Health

What I Learned From Losing 2 Unplanned Pregnancies

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No two miscarriages are the same, so be compassionate with yourself

Madeleine Dunne
Photo: Marina Khromova/Getty Images

There are some things that no one can teach you.

When I was a little girl, my mum explained to me what it meant to lose a pregnancy. I remember the realization that carrying a child wasn’t an easy-breezy nine-month journey hitting me like a steamroller. The idea that, at any point, you could lose this thing you’d been nurturing, the physical and emotional toll of which was worsening the closer you came to the finish line, was, quite frankly, terrifying.

I watched the stress of miscarriage and abortion tear apart some of the strongest women I’d known, and that filled me with trepidation around the entire process of bearing a child. That trepidation increased as my periods became irregular, often not coming for months at a time. When I spoke to a doctor about it, he noted that it could be cause for concern “but nothing to worry about now — you’re nowhere near ready for kids, are you?”

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“Never,” I replied.

And it was true — I was a commitmentphobe and couldn’t imagine meeting someone who would make me want to settle down and have a family. I never, ever entertained the notion of having a baby.

We don’t talk about losing our pregnancies — let alone losing a pregnancy you didn’t plan, or the myriad of confusing feelings that come with that.

At 21, I miscarried in my work bathroom during a busy shift. I Googled my symptoms and went back to the restaurant floor, working on autopilot until I left and called my mum in tears. I’d known I was pregnant for a week and hadn’t had a chance to tell anyone yet. And I didn’t tell anyone else — not until two years later when I tweeted about an episode in the second season of Fleabag. In it, Fleabag’s sister Claire miscarries a pregnancy and carries on as if nothing happened. Her reaction resonated with me, and my tweet resonated with a lot of other people, too. It got enough attention that I was interviewed by a newspaper and asked about it on the radio. If I’m honest, I didn’t feel right talking about my miscarriage — partly because I’d never wanted kids, and partly because I had only been seven weeks into my pregnancy and, since 85% of miscarriages happen in the first 12 weeks (the first trimester), it didn’t exactly feel like breaking news. But it was news to some people simply because nobody speaks about these things. We don’t talk about losing our pregnancies — let alone losing a pregnancy you didn’t plan, or the myriad of confusing feelings that come with that.

A little while later, I met someone who changed my mind on everything. I fell hard and fast for Chris, and felt a seismic shift in what I wanted my life to look like. Suddenly, I wanted to have a family — but perhaps not via pregnancy. We both voiced our worries about infertility and decided that, when the time came, we wouldn’t put ourselves through the pain of trying to conceive. Somewhere down the line, we’d adopt. It was an exciting alternative future plan that I’d never considered, one that helped me navigate the looming fear of pregnancy I’d developed over the years.

But even something that feels completely preventable can sneak up on you.

Recently, we lost a pregnancy. It was unplanned, lasted for weeks, and hurt immeasurably. While we’ve both taken great solace in writing about this, what has happened is nascent. We’re still both coming to terms with our loss in our own ways, and I’m not really sure where it leaves us, or what it means for those plans we laid out. Have they remained the same or have they changed and, if so, to what extent?

What I do know, more than anything, is that this is something we don’t speak about enough. There is little to no discussion around miscarriage, and those of us who experience it are left shellshocked in the wake of it. With that in mind, and perhaps to try and help myself understand all of this a little more, here are seven things losing two unplanned pregnancies has taught me.

1. Be ready to be alone

Let’s start with the hardest pill to swallow: Losing a pregnancy is something that, ultimately, you do alone. During my first miscarriage, I was terrified of speaking to people — I was afraid of judgment, of hearing the wrong thing, and of not having the right words to say how I felt. I miscarried alone and held the weight of it alone. During my second miscarriage, as the inbox of missed calls and messages filled up and I watched my boyfriend desperately trying to form the words to comfort me but always settling on a trusty hug, I felt equally alone — and guilty for it, too. No one can take this pain away from you or help you make sense of it.

If you have a partner, you might feel isolated by how differently you both cope with the loss. My boyfriend struggled to explain how it had affected us, and we both felt a lot of frustration as we were each afraid to say how we felt. We’ve always been great at communicating but the last few weeks have seen us walking on eggshells trying not to say the wrong thing and trying to grasp how bad or how well the other is handling it. The other morning Glen Campbell’s tragic ode to his fading wife, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” came on the car radio. Chris turned it up and said, “Hen, I just want to feel something.” When you’re in a couple, there are two people navigating this loss in their own, different ways, and it’s okay that it might be hard for you both to grasp that right now.

