Two days before my 38th birthday a doctor confirmed I was pregnant. I burst into tears, hugged a surprised and stoic nurse and immediately called my husband. There were times in the last few years when I was afraid that pregnancy just wasn’t in the cards for me. We married in our 30’s, delayed trying to conceive a little longer than originally planned and when we were finally ready to have a baby, the process wasn’t quick or easy. Nevertheless, at the “advanced maternal age” of nearly 38 I was pregnant!
I followed the advice of books, pregnancy websites and other women by only telling a handful of friends and family members that I was pregnant. The common line of thinking is that in the first trimester you should “only tell people you are willing to also tell about a miscarriage.” The problem with this piece of advice is that it also leaves us with the impression that we’re not SUPPOSED to talk about miscarriage. It reinforces the isolation and shame that couples, especially women, feel after losing a pregnancy.
For exactly four weeks I was excited about being pregnant. We experienced the joy of telling our parents that after a long, long wait they would finally be grandparents. I glanced at the clothing in maternity departments and thought, “Oh, this stuff is pretty cute.” I cut way, way back on caffeine, took extra naps, had heartburn at 3am...all the stuff that makes it start to feel like a real pregnancy. By eight weeks it was all over.
An ultrasound technician with a poor bedside manner dropped the bomb on us, “Okay, there’s the heartbeat! …Oh, I don’t see it now. It’s like it’s going in and out. Oh, this is weird, I’ve never seen this before. This is really weird. Okay - do you see the heartbeat because I don’t?”
Why are you asking me? How the hell do I know what to look for?
The ultrasound tech continued, “Well, there it is again, but it's like it’s going in and out. Also the heartbeat is really low. It’s 93 beats per minutes.” She said some other stuff about the size of the fetus and the yolk sack, but at that point my head was swimming. “Do you want me to print a picture of the baby?” she asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said glancing over at my husband who looked just as shell shocked as I felt. I didn’t see a point to keeping a picture if we were losing the pregnancy.
We met with the doctor who was a little more comforting than the ultrasound tech as he explained that sometimes a fetal heartbeat will be low one week and by the next week the baby bounces back, which gave us a glimmer of hope. In my heart of hearts though, I knew it was over and some quick internet research told me that the odds were not in our favor. That night I sobbed and sobbed. My mom came over and I cried on her shoulder, “I let everybody down. I’m sorry. I’m jealous of all those people who can do this so easily. I hate everyone who gets pregnant by accident at 18. I’m jealous of everyone with their cute baby pictures online. I’m jealous of the women my age having twins. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. When is it going to be MY turn?”
It wasn’t a pretty reaction, it wasn’t mature, it wasn’t even how I feel most of the time, but the impending loss was raw and I was heartbroken.
Part of the problem is that cute baby pictures and ultrasound images on Facebook don’t tell the whole story. Many of those mothers have already suffered a pregnancy loss or will suffer one at some point. I felt as if I was the only woman in the world who’d lost a pregnancy when, in fact, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. My doctor told me that 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. According to an article in The Telegraph, it may even be more like 33%. The lowest statistic I’ve seen is about 20%, which is still one in every five pregnancies. What is certain is that it’s very, very common. Because we don’t openly talk about miscarriage, women don’t always know how many of their friends, colleagues, acquaintances and cousins have been through the same thing. I’m glad that I didn’t discuss the pregnancy with everyone under the sun and my husband took care of informing friends because right after it happened, I didn’t want to talk about it. However, if more women were open about it, perhaps the loss would have been easier to accept. I wouldn’t have felt so alone. As my mom said when she was trying to comfort me, “It’s just part of life.”
Losing the pregnancy was devastating, but it was overshadowed by the death of my father a few days later. My dad died unexpectedly after a short time in the hospital. The grief from my dad’s death overwhelmed any loss I felt about the miscarriage. Two days after his funeral, a much kinder ultrasound technician confirmed that there was no fetal heartbeat; news that I expected, but was still hard to hear. It’s likely that the miscarriage was inevitable -- a genetic defect. The doctor reminded us that this was very common and when I was healthy we could try again. I was sad, but already so heartbroken from losing a parent that the pain from the two events just melted together. I knew my dad my whole life, I didn’t know my baby at all. It wasn’t as painful as a stillbirth or an infant loss when mothers have already bonded with the baby. My grief was really for the lost opportunity, the May due date that won’t come, the maternity clothes that I won’t get to buy this winter and the baby shower I won’t have in the spring. However, losing my dad put things into perspective. I’ll still have a chance to get pregnant again or adopt a child. I’ll never get my dad back.
There are resources and support groups for women coping with pregnancy and infant loss. For instance, I found discussion threads on sites such as BabyCenter.com, but it would be better if we could just be more open about these things without suffering in silence, feeling guilty or feeling fear of judgement. A few days after the miscarriage was confirmed, I was back enjoying the photos of adorable children on Facebook and feeling a little more hopeful that I’d eventually get my turn to post similar ones. The most helpful thing for me was realizing how common this is. It’s time we end the taboo and start talking to each other about pregnancy and infant loss.
Besides, if it can happen to Jay-Z and Beyonce and they can talk about it, why can’t I?
For further reading check out:
“We need to talk about miscarriage,” in The Telegraph
“My Miscarriage: The story I will keep telling,” in The Huffington Post.