Health

The Stigma Surrounding Miscarriage Must End. Here’s My Story.

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I stood on the cold, stone tile of my bathroom floor and looked down at the test on the counter. The floor could have been pure ice and it wouldn’t have mattered, the infinite warmth emanating from that tiny plastic device would have overwhelmed anything. What my body had been saying for weeks was now confirmed. And a jubilant trip to the drugstore for a few digital tests only reaffirmed the obvious: I was pregnant with our second child.

With one healthy pregnancy under my belt, I was confident there was little to nothing to worry about. Our son, an energetic, loving, inquisitive toddler, had entered the world on his due date and at almost nine pounds. His was a trouble-free pregnancy. Growing a kid was something I could do well.

The rush of emotion that comes with finding out you’re expecting is a complicated mixture. An overwhelming sense of responsibility and thankfulness swoop in. Suddenly, the future, both near and far, shifts to include a new person. Life’s horizon is permanently altered. Somehow, a heart already full makes room for someone new. But they don’t get only a small part of it—the whole heart, suddenly and immediately, is now theirs. How is this possible?

As I accepted this happy reality and contemplated how to surprise my husband with the news we had hoped for, miscarriage was the furthest thing from my mind. I was aware that this type of pregnancy loss occurs to approximately 1 in 5 women, but it wouldn’t happen to me; it only happened to others. I felt certain of that.

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Over the next few weeks, we shared the joyous news with select family and close friends. We would transition to a family of four by the end of October, and they were all happy for us. I focused on eating well, getting rest, wearing leggings, discussing names, and wondering where to relocate the many bookshelves that currently lined the walls of the soon-to-be nursery. Our excitement was palpable. A little belly was starting to show. Baby season was in full bloom.

Then it happened.

The concern came on slowly, hovered around like an unanswered question, then grew into full-blown dread.

One day, dark spotting began. With no cramping and nothing near the flow of a regular menstrual cycle, I brushed the worry aside and went on. But it continued. Steady and slight, at first. After a few days, I called my OB/GYN. My first appointment wasn’t until the 10-week mark. “Could I get in before then?” I asked. “There’s no reason to be alarmed unless x, y, and z happen,” the nurse said.

Relief.

Three days before my first appointment, the insignificant spotting grew heavy, bright red, and wouldn’t stop. With each passing hour, it continued. I knew that if something wasn’t wrong, it was certainly heading that direction. I took it easy that weekend with the hopes that resting would solve the problem. By Monday, the day before my original appointment, I knew I had to be seen. My clinic was able to get me in that afternoon.

They sent me to get an ultrasound first. The slightly warm room with dim lighting had been such an exciting environment each time I had waddled in while pregnant with our son. Every ultrasound had kindled sheer happiness. Hearing my firstborn’s heartbeat at almost seven weeks had sent streams of joyful tears down each cheek, eventually blotting the paper sheet I laid upon. That time, through endless smiles and matted makeup, I had told the tech she made my day. Baby bliss was all I had known in that room. This day would be different.

I had prepared myself for one of two options to appear on the screen: a small form with a heartbeat, or a small form without one. As the tech began, I looked at the screen, saw my gestational sac, and prayed for the blink blink blink of new life and health. There was nothing. Nothing? “Where’s the baby?” I asked, with fear rising in my voice. Gently, the tech explained that the baby might be “hiding” at the moment, and could not be seen by the equipment, or that the ovulation date had been miscalculated and it was still too early in the pregnancy for anything to show up on the ultrasound. There was also another explanation: an early miscarriage.

Soon, the dreaded moment was over and I had more questions than answers. I had looked forward to this for weeks as the day I would get ultrasound pictures to proudly hang on my crowded fridge. Instead, I was quietly given a flash drive with the pictures of my womb. My mysterious, empty, aching, dark, seemingly useless womb. Next, my doctor, who had delivered my son, tried to explain what might have happened. She had seen this before with the end result being a healthy pregnancy and child. Of course, it had gone the other way, too. I found out that to confirm whether the pregnancy had continued and was actually viable, for better or worse, I had to come back in two weeks for a follow-up ultrasound.

That afternoon, scared as I was, I had hope—the tiniest sliver of hope that things would be alright. With all my might, I grasped that minuscule thread. Would I still have to figure out where to put those bookshelves? Would life progress as we had planned?

In the end, I didn’t have to wait two weeks. The very next day, confirmation came.

While at a playground with my son, the cramping began. As I met my excited toddler at the bottom of one of his near-endless trips down a bright orange slide, I knew what was happening. The beautiful, cool spring day and my laughing boy were a sharp contrast to the physical and emotional pain growing inside me. Back at home, as my chattering son cheerfully ate his lunch, I laid on the couch in utter grief. The cramping was worse than any cycle I had ever experienced. In fact, it was akin to early labor pains. In a way, I was delivering my second child, but not as I had always imagined I would.

