I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about this.
Sharing my divorce story was like opening up a can of worms, for better or for worse. I was heartened to receive such kind, supportive, and wise replies from many of you in response to that post. In some ways it felt like the ultimate catharsis to finally just put it out there. I had never ‘announced’ the divorce on Facebook, so sharing that story was my way of finally coming to terms with what happened.
Miscarriage, however, is a different story. Divorce is something we talk about in the open. There are little boxes to check on forms indicating that you’re divorced; when you set two friends up you mention if one or both have been divorced; our president elect has been divorced twice and no one bats an eye.
Mentioning miscarriage isn’t really something we do, is it? We don’t say, “Oh, you haven’t met Katie? Well, she’s from Seattle, works in finance, has had three miscarriages and LOVES Thai food.”
Pregnancy loss is subterranean in our culture. We really only see the “success” stories. For every “we’re pregnant!” post on Facebook there are untold numbers of women and men who never shared their struggles with fertility or lost pregnancies.
Few brave individuals share these experiences, and fewer still share it on social media.
I’m sharing this in the hopes that I can in some small way contribute to a culture where we talk about this all too common part of life, and help support each other through times as trying as these.
The pregnancy started as so many do. A skeptical look at a positive pregnancy test, confirmation through many, many more tests, all followed by a slight smile and a whispered “holy shit!”
Only a year and a half into our relationship, my partner and I were both surprised and more than a little freaked out.
I’ve seen a lot of negative pregnancy tests in my life. There were, of course, the just to make sure pregnancy tests taken in younger years, when I prayed (oh please, oh please, oh please) for just one line and not two.
My former husband and I tried for nearly two years to have a baby. During that time I purchased those damn tests in bulk. The crushing disappointment of negative test after negative test is hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t lived it, but suffice it to say that I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Flash forward to early fall of this year. It was the day before my friends Lora and Leslie were to get married out on my property. It was just after six in the morning, and since my period was a day late I decided to test myself so I could confirm that I wasn’t pregnant and proceed to drink with abandon all weekend.
My drowsy eyes squinted then opened wide in the dim light of my bathroom as I took in the unbelievable sight of my first non-negative pregnancy test.
I went to Dimitry, held up the test, and said “uh, this thing’s freaking positive.”
Great, right? Super classy.
I guzzled water, took more tests to confirm the results, and then blurted out the news to Lora and Leslie when they showed up at my house an hour later. After the hullabaloo surrounding the big wedding weekend had passed, the reality of what was happening began to sink in.
And I was so damn happy.
Having known for several years that I’d prefer to give birth at home, I made an appointment with my midwife of choice in the area. She could see me as early as 8 weeks pregnant.
Now, for some confusing reason it is common practice to measure weeks of pregnancy starting from the first day of your last menstrual period. Since most women don’t find out about a pregnancy until they miss a period, at that point the pregnancy is already four weeks along.
I made an appointment for a month out and started reading every pregnancy book in the known world.
My mom teased me and said it was just like me to research the hell out of everything.
My older sister, who has two beautiful children of her own, brought over even more books along with some baby clothes and other various necessities for first time moms.
I did gentle yoga in the mornings, took my organic pre-natal vitamins, and ate more leafy greens and whole grains than any human really should.
Together, Dimitry and I did all the things expecting parents do during those first few weeks. We cycled between excitement and terror, he talked me out of ordering a crib at only seven weeks along, and we made lists of baby names we would undoubtedly eliminate over the coming months.
On the day of our first ultrasound, we first had an appointment with our team of midwives. They drew some blood, weighed me, checked my blood pressure, and spent a good hour with me answering any and all questions that popped into my head.
Driving to the imaging center I imagined just what the baby would look like on the screen. Being the “type A” person that I am, I had of course googled ‘8 week ultrasound images’ so I knew what to expect.
The technician led us back to the exam room and used the ultrasound wand to spread warm goo on my abdomen. The screen flickered to life and after only a few moments I knew something was terribly wrong.
