What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
A little more than two months ago, my husband and I decided to stop trying not to get pregnant. We knew we wanted to have a child in the next year or two, and we knew we might face challenges or delays in making that child a reality. I mean, it took Marshall and Lily like, two years to conceive on "How I Met Your Mother." Of course I know that it is ALWAYS possible to get pregnant if you have sex and don’t use birth control. But the odds of getting pregnant in a given cycle when trying to conceive are around 20-25% for a healthy woman my age with a healthy partner, and luck has rarely been at my side when it comes to beating odds. I was just barely off the pill.
So when I realized I was pregnant weeks later, I was SHOCKED.
In the next two days, I peed on at least 6 test sticks, gawking at each “+” and “YES” and “Pregnant” and second pink line that appeared. We weren’t prepared for this to happen right now, but we were fortunate to be in a position where it was emotionally and financially feasible to go ahead with the pregnancy. I told my mom and my sister, happily. I called my OB and made an appointment for my 8th week, when I’d be able to see the baby and possibly hear a heartbeat. But within 24 hours, my excitement gave way to chest-tightening anxiety and the purest fear I’ve ever felt.
I knew that I was supposed to feel lucky. I worried that I didn't feel immediately bonded to the smaller-than-a-lentil baby in my uterus. Over the next week, I also began to wean off of my anti-anxiety meds (contraindicated for pregnancy). The experience of withdrawing from an SSRI differs from person to person, but for me, it’s miserable. I experienced a low-grade fever, spikes in panic attacks and anxious/depressed thoughts, shaky hands, clenched jaw, muscle aches, nausea and extreme ickiness. (Please don’t ever stop taking a medication without your doctor’s help!) Unfortunately, while we’d normally have tapered my dosage over two months, I had to speed that up to two weeks.
It’s hard to know how much I was influenced by the withdrawal, but at some point during those terrible first weeks I started regularly screaming, “I wish I would just have a miscarriage” during panic attacks. I didn’t want to decide not to have the baby –- although I am grateful that I could have chosen to do so safely and legally –- but I felt like it was the wrong time for me to be pregnant. In those moments, it felt like a miscarriage would solve all my problems by taking the responsibility of deciding off my shoulders.
But when each moment of hysterical anxiety passed, I still wanted to have the baby. I calmed down, my withdrawal symptoms subsided and I began to accept that yes, I was having a baby this year and I wanted to, very much.
Halfway through my 7th week, I began to have light spotting. Worried, I called my OB and solicited advice from the smart moms in my life. The consensus was that light, pale pink spotting was rarely a sign of miscarriage, and quite common throughout many healthy pregnancies. I wasn’t having any cramps or pain. My breasts were still sore and my morning sickness had been very present earlier that day. I still scheduled an appointment to see the OB the following morning because all I could hear in my head was my voice, high-pitched and insistent, begging for a miscarriage. What had I done?
Hours before that appointment, I went to pee before going to bed, and there was bright red blood. I looked in the toilet and saw what appeared to be tissue-like material floating and an absurdly tiny blood clot in the bowl. And so I knew.
My husband tried to stay optimistic right up until I was in the OB’s chair, feet in those familiar stirrups, looking at a picture of my empty uterus. She showed me how the uterine lining had thickened appropriately for 6 weeks. And finally, legs spread and staring at my insides on a screen, it hit me that I had really been pregnant.
The cramping got significantly worse as the bleeding increased, but I was relieved that I’d had a complete miscarriage and wouldn’t have to go in for a D&C to remove remnants of the almost-baby. I’ve cried and I’ve slept a lot and I’ve tried to give my brain time to process all that’s happened. I try to see the positive: I know that I can get pregnant. I’m still considered “young” (although I’ve aged years this past week). I have the choice to be pregnant or not, and never once had to think, “I am forced to choose X.” I have kick-ass women in my life to confide in, without whom I might have legit lost my mind.
It’s been four days, and the bleeding is finally subsiding. I’m starting feel like myself again, mostly. Except that this new version of myself has had a miscarriage. It didn’t feel like a death, because the baby never felt alive. What it feels like is that my body betrayed me.
The only time I entertain the possibility that God might exist and must be a man is when struggling with, against or for my female body. And struggle I have: I am 29. I’ve been probed with a transvaginal ultrasound no less than 5 times, spent my teens hiding in a bathroom for one full week a month because of periods that were like horror movies, accepted side effects of birth control pills because I didn’t want to get pregnant and condoms irritate the vulvodynia I’ve suffered on and off since being sexually active, had pregnancy scares and lump-on-boob scares and ovarian cyst scares and I may even have been molested.
You get it. A lot of you probably have your own never-ending list of female-specific maladies and scares and questions. I’m not inclined to generalize that women have it tougher than men or are innately strongly, emotionally or otherwise. But never have I felt so conflicted about -- or maybe more accurately at war with -- my female body than the last 6 weeks.
And even though my intellectual brain understands I had no control over my body expelling a non-viable fetus, my emotional brain still feels guilty, and wonders what would have happened if I'd never said those words out loud.