The first time I got pregnant, I was completely taken by surprise. I wasn't trying to get pregnant and I wasn't sure if I was ready to be a mom. Still, even as I took the test, something in me was preparing to feel disappointed if the test turned out to be negative; a shocking feeling after spending well over a decade feeling unequivocal relief after seeing just one pink line. I cautiously let myself get excited about being pregnant, telling my partner and reading up on pregnancy and parenting. But there are things no one tells you about pregnancy loss, that I wish I had known as I went about making my plans.
A few weeks into my second trimester, right after I had finally become comfortable enough to tell other people, including my stepdaughter, that we were expecting a baby, everything started to fall apart. My water broke and I ended up hospitalized at just 19 weeks, and it was the scariest, most heartbreaking experience of my life. We didn't know what was going wrong, but we knew that we had to act fast in order to keep me healthy and preserve my future fertility, so I had to begin the process of saying goodbye to someone I'd never get to know. It was devastating.
Part of me had been prepared for the idea of something going wrong in my first trimester, when risk of pregnancy loss is highest and when I had experienced some bleeding that eventually resolved itself. But at 19 weeks, nearly halfway into my pregnancy, I'd already felt by baby move. I'd picked a name for him. I had let myself relax and truly believed that I was well out of the woods. I was wrong, and I felt horribly cheated.
There are so many things I wish I'd known about pregnancy loss, and so many things I wish others would have said, or not said, while I was dealing with it. Some of these may actually be things someone else told you, but they're all things no one told me that I would have appreciated knowing in advance. So, if it helps, please know the following:
It Didn’t “Happen For A Reason”
Yes, there probably was some biological reason, though most of us will never actually find out the exact biological cause for our losses. But no, there is not necessarily some cosmic, greater purpose kind of "reason" why things like this happen, and feel free to roll your eyes as hard as you want in response anyone who tries to cheer you up (ha!) by telling you that "everything happens for a reason."
Sure, you can and probably will survive this experience, and you may even feel like a stronger, better person for it. If that happens for you, that's fantastic. But that doesn't mean that you needed to have this particular crappy experience in order to grow, nor does that growth diminish the crappiness of your experience in any way. Sometimes, things just suck, and they're allowed to just suck, and you're allowed to acknowledge that it just sucks without having to assign it any meaning.
Your Grief Is Real
You may feel weird about grieving, or even like you're not entitled to feel grief, because your child was never born. (This may feel especially bewildering to those of us who are pro-choice, and don't necessarily believe that life, in the full sense we know it, begins at conception.) But once you're pregnant, and you feel those changes, and if you get attached to the new life forming inside you, it's completely normal and OK to feel however much grief you feel if that pregnancy ends.
You don't need to meet a certain milestone in your pregnancy to feel sad about losing it, nor do you need to feel any responsibility to alter or downplay your feelings because it's not "as bad" as losing a child after birth, or "as bad" as any other losses we might experience in life. We don't need to rank or compare or justify our feelings.
You’re At Risk For Postpartum Mood Disorders
In addition to grieving your lost pregnancy, you may also experience postpartum depression, anxiety, or rage. Since those mood disorders are thought to be partially related to hormonal changes during and after pregnancy, you can end up dealing with them even if you don't actually give birth to a baby. Just one of many ways that pregnancy loss is totally unfair.
Pregnancy Loss Is Totally Unfair
If life was fair, everyone who wanted to have a baby would get to have one, and everyone who didn't want to have a baby wouldn't have to worry about it. Unfortunately, that's not how it works.
If you really wanted to carry your baby to term and lost it instead, that's totally unfair. If you weren't sure you wanted to continue with the pregnancy and that choice was taken from you, that feels unfair, too. Having to deal with all of the physical and emotional fallout from pregnancy loss is just unfair, no matter how you slice it.
It May Make Future Pregnancies Scarier
Pregnancy can be really scary in general, but it's often especially scary when you've already experienced pregnancy loss, and you're so intimately aware of how many things can go wrong.
You Might Feel Relieved
Even though you may feel grief and sadness and all sorts of other difficult feelings, you may also feel a bit relieved after a pregnancy loss. This common reaction is hardly talked about in any public capacity, which is why it may feel surprising, strange and even shameful if you really wanted to continue your pregnancy.
You Might Feel Embarrassed Or Ashamed
You totally shouldn't, because pregnancy loss isn't a referendum on you, or your worthiness to be a mom, or even what your body is or isn't capable of.
Still, it can be really hard not to feel some measure of shame when your body doesn't work the way you expected it to, or if you're having all these feelings that you don't understand, especially if you find yourself having to explain to other people that you're no longer pregnant.
Basically You’ll Feel All The Feelings
All of them, all at once, and for some unknown amount of time. It's just really hard.
You’ll Probably Feel Alone, Even Though You Aren’t
I knew that pregnancy loss is actually fairly common, even if the particular loss (and the timing of that loss) was less so. Still, that knowledge didn't keep me from feeling completely alone, even though my partner was grieving with me and even though many other people have gone through the same thing. Grief just makes it hard to feel connected to and understood by other people.
It May Change Your Feelings Or Your Behavior In Unexpected Ways
The week after I got out of the hospital, I saw a mom walking down my street feeding a very young toddler M&Ms, and I was outraged. Not surprised or sad or defeated, but outraged.
That in itself surprised me, because normally I don't really care about what other people feed their kids. I quickly realized that my outrage had little to do with them, and everything to do with my feeling cheated out of the pregnancy and child I felt I deserved. My newfound (and thankfully, short-lived) judgment was one of many surprising reactions to grief. That's absolutely a thing, and I wish I knew to be on the lookout for it beforehand.
It’s OK To Opt Out Of Stuff That Messes With Your Emotions
If you feel weird about the place where you first became aware that your pregnancy was ending, avoid it if you can. If it feels like all of your friends are pregnant and that's just too hard to deal with, it's OK to decline invites to their baby showers and send a gift card, or to unfollow their updates on Facebook. You don't necessarily need to guilt trip them over your grief, because it's not their fault and they're allowed to be happy, but you don't have to subject yourself to anything that hurts you, either.
You Don’t Have To “Get Over It”
Loss is loss, and grief is grief. There's no definitive ranking of which ones are more and less legitimate, and you're not required to make yourself feel differently than you do just because you think other people have it worse, or because other people may not understand it. (Oh, and if anyone actually tells you to get over it, consider cutting that person out of your life. Or, at the very least, tell them off, 'cause that's a supremely awful thing to say to someone who's having a hard time.)
If it's easy for you to let it go and move on, that's totally legitimate and great. You certainly don't need to feel worse about your loss than you do. But if it's hard for you to "get over it," don't feel obligated to try. You're allowed to feel however you feel.