I was pushing my shopping cart into the cereal aisle of the grocery store when I realized something was wrong.
I’d woken up crampy that morning, just like I had every other morning since the second pink line slowly developed on the pregnancy test, but today was the first time that the cramping wasn’t accompanied by waves of nausea.
At breakfast, that sudden improvement had brought relief. Now, as I aimed my daughters toward the wall of brightly colored boxes, I knew something wasn’t right.
“Mommy, we’re missing everything,” my oldest whined as I bypassed the breakfast foods and headed directly to the bathroom instead. My hands shook slightly as I ushered them both into the stall, closing the door behind us. They watched with concern on their faces as I hung my head and quietly sobbed, after confirming what I had suspected I would find: There was blood in my underwear.
Earlier that morning there’d been the faintest streak of red on the toilet paper and I’d thought to myself, Ah here’s that first trimester spotting people sometimes get. I wasn’t worried, I’d already had two perfectly healthy pregnancies, and nobody in my immediate family had any history of miscarriage. I assumed those things provided me with some sort of immunity, that they guarded me against tragedy. I was wrong.
My husband and I weren’t even trying when I found out I was pregnant. We knew we wanted another baby, but we were focused on paying off our remaining credit card debt first. When I found out I was pregnant, we were excited, but apprehensive.
We went over all the questions running through our minds — Could we even afford another baby? Did we have enough room? Should we move? If so, where? How were we going to make it all work? — and we each took a turn at being the one with the optimistic answers.
In the end we came to the conclusion that everything was going to work out because this baby was simply meant to be. We hadn’t even be trying, and here we were.
This baby is meant to be, I kept telling myself as I tried to get my sobbing under control in the bathroom, just three weeks after I had found out that the baby even existed in the first place.
After I left the bathroom and called my doctor, I was sent for blood work. In the 24 hours it took between when I saw that first bit of red, and when my doctor called with my results, I felt like I lived a thousand lives. I alternated between convincing myself that I wasn’t actually losing my baby, to making peace with the fact that I would not be carrying this pregnancy to term. It was hard to be confident in either prospect because I knew so little about the process of having a miscarriage.
That next morning, the doctor told me that my HcG — the hormone that indicates pregnancy — wasn’t as high as it should have been based on the baby’s gestational age.
“Unfortunately, we have to run another test in a few more days to see if the numbers go up, or if they decline further.” I was shocked and angry that they couldn’t just give me an answer right then, or at least give me an indication of what this could all mean.
All told, it took a week to get the blood work done and find out that my pregnancy was no longer viable. One long, agonizing week where my husband and I went back and forth about whether or not the future we had been so excitedly planning together would ever exist.
During that weeklong wait, I had learned that almost everything I thought I knew about miscarriages was either based off of myths, or things I had seen on television. My lack of a family history of miscarriages didn’t mean anything. They could happen at anytime, to any woman.
What I’d spent most of my life seeing on-screen was a watered-down version of the truth. They don’t have time to show how long the process takes, or the complexity of the emotions a miscarriage can evoke.
Once I realized everything I thought I knew was wrong, I turned to the internet. I spent long, lonely nights Googling my every symptom looking for answers. I had no idea what to expect. My doctor gave me no indication of what the miscarriage process would entail. She only told me that I should call her back if I experienced periods of heavier bleeding or developed a fever.
Everything that happened was a surprise.
I couldn’t believe how much blood there was or how it seemed like it would never end. The websites I read mentioned that a miscarriage could take as little as a few days and would look like a “heavier than normal” period, but I bled heavily and consistently for two weeks, far more than any period I’d ever had. I felt like the websites put the loss in the context of “an event that happens,” but it was far more of an ongoing process that had begun that morning in the bathroom and then continued emotionally far past when the bleeding stopped.
And so much was made of the clots and tissue that would pass, but at 7 weeks it seemed like much less substance than there should have been. Even though I knew that my baby was still technically just a clump of cells, I expected to know the exact moment it passed through me, and I never did.
I learned from my extensive Googling that this process was called the “watch and wait” method. Some people use medication to speed things up, or undergo a medical procedure called a “dilatation and curettage,” or D&C, where they manually remove the remaining pregnancy tissue.
They also mentioned that it was normal to feel emotional, but they didn’t convey just how emotional I would feel or what emotions I could expect. I assumed there would be grief and sadness and anger, but I was surprised when I also found myself mired in confusion (how could this be happening to me?), fear (was I just too old, was my last baby going to be my last baby?), and most surprisingly, relief ― because having an answer, even a terrible one, was better than the agony of waiting.
I knew going into it that usually a miscarriage is brought on by a developmental anomaly, not the result of something the mother did. But knowing that didn’t keep me from asking the questions anyway. Was it that bag of mulch I insisted on carrying to the garden? Was it the fact that I wasn’t quite in the habit of taking my daily prenatal vitamin yet? Was it the caffeine or the one hot day that I didn’t drink enough water or that late night I spent on assignment? Was it me? Did I do this?
One in four women will experience a pregnancy loss in their lifetime. I have realized in the weeks since my own loss that I knew so little about miscarriages because we as women just don’t talk about it.
I don’t know why most of us don’t talk about miscarriage, but I know why I didn’t. Mine was an early loss. Not many people knew I was pregnant, so before I could turn to anyone I would first have to mention the baby, and I just couldn’t bear to start that conversation. It seemed easier for me to not have to explain, to not have to say how there was a baby but now there’s not, and oh my god I just can’t stop crying.
Now that I’m months removed, I can see that talking about it with someone who had been there before probably would have been easier than suffering in silence.
Since opening up about my miscarriage, I have been shocked to learn that I am surrounded by women who have suffered losses like this. Some of them have gone on to have more children, and some are still trying, despite heartache after heartache.
I believe that there is a power in sharing our experiences with one another because it lets us know we’re not alone. It destigmatizes the process and gives others a better idea of what to expect if it happens to them. Nobody should ever have to go through a loss feeling confused and alone when they are surrounded by women who have been there before. Miscarriages happen, but they don’t have to happen in silence.