After the technician had finished measuring and notating the images, she handed me a picture and informed us that our midwife would call us with the results. Dimitry and I hadn’t said a word during the exam, and now we looked at each other with trepidation as I pulled my clothes back on.
After what felt like weeks, but was really only a day and a half, our midwife called with the results. “Well, it looks like the embryo is about two weeks behind where we’d like it to be. Is it possible that your date of conception could be off?”
I thought about it and answered “No, I can’t be only six weeks pregnant because the pregnancy test was positive four weeks ago. Unless there’s a way that you can get a positive pregnancy test while you’re still ovulating and haven’t yet conceived, I’d say that the date of conception is accurate.”
I think I even made a joke about immaculate conception somewhere in there.
After I finished rambling on about how I knew I was definitely eight weeks pregnant, she continued on with the results.
“Right, well they did find a heartbeat, but it was beating at a rate of 96 beats per minute, which is outside the range of what we’d like to see at eight weeks.”
She suggested that we test my levels of HGC, the hormone identified by home pregnancy tests, the next day, a Friday, as well as the following Monday to determine if they were increasing in expected levels.
After an anxious weekend filled with unhelpful interest research, I was told that the hormone levels weren’t increasing and I should expect to miscarry at any time.
I asked if I could schedule one more ultrasound for that Friday. I explained that I just needed to confirm that there was no longer a heartbeat so I could start the process of healing.
After hanging up, I pulled the ultrasound picture off the fridge, collected all the baby books in the living room, and brought it all up to the nursery.
A strange side effect of living where I do is that the nursery was my nursery. This is the house my mom and dad brought me home to when I was born. Before me it was my older sister’s nursery, and three years after I was born it was passed to my younger sister.
Everyone in my family refers to that room as “the nursery” even though it hasn’t been one for nearly a quarter century.
I placed the baby books on the floor next to the bags of second-hand baby clothes and tucked the ultrasound photo into a box. I picked up a tiny green hat knitted from llama wool, a souvenir from my youngest sister’s recent trip to Peru.
I thought about how I was meant to go on that trip. I planned it for months, but a week before our departure I found out about the pregnancy. We had plans to travel through the amazon, so I decided not to go rather than risk a Zika infection.
It all seemed rather wasteful now.
My mind began to drift to a dark place. Why would I finally get pregnant after thinking myself infertile for so long, only to suffer this loss? Why do other people get to have babies but I don’t? Why am I not worthy of being a mother? Why is it so unfair?
I dropped to my knees on the floor of the nursery, clutching the little green hat, and ugly cried until my eyes ran out of tears.
By the time Dimitry came home I had picked myself up, washed my face, and migrated to the couch. He knew the truth before he came home because I hadn’t called or texted to let him know everything was okay.
I spent the next three days in bed, mostly sleeping but sometimes reading books I’d read many times before. On Friday morning, I managed not only to get out of bed, but to put on real clothes and drive myself to the ultrasound appointment.
The scan confirmed what my midwife had already told me. The embryo hadn’t grown at all over the course of a week. The technician informed me that there was “no cardiac activity,” which seemed like a very clinical way to tell me that I was now carrying around a dead embryo.
I don’t know why, but I asked for a picture to take home. I guess I just couldn’t stand the idea of only having one picture of my little one.
They called it a “missed miscarriage,” meaning that the pregnancy wasn’t viable but for whatever reason my body didn’t seem to notice. My body kept producing the hormones that had been making me tired, bloated, and intolerant of any food smells.
Feeling like shit while you’re growing a baby is a lot different than feeling like shit while you’re waiting to miscarry.
The options were either to wait it out and miscarry naturally at home (which could take weeks), or to schedule a surgical intervention in which they would basically put me into a twilight sleep and “remove the products of conception.”
I didn’t want to go back to the doctor, but I also didn’t want to wait. I just wanted to start feeling like myself again and I hated knowing what I was still carrying in my womb.
