My Blood



Neighborhood: Astoria, Elmhurst

It was a drop, barely. On the busted tile in the kitchen. My floor. The apartment in Astoria. A drop. My feet were bare. I could kick the tile in and out of place with my toes. Like Tetris. I moved the piece with the splash of blood. I was making mac’ and cheese. Nine weeks pregnant and always hungry. I kept stirring the bowl.

It was more than a drop. My feet were covered. The tile had turned red. Not just the busted piece. It felt like a tree was falling, and I could not stop it from crashing on me. No. I said, “No.” I called the Father. He didn’t respond. I called my mother. She told me to lay on my bed with my legs elevated. I called 911. There was so much blood.

The ambulance came to my building. EMTs came into my apartment. They asked me if I was still bleeding. They were boys. Boys. Two twenty-something boys. They wanted to know if I was still bleeding. About my baby. How far along? I told them and tried to act like a woman. Act unafraid. Act 37-years-old. Like there wasn’t blood on my feet, on my broken tile floor, trailing into the bathroom, into the bedroom. Like my cheeks weren’t tearstained. I told them I was ok and didn’t need to go to the hospital.

They said I had lost too much blood. I pulled on my winter coat and scarf, grabbed my bag and followed them out. Laid down in the ambulance and bled through the traffic. Bumper to bumper. Felt my baby bleeding out. Horns blasting on unknown streets through Astoria to Elmhurst. They took my pulse, and I remember trying to stay calm as I heard one of the EMTs congratulate me on my pregnancy. I didn’t want either of them to see me cry. And all I thought was if my baby dies, I want to die, if my baby dies, let me die. The ambulance jerked and shrugged. I saw red lights and thought we were going to crash. I thought how it would not be my fault. If the baby died, I would die, and no one would be to blame. Traffic. Accident. Crashing in Queens. There was too much blood.

We got to Elmhurst Hospital’s ER Trauma Unit, and they wheeled me in. A nurse told me to hold on to everything I had, or it would get stolen. I was freezing and bleeding. Next to me was a Riker’s inmate cuffed to his gurney who swore nonstop. In one of the seats beside my bed, a guy with a knife wound was waiting to be treated. He had wrapped his hand in a bandana that was not containing the blood at all; it oozed through like maple syrup. I was by the ER entrance and exit. It opened and shut and opened and shut. I waited and bled and waited and bled and nothing happened, except for the hollering and cursing and sirens and “somebody will be with you shortly.” I bled through my sweatpants, bled through the sheets, bled through the gurney and covered myself with my winter coat.

Heavy traffic, late night at the ER in Elmhurst. And time was no longer relevant. I was wheeled into a hallway across from the restrooms. I was hooked up to an IV. There were inmates with shackles around their ankles and handcuffs. And police. Batons and guns. Orange jumpsuits. Psych patients shouting. I was in a congested area across from the restroom, and no matter how badly I had to use it, I was terrified to get up. I was soaked in blood and did not want to lose more. A girl with dishwater hair screamed continuously. She wanted to use the bathroom and screamed like she had waited her whole life to get to Elmhurst ER just to use that bathroom across from me and my bloody baby. She was in handcuffs and shackles but not in an orange jumpsuit. The guards told her she couldn’t go to the bathroom without an escort, and this really wrecked her. So, she howled louder. “Whyyyyyyyyyyyy!” She got her answer from a tired female cop, “because you tried to drown yourself in the sink this morning!” Eventually, they found her an escort, and she got to pee while a big black officer propped the door open, and he and I watched.

The chaos calmed me down, and I forgot why I was there to begin with. Why I was cold and wet. Alone. It was like I was watching a show. Then I felt this horrible pressure. And I could barely get from the gurney to the bathroom. I went in and pulled down my sweats and underwear and just started panting because there was too much that had left my body. And I could not stop it or save it and I pulled the door open and called for help, but the toilet automatically flushed. And the baby, all fleshy and swollen, was gone. It was in the pipes, the plumbing. Where did she go? How could I get her back?

I was taken to see a doctor. I refused to unlock my legs. I was still bleeding, and a nurse was shouting at me, “Take off your underwear so we can see why the hell you’re bleeding!” I couldn’t pull it together. The doctor and the nurse pried my legs open and cut off my underwear and told me I had lost my baby. My sweet little blossom. In a stream down a river that began in my kitchen. They waited. We waited. And then they found a heartbeat. Another beat. Strong. Alive. A baby had survived. I had lost a twin. I breathed and cried. For loss and life.

