I miscarried my first pregnancy. The pregnancy was not entirely a surprise. I had gotten off the pill a couple months prior with the intention of trying to get pregnant after an upcoming vacation. It was mid May 2010 and we were smack in the middle of two graduations. We had just returned from my brother’s law school graduation. It was a Tuesday, and I had the day off to clean the house in preparation for visitors coming for my own belated college graduation. The previous month had been filled with paperwork, final exams, and a four hour handwritten exit exam. And so it was that I found myself one week before we were to embark on a Caribbean cruise, standing in our downstairs bathroom alone, staring at two, very bright, pink lines. I immediately began shaking and grabbed my car keys. I drove to the drugstore and spent $50 on all variety of pregnancy tests.
It was a joyous surprise.
I had always known that it’s best not to share pregnancy news until you’re out of the first trimester, but the excitement clouded our judgment. My entire family would be together at the graduation, including my divorced parents. It seemed the stars had aligned. Everything felt right.
As I sat at my commencement ceremony my husband snuck out and purchased a onesie printed with the words “Product of CU Alumni”. He had it gift wrapped. In the crowded corridors after the ceremony he whispered in my ear, “I found the perfect way to tell everyone we’re pregnant. You’ll see when you open your gift.”
The look on my father’s face when he saw me pull baby clothes out of that box. He had longed for a grandchild and this would be his first.
A party followed at my mother’s house. Even my Mom (ever the cautious one when it came to sharing pregnancy news) was so excited that she encouraged me to share the news with a couple old family friends. The day was filled with many hugs, smiles, and whispered congratulations. I spent the rest of the party trying to pretend as though I was drinking.
A few days later we flew to Florida. While my husband, brother and sister-in-law enjoyed our seven-day cruise by drinking and sleeping in, I was on a very different vacation. I awoke early before anyone else to sit on our balcony at sunrise and watch dolphins swim alongside the ship. I wrote letters to our baby in my journal. I thumbed through a pregnancy book I’d picked up before heading to the airport. I ate balanced, healthy meals. I laid in the shade and read “To Kill a Mocking Bird.” While swimming in the rough surf in Costa Maya, my sister-in-law yelled at me, “Be careful with my little niece or nephew in there!” My brother told me he thought the baby was a girl.
Soon we were back home. We went to our first OBGYN appointment where there was an ultrasound, and a technician who furrowed her brow in concern. There was no embryo visible. “Perhaps your dates are off,” she said. But I knew they weren’t. The doctor told us we’d do another ultrasound in two weeks and that it was possible it just wasn’t big enough to visualize yet. He said this all in a very relaxed manner as if it were normal, as if it happened all the time, and then a nurse came in and handed us a gift bag. There were prenatal vitamins, parenting magazines, and the tiniest little diaper you ever saw.
The next two weeks were the longest of my life.
By the day of our next appointment I already knew my diagnosis. It was a blighted ovum. A pregnancy in which the egg implants and the embryo begins to form but quickly stops growing. The body however, continues to believe it is pregnant. An amniotic sac and placenta continue to grow, as does the mother’s belly and breasts. A cruel joke.
We found ourselves in a dark room, staring at a screen looking at nothing but an empty, black sac. The doctor explained that the sac was still “perfect,” and my body likely wouldn’t even realize there wasn’t a baby for several more weeks. I was offered the choice of a D&C or to miscarry naturally. I chose the later. I will spare you the details but the short of it is that I waited several weeks for my body to figure out it wasn’t pregnant. And then I bled, painfully, and slowly for seven weeks.
It was a most awful summer.
My son was born almost exactly a year from my first appointment. Since becoming a mother I have become part of a club I had known nothing about. I would learn that my experience was not only very common but nothing in comparison to what so many other women have gone through. This is the truth about miscarriage and pregnancy loss that no one tells you, it happens all the time. Since having my son, terms like spontaneous abortion, subchorionic hemorrhage and incompetent cervix are now part of my vocabulary. I know of six women that have suffered the horror of delivering a still born baby. I have watched a friend’s belly grow only to lay on a table (excited to find out the sex of her baby) and hear the unthinkable, “I don’t see a heartbeat.” I have sobbed for a friend that was faced with the awful decision to either abort her still living baby or wait for it to die in utero from a fatal chromosomal defect. I have met women that had a perfectly normal ultrasound only to find themselves sitting at work twenty-four hours later, hemorrhaging at their desk.
Why didn’t I know this before? Why don’t women talk about this?
It is because many of us feel guilty. Our bodies are supposed to be healthy and fertile, our wombs perfect hosts. When a baby dies inside of us no matter which direction you point to find a reason your finger will inevitably circle back around to the mother, because everything occurred in her body. On her watch. After my miscarriage I made the mistake of confiding in a client. She was in her fifties and I assumed she’d had enough life experience to know this sort of thing was common. When she looked at me and innocently asked, “Well, do you know why that happened?” I wanted to slap her, hard. I stood there feeling impotent, unable to produce a child. Others in an attempt to comfort me offered, “Well, maybe it’s because you were on the pill for so long.” A common misconception unfounded in science, and also yet another “answer” that was my fault.
This is why we don’t talk about it. Because of blame, because of shame.
The truth is that it’s amazing how often pregnancy results in a healthy baby. Sperm meets egg and that little ladder of DNA swirls around and around. How do all those little pieces fall together and click into their proper place? And yet they do. They do so often, but sometimes they don’t.
I read a survey recently in which people were asked what they believed were common causes for miscarriage. The people were wildly misinformed, and yet 15-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Can you guess what people believed were common reasons for miscarriage? The mother having an unhealthy lifestyle, the mother being stressed, the mother lifting something heavy, the mother having an STD etc. The mother, the mother, the mother…
This is why we don’t talk about it.
I remember having a real fear that people would think I couldn’t maintain a pregnancy because I was overweight. I was mortified to think people would view me as too unhealthy to carry a child. Turns out my fear wasn’t irrational.
No one wants to be judged, especially when they’re grieving. Being deemed a “bad mother” is the worst thing a woman can be. It seems this judgment begins as soon as a woman becomes pregnant. Perhaps it is because of this impossible standard that there is a bit of a secret society amongst mothers. Perhaps we don’t want to scare off future members, so we edit, we sugarcoat, we downplay.
When my sister-in-law had her first baby she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “You were so strong. I don’t remember you ever crying those first two weeks.” I looked at her and told her the truth, “I was so exhausted. I had postpartum anxiety. I cried every single day. I just didn’t do it in front of you because I didn’t want you to think I was crazy.”
I did her a disservice. I should have let her see it, the reality. I should have told her.