CN (Content Note): This post discusses miscarriage, pregnancy loss, trauma and depression.
I was on our couch, sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe. Tissues were scattered around.
“I want the baby back,” I said to my husband.
“I know. Me too,” He said.
“The baby was real. It was there. I saw it,” And just like that, I dissolved further into tears.
Two weeks ago, I was eleven weeks pregnant. I was almost to the magic fourteen week marker and I was feeling pretty good. I mean, feeling confident that the pregnancy would stay. Physically, I felt like garbage. I was tired, dizzy and nauseous. Which, truthfully, is not all that different from how I have spent much of the past fourteen years feeling. Trauma and stress have taken a toll on my emotional and physical well-being. But with regular exercise, regular visits to the chiropractor and the removal of gluten from my diet, I had been feeling better for about six months. Then pregnancy happened and I felt sick again and pretty much constantly.
I was nervous. I was terrified. How would I manage without sleep? I’m exhausted even when I get eight, nine hours of sleep. How would I survive off patched together short stretches of sleep? How the hell would I get out the door in the morning while tending to an infant? I struggle to get out the door when I’m only caring for myself. How will I get to the gym? I thought of all the things in my life that I already find challenging (and can’t help but think they come so easily to others) and I was overwhelmed.
I was also really excited. My biological clock has (finally) started to kick in and I want a little, beautiful baby of my own. I want to see the world through some little person’s eyes. I want to nurture and support them and see who they turn out to be. What interests they will have, what paths in life they will take, what their personality will be like.
In terms of parenthood, I am a late bloomer. I never thought babies were cute until I was 26 years old. Then they became adorable. I never had an urge to have a baby of my own until I was thirty-one. And I never tried to have a baby until I was in my mid-thirties.
This past fall, my husband and I decided to take the plunge and try for a family. My cycle runs on the long side (typically 32-37 days). Then the election happened and Trump was elected. I was terrified, depressed and devastated. And suddenly my cycle became extra long. Between November and December, I went 49 days without my period. Then I didn’t get it all in January and waited 53 days until my next period arrived on February 11th. I figured it was probably stress from the election – I mean I was really stressed, thoughts of suicide even crossed my mind. (And to be honest, he is still stressing me out and I’m still very scared and…. my privilege is sheltering me from quite a bit). Anyways, I figured it was stress that was impacting my cycle but I went to the midwife I’d seen for a preconception consultation last spring. I went just in case something was physically wrong. Maybe I was in peri-menopause. That was not likely to be the case in my mid-thirties but some women experience early menopause. So I figured it couldn’t hurt to check-in. The midwife didn’t seem too worried (she did, however, seem a bit surprised that I attributed substantial stress to the election – but really, I experienced incredible despair this past November, December and January). She offered for me to come in during my next period and take Clomid. I agreed to try this.
But then before my next period came, I got a positive pregnancy test. I gasped with excitement when I read “Pregnant” on the stick. With all the stress and menstrual cycle confusion, I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get pregnant. Then I realized that even though we’d started trying six months before, I’d only had three periods during that time. So it had only taken me a few cycles to get pregnant. Woohoo! Maybe I was more fertile than I’d thought.
The first month, I was happy but cautious. I have plenty of friends and family who have had miscarriages. Many of them lost their pregnancies in the typical way we think of; with sudden bleeding and the pregnancy miscarries on its own, but I’d also had a colleague who went for an OB appointment to hear the heartbeat and there wasn’t one. I knew miscarriage was common and there’s often no rhyme or reason for it. Family asked if I was working on the nursery yet and I thought, ‘No way! We don’t know what is going to happen yet.’
So I waited for the first OB appointment. I wanted to know there really was a little embryo in there. I wanted to know there was a heartbeat. They had me come in for my eleven week appointment and based that on the date of my last period. During the appointment, I explained there is no way I’m eleven weeks, my cycle got long and blah, blah, blah… So they did a mini-ultrasound and saw the pregnancy was more like 6.5 weeks. But they saw the pregnancy! There was an embryo there! And a heartbeat was seen! My husband and I looked at the ultrasound with wide-eyes. It was so exciting and so surreal.