By 3 a.m. I was back at my apartment in Astoria. The mac’ and cheese had solidified on the counter in the kitchen. Bloody tiles and footprints from the bathroom to the bedroom. Put the photo of the sonogram on the fridge. Put the photo of the sonogram on the fridge. Put the photo of the sonogram on the fridge. The only photos that ever had any worth really. The tile I kicked around with my bare feet. My favorite tile. I kept the mac’ and cheese on the counter and slept for days. At 15 weeks, I lost my other baby. I didn’t lose her. She died. And I wanted to die. Plans died. Future died. Purpose died. Promise died. Something went wrong. And it can’t be made right.

I moved out of the apartment in Astoria and there was nothing I wanted to take with me. Nothing, but the photos of the sonogram. My baby. I had never taken them off the refrigerator. She was perfect. Swimming back and forth attached to me. Lovely and soft. It was all I had that made any sense. That was meaningful and worthwhile. And the bloody piece of tile. A souvenir of life, like the ashes of my dead cat.

When I was younger, too young to understand about the implications of decisions, I was in love and pregnant. The father of my baby was young and thoughtless too. He celebrated our would-be family by shooting heroin and developing a nasty crack habit. I dragged him to rehab. And visited him in his halfway house. Took him to the ER when he had cotton fever from filthy needles. I cried. I cursed. I got an abortion. He went to prison on drug related charges. Got Hepatitis C. Blamed me blamed me blamed me. Because I killed our baby. I did. At 6 weeks. It was the size of my pinky finger’s nail. The doctor showed me. It was the early 90s. The operation was an 8-hour ordeal. Couldn’t forget it if I tried. A tall black man with no mask, just a needle full of Novocaine that he shot into my cervix and a vacuum he used that he said was for any limbs. I moved because no one told me not too and because I was in pain and at least three nurses came in to hold me down and keep me quiet because I was scaring the other patients.

That young love of mine got out of prison. Got interferon to rid himself of Hepatitis C, kicked heroin eventually and got a vasectomy. Everyone bares a cross of different weight and no one has to believe in any kind of God.

My last pregnancy the father who rejoiced in the beginning than berated me by the fourth month, he is not part of the story. I would walk to the N train pregnant and joyful passing the statue of Mother Mary on 29th and Ditmars. She stands with her arms open on the side of the Immaculate Conception Church offering warmth with one simple gesture. I thought, “How lucky. How lucky to be a Mother without some bothersome boyfriend, kicking and screaming, shooting dope and drinking, berating you and your decisions. How beautiful, how lovely, how free.”

It was comforting. To believe. To believe there were arms open to me. Offering to protect me. I had to make up my own myth. That the baby who survived was safe. That the bag I carried across my back on the way to work when worn across my belly had the properties of armor. That it was my own immaculate conception. If the man who was the father did not want to be part of my blessing than I was ok being alone. I took off the Chinatown ring he gave me. Got rid of all the sad forgive me flowers he sent to my apartment. I begged for a different version. Mary made one up and she glowed under that church’s light.

I had a friend who died in 2008. I laid by his side in the hospital day and night. I loved him. In my waking dreams I wished he had been alive during my pregnancy. He would have come to the ER. And even if the twin went away, he would have stayed by my side. He would have laid with me while I cried. He would have taken me to the horrible hospital at 15 weeks. He would have offered familiar eyes; instead, I looked up at 3 strangers. Alone. I held no one’s hand. It is just too lonely to lose a baby, twice. To be sent out on to the streets of the city bleeding and cramping with a handful of prescriptions with the dread of taking the subway because anyone who looks at you might offer compassion and cause you to cry. So I took a cab home that night. Went back to Astoria and fell and fell and fell into a deep dark pit without my babies. And never wanted to talk about anything again. Because nothing significant happened ever again.

So much of the time I have contempt for this city; the congestion, the rent, the traffic. Though I believe my roots are too deep to ever leave. For the pipes below the streets, and subways are home to my last glimmer of hope. I can feel the drips and the drops right beneath my feet.


Abigail A. Frankfurt’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, Minneapolis Observer, Lost and Found: Stories from New York, and on this website since 2000. She has read on NPR’s Savvy Traveler, and is currently living in the West Village.

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§ 3 Responses to “My Blood”

  • Paul V says:

    Love this!

  • Susan T. Landry says:

    i’ve read this twice and still have difficulty finding a way to say something true and appropriate. so well written, but for me and i suspect many women who have had children and/or gone through anything that approaches this profound sense of loss, it’s more than words. but this line does the painful work: “Nothing significant ever happened again.”

  • This is a stunning piece of peotic writing. From the open drops of blood, to the EMT “boys” to the adduction and loss and finally, “Because nothing significant happened ever again.” Great work encapsulating prolonged tragedy in the framework of a single incident. I hope the act of writing this brought some catharsis to the whole experience.

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