My regular OBGYN office couldn’t see me until the following Tuesday. They wouldn’t schedule the procedure without first evaluating me and going over the options.
On Monday I called to tell them I didn’t need to come in. I had started bleeding over the weekend and figured that the miscarriage was already happening.
The bleeding continued for ten days with no end in sight. I called the doctor and they scheduled me to come in for another ultrasound, I guess to see what all was left up there.
I knew that even though I had been pregnant for ten weeks, the embryo had stopped growing at six and would very small. To compound this, the longer the non-viable embryo stays in the body, the smaller it becomes.
After ten days of losing what seemed like hundreds of small blood clots, I imagined that my body had maybe “reabsorbed” the fetal tissue and I just hadn’t noticed the difference.
I was told by my midwife and several doctors that the miscarriage would be like “a heavy period, with cramps and bleeding.”
That very may well be true for some women, but it was not true for me.
Two days before my third scheduled ultrasound appointment, at what would have been exactly eleven weeks along, I started feeling cramps. I had experienced cramps here and there over the past ten days, but these felt stronger and more noticeable.
Around three in the afternoon they became so painful that I retired to my bedroom and took some Aleve to take the edge off. With nothing better to do, I scrolled through the seemingly endless Facebook chatter regarding the previous week’s election results.
After a while I realized that the pain killer had never kicked in, and in fact the cramps were even worse. They just kept coming, and eventually I noticed that they seemed to be coming back at regular intervals.
I set a timer on my phone and confirmed that they were coming every three and a half minutes. The cramps themselves were lasting about a minute and were entirely debilitating. I couldn’t stand up, walk, or do anything other than scrunch up my face, breathe in through my nose, and breathe out through my mouth.
Having read books about natural birth, and watching my sister deliver both her children, I knew that these were no longer cramps; they were contractions.
I texted Dimitry and told him what was going on. During one of the contraction intermissions I managed to place an order for some sub sandwiches and told Dimitry to pick them up on his way home.
Between contractions I wolfed down the sandwich, and I’m sure glad that I did. I had a long night ahead of me and needed the energy to get through it.
Around eight in the evening, five hours after they started, the contractions were moving closer and closer together. For some reason I wanted all the lights off. I wanted to feel safe in a familiar, dark space.
I tried to lie in bed, but with contractions coming every minute and a half I just couldn’t get comfortable. I moved to the floor and moved through cat-cow positions until the next contraction hit and I fell to child’s pose, breathing hard into the carpet.
Dimitry didn’t know what to do to help, so I sent him to bring me a cool wet wash cloth and something to throw up into.
He returned with both and began dabbing at my forehead with the wet cloth. I nearly snatched it from him and threw it across the room, but managed to use my words to express to him that I changed my mind and didn’t want that wash cloth after all.
I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I didn’t want to ruin the carpet, so I crawled to the bathroom where the hard floor felt cool.
I hollered out to Dimitry that I wanted to be alone and told him to go downstairs and shut the door behind him. Later I felt terrible for shooing him away, but there’s no joy in sharing labor when there isn’t a baby to hold when it’s over.
The contractions were now coming every ninety seconds and lasting for a minute each time. I curled up on a towel on the cold floor and watched as my body experienced excruciating pain, incapacitating nausea, and the exquisite moments of nothingness that occurred between the two.
My mind honed in on these blissful moments. My eyes focused in on one of the impossible-to-remove water spots on my glass shower door and I breathed; in, then out, as deeply as I could manage.
In the midst of what felt like a crisis, I couldn’t help but find a strange comfort in the idea that what used to be my normal state–the absence of either pleasure or pain–now felt like euphoria compared to the contractions.
When did this start, exactly? When will it end? How long have I been laying here?
I retreated into the shelter I forgot I built when I spent all those hours practicing meditation and yoga. My heart told me to hold out for just a few more breaths, and then a few more, and a few more.
I later told my mother that I felt like I had been in a trance. I felt a peace come over me, a deep awe and appreciation for the wisdom in my body as it knew what it needed to do.
