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Before I left to study abroad in Oxford, I set three goals for myself:
1) Visit as many countries as time and money would allow.
2) Avoid gaining back the 40 pounds that I had recently lost.
3) Lose my virginity to a Brit.
I am nothing if not ambitious, so 15 days after arriving in England, I checked #3 off the list.
Fast-forward to three months into my study abroad experience, and everything was going according to plan . . . until my hook-up buddy told me that he had met someone else.
It stung, but I knew that our relationship wasn’t the stuff of fairy tales. I told myself that I was done sowing my wild oats and resolved to spend my last two months in England traveling, studying, and hanging out with my girlfriends. No boys allowed.
Famous last words, because just a few days later, I found myself in my college’s pub with a few friends. A darts match was underway. One of the players—a tall, skinny guy who was seriously good at darts—caught my eye.
He turned out to be an American studying full-time at Oxford. We started chatting, and one thing led to another. Our first date was the next day.
Right off the bat, I knew I was in trouble. Nate* was brilliant, hardworking, and unbearably sweet, and we could talk for hours about nothing and everything.
After only about two weeks of dating, we were inseparable. We texted and “snapped” (is that a verb now?) each other constantly, and we had sleepovers practically every night. I even kept a toothbrush and a case for my contacts at his place.
One of the many things that I loved about Nate was that he was really good with gestures. He fixed up his extra bike for me so that I could get around Oxford more easily, and he took my nut allergy more seriously than my own mother does.
However, while Nate was good at showing how he felt, he struggled with the words part. His actions made it clear that he really cared about me, but we never talked about the future or how we felt about each other. I attributed his caution to the fact that he had been burned before: his long-distance ex-girlfriend of three years had cheated on him on Valentine’s Day, of all days.
So yes, I was going back to the States soon, and yes, he was emotionally scarred. But I was convinced that we could make it work. I was falling in love.
Two days before my departure, I woke up at his place and finally addressed the elephant in the room.
As you might have guessed, things didn’t go well.
My one twisted silver lining was that he crying, too, in that restrained, red-faced way that men do. I still wonder if he was sad to say good-bye, or just sad over seeing me hurt.
Maybe it was a little bit of both.
I wish that this were the end of my story, but sometimes life conspires against you.
Back stateside, I begrudgingly settled into my old routine working as a research assistant at my college. I cried myself to sleep every night, and Nate was never far from my thoughts. However, my stubborn refusal to put my life on hold for someone who didn’t love me back kept me going. I threw myself into my work with gusto and told myself that I was happy to be back on campus.
I followed this strategy with minimal success for about five weeks, until the unthinkable happened.
It was a normal day, except that I felt “cramp-y,” like my period was coming, which didn’t make sense given that my most recent period (which had been unusually light) had ended about two weeks prior. I chalked it up to something I ate and tried to ignore it.
The next morning I woke up two hours before my alarm was set to go off in the most excruciating pain of my life. A quick check under the blankets revealed that I had bled overnight. I grabbed some tissues and popped a few Advil, curled into a ball on my side, and waited for the pain to finish its course.
Eventually I fell back into a hazy and sweaty sleep. When I next regained consciousness, I peeled the covers off feverishly damp skin to reveal a bloodstain the diameter of a large frying pan.
I limped into the bathroom across the hall, blood streaming down my thighs, and hurled myself into the handicapped stall. After an eternity sitting there on the toilet fending off a panic attack and breathing through the pain, something slipped between my legs.
Or at least, what would have been my baby, but was instead a small black sac floating in a dormitory toilet.
I don’t know how I survived those first few days. It’s only been a little over a month after the fact, and the emotions still feel too big for my body.
At first, there was only shock, because HELLO, how did I not know that I was pregnant? We used condoms every time, and I’m on the pill. I had no symptoms, besides maybe feeling more tired than usual, and since I had some spotting during the normal time that I was supposed to get my period, I assumed that I was having a lighter cycle.
Eventually, though, reality sank in, and shock was replaced by a fleeting moment of relief, followed almost immediately by droves of guilt. I was spared from making what would have undoubtedly been the most difficult decision of my life, but what kind of monster feels relieved that her baby didn’t make it? Although I’ve always been staunchly pro-choice, I’m not sure if I could have lived with myself had I gotten an abortion.
My guilt quickly took on other dark dimensions: feelings of shame, inadequacy, and self-hate. I know that this miscarriage isn’t my fault, but I still feel like my body betrayed me, and I still have moments when I feel like a stranger in my own skin.
I remember the pain and think to myself that I would endure all of that and more, over and over again, if it meant that I could have my baby back.
However, I also realize that even if the baby had survived, my circumstances would still be far from perfect. I’m a 21-year-old with no steady source of income and three-quarters of a bachelor’s degree (in psychology, no less).
I’m not prepared for adulthood, much less motherhood.
I also think about how things would have looked on the outside. The story of a college student coming home from studying abroad pregnant, with no father in the picture, reeks of irresponsibility and (at least in my conservative hometown) promiscuity.
Rationally, I know that an unplanned pregnancy doesn’t diminish a woman’s value, but all of the rationalizing in the world doesn’t stop me from hating myself for knowing how ashamed I would have felt.
There’s sadness, too. I’m sad that I’ll never meet my baby or find out whether he or she would have been a numbers whiz like Nate or a wordsmith like me. I’m sad that, although Nate was more or less supportive when I told him what had happened, he didn’t contact me again until three weeks later, when he messaged me to ask when classes start with no acknowledgement whatsoever of the miscarriage.
Above all, though, it’s the loneliness that hurts the most. Nate’s emotional illiteracy makes him a less than ideal source of support, and since I worry that people’s perceptions of me will change if they find out what happened, I’ve tended toward silence.
But I’m done being silent.
We don’t talk about miscarriages, and we certainly don’t talk about miscarrying babies that we didn’t want in the first place. I struggle with feeling like a fraud when I compare myself to women who miscarry babies that they planned or would have wanted.
Am I allowed to mourn something that I didn’t want? Is my grief still legitimate compared to theirs?
I’ve decided that the answer to these questions is an unequivocal YES. Just because I didn’t plan for or necessarily want this baby doesn’t mean that my pain and grief aren’t real. And really, what’s the point in trying to put emotional turmoil on some kind of perverse scale? What do we accomplish by pitting pain against pain?
I wish that I lived in a world where we could talk freely about miscarriages, regardless of the circumstances under which a woman becomes pregnant, without fear of judgment.
However, until that day comes, I’ll settle for telling my story with the hope that it makes someone out there feel less alone. You are stronger than you think, and whatever you’re feeling is valid, real, and perfectly normal. Don’t let anyone—especially yourself—tell you otherwise.
*Name has been changed.