My obstetrician said, “We have to be cautious until the end of the first trimester — until it’s ‘glued in.’ ”
There was a chapter in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” ominously titled “When Things Go Wrong.” I was avoiding reading that section, yet I knew — even though nobody really talked about miscarriage, the way people never used to discuss cancer.
I ate organic vegetables, drank farm fresh milk, gave up wine and caffeine, and joked about how boring I was now that I had no more sins.
Two weeks later, after swimming laps, I noticed spots of blood on my bathing suit. My doctor instructed me to get off my feet, even though if a miscarriage is going to happen, it will. By the time you miscarry, an embryo or fetus has probably died weeks earlier. One in five women bleed in early pregnancy; more than half will not miscarry. I would be in the wrong half of that statistic.
My uterus was contracting. For six hours, my insides felt as if they were on fire. Pacing, groaning, terrified of not only losing the baby but also that I might die. My breasts were already less full.
During a moment when the excruciating pain abated, my husband held my hand and said, “This is like waiting for a death sentence.”
The book said to “save the tissue” and take it to the doctor. Would it be deformed, like a monster … or alarmingly lifelike? I delivered a sac of blood the size of a plum. Scooping it into a cup, I looked at it, forcing off repulsion, slightly curious. There was a marbleized lima bean — too small to be my 8-week-old fetus.
“A tiny piece of pregnancy,” the doctor called it. “I know you’re disappointed, but you’ll try again in a few months.” I wasn’t ready to try anything yet. On the way home, the sky was brilliantly sunny, lighting up a chilly winter day. All I saw were women wheeling baby carriages and holding their toddlers’ hands.
Recovering from a miscarriage is doubly hard. My body felt bruised, sore, exhausted, and I was also grieving: You don’t lose a person you’ve known and loved, but an abstraction you’ve nourished and protected. Gone are your fantasies and hopes for the future.
When my husband told relatives, one cousin lectured, “It was the swimming” as if I had done something wrong — even though most miscarriages occur because of genetic abnormalities. (As many as 75 percent of conceptions miscarry before a woman knows she is pregnant.) Women hear, “you shouldn’t have picked up your son so much” or “you shouldn’t have worked so hard.” Well-meant phrases like “it wasn’t meant to be, “you can try again” or “at least you know you can get pregnant” offer comfort only to the speaker. Is it any wonder some of us don’t talk about this for months, or even years, if at all?
Even the terminology is wrong. My doctor said, “Let’s see if you can sustain the pregnancy,” as if I had 100% control. When I started spotting, he said, “You may have lost it.” People said, “I’m sorry you lost your baby,” as if I’d left the fetus out in the rain, unattended. At the time, I resented even the common term, miscarriage. The medical term is “spontaneous abortion,” politically laden, maybe, but so much more accurate. To “miscarry,” I thought, seems to assume a “misstep” or that you, some kind of “misfit,” have “mislaid” the baby.
At first I wouldn’t tell anyone. “You have to,” my husband insisted. “It’s part of the grieving process.”
Although I often cried while recounting the gory details, I felt less alone. Friends I had known for 10 years confessed to one, two, even three spontaneous abortions. But why the deep, dark secret?
I wanted to educate everyone, including my mother, who claimed she had never known anyone who had miscarried (“Yes, you have,” I told her, “they just never told you”), and my mother-in-law, who had three and still didn’t fully understand the medical reasons.
A month after my miscarriage was New Year’s Eve. While others drank Champagne, my husband and I were relieved this year was over, and eager to begin a better one. “I’m thinking about all the unwanted children in the world,” he said. “Ours was wanted.”
“It becomes part of you,” said a friend who had two miscarriages and one son. “You just don’t take anything for granted anymore.”
The baby, or fetus, or whatever it was, had become part of me, and so did the experience of its death.
I was pregnant a year later, and delivered a 6-pound 6-ounce girl at the age of 41. When she was a teenager, I told her about my miscarriage. I did not tell her about the world of silence I emerged into when that pregnancy ended, or how that is changing. Today, would-be parents talk far more, and more publicly, about their grief and disappointment.
It’s not an easy topic, or one that slips gracefully into casual conversation, but every time we name it, we add to the growing sense of awareness that not every pregnancy ends in a joyful birth, and increase our understanding of our own biology and limitations. Mine is an ordinary story of miscarriage, truly one of thousands of nearly identical tales of cramps and blood and sorrow. And that is exactly why it’s important to tell.