Some amount of time later I made my way back to my bed, hunched over in a crouch with both arms cradling my abdomen. The part of my body I had held, stroked, and loved just a few weeks before. The place where life was supposed to grow, then show, then arrive.
I lay in bed and my eyes found a place on the wall to gaze at, and then moved past that spot into a distance I couldn’t see. Suddenly, I felt a wave of pressure come over me, from my chest straight down to my pelvis. My brain screamed “get up!” and I ran as best I could back to the bathroom.
The ultrasound two days later confirmed what I already knew to be true; the baby was gone, my womb was empty.
After that, the pain went away but I continued to bleed for several more days. As I write this it’s been eight days since that long night on the bathroom floor, but it seems like I’ve been in the process of miscarrying for months.
I thought I’d start feeling better once the pregnancy hormones left my body. The fatigue, bloating, and food aversions went away seemingly overnight, only to be replaced with something different.
While before I felt interested, if rather picky, about food, now I wanted nothing to do with it. I didn’t want to see anyone, talk to anyone, or do anything.
It felt like the pain was just too much. Even knowing how many people have shared this same pain, and that so many others have lived through worse, I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe I just wasn’t strong enough to move past it.
Everyone experiences pain, loss, and times of sadness. My mind told me that everyone else found a way to live through life’s ups and downs, so there must be something wrong with me if I can’t.
Maybe I’m weak, or maybe I feel things too acutely. Perhaps there’s something wrong with my brain and I don’t have it in me to feel joy anymore. I must be innately incapable of finding happiness in this life.
The darkness sucked me down and I couldn’t see much of a way out. The only thing that seemed to help was drinking, which of course only appeared to help but really made things worse.
The hangovers compounded my pain by introducing shame and anxiety into the mix. Why am I so fucked up? Why can’t I get over it? Why am I drinking to hide the pain, even though I know it doesn’t work?
I don’t know how or why the thought occurred to me, but I came to realize that I might be suffering from a form of post-partum depression.
Many women who deliver healthy babies suffer from PPD for weeks after birth. Part of it is attributed the abrupt loss of the feel-good pregnancy hormones, and part of it is likely due to the drastic change in lifestyle that comes with taking care of a newborn.
Some women develop a more severe mental health disorder, known as post-partum psychosis. While post-partum depression is quite common, post-partum psychosis can be very dangerous to both the mother and the infant.
I knew about these disorders because I had studied them in school. Psychology was one of my majors as an undergrad, and it has continued to be an interest of mine.
I wondered if my brain had reached back into the recesses of my memory to retrieve these tidbits of information. It seemed strange that it hadn’t occurred to me before.
Having previously struggled with anxiety and depression, I keep a stash of prescribed anti-depressants in the back of my medicine cabinet. I started self-medicating with these, which is never a good idea, but after a few days I started feeling more like myself again.
A different version of myself, but I was definitely in there somewhere.
All of that pain and loss is still there, though now I can observe and understand it through a different lens. I can get above the pain, rather than being trapped underneath it.
In a way I feel proud for having gone through what I did. Miscarrying naturally at home wasn’t something I ever thought I’d have to do, but I know I’m stronger now because of it. I am starting to forgive and appreciate my body again. Before I felt like my body had betrayed me; after witnessing it perform such an incredible and natural process I feel confident that it knows what it is doing.
Most pregnancy loss this early in the gestational period is due to chromosomal abnormalities that are incompatible with life. Nothing I did, or didn’t do, could have changed that. My body held the wisdom to know the difference between what should be and what shouldn’t, and took the steps necessary to end the pregnancy.
Should I get pregnant again in the future, and the pregnancy is viable, I trust my body to know how to take care of the baby.
I hope that in telling this story I’ve provided a glimpse into a life event that isn’t often exposed. Writing about this and sharing it with you feels like I’ve taken another step on the path of recovery ahead of me.
While I know this topic seems intrinsically private, I hope you share my story with those you know. If we can start talking about miscarriage, we can better understand and support each other.