I went back a week later to date the pregnancy since we couldn’t figure out how far along I was based on my last period date. I’d had some spotting after the first visit, which I figured was because of the physical but I was still nervous. The ultrasound revealed the baby was still there, heart beating and I was about 8.5 weeks along. My due date was December 14! I told the ultrasound tech that I’d had some spotting and asked if everything looked okay. She said “yup!” and I felt so much better. My husband and I were sent home with four photos from the ultrasound, which we happily displayed on our mantel.
At that point, I started to believe that I was really going to have this baby! I’d seen it twice now. I had plenty of pregnancy symptoms. I read online about all the milestones that make it more and more likely your pregnancy will last. If you make it to eight weeks, you’re much less likely to miscarry. If you see a heartbeat, there’s only a 10% chance you will lose the pregnancy – I mean, with odds like that how could I not feel confident? I made it to 10 weeks and the odds of miscarriage dwindled further and my baby was graduating from embryo-hood to fetal-hood. It was real. It was very likely that I was really going to be a mom and my husband was really going to be a dad.
Then on May 25, I went in to meet the OB for the first time. I was about eleven weeks along and was told I’d likely hear the heartbeat at this visit (we’d seen it before but had never heard it because the baby was so small prior to this visit). I was excited but also a little sad because this was the first visit my husband had had to miss. I didn’t want him to miss hearing the heartbeat for the first time! Of course, more than that, I wanted there to be a heartbeat…
Honestly, it didn’t even cross my mind that there would not be a heartbeat. I knew I could still lose the pregnancy but I thought if I were to, it would happen in the usual way. There would be blood and I’d know right away. But the heartbeat wouldn’t just stop, that’s not the way it works, once it’s there, it’s there (this was my non-medical logic). If I lost the pregnancy, I’d lose it heartbeat and all. I was waiting for the next three weeks to pass so I could finally be done the first trimester (I felt like I’d been in it forever).
The doctor came in and she was very nice. She said “We’ll start with the fun part first.” She got out the fetal Doppler. She put the cold jelly on me and started moving the fetal Doppler around. There were all sorts of weird noises and I thought how weird that these sounds are always going on inside me. Then there was a fast pitter-pat and I inhaled.
“That’s you,” She said and kept moving the fetal Doppler. Another heartbeat. “That’s you again,” She said. She tried a bit more and nothing else was detected.
“Okay let’s do an ultrasound,” she said, “Sometimes you can’t hear the heartbeat at this point because they’re so small-” the size of a kumquat, I knew from reading babycenter.com – “and they swim.”
That made me smile a little, to think of this tiny, playful being swimming around inside me.
“Let’s do the ultrasound so you don’t worry,” She said. I wasn’t worried. Like I said, I fully expected there to be a heartbeat. If something had happened, I would have known.
So I went back to the ultrasound room. On the screen, I noticed it said “viability test” and that was the first time I hesitated and wondered if something might be wrong. We weren’t supposed to be questioning viability at this point. We’d seen the heartbeat, the pregnancy was viable unless I started bleeding. Which I hadn’t. (Again, this was just my thinking and not based on any sort of medical experience).
Still I wasn’t that worried. This whole process of getting and being pregnant had been confusing between my suddenly super long cycles and the uncertainty of how far along I was. It made sense we couldn’t hear the heartbeat, this baby was a little rascal already, keeping us all in suspense.
The ultrasound tech had me lie down and she also put more jelly on me and began the ultrasound. We were quiet for a moment and I was looking at the screen. Then I looked at her face and noticed she was frowning. More silence. Then she looked at me and said, “I’m not seeing a heartbeat, I’m so sorry.”
I was confused. Why was she sorry? If she couldn’t see the heartbeat, she just needed to look again, to look harder. I mean, it could not have just gone away… right? Didn’t she know how weird this pregnancy had been? Nothing was happening as it should have but it had always been okay. So it had to be okay now too. But suddenly… I wasn’t so sure.
“What does that mean?” I asked, sitting up.
“Let me get the doctor,” was her answer.
I sat there for a few minutes, still not that worried that anything was actually wrong. They’d look again. They’d find it. All was well, as it had been all along.
Then the doctor came in and came close to me. “So there is no heartbeat,” She said and pointed to the screen, “It looks like the baby stopped growing at ten weeks.”
