Many of my friends have had miscarriages over the years. Last spring, five different friends confided in me that they had just had miscarriages. They all felt very isolated and lonely in their sadness. It made me realize that although pregnancy loss is so common — studies show that about 15% of recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage — it’s not often discussed openly and publicly. Here, three women share their stories in the hope of helping everyone feel less alone…
I recently had an early miscarriage, at 7 weeks.
I felt grief, but there were also other emotions at play that I wasn’t prepared for. For one thing, I was irrationally angry at my husband for not being “sad enough.” I also have a single picture from my five-week ultrasound, and I don’t know what to do with it. Throw it away? Put it in my jewelry box? Right now it’s still on the fridge, but I turned it over.
I have an ovulation disorder that makes it challenging for me to get pregnant, so my doctor was monitoring me very closely. My husband and I went in for the appointment where we were supposed to hear the heartbeat for the first time. I knew instantly. With my first son, there had been this ethereal whirling sound (the fetal heartbeat). But this time there was just silence.
I had what is called a “missed” or “silent miscarriage.” Even though the fertilized egg wasn’t developing into a baby, my body was still producing pregnancy hormones. I didn’t have any traditional signs of miscarriage, like cramping or bleeding. My doctor said it could take a month or more for my body to figure things out, and for me to start bleeding naturally. I chose to have a D&C to speed up that process.
The procedure was scheduled for a week later. That week was strange. Maybe it was psychological, but I stopped having those early pregnancy signs of being so tired (and so hungry). At the D&C, I felt so emotional. It made everything feel completely raw and new all over again.
Then a few days later, my hormones crashed and I was a total mess. I stayed up late one night obsessively looking at the Facebook pages of my pregnant friends. When I finally climbed into bed, I started sobbing.
The day I found out I was having a miscarriage, my husband thought I should get in bed and rest. But that’s not how I deal. Instead I went for a six-mile trail run and then came home and cooked a huge pot of ratatouille. My kitchen is my favorite place. Maybe it was weird, but it was what I needed to do.
Honestly, what was most comforting was the sheer number of my friends who have also had miscarriages. It was like, this is part of the sisterhood, you know?
Talking to my mom was also helpful. She had a miscarriage more than 30 years ago, and she still remembers it clearly. That helped me to acknowledge my miscarriage as a big deal, even though I lost the pregnancy very early. It was OK to be sad, it was OK to be angry, it was OK take as much time as I needed to heal. I will remember it clearly in 30 years, too.
I lost two pregnancies — one in February 2013, the other in July 2015.
Losing that first pregnancy was heartbreaking. The hard part was that I didn’t know. I didn’t feel any different. I had to get the very upsetting news — that my hormones had stopped rising, that the pregnancy wasn’t viable — over the phone. I got a call from the nurse. That’s a terrible detail: Nurses give you good news, not bad news. She said, “Please hold for the doctor.” I immediately knew something was very wrong.
Emotionally, I was in shock. I had been really excited to be pregnant because we had been struggling with infertility. Once I got pregnant, I thought, my body can do this. I knew miscarriages happened in the abstract to abstract people, but somehow I never thought it would happen to me.
Part what was upsetting was losing the hope, the positive feeling that we were going to bring another person into the world. A mother I know celebrates the birthday of a child they lost with a miscarriage. I didn’t name these babies, but I do have a feeling of them being complete entities who didn’t make it, two children that I’ll never get to know, and have the pleasure and privilege of parenting, and that is that saddest piece of it to me.
Before this miscarriage, I always had a sense that everything would be okay. I’d been through hard things before — financial stress, career setbacks, my husband had been sick, my parents had been sick — but I went through those crises with the sense that we would all make it through. After the miscarriage, I was so down, even for a year. I had a sense of the veil being pulled back. It’s as if I realized there is no order to the universe, we are all molecules running into each other. We make narrative out of the chaos, so we can live with it. But I had this nihilist view that the universe is chaotic, not that everything will be okay.
In this experience, I longed for faith; I longed for a sense of something bigger than myself, something to fall back on.
It was hard walking around with my secret sadness. The whole thing was bizarrely isolating, mostly because it was so physically intense and full of uncertainty. People at work or in our building would say, how are you? And I felt weird saying, well, I’m having a miscarriage. It was like dropping a bomb of bad news. I can’t go around telling the checkout clerk or neighbors why I’m not quite myself today.
Little things meant a lot. I had left my slippers at a friend’s house, and suddenly I really, really wanted them. She dropped them off at my house, and slipped a bar of chocolate in one slipper. I felt that she was trying to take care of me in this very sweet and thoughtful way. It was wonderful. My mom came to stay with me for a week without asking me. I really needed her.
One of my oldest friends from high school responded by saying, THAT SUCKS. And I loved it. It did suck. It absolutely sucked. That was the truest thing to say. I use it now a lot. It felt so honest and empathetic. She wasn’t trying to sugarcoat it. It didn’t sound pitying.
Advice: DO NOT SAY everything happens for a reason. I love that Emily McDowell card; I want to get it and frame it. People tried to be positive. People would say, I know you’re going to be able to get pregnant again. If you want a baby badly enough, you’re going to have another baby. Those things are devastating things to hear when you’re in the throes of losing a baby. People were moving ahead into the future, but I wasn’t moving into the future. I had lost this pregnancy, this baby.
My husband was really sad both times. My friends who included Tim in their kindness, I love those friends forever. A few emailed him and said, “I heard Abbey lost the baby; I’m so sorry to hear the news, it’s so upsetting.” It was Tim’s baby and his grieving process, too.
