else to look at my cervix is what called me back and reminded me of my power. For someone else, it might be something different.
I’m wondering: How can I be more deliberate about this? How can I cultivate a practice of noticing when my confidence has left, of not mistaking panic-impersonating-confidence for confidence itself? What are other things that remind me of my personal power? Can I arrange these reminders in my home or on my body so that I am sure to encounter them?
I’m still resting and feeling my way into this experience.
But I’ll say to the confident part of me: Welcome home. I’m so glad you’re back. Let’s rest.