I looked at the screen and saw the outline of the fetus. It was all dark and gray inside. Gone was the bright spot of light where the heartbeat had been. She started explaining to me what would happen next. I was actually able to take in a lot of what she said, despite being completely shocked. I would have to have surgery. This was not my fault. These things happen sometimes, usually because something wasn’t developing quite right with the fetus.
Then I started to cry, hard. She hugged me. I was worried maybe I’d never have children. That was my first thought. Not that I’d lost the baby. I don’t know if that’s normal. I don’t know if anything that has to do with a pregnancy loss can be “normal.” You do what you do. I know that. And still I worry that maybe I’m selfish because that was my first thought. I asked the doctor if it meant I would never have a baby. She said no. She said this does not have to do with me. She said she herself has four children but has been pregnant nine times. Miscarriages happen and they can happen to anyone.
Logically, I’d known this and in ways, I’d been preparing myself for this very situation. But I also had grown confident over the past two weeks and grown attached to the baby.
I left the doctor’s office. I drove home. I just wanted to be home. I got home. Nothing about being home made me feel better. It was just slightly less bad to be in private and to be able to cry and cry and cry. Which I did.
I called my husband. He wasn’t answering. I cried. I called my sister and I called two friends. Then I called my husband again. He answered, he was at work and all was still well in his world. I had to give him this terrible news. I did.
“No,” I heard him gasp with an inhale and a stifled sob. Hearing him so sad broke my heart more than anything. I wanted him to be happy. He’d been so happy. And now…
He got home. We cried and lay in bed. I thought being home, being with him would make things less bad. It took every ounce of strength to not fall apart while walking out of that doctor’s office, getting into my car and driving home. But being home and falling apart with the person I loved more than anyone, didn’t really make much difference. I was still in this situation. It was still awful.
I called out of work for the next several days. I still had to have this surgery and since it was Thursday before a holiday weekend, I had to wait until Tuesday. I had already told my colleagues. I didn’t tell anyone except my two office-mates for the first month but then after the second ultrasound, I made the decision to tell the others. Even though I knew I could still miscarry. And I don’t regret that decision. Because I probably would have told them anyways since I’ve taken quite a bit of time off. For me, it feels better to be open about why I’m sad and why I’m not at work.
The days between the news and the surgery were weird. I was technically still pregnant. I still felt nauseous and still burped a ridiculous amount but I noticed my boobs weren’t as tender. I was scared for the surgery. I kept hoping maybe I would start bleeding but I also knew that that might actually be worse.
I felt like I was walking with a ghost. There was this little shell of a person in me. I’m pro-choice and I do not believe life begins at conception. And yet when you get pregnant, your life changes. As soon as you get that positive pregnancy test, someone else, some future someone else, comes into your life and they never go away. I’d felt this budding life in me, not yet a life itself, but a growing and blossoming one. There was this little creature in me who was going to be our baby. And then suddenly there was still this tiny being in me, it’s just that it would never actually be.
I cried a lot. I took down the picture of the ultrasound. I kissed the picture and I put it in a box where I keep other items that are special to me. (Of course I still look at the ultrasound and I tell the now-gone baby, “I love you”). I listened to a song by Beyoncé that she wrote after she also experienced a miscarriage – and like me, a missed miscarriage where she didn’t know she’d lost the pregnancy until she went to her doctor and there was no more heartbeat. I didn’t get out of bed often. I stayed in my pajamas. I cuddled with my cats. I thought of other women I knew who had gone through this, some of them multiple times, and I wondered how they were so strong. It felt impossible.
Then I had the surgery done. My husband was with me and held my hand as I waited to be put under and wheeled away. I had been so scared for it but physically it was not bad. Emotionally, that’s another story. I just wanted it over with. And at the same time, once it was over then our future baby was really gone. I felt so empty. Where my uterus had been full and growing life, there was suddenly nothing there and there was no baby to show for it. It was empty and that was so very sad.
Two days after the surgery on May 30, I went back to work for four days. It was not easy. I was sore from the anesthesia. My throat hurt and was scratchy because they’d put a breathing tube down it. And I felt horribly alone.
Now I’m off until next Tuesday. I was supposed to have this whole week off anyways. I went in on Monday and Tuesday to conserve some of my paid time off. I had already felt so burnt out and in need of a break from work before this. Now I need a break from everything.
