Happy Birthday, Harry Houdini
Amelia Skinner Saint

I went into my settings and changed Siri's voice to female, then asked her the following questions:

"Hey Siri, do I have to go to the doctor when I'm having a miscarriage?"

"Why can't I use tampons during a miscarriage?"

"How big is a six-week-old fetus?"

I preferred the cadence of Male Siri's voice, but there are some questions that only your mother or Female Siri can answer.

Two weeks earlier, I'd thought I had a stomach bug. I'd spent the afternoon in bed watching Hellraiser. I should have guessed from my choice of movie that it wasn't really a stomach bug. We all do our own strange little things when we're pregnant. I watch gory movies and eat a lot of mustard. A few days later I took a test and it was positive. I behaved as a pregnant woman for a week and a half before I woke up to cramps and bleeding on the morning of my thirty-fourth birthday.

The people who called me on my birthday were the same people who had received a message with a picture of my positive pregnancy test. So I had to have this conversation more than once:

"Oh, Thanks! I'm okay . . . Um, it's not going too well. I'm having a miscarriage. . . . Yeah, I'm sure. . . . Well, it was too early to be counting on anyway. . . . Thanks, but I'm fine. Really."

Sometimes I'd wish I could lie. It was the same with everyone. They'd say: "I'm sorry." I'd say: "It's okay."

I started imagining it as a call and response:

"When I say 'Sorry,' you say 'it's okay!'"

"Sorry!"

"It's okay!"

"Sorry!"

"It's okay!"

Consoling my family about my miscarriage was pretty much exactly like a hip hop show, except with less dancing and more crying. If you're ever in this position, remember: joking about your own miscarriage while it's happening doesn't make anyone feel any better.

***

The night before, I had started referring to my fetus as Harry Houdini. It happened in the stupid and confusing way that all private jokes happen. My husband, son, and I, a family of three loners, were sitting around the table each having our own one-sided conversation. I was talking about the fetus. My husband was talking about Romancing the Stone (we were going to see it at the dollar theater that night, lest you get the impression that my husband is the type of guy who sits around talking about Michael Douglas for no reason). And my son was trying to recall the stars of the movie Matilda. Like the three narcissists that we are, we each thought the others were repeatedly trying to jump into our monologues, so when my son said, "I want to call him Harry Houdini," I naturally thought he was talking about the fetus.

"You want to call the baby Harry Houdini?" I said. "I guess that works. He's going to have to escape eventually."

My son wasn't talking about the fetus. He was trying to remember the name Danny Devito. Alliteration. That's what was getting his wires crossed. But I liked it. It was funny and not at all sentimental, and that's just the type of thing I go for.

Twelve hours later, Harry Houdini began his daring escape.

***

Somewhere between ten and twenty-five percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. So, if I've been pregnant four times, statistically I should have at least three babies, yet somehow I only have one. My husband asked what causes it.

"Is it just too fucked up to live so your body gets rid of it?"

He probably didn't say "too fucked up to live." That sounds more like something I would say. But that was the gist.

"I don't know," I said. "Nobody really knows."

Turns out I was wrong. According to Female Siri, fifty to seventy percent of first trimester miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus. Why does that make me feel better? Am I victim-blaming?

"It isn't real for me until the baby is out," my husband said. We were going out for my birthday lunch after my OB visit. I didn't feel like eating, but I ate anyway because I didn't want him to worry.

"It isn't like that for me," I said. "I can't change everything if it isn't real."

I can't cut out booze and coffee and soft cheese and deli meat and sushi and runny eggs for an abstraction, for a potential thing. I do those things as part of a bargain that ends with a baby.

***

Six weeks after conception, Harry Houdini had visible dimples where eyes, nose, mouth and ears would be. His heart was beating, brain and lungs were forming. He was the size of a black-eyed pea.

I passed the fetus the day after my birthday. I had been scrutinizing the toilet bowl, worried I would miss it. But I didn't miss it. It floated near the top of the water, still inside its ruptured sac. It was small and bloody and utterly dead, but it was vaguely recognizable: a tiny head attached to a tiny spine with four little primordial nubs that would have been limbs. I knelt over the bowl and fought the urge to reach in and scoop it out.

What do you do before you flush your little Harry Houdini? If you're religious, you pray. If you're sentimental, you cry. If you're really steel, you collect and refrigerate the tissue for lab work. But I'm not quite any of those things, so I just looked at it for a while, then flushed.

***

The babies we never get to have aren't supposed to count. The common wisdom is to keep your pregnancies secret until you reach your second trimester and the risk of miscarriage drops significantly. That way, if you have a miscarriage, you can pretend it never even happened. Harry Houdini who? And when people see you crying on your birthday, you can say, "I'm fine. I was just thinking about the episode of Good Times where James dies," or, "Don't mind me; I'm just really upset about [sports team] losing to [rival sports team]," or, "You can't see it, but I've got a really bad ingrown toenail." These are acceptable reasons to cry openly. No one will ever suspect that for a few weeks you had something inside you that could have been brilliant and kind and beautiful, that could have been someone you loved more than yourself, that could have grown to be a friend you would respect and admire for the rest of your life. No one has to know that, for a while, that little bean you surrendered to the sewer already was those things. No one has to say they're sorry. No one has to ask if you're okay. No one has to be uncomfortable in the presence of your sadness. It is first and foremost your duty to not be a bother to anyone.

I'm the type who pokes at my bruises until I cry. That's what I'm doing now in this essay, and that's what I was doing when I examined little Harry Houdini. But instead of hurting more, seeing him, recognizing his budding human form, made it hurt less. He was a real, once-living thing, and it is perfectly alright to feel sad when you say goodbye to a once-living thing. I had been in the sadness anteroom, not thinking myself worthy of going inside. But once I saw the thing I was grieving, it became acceptable to grieve.

I'll have another pregnancy, and hopefully, someday I'll have another baby, but I will still keep the ones I didn't have. And every birthday I'll share with little Harry Houdini, who made his escape without fanfare.

Amelia Skinner Saint is a Kentuckian transplanted to Iowa. Amelia Skinner Saint's stories have won the Lorian Hemingway and H. E. Francis awards. Amelia Skinner Saint has had stories in Cutthroat, Barnstorm and The Briar Cliff Review. Amelia Skinner Saint has tried really hard, but can't make herself like jazz instrumentals. Amelia Skinner Saint has never used an instruction manual to assemble furniture. Amelia Skinner Saint suspects that antiperspirant causes cancer, but uses it anyway. Amelia Skinner Saint secretly thinks that poets are the best writers. Amelia Skinner Saint never goes anywhere without a pocketknife. Amelia Skinner Saint can only do 15 push-ups, but if anyone asks her, she'll say she can do 20.