I’m not sure that I have the courage to make this story public. We’ll see how it goes and whether the “publish” button gets clicked. Fair warning, Dear Reader. Stop now if the topic of miscarriage makes you squeamish, because I’m going to share what it feels like.
This morning, I learned that a friend lost a pregnancy. I saw her just a few weeks ago, on the day she had taken the pregnancy test. We hugged and I told her how happy I was for her and her young husband. It was their first. At somewhere in her mid-thirties, a pregnancy is not as guaranteed as it once may have been. They were a little bit in shock but happily so. And when I learned of their loss today, memories of my own experiences came flooding back to me.
Miscarriage is one of the few things that our live-out-loud society does not talk about openly. A newscaster will get a colonoscopy on live TV, but we don’t speak of the painful experiences many of us have endured first hand. I’ve heard that up to 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. My statistic is 75%.
I don’t want to take away from the loss that the daddies feel when an unborn child doesn’t make it to their first breathe. They hurt, too. But I’m not a daddy and I can only speak to what the mommy goes through, at least this mommy.
Our bodies begin to change immediately upon conception, imperceptively at first, to accommodate this little blob of cells. Within a couple of weeks, we can smell a cup of coffee two states away. Our boobs hurt. We get tired. And then when we pee on a stick and it turns pink or blue or there are two lines or a plus sign or whatever, our hearts beat a little faster and we suck in a quick breathe and for a while it’s our little life-altering secret. We might even take a couple more tests, just to be sure.
We tell our husbands or boyfriends or moms. In my case, my husband and I were elated by the thought of a new addition to our family. My first pregnancy, that resulted in my fabulous son almost 17 years ago, was not easily achieved. We tried for years for him and went through infertility testing and treatments and once we figured out what the issue was, he came along in a pretty normal pregnancy. We figured we had this baby-making thing beat. So, when I learned I was pregnant about 15 months later, it was a little surprising. We hadn’t been “trying,” meaning we hadn’t gone through the procedure that resulted in Kid One, but we hadn’t been not trying, meaning we hadn’t been doing what people do to prevent it from happening. Still, there was great joy and excitement.
In about five minutes after that stick does its thing, the mommy’s brain goes through some sort of chemical gymnastics, and she sees the next year unfold in a mental movie trailer. Getting bigger, eating more, swollen ankles, nursery decor, boy or girl, bringing her/him/ home from the hospital, tiny little newborn clothes and diapers. She has already “known” in some subconscious way that this thing was happening, but now it’s real and she can start to imagine what it will be like.
She goes to the first doctor appointment and they say “yep, it’s a blob in there” and she sees the blob on the ultrasound screen. They tell her to take prenatal vitamins and not to eat tuna or whatever and she gets little pamphlets and things in a plastic bag to take home. And she tries to go about her business without thinking about this ALL THE TIME. And she goes back for the next visit when the little blob has a fluttering heartbeat. By then her pants are a little snug. And she goes back again at 12 weeks to see that there is something in her belly that looks like a person, moving its tiny arms.
At 18 weeks, she goes in and the ultrasound tech gets her tummy all gooey and moves the paddle around and instead of cheery banter this time, the tech goes very quiet. She moves the paddle some more, makes sure the mommy can’t see the monitor screen and then she says, “Let me just go and get the doctor.” And the mommy lays there thinking, this doesn’t seem right. Oh geez what is going on? And the doctor comes in and looks some more and tells her in the understanding and sympathetic doctor voice, “I’m so sorry.”
And the floor disappears. She can’t breathe. Her arms and legs won’t move. And her mind tries to wrap its head around what is happening. What has happened, really, because it can’t be fixed. Life left that little being at some point and she didn’t even know it. She had been walking around making plans for him/her and eating right and sleeping more and all that time he/she had been gone.
Or maybe the mommy knew because her body had already started the process of dealing with this death and she had started spotting and had called her doctor to say, “I think something’s wrong.” And she finds herself sitting in the waiting room looking at all the pregnant bellies and thinking, “Oh, God, please no.”
I went through this experience three times. Each time, I found myself utterly shattered. 12, 17 and 8 weeks. I had D&C’s after each one, and woke from the anesthesia every time with tear-streaked cheeks. I sobbed uncontrollably. My husband, in his own grief, didn’t know what to do while I lay on our bed for days not wanting to talk to anyone about anything. Our little boy, oblivious to what had happened, just wanted Mommy to feel better. His hugs were the best medicine on earth. I was angry at God. If I’m honest, I still haven’t forgiven Him. However, I never begrudged others their joy when a baby came into their lives. Time quieted the pain and it settled deeper in, making room for life’s future joys and experiences. But it’s still there. News of another woman’s loss brings it back in an instant as my empathetic heart breaks for her.
But we don’t talk about this, except in hushed tones. “I’m so sorry,” people say, perhaps with a hug, and then hope it never comes up again. Sometimes people don’t even know about it, because the parents-to-be followed the old adage not to share the good news until after the first trimester because, “you never know.” And then it’s a secret. Something to hide. Like it’s something to be ashamed of. But when your heart has been ripped to shreds, it’s probably not all that healthy to keep it a secret. Just sayin’.
That little life was never out there in the world, sending its rippled waves of living across the community. But for the mommy, its heartbeat changed her forever and it’s ok for her to mourn. It’s not something to “get over” or just “try again for another one,” as well-meaning but clueless people may suggest.
Then again, some women may not feel the way I did. They may not have felt a connection with that little blob and it may not be the same sense of loss. That’s ok, too. This is just my story, and I hope it helps someone understand a little bit more about an aspect of life’s journey that we don’t talk about.