I wanted to share this story because I think it’s important to talk about these things. I also want to let people know what has been helpful, where I’m at these days and what I need. Remember this is just what I myself need. Other people in this situation may need something else. For instance, for me, it is helpful to hear about other people who have gone through this and now have children or are pregnant. I’ve heard that for some women, this is not helpful to hear. But for me it is…
So well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me first explain where I am now:
My feelings are all over the place. Mostly I’m terribly sad. But I’m also hopeful and future-oriented. I’m mourning this baby but also dreaming of who our next baby will be. Sometimes I feel totally normal. Last night, I got my hair highlighted and trimmed. I felt like myself then. This morning I woke up and felt some dread because I’m still stuck at this point in my life.
I’m terrified. I think everyone who goes through a miscarriage is. There is a lot of uncertainty and perhaps especially if you’ve never been had a baby before. You can’t help but wonder if you’re actually able to carry a pregnancy to term and deliver a baby into this world. Even though it is well-documented that most women who have one, or more, miscarriages go on to have healthy, successful pregnancies. It still is hard to not doubt yourself. And I think that maybe for me, it is even harder to cope with the doubts and uncertainty. I live with immense anxiety and some depression. It is all too easy for me to fall into pits of despair and feel like nothing will be okay. Logically I know this is just who I am, this is how I react to stress and that I’ve gotten through very difficult times before. Emotionally though, it’s hard to truly feel and understand that. It is easy for me to go to the worst case scenario and feel stuck there.
Every time I talk about or even think about the next pregnancy, I feel my stomach to churn and my heart skip a beat. This is because I know I will be anxious for at least the first trimester of the next pregnancy. This is because I am terrified that this will happen again. Because I’m really scared that maybe I’ll never get pregnant again. This is probably normal for anyone who goes through a miscarriage but again, I can’t help but think it is even more pronounced for me because of my tendencies towards extreme anxiety. I’m so scared of not being able to conceive again or losing the pregnancy again that it pains me to acknowledge the possibility of pregnancy again. I’m terrified because I feel like I’m jinxing myself to even think about being pregnant again.
I know it is very likely that the miscarriage was an unfortunate instance, that it happened because there was a chromosomal abnormality. I know this is unlikely to happen again. And… I’m scared that it will. I’m scared there is something “wrong” with me. I’m scared I have a hormonal issue or a luteal phase defect or some other condition. I’m scared I’m actually starting menopause and that is why my cycle became so long. I’m praying to a god I don’t even believe in that I’m not going through menopause. I’m praying I will never have to go through this again.
I know I need to be present and take it day by day. My mind races and spirals and that just makes it all worse. And at the same time, it is really hard to be in this moment. My current day-to-day reality is a nightmare and I don’t want to be here. I’m not suicidal, I don’t want to be dead. But I also don’t want to be living this part of my life. I want it to be over with. I can’t help but look to the future because even though there are uncertainties and what-ifs in the future, there is also hope and there is the possibility of a pregnancy with a much happier outcome. And I need to believe in that, as hard and as scary as it is.
I also want to share the perspective that I have on this. The way that I am looking at miscarriages right now is that they are just as much a part of parenthood as anything else. Miscarriage is so common and it can happen to anyone. I don’t say that to scare anyone but to normalize and universalize this very painful experience that can feel so isolating. The unfortunate reality is that when we make the decision to get pregnant or to keep a pregnancy, we risk this. We, especially the ones who are pregnant, sacrifice a lot of ourselves while not knowing the outcome, if we’ll feel joy or grief. And isn’t that what parenting is? Sacrifice without knowing what, if anything, you’ll get in return. Isn’t it putting yourself out there repeatedly knowing you could get hurt over and over, whether by lack of societal support or by something going wrong or not the way you’d hoped?
Lastly, it is hard for me to be around pregnant people, babies and toddlers right now. At this point in my life, these are reminders of my grief. This is especially hard because two of my closest friends are pregnant and one is due in October and the other in November. Then I was supposed to be due in December. I felt so, so lucky to be pregnant at the same time as them. As much as I was excited to be pregnant, it was also lonely and kind of an isolating experience. You feel different than you normally feel. You can’t do a lot of the things you normally do. You can feel left out when your friends or co-workers go out for drinks. You’re happy to be pregnant and you know you won’t be in this phase forever and there are a lot of cool aspects of growing another human being. And yet, it can still leave you feeling apart from others and even from yourself. So to have two of my closest friends going through it with me was such a gift. It made me less lonely and I felt a connection to them.
