I took my first pregnancy test on a bright Saturday morning six weeks ago. It was positive. So were the next two I took on Sunday, just in case.
My husband and I had been married for nearly three years. He’d just started his fourth year of medical school. We’d traveled to Mexico, Turkey, Vancouver and San Francisco and our window of time to have a baby before the whirlwind of residency was slowly closing. Not to mention that he’d started to carry around our 40-pound dog like a small child. “Can we please have a human baby?” he’d asked me one day last winter. I hoped we’d be so lucky. Before I could ever picture my future husband, I could picture myself as a mama.
When my doctor confirmed the happy news at our first appointment, my spirit instantly lifted to nervous, thrilling new heights. We brainstormed youngish-sounding grandparent names with our parents and started to tell siblings and a few close friends. My hormones kicked in by weeks four and five with cramping and bloating that for once, I happily welcomed. But by week six, I felt like I’d flatlined.
“I don’t see a heartbeat,” said the doctor matter-of-factly at our seven-week appointment. As she stared intensely at the ultrasound screen, I watched her face for the smallest flicker of hope. “This is a common sign of a miscarriage.”
WOOSH. The drop came out of nowhere. I gasped for air and felt for sure that I would puke. I immediately grasped for my husband’s hand.
“But you could be earlier than we thought,” she admitted. “Let’s give it a few days to see if the heart picks up speed.”
CLICK…CLICK…CLICK. I took a deep recovery breath.
“Welcome to the roller coaster of motherhood,” she said.
The next five days felt like a steady climb back up. I was really feeling hopeful. Back in the ultrasound chair, I squeezed my husband’s hand tighter and tighter as the seconds passed, praying for no more bad news. My chest filled like a helium balloon ready to burst wet, soppy tears. “I’m sorry honey, but there’s nothing there,” the technician whispered as she touched my leg.
The embryo had shrunk in size to a ball of cells. This pregnancy would not be viable and I would miscarry. When? Why? Why me? I’m the perfect gynecological patient. I’ve never had an irregular pap smear. I’ve swallowed six months’ worth of pre-natal vitamins already!
All I could do was weep. I wept with sadness, with pain, with frustration, with anger.
The sobbing came on in waves all day. My husband—a sweet, sensitive man—tried to comfort me, but all I wanted was to rip my broken heart in half and give it to him. It felt like all of the sudden our ride had split and my side had gone off the rails. He was upset, but in an it’ll-be-ok way. I realized he would never fully feel it the same way. How could he? This baby-to-be was in my body, and my body knew that something was wrong. “Roughly one out of every five pregnancies end in miscarriage,” the doctor had said to me. I just never expected to be that one.
Another thing I never knew? That you could find out you were going to miscarry only to have to wait it out. I was given three options: a) let it happen naturally, whenever and wherever b) take a gastrointestinal pill that would for sure give me diarrhea but only maybe induce a miscarriage c) schedule a D&C or D&E, procedures that dilate the cervix to clean out the uterus.
We decided to go the natural route since the pregnancy was still relatively early. What that meant it that I knew at any point “it” could happen, which was a crippling thought. I imagined myself at a gas station pumping gas, or on a run outside with my dog. What if I couldn’t make it to the bathroom in time? How would I tell a stranger I needed help? I’ve never ridden in an ambulance. And I hate the sight of blood. Googling what happens when you have a miscarriage was my worst idea.
That next weekend I couldn’t help but stare at painfully adorable couples with their painfully adorable babies at the farmer’s market. And I swear more of my Facebook friends announced their pregnancies that week than any other. How come I had to go through this and they didn’t? Do they really know how lucky they are? When I signed up for a membership at a new gym, one of the questions on the paperwork was “Are you pregnant?” Do I check the box? I mean, technically, yes. But not really. Not for long.
The best way I found to deal with my feelings was by talking. I phoned the same friends I called a week ago with good news to share the bad news. And the more I talked about it, the better I felt. They reacted in ways that were mostly supportive.
“My sister had one and so did my childhood best friend.”
“I don’t know anyone who it’s happened to, so I’d be terrified if it happened to me.”
“But you’re healthy?! I don’t understand.”
And the best thing you can ever say, the only thing you ever need to say:
“I’m so sorry.”
Miscarriage is a taboo topic. It’s painful and depressing, yes, but you’d think it was something to be ashamed of based on how infrequently you hear about it. Deep in the world of message boards, I read anonymous posts from heartbroken women who’d lost their babies much further along than me. They wrote about feelings of shock and embarrassment and how they couldn’t share their secret for fear of judgment. Like they’d done something wrong! On top of the emotional stress, they were left with major financial stress (without insurance, my miscarriage would have cost me $4,700 out of pocket). My own mother told me for the first time about how her first pregnancy, a miscarriage, resulted in a botched surgery. She was left with one less fallopian tube.
The next week was exhaustingly long. I prayed for patience and strength that it would all end soon, relying solely on the support and love of my family members to carry me though. One day after a particularly stressful doctor’s appointment, I walked in the front door having cried the entire drive home. My precious four-year-old niece took one look at me and said, “Auntie Jourdan, you’re so beautiful!” My heart warmed for the first time in what felt like forever.
After three more uncomfortable ultrasounds, my doctor finally confirmed that the heart was no longer beating. My first thought was relief, which sounds terrible to say. I could see the end in sight and was more ready than ever for it to be over. We scheduled my D&E on the same day as our three-year anniversary. How’s that for irony?
Over the next few hours, my nurses and doctors attempted to comfort me.
“We’re so sorry, sugar.”
“You’re gonna be just fine. And one day soon, you’ll be holding your own baby.”
“I hate that we’re meeting under these circumstances.”
IT’S OK. THANKS. ME TOO.
How the hell was I supposed to respond? I mostly just nodded between tears as I nervously folded and unfolded the soppy tissues I clutched in my hand. They put me under anesthesia; in 45 minutes, it was all over. I awoke wearing a giant pair of gauzy underwear and a maxi-pad the size of a river raft. I spent the next week taking it easy, lucky to only have minimal cramping and spotting.
Pregnancies are unpredictable and complicated. No two are alike. And they don’t always succeed. But by hiding our stories, we miss the opportunity to have our spirits lifted by women who’ve come before us and will come after us. Talking to others who’d survived the lowest of lows made me realize that I’d be ok. We don’t have to suffer in silence. I won’t pretend that this didn’t happen. I won’t give up because it did.
And so the only thing I know to do is get back in line and wait for the next ride. I’m exhausted and I’m scared. Just the thought of it all makes my stomach flip. So why try again? Because for me, it is worth the risk…it will be worth the risk, at least that’s what I’ve been told.
*This article first appeared on Clementine Daily