The Heartbreak of Miscarriage
I'm 32 and childless.
Though this has not always been the case, right now, that's an incredibly painful thing for me to say.
My husband and I have been married for 10 years. We got married young and knew we didn't want kids right away. But after years of wrestling through this decision, eventually, we decided that what we wanted more than anything else was a family.
After months of trying, of sobbing in the bathroom every time I realized I wasn't pregnant, we finally got what we most longed for: A positive pregnancy test. The test came just as I was finishing my master's thesis, during a period in which I was exhausted – in every way. After weeks of feeling a little off, I woke up on a Tuesday morning, threw up, and thought, “It's time to take a pregnancy test.”
When I saw the plus sign, I stood in the bathroom and sobbed, overwhelmed and overjoyed at the prospect of my husband and I becoming parents.
That night, I shared the news with my husband and together, we cried with joy and began dreaming and planning about the many ways our life would soon be different. We talked about my job and how I'd navigate being both a mom and a youth worker. We dreamed about the renovations we wanted to make on our house to make it more ideal for our growing family. And we consciously made the decision not to share our good news with our families yet, just in case something went wrong.
The next day, I called my OB and scheduled my first prenatal appointment, excited at the prospect of hearing my baby's heartbeat.
Six days later – not even a full week after I took that pregnancy test – I began spotting.
Our world fell apart.
That night, I sent my friend (one of only four people we'd told) a text saying, “I'm spotting and I'm scared.”
She reassured me that spotting sometimes occurs early on in pregnancies and then said to call my OB if it hadn't stopped by the morning.
I made that call the next morning. That afternoon, I went to the doctor for blood work.
By the time my doctor called the next day, the spotting had increased. I was told that my HCG levels were, in fact, high but that I still needed to come in immediately for an ultrasound so they could figure out “what the heck was going on”. Her tone suggested that rather than argue, I needed to clear my schedule and go.
So I went.
A few short hours later I found myself having my first ultrasound – something that should have been a joyous occasion. Instead, my worst fears were confirmed when the ultrasound technician immediately turned the screen away from me; When one type of ultrasound led to another and when I was wordlessly ushered into my doctor's office afterward.
A few minutes later, my doctor arrived. Filled with kindness and compassion, she explained that the ultrasound had revealed a gestational sac that was deflating and that my pregnancy was no longer viable. She then said the phrase that every woman fears: “You're having a miscarriage.”
And with that, my tears began.
She sat with me, wordlessly, and then finally explained what would happen. She said her preference for someone who was only six weeks into their pregnancy was to allow the miscarriage to happen naturally so that if at all possible, I could avoid having a D&C. Doing so would require me to have weekly blood draws for the indefinite future, to ensure that my “body was taking care of this”.
After hearing this, I finally managed to cry out to my doctor, “Why is this happening?”
She compassionately assured me that it was nothing I had or had not done; That it wasn't stress but was instead likely a genetic anomaly that my body had detected and dealt with.
I remember that thought both simultaneously comforting and confusing me. For a brief moment, I sat in awe of the wonder of my body. But then I quickly thought, “But kids are born with disabilities all the time. I would have loved one of those kids and cared for her. What was so wrong with this baby that my body had to get rid of it?”
When I finally left the doctor's office, I did so in a haze, still in tears. I immediately thought, “I want my husband”. That thought was quickly followed by another: “I want my mom.” The only problem was we hadn't told my mom about the pregnancy; How then could we tell her about the miscarriage?
Despite crying hysterically, I somehow made it safely home. When I did, I immediately called my husband. He answered the phone and my sobbing only increased. All I remember him muttering is, “No.”
He immediately left work and came home, taking a cab all the way from downtown Chicago to our home in the suburbs just so he could get to me as quickly as possible. When he arrived, he held me as I cried.
The tears that began that day continued almost constantly for the next week. Even now, weeks later, my emotions are raw and just beneath the surface; I cry easily and grief still seems to be my constant companion.
This grief is so real, so raw, and so much worse than any I have ever known, which isn't to say that I haven't known grief. I have... We have. My husband and I have grieved the loss of loved ones who have endured excruciating illnesses. We've endured painful job changes and job loss. We've moved and weathered the stress of being unable to sell our former home. Together, we've survived hard things.