To my friends who are pregnant, I write this just to put it out there. Believe me when I say I am so happy for you. And I desperately want and need you in my life right now. I want to hear from you and see you and hang out with you. And of course, I still feel connected to you in other ways. You’ve been my friends for decades. And… the loss of the pregnancy also means the loss of something special we were all experiencing together and it makes me very sad. I’m really anxious to go to baby showers. But I am absolutely going to go because you’re so important to me and I never want you to feel like you’re not. I love you all, pregnant and not, so much. (Side note- As I’m writing this, I’m listening to 4 am by Our Lady Peace which hopefully for some of you brings you right back to tenth grade and makes you feel all the feels, because it sure is making me feel all the feels).
So what do I need right now?
I need to know you still believe in me. Condolences are helpful and needed. But more than that, I need to feel hope. No, none of us can know what the future holds and maybe I never will have a baby. Maybe my husband and I will adopt. But right now there is no reason to think I won’t be able to have a successful pregnancy in the future. Even if a miscarriage happens again (and I so hope it does not!), it is still likely I will eventually carry a pregnancy to term and have a baby. I need to hear that you know that. Because I am so prone to hopelessness, it is essential I hear from others that they believe in me and are hopeful for me. Hearing you say you’re hopeful doesn’t mean I think you have some crystal ball and can see into the future. But it does reassure me that you don’t think of me differently and that you are optimistic. When I feel this, slowly some hope starts to fill me. And I need that now.
It is helpful to hear I am strong and brave. I do not feel that way right now. I feel gutted. Hearing that others see me this way makes me feel less depleted.
Texts and emails are appreciated. Even if I don’t respond right away, please know it means a lot to me. I feel so alone right now and hearing from loved ones chips away at the isolation.
There are silver linings. I hope you don’t think I’m some monster for thinking of these things. It’s just that if it has to be this way then at least there’s this…
I hope our next baby will be born in a month that is not December. I never wanted a December baby. I mean, believe me, I’d rather have a December baby than be in this situation. But birthdays are really important to me (as many of you know) and I would love to have a spring or summer baby. Maybe now I will.
I want to be pregnant during Christmas. It just seems cozy to me. And during the winter. Also cozy. And then I can get out of shoveling.
I think I will appreciate the next baby even more so. Don’t get me wrong, I was so grateful for the little life growing in me. But I was so scared and dreading sleep deprivation. And I’m sure I still will and it will suck. And I think that the next time I will be more focused on finding a way to hang in there through it rather than just dreading it will happen. Because now I know that once you’re pregnant, there is, unfortunately, an alternative. And I’m much rather find a way to deal with sleep deprivation and lack of down time than go through this ever again.
I now really, really know that my husband and my marriage are amazing. It’s not that I didn’t know this before. But the past year and a half has presented us with several challenges. We experienced TWO layoffs last year, which was a special kind of hell. And we got through it and supported each other tremendously through it. Now we’re going through this. And my husband has been phenomenal. When I was with him after receiving the terrible news, I asked him if our life would still be good, even if we never have children. Without missing a beat, he said, “Yes it will be the best.” And that was exactly what I needed to hear then.
Also, my husband and I get to take one last trip together. We’d really wanted to go on a big adventure last year but for a couple of reasons, including the layoffs, we were unable to. We thought about taking a babymoon but I wasn’t super comfortable with the idea of traveling while pregnant. I’ve always wanted to go to South America. And now we’re going to go (not to a country where there is Zika!). Now we get to have one last hurrah before we buckle down and have this baby.
I guess that’s about it. This was a long post. If you made it this far, thank you for reading it. Thank you to all of you who have reached out, who have emailed or texted, who have sent cards and/or gifts, who have brought us food and cleaned our house. And thank you to all of you just for being in my life and bringing me happiness. Know you’re appreciated. And know that I’m sad but hanging in there. The other night, I dreamed of rainbows. Bright, brilliant rainbows. Single rainbows, double rainbows even triple rainbows. I’m just waiting for this storm to pass…