The Five Stages of Out of Place Grief | Sammi LaBue

12 mins read


On Friday before Halloween weekend I was, at long last, pregnant. 

I’d taken the day off to prepare for my favorite holiday and to go to my first ultrasound appointment as a pregnant woman. I had seen inside myself dozens of times over the last two-plus years of infertility but had only been met with the gray noise of hormone-grown follicles and the black hole of the large endometrioma in my right ovary. This time I would see the twinkling blip of my growing embryo and “Hear its heartbeat!” as my new pregnancy app had alerted that morning. 

But instead, the doctor searched and searched for that fleck of stardust inside me. I could feel the anxiety rise from the frantic movements of her probing wand, could see it on her face growing lines of concern like vines. “We can’t find it,” she said, the exam room suddenly airless. “We can’t hear it.” 


I had never heard of an ectopic pregnancy and the three syllables arrived harshly off the lips of the clinician who briskly confirmed the pregnancy was stuck in my fallopian tube, unviable, and life threatening. 

The pregnancy inside me was not a baby, could never be. Was only a bit of life blooming in the wrong part of the garden, no sunlight or even moonlight to grow it. Nothing golden with which to attach, to shimmer like the stars we drank to conjure it. My embryo was only six weeks old, but I had already chosen the bedroom paint color, picked the date for a baby shower, and allocated baby drawers in the kitchen in my mind. 

The app I had hastily downloaded, nicknaming my embryo “Moon” was still on my phone, still buzzing at me with prideful announcements in the car home to Brooklyn from the second clinic. “Moon’s heart should be starting to beat now!” “Moon’s arm buds and eye sockets are developing!” My baby had felt so close after all that time longing to be pregnant—less than eight months away—but I ended Friday with three options for its passing: an injection to terminate it, a bloody natural end, or perhaps it would grow too big, rupture my fallopian tube and send me to the emergency room to avoid death. 

The doctor told me to rest. To stay alert to any sudden, acute pain. But I demanded to buy pumpkins, flowers, cobwebs. You can grieve a baby, of course, and even the possibility of one, but what about this? The word “unviable” danced in my head. Could I grieve for what turned out to be a fantasy? The invites for our Halloween party had long been sent out, and so I soldiered on straight into the welcoming fields of distraction. 

While I threw myself into pumpkin carving in my kitchen, a text from a friend appeared on my phone. That morning I had sent him an image from the app: “Your baby is the size of a ladybug!” I used my less orange hand to slide his message open. “That’s good luck!” he’d replied. I carved into the pulp harder, until my hand blotched red. More dings rang in. Ladybug emoji. Heart. Glitter. Pregnant mother. Baby. At least for someone, it was still as if Moon was only months away from reality. 

The next night, I haunted my own Halloween party in the corners of each room, nursing a cocktail I would trade a million times over for the day before to have gone differently. 


That Monday, I was left alone for the first time. After a late and lingering lunch, I detached from my friends like a balloon from a child’s wrist, floating directionless, meandering home at dusk. 

In my fog I had forgotten that this was actual Halloween. I rounded a corner onto one of the tree-lined brownstone drags of my family-friendly neighborhood and found it teeming with children. A miniature mermaid with iridescent tail. A round-faced baby lion sporting a toothless smile. A chubby-cheeked Black Panther sucking a pacifier. A veritable parade of babies. It was the family of dinosaurs that undid me. Five dinos in all. Couldn’t I have just one?

I ran home to let Gilmore Girls babysit me as I have when life is hard since I was a teenager. But suddenly Lorelei complaining about her teenage pregnancy made me want to scream. And I did. Hurling senseless criticism at the television. “It must be so hard having a perfect daughter without even trying!”


The next morning I fiddled with my baby app again. “Moon has doubled in size in the last week! Grow baby, grow!” I wanted to delete the app, but Moon was still inside me. Sure, the pregnancy was shrinking instead of growing, but ectopic means “out of place” not absent, and I still felt just as pregnant as I had when I first found out. 

A few weeks before Halloween, I was at my cousins’ house in Bedford celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving, when I woke up in bed with a smile already on my face. I didn’t know what yet, but I felt something shift. It was a good day, and that night my partner and I were the last awake by their outdoor fireplace listening to music. We danced under the moon until we cried for no good reason and every reason at the same time. This is not something we make a habit of, but it was like we were trying to shake free of the loop of fertility disappointment. Tears shined like rivered stars on our cheeks and collected in our open, smiling mouths. We danced for every failure, every missed chance at our dream family, and all the grief that comes with that not knowing that we had made life until the next day when the faintest double line developed in the display of my pregnancy test. 

I was so sure this baby that appeared after our moon dance was the one for us that I downloaded the app the day the doctor confirmed the pregnancy. Still, even as my hormone levels dropped, I couldn’t delete it knowing Moon was still there. 


After the party and the baby parade there was nothing left to do but wait. My hormone levels continued going down on their own (the best outcome we could hope for), and suddenly I didn’t want to dance or carve pumpkins or yell at Lorelei Gilmore or talk at all. I wanted to sleep and to be still and silent. My husband drove me to Vermont to do that. On our first night in the woods, looking out the bedroom window through my long-faced reflection to the dark trees, I realized I knew this kind of aching want for quiet, like I had known the windless shock, the out of body anger, the feeling of being pranked that had each made their entrance on cue over the past week. I had moved through these stages before. My baby could not ever be a baby, but still, I had met grief again.


While I waited for my body to heal, people—friends, family, nurses—encouraged me to celebrate. You wanted to be pregnant, and now you have been! But when the blood came, announcing the pregnancy was gone, it felt like death on top of death. Like a dark and moonless night. 

On our last day in Vermont after the blood ended, I made an inconsequential joke while doing dinner dishes. “Look at you, being funny,” my husband praised before pointing out the fingernail sliver of light in the clear black sky. I had laughed again when the moon was blessedly, inevitably new.

While he donned jacket and gloves for a stargaze, I snuck away to open the app again. I found the appropriate button: I have experienced a pregnancy loss. My thumb waivered in reverence for the dream I thought I might have lived. I closed my eyes and tapped; all five stages of the grief I had thought “ectopic” meant I didn’t deserve rushed through me. The app chirped back. “Please take time and care to grieve this loss. We will be here next time.”

A Brooklyn-based writer and educator, Sammi LaBue is the author of the creative writer’s guided journal, Words in Progress (DK 2020) and basically obsessed with the feeling of having an idea and writing it down. She is founder of Fledgling Writing Workshops, a generative writing community named one of the best writing classes in NYC by TimeOut NY and a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing program. Some of her other writing has appeared in Literary Hub, Glamour, Hunger Mountain, Hobart, [PANK] Magazine, So to Speak Journal, and elsewhere.