Over the next 10 days, the cramping, heavy bleeding, and tissue loss continued. The dark mental pain was amplified by the physical reminders continually emanating from my body. Then, it was finally over. The silver lining was that my reproductive system had done what it was supposed to do by fully, and naturally, ejecting the pregnancy. Ironically, that part had worked perfectly. I would not have to experience the added pain of a D&C. For that, I was thankful.

In the midst of my anguish, I searched, rather aimlessly, for some encouragement. It wasn’t an escapist hunt for reassurance that my pregnancy would somehow magically turn out to be successful; rather, I sought out similar stories of women who had also gone through miscarriage. One afternoon, when my agony was particularly acute, I dug around online for articles. I needed something I could cling to and see myself mirrored in. I didn’t find much of anything.

Despite the fact that miscarriage happens with stunning regularity, to plenty of women, there’s a shocking lack of first-hand commentary on what it is to go through it. There are plenty of clinical explanations to be found online, but those aren’t the same thing. During my own experience, I looked for personal articles telling me: “Here is exactly what happened to me. It is dreadful. If it happens to you, it isn’t your fault. Breathe through the pain. Breathe through the depression. Breathe.” I didn’t find anything reaching me where I was.

I thus made a promise to myself that, since I’m a writer, I would talk about miscarriage—my miscarriage, which could mean something to someone going through their own. I would also do my little part to help erase the unfortunate stigma that has grown up around it. I vowed to point out how shame seems to envelop you as you journey through the darkness. I pledged that I would be open and honest.

On my private Facebook page, my public Twitter page, and in a podcast, I shared my story.

I was blown away by the flood of kindness and love shown to me and my family by both friends and strangers alike. I was especially overwhelmed by those who reached out who had experienced a miscarriage of their own. I heard from young women as well as older mothers whose miscarriage pain had happened decades prior. All still thought of their lost children. Does a tinge of sadness permanently linger on, even as temporal distance does its best to strip it of its bite?

Questions like that one, and countless others, are why all seemed to agree this subject should be addressed more often. Society has been tragically quiet on a matter of great magnitude—and because of that, uncountably many women have suffered alone and in silence.

All of the women (and men) who reached across the vast, impersonal and yet somehow intimate, gulf of online interaction verbally embraced me. As one said, “Miscarriage is a club that women involuntarily belong to where the membership dues are too high.” I will never, ever forget the warmth of these people in a time of cold and unforgiving anguish.

I am a few months out of my miscarriage. I grieve the loss of our unborn child, but slowly, things have improved. This does not mean I have forgotten that life; it means I am working through the pain. I plan to get a small, memorial tattoo in honor of my second child. Several friends and acquaintances have announced they’re expecting children of their own this fall, when mine was to come. When I congratulate them, I can now honestly say it is out of a wellspring of happiness. I do not despise them; how could I? Life is always precious. Life goes on. Life continues past severe trauma.

What I want others to know is that pregnancy loss in the form of miscarriage is nothing to be ashamed of. In my case, chromosomal abnormalities were likely to blame. These are factors that no one can control. Your miscarriage isn’t a choice, it is an unforeseen and uncontrollable event. It is painful, but not predicted. It is not planned.

I also strongly encourage women who find out they’re expecting to tell a few close friends and/or family members well before the first trimester ends. Do it sooner rather than later. Personally, I can’t imagine going through such a trial without the love and support of the few who knew. Family and friends who lived far away prayed for us. They sent texts and cards. They called and let me cry. They sent video messages. Two of my best friends sent a necklace with a mountain charm dangling from it. This reminded me of my strength on days the pain docked itself heavily upon my shoulders. They pointed to the strength God would — and did — provide. Friends who live close by prayed, asked if they could bring us food, or watch our son. Without these souls who knew before anyone else, the days, weeks, and months would have been darker. I am forever grateful for their selfless, active love.

Recently, I even summoned the courage to begin attending a local infertility and miscarriage support group. All of us there have different and complicated journeys culminating in empty wombs that point to the same ending: loss.

As a Christian, I believe my child is in heaven with their Creator. It’s painful they’re not here, but I have peace knowing they’re in glory. I look forward to embracing them for the first time one heavenly day.

In one of my many online searches for miscarriage support, I stumbled across a phrase that perfectly describes my journey and that of many other women.

“I carried you every second of your life and I will love you for every second of mine.”

I love you, sweet child. I miss you. You’re not in my arms, but you’ll forever be in my heart.

I am a woman who has experienced a miscarriage. I am part of a sisterhood that never asked for or anticipated this conclusion. We are saddened but not ashamed.

I am one in five.

I am also hopeful. And I am healing.

Kimberly Ross is a columnist at Arc Digital. Read more of her work and follow her on Twitter.



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