If you have a partner, you might feel isolated by how differently you both cope with the loss.

2. Hallmark doesn’t make cards for this

No one is taught how to speak about pregnancies that don’t end with a gurgling bundle of joy. There is no adequate “get well soon” or “sorry for your loss” card that a friend can just pop out and buy when something like this happens. Brace yourself for people to become tongue-tied, to say the wrong things, or simply say nothing at all — and try not to feel guilty that your declaration of pain has led to a clumsy, awkward conversation. I found a lot of solace in speaking to some of my friends, particularly when what they offered were just a hug and an ear. Equally, I found myself panicking and keeping things to myself if someone said something hurtful (“Surely it’s a relief,” “Did you even want to keep it?”) or when conversations were weighed down with the heft of carefully held back words.

You owe it to yourself to rationalize and understand where these reactions are coming from. While they may not be right, and they may well seem inconsiderate, you only isolate and hurt yourself when you don’t remember their roots lie in an unsure reaction to an unpredictable, little-discussed scenario. It’s a challenge to be empathetic with something that everybody has differing feelings on, and that everyone brings their own baggage to, and sometimes there just isn’t a “right thing to say.” Or, if there is, I haven’t found it yet.

3. Maybe it hurts, maybe it doesn’t

Losing a pregnancy touches everybody in different ways. Some people take it as it comes and bounces back quickly, ready to try again, while others carry their pain for years.

When I first miscarried, I had never entertained the idea of having children before, and as such, I went on autopilot and got on with my life, combating sadness by tripping over myself with guilt. The grief I’ve experienced at the abrupt end of my most recent pregnancy, however, has hung around for so much longer and has been much more painful, tinged with a heavy, regretful sadness. My pregnancy had reinforced its presence by complications that sent me to the hospital several times, and I wasn’t sure it would ever end. When I think of how terrified the idea of pregnancy makes me now, I’m still not sure there is an end to it.

4. You cannot safeguard against the unpredictable

I plan my life meticulously and like to think I’m good at taking the punches as they come. But nothing could’ve prepared me for finding out I was pregnant and then losing it. Above all, nothing could prepare me for how sad I was to lose something I had never wanted, never had, and never thought I could have. No one prepares you to lose and gain a kid so quickly.

5. Life goes on — even if you don’t

Just as we aren’t taught how to speak about these issues, we also aren’t taught how to handle the aftermath. I remember seeing the number of hospital appointments in short succession adding up in front of me, crying to my boyfriend about missing work, worried making a bad impression. It isn’t uncommon for those of us who’ve miscarried to find ourselves hiding in small bathroom cubicles, rocking because a workplace chat has veered into the topic of maternity leave or pregnancy symptoms.

You can’t stop the world from spinning and, although it might feel like it, this isn’t the end of everything.

In a world where there are 360,000 births per day, you are bound to encounter things that remind you of your loss. Prepare yourself for that, and do what you need to do: blacklist the words that relate to it on Twitter, mute expectant parents whose posts are getting to be too much. But when something filters through, do your best to take it in your stride. You can’t stop the world from spinning and, although it might feel like it, this isn’t the end of everything.

6. Take care of yourself

Maybe you are worried about your prospects of fertility, or perhaps you are afraid of getting pregnant again. Maybe this experience has shaken you. Maybe it’s left you confused and scared. Maybe you don’t know how to feel, and maybe you fear you never will. Maybe it isn’t hanging over you at all, and you’re back in the fighting spirit — that, too, is fine and there is no need to feel guilty about that.

There is no “right way” to feel about miscarriage, and there isn’t a step-by-step guide to moving on. The only thing that matters right now, and perhaps this is the hardest pill to swallow, is you. Assess how you feel, assess what you want, and above everything else, do whatever you can to be compassionate with yourself as move through this.

It’s easy to get caught up in everyone around you: the awkward conversations of your friends, the silence of your partner, the worry of your family, the flicker of life you couldn’t keep around. But you owe it to yourself, and to them, to put your feelings first — your business right now is you and you alone.

7. It’ll all work out, eventually

Short and sweet: This isn’t the end of the line. We’ve all had a well-meaning granny or auntie tell us, “What’s for you won’t go by you,” and they couldn’t be more right. Your life is going to unfold into something wonderful. There are days that you will struggle, and days that you will be scared. There are days that you will feel hopeful, and there are days that you won’t want to get out of bed. Those feelings will pass, I can promise you that. They’ll be tinged with sadness and regret, sure — but things will get good again, and you’ll learn to let yourself enjoy them, too.

You can read Chris’ article, “The Jaffa,” here.

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