I've read the stats. One in four women have experienced the loss of pregnancy or infant. That's a lot of us. That means that everyone knows someone who has miscarried, whether that person has disclosed their experience or not. It's understandable why women wouldn't want to share such a personal loss. We all grieve differently. But part of the way I've grieved is by sharing my story — sharing that I miscarried just days after my pregnancy started — and hearing that I'm not alone. I'm hoping that in writing this, maybe someone else will realize that I'm right there with them.
Losing your first pregnancy is terrible. You don't know if it marks the start of a slew of losses or the road toward infertility. It's hard not to Google "miscarriage" and see accounts of women who lose baby after baby. You don't know if you can trust your body to carry a child to term. When you miscarry, it strips you of your confidence and your faith in your body.
My partner and I decided to try to conceive after we'd been married for less than a year. I'd known I wanted to be a mother since I was 16. I loved children. I loved being a nurturer. I just adored babies. I was ready to be a mother. I'd read books, I was on message boards, and I knew a lot about trying to get pregnant. (I know, there isn't that much to it, but the whole female cycle is endlessly fascinating to me and I wanted to know everything!) We embarked on our conception journey with me dutifully taking my basal body temperature every morning and entering that data, along with other observations, into an app on my phone. My partner dutifully did his part without complaint. (Har, har.) I was more than prepared for this process to take a couple of months of trying. So I really wasn't too too disappointed when my period showed up that first month.
Except the period was only a few days, and it was really light. Still, I didn't think much of it. I was busy in my career as a preschool teacher. I hardly had time to obsess over the amount of menstrual bleeding I was having. A week and half after my "period," I noticed something strange: I was peeing. A lot. Like a lot, a lot. And my face was breaking out. I had a constellation of zits on my chin, which was very atypical for me, especially at that point in my cycle. And come to think of it, my breasts were a little sore. I raced home and ripped open a test.
I didn't say anything to my partner, because I was pretty sure I was just obsessing over symptoms, as people who are trying to conceive are wont to do. I laughed when the test came up with the minus sign in the test window. I was being so silly thinking I might be pregnant. Then I checked the package. This wasn't a plus/minus test. This was a line/no line test. Holy sh*t. I was pregnant.
I was so full of joy and adrenaline and disbelief that my fingers were vibrating. I slipped the test into my purse and somehow, without giving away my elation, told my husband I had to go to the store and get some groceries, except I really went to Babies "R" Us, which was just across the street. The first person I told about my pregnancy was a woman who worked there. She stopped me on the way in and asked if she could help me find anything. I told her, "I just found out I'm pregnant and I want to get some gender-neutral onesies and maybe something that says 'I love my dad,' or something so I can surprise my husband."
I said it all in a rush. My face was flushed. I was breathless with excitement. And pretty soon this woman was wrapped up in my happiness. She very gladly assisted in picking out these white shirts with cute designs. They were perfect. Brightly colored images and adorably miniature proportions. We looked for something with the word "dad" on it and finally found a blue terrycloth bib. "I love my daddy" it said, with a picture of a dog driving a red car. The woman also got me a gift box and some tissue paper.
Two days later, to celebrate our anniversary, we were packing for a stay at the hotel we stayed at on wedding night. Things were so blissful. Then I went to the bathroom. And when I wiped, the toilet paper was ever-so-slightly pink. My gut just dropped.
I parked outside our apartment and lovingly wrapped the clothes up. I wrapped the test up too. This was it. I was going to share the news. I couldn't wait.
Our first anniversary was only three days away, and I am a notoriously impatient gift-giver, so no alarm bells rang when I told my partner that I had a gift for him.
I will never, ever forget the look on his face when he figured it out. He was as happy and disbelieving as I was. We shared the longest hug and a lot of nervous and excited laughter. He was so freaking happy. He had this big smile that I've only seen a handful of times glaring from ear to ear. Together we calculated my due date, which turned out to be my mother's birthday. The next day, we Skyped with my parents and told them the good news.
Everything was happening so fast — and it was all so perfect.
Two days later, to celebrate our anniversary, we were packing for a stay at the hotel we stayed at on wedding night. Things were so blissful. Then I went to the bathroom. And when I wiped, the toilet paper was ever-so-slightly pink. My gut just dropped. I told my partner, and he told me not to worry. But it was too late. I had already started Googling, looking for the internet to tell me some light bleeding was fine.
There was no reassurance, but there wasn't a guarantee things were doomed either. So we drove into the city to celebrate our anniversary. My jaw was clenched the entire time. We went out to eat at our favorite restaurant, but I had no appetite. The next morning, there was a little more spotting. Still just some pink.
