When I became pregnant, it was after only a few months of trying. It was planned… and yet, it still caught me off-guard. Partially because my husband and I had done our best to avoid getting pregnant for 15 years. Partially because we suspected there might be a reason we hadn’t had an “oops” moment. Regardless, there we were, staring at the positive result. And I have to admit, it felt weird.You watch all those cliche commercials, TV shows, and movies where the woman reveals her pregnancy to great surprise and waterworks. But there was none of that. There was an awkward laugh in disbelief, like, “Did this really just happen?” If the first test was to be believed, then yes, it did. Except I didn’t believe it, so I bought more tests. Three, to be exact.
We made our first appointment for an ultrasound, and the next two weeks went by at a snail’s pace. I was full of nervous energy, and life-changing thoughts about our future. Despite all the tests, I craved the confirmation that came from that first ultrasound. And when the day came, all went well. There was a heartbeat. I wasn’t showing as far along as expected, but that was no cause for alarm.
In the following days, we broke the cardinal pregnancy rule. We shared the news of my pregnancy before 12 weeks with our immediate family and a few close friends.
Within a week of our announcement, I had a miscarriage.
In retrospect, I had suspected something was wrong right after we shared our news. A slight discomfort had morphed into more pronounced cramping and occasional stabs of pain. I didn’t think that was “normal,” but then again, what did I know? I’d never been pregnant before. So, I disregarded the voice in my head, the voice that said,
Something isn’t right.
Call it intuition, but I had a dream that I miscarried. The next morning, I started to bleed, and I knew instinctively what was happening. After a panicked visit to my OB, my fear was confirmed.
I can’t remember all that was said to me- just that there was no heartbeat.
The baby had probably stopped developing around the first ultrasound and died sometime after. Numbness set in quickly, and I withdrew into myself. None of what the OB said mattered at that moment. I needed to sit with the news before I could comprehend what would come next. According to What To Expect,
Around 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. But even that number may be an underestimation, since many miscarriages occur so early that they go unnoticed and are mistaken for a normal period instead.
Even though you don’t often hear people talk about miscarriage, it is common. I knew the stats. But those statistical numbers bore no meaning to me until now. Despite its common occurrence, I felt utterly alone. Maybe because pregnancy loss is so common, women feel we aren’t entitled to discuss our grief. Or maybe we’re afraid to admit it happened to us, afraid that it’s a mark against our genetic value as a being. I felt all of those things. I felt somehow incompetent. I felt strangely embarrassed. I felt devastated.
Even less discussed than the emotional grief of a miscarriage, is what physically happens to your body in the process of miscarrying.
The appointment with my OB was a blur and I couldn’t recall any real description of what I should expect. I didn’t have any paper to refer to. I was told to give it some time, and to let my body try to process “it” naturally. I was told my bleeding would increase, that I might want to go home from work, and if I wasn’t feeling better after a couple days, we could talk about my options (pills or surgery).
The next morning, I went back to work as though nothing had happened.
Not long after I arrived though, my cramping intensified. I felt waves of pain so terrible that it took my breath away. I stood up, ran out the door, and called my OB. Was this normal? Was I okay? How long would this last? What should I do? I had no clue.
The pain kept coming. One moment, I would have mild cramping. The next moment, I would grip the wall in agony. It was hard to breathe. And because the pain was unrelenting, I didn’t sleep for two days. On the third day, I called my OB to ask about pain medication. I was desperate, and she was surprised. While a “natural” miscarriage can take up to two weeks, the pain I was describing was, apparently, not normal. I was advised to go in and be examined.
After a quick examination, I was told that my cervix was dilated and I had basically been in labor as my body tried to rid itself of, “The products of conception.” But, the “product” was “stuck,” and the terrible pain I experienced for days was because my body was trying so hard to remove it naturally, to no avail. The OB offered to remove the “product” right then. While painful, this process was not as bad as what I had endured the days prior. As awful as it all was… I was relieved that I could finally now begin to heal.
One moment, I thought I was rational and processing the loss well. The next moment, I was an emotional wreck, incapable of understanding why I felt so deeply saddened by such an early loss. It didn’t help that close friends announced their pregnancies within weeks. While I was so happy for them, their joy was a painful reminder of my loss and the road ahead of me.
As common as miscarriages are, I didn’t know that it takes time for your body to heal — for your hormones to return to normal, and your period to return, in order to get pregnant again. It was a while before my cycle returned, and even then, nothing was the same as before. Months of negative tests were followed by tears and enormous stress, and I decided that for my sanity, we should take a break from trying to conceive again.
The month after, I was pregnant.
After all of the tears, I was thrilled. And yet, the stress that I had felt the many months prior had been replaced by fear and anxiety. Would miscarriage happen again? Would I know the signs? At what point would I feel safe? Would I ever feel safe?
It was then I remembered a popular quote, that, “To have a child is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” I finally understood the sentiment. I would never feel safe again, not in the same way. And not just because of our loss, but because with every new life, there are endless unknowns, happenstances, and risks. We can never know if we have tomorrow. We just have to be grateful, and present, with each day.
What my husband and I ultimately realized, is that while miscarriage is a common experience in the journey of parenthood, it still isn’t treated as such. Sure, we knew the cardinal rule to wait for 12 weeks before making the announcement, and we knew it was because a loss was possible. Even so, miscarriage still seemed an unlikely result — after all, we didn’t really know anyone who experienced this. So few of us talk about the grief and even fewer talk about the pain. (We later learned of several stories, and suffice to say, it helped greatly to hear we were not alone.)
As a culture, we focus so much on what to expect when you’re expecting, but we invest very little in what to expect when you suffer a pregnancy loss.
We dehumanize the experience by referring to the fetus as, “Products of conception.” Is that term supposed to help us heal? To feel less traumatized by the loss? It only made me feel silly for being so upset, and for even thinking the word, “baby.”
If miscarriage is so common, how can we, as a society, be so negligent at preparing women for this? Why should anyone suffer pain for days, as I did, because they’re clueless as to whether that is normal? As if the emotional pain we suffer (and hide) isn’t enough, are we expected to suffer the physical pain in silence, too?
My hope is that in the future, we will not only educate women on what to expect if they’re expecting but on what to expect if they suffer a miscarriage so that no one suffers from feelings of grief or physical pain alone. And I hope that by sharing my story, it helps nudge us further in that direction.
Everyone grieves differently, but hearing others’ stories helped me to heal from my loss. If you feel like sharing your story… I’m here, and I’m listening. And I know there are many others out there who are listening, too.