I used to have no idea what a miscarriage was like. You lose a tiny embryo and suddenly have a heavy period or something? I had no idea that at age 27, my first miscarriage would rip the rug out from under me, alienating me from my own body, and startling me with a grief I never imagined possible.
My family history is a thick web of super fertility. My mom and dad had four kids by age 26. Their Catholic siblings have given me and my brothers a total of 47 first cousins (I think… I lost count at some point). We joke that in our family, the egg jumps the sperm.
Kids were the last thing on my mind when I married my college boyfriend five years ago. I put my energy into my career, working long hours as a magazine editor. I popped my pill nightly, assuming my super fertility would there when I wanted it. I envisioned my eggs as eligible little ladies from a Jane Austen novel, just waiting in the wings for their moment.
Two years ago, I traded the pill for pre-natal vitamins and condoms. After a few wild nights of missed protection, I felt different… like I was retaining all the water in the Pacific Ocean. My brain was foggy and my boobs killed. I grabbed a pregnancy test on my lunch break and stood staring at the faint blue lines. It looked like plus but also a minus.
So I did what any woman in her right mind would do. I immediately went back out and bought the expensive YES NO tests. And sure enough, there it was in permanent digital ink: YES. I was freaked out, elated, excited, hopeful. My husband was floored. We kept calm. We carried on.
I filled my belly with vegetables and grains and took it super easy in spin class. I took my prenatals nightly. I visited my doctor on schedule. I’m a heart on my sleeve-y type of person and keeping this burgeoning secret was hard. So I told everyone. So did my parents. Word spread so fast that at my brother’s wedding, when I was only 8 weeks along, my cousin with Down Syndrome ran up to me and hollered, “You have a BABY!”
The following week we had an ultrasound, where I learned another pregnancy first. First trimester ultrasounds are not ON your belly like every movie and TV sitcom leads you to believe. The wand goes IN your vagina.
As the terse Chinese woman wanded me and commented on the fluid in my bladder, she announced, “Strong heartbeat! 152 beats per minute.” For those of you who’ve never been on the pregnancy rollercoaster, a positive heartbeat after 6 weeks gives the fetus a 90 percent chance of surviving the first trimester and beyond.
After seeing that heart flicker like a butterfly on the screen, I felt amazing. My humble body was harboring a treasure. My limbs and cells and organs weren’t just functioning to convert oxygen and process alcohol. I was vessel for the next generation. I wondered who the little grape inside me would grow up to be.
Two weeks later, in late August, I started spotting grayish brownish tissue. I immediately went to my doctor and held my husband’s hand as the doctor explained: No heartbeat. Not viable.
I felt like an empty vessel, back to being just myself but somehow, less than what I was before. I was a coffin, harboring a dead body. The docs sent me home with a few pain prescriptions and no instructions whatsoever. I thought I would just bleed for awhile.
The next night I woke up in the wildest pain I’ve ever experienced. I was sweating, convulsing, and completely losing it. My body was in labor. My husband rushed me to UCLA Santa Monica where they admitted me immediately and IV’d me with Dilaudid, a form of morphine. I had to deliver my sweet little baby, fetus, placenta and all, right there in hospital.
In the months following, I used every trick in the book to pull myself together. I did the grief steps. I worked out. I drank with friends. I counted my blessings. I read up on miscarriage. I started attending an infertility support group. I reached out and in and across.
By January, I felt OK enough to try for another baby. We had switched doctors and had a plan of action. I waved the positive test in front of my husband the day after his birthday and we cried together. We prayed for the little one. We told her we loved her every night. I took naps. I traded spinning for walking. I remained calm. At 8 weeks I started spotting the same brownish tissue.
In the days that followed my second “it’s not viable” ultrasound, I found out my brother and his new wife were also pregnant with a healthy baby. Then I landed back in the ER. Again, in labor, they wheeled me into the same room I delivered my first baby in … Room 325 at UCLA Santa Monica… the miscarriage room.
Physical and emotional stress aside, one of hardest parts about experiencing miscarriage is the isolation. Miscarriage occurs in roughly 1 out of 4 known pregnancies, yet the subject is still taboo. The cause of miscarriage is often chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo or other problems outside of the mother’s control. And yet many people assume miscarriages are caused by stress or coffee or some random misdeed on the part of the mother. (See: ‘Teen Mom" and "I didn’t know I was pregnant." If these people can keep a fetus healthy subsisting on cigarettes and green slushies, fetuses must be fairly hearty.)
Since I refuse to keep quiet about my miscarriages, I’ve heard every response you can imagine, including, “Don’t talk about it. It makes people with kids feel bad.” When I bring up my miscarriages with co-workers, friends, and family, I often receive dismissive comments or worse, radio silence. I’ve heard everything from, “It’s mother nature’s way of disposing of an unhealthy baby,” to “What did you do wrong?” to “Hey, at least you can get pregnant!”
A recent study showed that the grief one experiences after losing a wanted child at ANY number of weeks was equivalent to the grief of losing a close friend or family member. Would you say to a grieving friend, “Well it’s probably good your grandmother died, she was super old and overpopulation is really becoming a problem!” or “Hey, at least you have your grandfather!”
The only thing you should ever say to anyone who’s had a miscarriage is, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Many people did come out of the woodwork with kind words. A coworker I hardly knew overheard me talking about my miscarriage and grief and she came right up to me.
“Hey,” she said. “Let’s go to lunch and be angry!” It still is one of the nicest things anyone ever said.
When grieving, sometimes the only thing you can do is the next thing. Clean the house, pay the bills, eat lunch. I returned to work and scheduled appointments when I was supposed to be on maternity leave. I planted trees to commemorate my lost babies. I cried at commercials for SUVs carrying a gaggle of little boys with their hockey gear in tow. Miscarriage has robbed me of my optimism and faith in God’s hand on the universe. It’s robbed my bank account, one infertility clinic’s bill at a time. It’s robbed my self-confidence and any affection I had for my body. It’s robbed me of my happiness for others who carry healthy babies to term.
But, in the time since my second loss, I’ve read even more books, changed doctors again, started a website and become an infertility support group leader. As I await the imminent birth of my younger brother’s baby, due Oct. 31, I hold out hope that my story isn’t over yet. I remember my lost babies. I count my blessings. I make dinner. I carry on.