When I was young I remember distinctly a scene from a movie of a women being rushed through the halls of a hospital on a gurney, covered in blood, and wailing in pain. She was having a miscarriage, I learned. I don’t remember the name of the movie, or why I was watching that gory scene, but the image has stayed with me since. Miscarriage looked horribly traumatic and painful; the worst thing to happen to a pregnant women. Like many tragedies, I assumed it only happened to the unfortunate few, and clung to the unconscious assumption that it would never be my reality.
I just suffered my second miscarriage. Not only am I still coming to terms with the idea that this is part of my reproductive reality, I’m also struggling with the idea that I’m now categorized as a woman with “recurrent pregnancy loss”. While my first miscarriage was marked with piercing grief and disappointment, this second loss is a battle against fear. Will we ever be able to have children? Why did this happen twice? What is in store for us – will we have further losses or be thrown into IVF, and suffer continued devastating disappointments? Or are we the less than 4% of couples that have two losses in a row, and just plagued with two cases of bad luck? How much more sadness will we have to endure?
Our first miscarriage happened in early July this year. It was our third cycle trying when we first saw the word ‘pregnant’ on our Clearblue digital pregnancy test. My husband and I held hands as we walked together, with our eyes partially closed, smiling and nervous, to the bathroom to see the results. Pregnant. Seeing that word was an incredible moment, the feeling emblazoned in my memory forever. A simultaneous experience of disbelief, awe of the unknown, excitement, and relief it had actually happened. One of the rare moments when tears and laughter happen at the same time, I jumped up and down giggling, crying, as my husband laughed at my outburst.
We loved our baby instantly. We came up with a nickname and ascribed a persona that amused us endlessly, imagining our baby already with so much personality, busy in the womb, doing hilarious things. I felt the bond immediately, even before I knew for sure I was pregnant. Three weeks after the positive pregnancy test we were in the ultrasound room, seeing it for the first time, a blur of grey, with a rapidly thumping heartbeat. Seeing the ultrasound made my husband nervous. “It seems so delicate!” he marveled. I felt reassured. My body’s doing what it’s supposed to do.
“It’s measuring small,” the technician told us. At eight weeks along, it measured six weeks five days. Our doctor did not seem alarmed, only that we needed to come back for a second scan in a few weeks, to make sure it continued to develop. Dates can be off, she told us. We left the office, happy, excited, ready to share the news with our family. I ignored the nagging question, why is it small?
Three days later, I saw what makes every pregnant woman’s heart stop. Spotting. The blood was so faint I thought I might have imagined it. I called my doctor who told me to rest for the remainder of the day and call back if it turned heavy and red. I hung up and followed orders, teary and hormonal, but relying on my positive nature to cling to the hope it would be ok. The next night it was official. I let out a pained shriek when I went to the bathroom and saw the gush of red blood, the symbol of pregnancy loss, the death of our child to be. My husband rushed me to the emergency room, where they admitted me immediately. “Do you have any pain?” I was asked, and shook my head no, refusing to acknowledge my throbbing lower back, or the cramps that had plagued me the day before. If I don’t admit to them, maybe this won’t be real.
The four hours in the emergency room were hard. A doctor with a poor bedside manner, the endless moments of silence and waiting. I remember trying to read the ultrasound in the reflection of the window, as our technician’s poker face gave us no answers. Under some miracle, is our baby still in there? Ultimately we were given the news we already knew, and were sent home. I took a shower and lied awake for the rest of the night, empty, not wanting to go to sleep and have to wake up and remember that we were no longer expecting a baby.
Four months later we were pregnant again. Tentative, cautiously optimistic, the pain from the first lost finally starting to lessen. I felt constant anxiety, on some days feeling like it was just a countdown until I miscarried again, other days feeling like just maybe there will be a baby at the end of this. I was afraid to bond with what was inside of me, afraid to acknowledge it, so busy worrying about whether I would keep the pregnancy that I didn’t even dare to begin processing the idea of becoming a mom. I constantly tried to “read my gut”, as if my gut could predict the future. Is this it? Is this the one? Or will our pregnancy be taken from us once again?
At the ultrasound we should have seen an 8 week embryo with a clearly beating heart. All we saw was an empty gestational sac. I could immediately see on the ultrasound that there was nothing there. There is no baby, I said in my head, numb, not reacting. “This is not good” the technician said. She didn’t need to say it. Technically termed a blighted ovum, an embryo had failed to develop. I had three choices as my body had not yet recognized that this was not a viable pregnancy: wait to miscarry naturally on my own, take pills to cause my uterus to contract and pass the pregnancy tissue at home, or visit the surgical center for a D&C to remove the remnants of the pregnancy. After an emotional day of agonizing over which method would be the most painless and least psychologically debilitating, I chose the D&C. “You go to sleep with the problem and wake up without it,” as one doctor put it. The next day at 6am, I was in a hospital gown, attached to an IV, a tear sliding down my face moments before the general anesthesia took effect wondering, how did I get here?
As anyone who’s grieved before knows, time is the only healer, only it’s not a linear process. You become comfortable with the ebbs and flows of your feelings, being able to laugh and find joy again makes you feel like you’re being strong, but you know it might be short lived. The searing pain can come unexpectedly, the slightest reminder can be your worst enemy. I became so sensitive around pregnancy that even seeing a man with a sizable pot belly sent a quick volt of pain through my body, even though I knew that was ridiculous. The belly envy I felt was enough to make me feel sick, aggravating the ever-present pit in my stomach, and plunging me into a level of jealousy I had never known before.
Through the pain of these losses, I took comfort in still being able to see so clearly all the other ways I am so fortunate in my life. They cut through the bleariness of the days following my miscarriages and felt like a warm blanket. My husband and I grew closer than I thought possible and our love for each other intensified in such a visceral and tangible way I thought I might explode. We physically were not capable of leaving each other’s sides for even a moment in those days following our losses. We both cried on the other’s shoulder, taking turns in the support role. My beautiful home helped me feel safe, the sun that we can always rely on in our Los Angeles neighborhood never stopped shining. My family stayed by my side, often my mom laid on one side of me, my husband on the other, while my dog napped curled in the nooks of my body. I started receiving cards in the mail, flowers and cupcakes at my door, and even received a painting a friend had done herself, painted from a photo from our wedding. I cherished every gesture of love and thoughtfulness and used every bit of it to regain strength.
I still don’t know at what point of the journey we are in. I sit and wonder, is this just the beginning? It can take some couples years to finally conceive their healthy babies. How much more will our endurance, optimism and resilience be tested? How much more of our heart will be broken? Or have we gotten through the toughest part, with the odds on our side that our next pregnancy will actually result in finally meeting our baby? I’m having to learn to live with uncertainty, to take it day by day, and remain present in the moment. To become comfortable with living with a pain in my heart, a yearning for something I can’t have just yet. To understand that every dark place I visit during this time adds texture and depth to my life and the person I’ve become. This is just part of my story.