I called my mom. She reassured me that she had spotted in one of her pregnancies. Another family member told me the same thing. It was fine. Totally normal. Don't worry.
We were having my in-laws over for dinner that night. And even though I was nervous, and had reservations, I told my partner he could tell his parents that I was pregnant. It was only fair. My parents already knew after all. I felt like in that moment, I had to be fair. I didn't want to suck all the joy out of it for him, even though it had been for me. And so many people had reassured me that spotting and bleeding can still be totally normal. I felt in the dark and scared, but I didn't feel like the pregnancy was necessarily doomed.
"I'm so sorry," the midwife said, "but your levels are so low, there is no doubt in my mind you are miscarrying. You need to go in tomorrow to get more blood drawn to see if the levels drop down to zero, but likely they will."
During dinner, I thought that maybe I'd felt something wet. Sure enough, in the bathroom when I wiped, I saw the bright red blood I'd been hoping not to see for 10 more months. When I came out of the bathroom, my partner was waiting for me so we could tell his parents together. I didn't know how to communicate it to him. I didn't know how to say the words. I was deeply embarrassed to have discovered this with his family in the next room. His family isn't open like mine is. I'm not comfortable with them knowing intimate details. I wanted to pretend like it wasn't happening.
When his parents left, I told him about the bleeding. He's a pretty stoic guy, but I could tell he was as crestfallen as I was. I called the midwives I wanted to see. I hadn't had my first appointment yet, of course. When I called and they asked how far along I was, I had to say six weeks, although I wasn't sure if I was even pregnant anymore. They squeezed me in the next day. They couldn't tell me anything definitively, but they drew blood to get my pregnancy hormone levels.
When she visited me that following weekend, I handed her the little box with the onesies and the bib. I told her to give them to me if I ever had a baby. I didn't want them in my house. I didn't want the reminders. But I kept the test. I kept it as proof that the baby existed, that I was mourning the loss of something so real.
They called me the next day with results. I was at work. I had to go into the closet to answer my phone. "I'm so sorry," the midwife said, "but your levels are so low, there is no doubt in my mind you are miscarrying. You need to go in tomorrow to get more blood drawn to see if the levels drop down to zero, but likely they will."
I kept it together. I told my boss. I told people who hadn't even known I was pregnant that I had to go home because I was having a miscarriage. I was in shock, but I had also been dealing with the fact that this was a good possibility for a few days.
Physically, it wasn't that bad. Just like a normal period. But that was almost worse, because I didn't have evidence that I had been carrying a baby. Except for that pregnancy test. I wasn't even cramping. The pregnancy symptoms I was having just went away. I was mad that I didn't physically feel the pain I felt in my heart. It was a crushing loss, and it felt distinctly unfair. And I felt like I had let people down. My husband told his parents. I told mine. My mom listened to me cry on the phone. She herself was crying. She'd never lost a pregnancy.
When she visited me that following weekend, I handed her the little box with the onesies and the bib. I told her to give them to me if I ever had a baby. I didn't want them in my house. I didn't want the reminders. But I kept the test. I kept it as proof that the baby existed, that I was mourning the loss of something so real. So much hope and joy was already present in my life that hadn't existed just weeks before. And it left a hole, a very real hole that I still feel, even now.
I have a place in my heart for four babies, even though I've only given birth to two. When I conceived my son only a month after miscarrying, there wasn't as much joy. There wasn't even much optimism. Just a lot of worrying and asking for an early ultrasound. I spotted in all my pregnancies, but two of them turned to miscarriages and two of them went on to have heartbeats, and limbs, and births, and personalities.
I am at peace with the miscarriage now, six years later. I look at my son and realize he wouldn't be my child if that other baby had fully taken root. I look at my daughter and feel the same way about the miscarriage I had before she was conceived. I found out I was pregnant with her on our fourth wedding anniversary, and it felt like a blessing, because until that point, our anniversaries had been painful, a reminder of our first pregnancy; a reminder of the baby we wouldn't have.
My first miscarriage really did steal a lot of the optimistic joy that comes with finding out you're pregnant when you very much want to be a mother. But they've also helped shape who I am as a woman and a mother. My miscarriages have surely helped me appreciate my children in a way I might not have otherwise. Like I know just many things need to come together to give birth to a healthy baby. My heart is bigger now than I ever thought it could be. There's space there, for all of my babies, whether I met them earthside or not.