The following winter, I was in a hazy daze. It was the first polar vortex so I remember the season as a slog of boots and coats and mittens on and off. I don’t remember much beyond that. It was a dark time. The following spring we got a puppy (which we had planned before my pregnancy) and caring for him brought me out of myself and out of the house for walks four times a day. Spring and the puppy defiantly marked the beginning of me coming back to myself. I joke that the dog saved me, but it’s close to the truth.
My second miscarriage, the following year, was less emotional for me. I’m still very sad about it. But because I knew there was a chance that I could have a miscarriage, I had tried not to get as invested. This was also a much faster miscarriage. I definitely mourned that child, but I wasn’t put into a depression. I think it’s important to tell both stories — how completely devastated I was by the first one, how it fundamentally changed my view of the world; and the second time, when I was sad, but I had already lost some of my innocence. I think it’s okay if you’ve had a miscarriage and you aren’t really feeling anything; similar to pregnancy, you don’t know what kind of experience you’re going to have.
I had a miscarriage in 2011. We’d only been trying to get pregnant for a couple of months, and when I got that first positive pregnancy test, it felt a little bit like a whoops! Well, okay, I guess it’s go time!
But then things took a turn. That’s a polite way to describe what happened, which felt like extreme food-poisoning combined with the worst menstrual cramps of my life, with additional vomiting, fear, sadness and heartbreak.
One evening, I came home from a book reading and was bleeding. I quickly turned to all my pregnancy books, and to the internet, all of which told me that a little bleeding could be normal and fine, but the longer it went on, and the more pain I was in, what was happening became clear. The bleeding wasn’t stopping, and neither was the pain. Even though it was obvious enough what was going on, I refused to take any pain medication. Because you’re not supposed to take blood thinners when you’re pregnant.
There are lots of things no one tells you about miscarriages, but one of them is that they may last and last — just as having a baby takes hours and sometimes days, losing a baby does, too.
The hardest part was not knowing why — I’ve always been a goody-two-shoes, doing my homework on time, marrying my long-time boyfriend, calling my parents on a regular basis. And this didn’t compute. Adding insult to injury, my subsequent periods were like horror movies — big and bloody and endless. It took me the next two years to figure out what the hell was going on (a giant, evil mass of fibroids) and how to fix it (two surgeries) which meant that I spent most of those years confused and frustrated, not to mention covered in blood.
We now have a two-year-old son, River. These days, I have enough emotional distance from the miscarriage to appreciate that without it, I wouldn’t have the child I have now — I might have another child, but I wouldn’t have my sweet River, who is so focused and funny, who is a bookworm, who is his father’s tiny doppleganger, who is the love of my life.
I’ve written about having a miscarriage once before, when I was about eight months pregnant with River. At the time, I felt fragile, and like my body was performing an impossible task, one that I wasn’t sure it was up for. I went to two pre-natal yoga classes a week. I took the subway into Manhattan for weekly pregnancy-supporting acupuncture during the first and last trimesters. I got more pedicures and massages than I have at any other point in my life. I was like a very well-cared for animal — a prize pig, or maybe a heifer — trying to use all that self-care to assuage my fears.
It’s funny what having a baby does.
This time, I feel like a tank. It’s only now, entering the third trimester, that I feel myself slowing down at all. I hoist my forty-pound toddler into the air a hundred times a day. I know both that my body can handle the task at hand, and also that anything can happen at any time, by which I mean, if my son wants me to carry him half a block, I am going to carry him half a block. The loss that I felt when I miscarried is a part of how we got to where we are now, and it makes me both more and less afraid of loss in the future.
My husband and I love our midwives, and thank god, because at this point we visit them once every two weeks. Part of those visits — especially when it involves going to the hospital for blood tests or other souped-up medical stuff, is that they always ask about how many pregnancies you have, including miscarriages. It can be startling, to repeat the number — that I’m on my third pregnancy, but my second baby. There will always be that hovering ghost. That will always be a part of my weather, and our family’s. And that’s okay. At the risk of sounding entirely sentimental, that layer of sadness puts everything else into such stark relief. When I’m walking down the street with my son, and he’s laughing and telling me a story about how he’s a truck, no, actually, a dinosaur, no, actually, a little boy named Jack from one of his favorite books, no, actually, he’s River, it’s that baseline of sadness that tells me just how high my heart can, and will, soar.
Years ago, I remember reading the etiquette column in Real Simple, and the wonderful Catherine Newman gave such thoughtful advice about how to help a friend with a miscarriage. Her words have stayed with me all those years:
The kindest thing that you can do — and I say this from personal experience — is to treat your friend’s miscarriage the same way you would any other bereavement. Acknowledge it directly and compassionately. Send flowers, comfort food, or a card, or tell her in person, “I’m deeply sorry for your loss, and I’m here to listen if you ever need someone to talk to.” It might feel uncomfortable – and she might not want to discuss what happened, which is fine — but do it anyway.
You don’t need to worry that you’re reminding your friend of something painful; she is probably thinking of little else. And you’ll dispel that strange sense of shame — as if the event were an embarrassing gynecological issue or a personal failure and not a devastating heartbreak — felt by some women who have had miscarriages. Your job as a friend is to share the burden of sorrow. You can’t do that by looking the other way. You have to reach out.
Sending a huge hug to those out there who have lost pregnancies, and lots of love to everyone today. xoxo
P.S. An essay about why it might make sense to announce a pregnancy right away, instead of waiting 12 weeks; and a beautiful article about trying to talk loudly about miscarriage.
(Illustration by Caitlin McGauley for Cup of Jo)