But this. This grief is different. It's suffocating. It's all-consuming. And it's harder than anything we've ever known.
We're grieving our loss. And though we never held our baby or even heard her heartbeat, this was still our baby. Though only a handful of people even knew of her existence, she was still our baby. And we grieve her death.
We're also grieving the physicality of this. For weeks, I bled as I miscarried my baby. Every time I went to the bathroom, I had a visible and constant reminder of what was happening to me, to us. It was, quite simply, hell. Even now – five weeks after this began – my hormones still have not returned to normal.
We're grieving our admission into a secret society we never wanted to join. This secret society is filled with other couples who have miscarried, who are part of the sad, yet rarely discussed reality that somewhere between one in three and one in four pregnancies end like ours did.
We're grieving what could have been. We're grieving the fact that though we expected our lives to radically change this year, they are instead, exactly the same as they've always been. Author Elizabeth McCracken says it like this in her book, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, "After most deaths, I imagine, the awfulness lies in how everything's changed: you no longer recognize the form of your days. There's a hole. It's personshaped and follows you everywhere, to bed, to the dinner table, in the car. For us what was killing was how nothing had changed. We'd been waiting to be transformed and now here we were, back in our old life."
The day after the word miscarriage entered our lexicon and forever changed our world, my husband graciously made phone calls to our parents, explaining what had happened. Despite their own grief, they came and cared for us, as did the very small handful of good friends we told. As our parents rallied around us, we grieved not having told them about the pregnancy when it was still a joyful experience. We had done so hoping to save them from grief should the worst happen. But what we learned is that when the worst really did happen, there was no way we could go through it alone, without the people who most love us caring for us, grieving with us, and holding us up.
Over the next few days, we also told a small handful of our closest colleagues what had happened. My husband wanted people to understand why he was “off”; I needed people to understand why I'd be absent for a while.
At that point, we also needed space. So we decided not to tell anyone else what had happened – even other family members and good friends. If you're one of those people now learning about this from this blog, please know this was not about you. We have no doubt that you, also, would have cared deeply for us in this hellish time. This was about us. It was about my wanting to control something – anything – when this horrible thing that was so far outside of my control was happening to me. It was about my not wanting to constantly cry in front of people or answer questions I wasn't ready to answer. It was about my needing to escape the hell in which we were living by interacting normally with people, even if that normalcy only lasted for three seconds.
But eventually, something interesting happened. I stopped lying on the couch watching endless hours of mindless TV and I started reading again. And what I read were the stories of other women who had miscarried.
I read Anna Rendell's blog about her two miscarriages and Adriel Booker's post about the day she lost her baby. I read about Kelle Hampton's miscarriage and I reread Shauna Niequist's painfully raw Bittersweet. Each time I read one of these women's stories, I sobbed hysterically. Yet, I also felt strangely comforted; I felt just a little less alone. And I felt like maybe, just maybe, in a way that seemed completely and utterly unfathomable to me at the time, my life would somehow continue just as theirs had. In telling their stories, these brave women gave me the courage to face and tell mine.
Like so many other people, in January, I chose one word to live by this year. For many reasons, I chose brave as my word this year.
Though I hate to admit this, I know that far too often, my life is ruled by fear. Having heard stories from other women, I worry that this will be the case even more so, in my life post-miscarriage. I suspect that having had one miscarriage, I will live in fear of having another; That this will rob me of the joy of future pregnancies.
This may well be the case but for now, I am choosing to be brave. I'm choosing to own my story – regardless of how painful that story still is for me – and I'm choosing to tell it, hoping that in the same way I found comfort in the miscarriage stories of others, perhaps someone will find comfort in mine.
I'm choosing to believe that by telling my story, I'm doing my part to ensure that fear will not gain any more of a stronghold in my life than it already has.
I'm also choosing to believe that God is here, in the midst of this painful story.
After our miscarriage, our pastor reminded my husband that on Holy Saturday – the day in which Jesus lay dead in the tomb, the day in which it seemed all hope was lost – God was, in fact, doing his most powerful work ever.
Likewise, I'm choosing to believe that in this, our Holy Saturday, the day in which all hope seems lost, God is doing something incredible.
And so I wait, bravely and with expectation, to see what that something is.