What To Expect When You’re Not Expecting

It’s taken me two years and a successful pregnancy to put pen to paper on this issue, but it’s consumed my mind every day since. I have a lot to say about it, and it’s time.

I had a miscarriage.

I recently heard “People will never truly understand something until it happens to them.” This could not be more true when it comes to the loss of a pregnancy. When I had my miscarriage, the best piece of advice I got was from someone who knows the pain of loss all too well. She told me that people will offer advice, but to ignore the comments that don’t make sense. Over time, I learned this meant listening to people who had been through it, and ignoring the (well-meaning) people who had not. It is for this reason that I offer the following: If you’ve been through or are going through a miscarriage, talk to someone that truly knows what you’re going through. Listen to someone  who’s lost a baby and let them listen to you. Ignore the insensitive people and comments that don’t make sense.

The one person in the world that you want to understand – that you need to share your pain – can’t.

A miscarriage is a heavy and lonely experience. The one person in the world (husband, partner, father of your child, etc.) that you want to understand – that you need to share your pain – can’t. It’s not for lack of caring or trying – men just cannot physically or emotionally understand the loss of a pregnancy in the same way – or to the same depth -the mother does. This is science; this is fact.

Your Hormones

Quick chemistry lesson, and an explanation of what happens to your hormones when you get pregnant. Women have hormones called LH and FSH.  These trigger your period, and ovulation, so they are NOT present after a woman gets pregnant (think about it – you don’t get your period while pregnant). During your period, estrogen and progesterone set up camp. These are like the Feminazis of female hormones, and can be credited for all of the delightful symptoms of PMS. When you get pregnant, your body starts producing hCG (this is the hormone that at-home pregnancy tests test for, and is only present in a woman’s body while she is pregnant – this is why a positive PT almost always guarantees pregnancy). hCG levels hit the accelerator on estrogen and progesterone, and the hCG levels themselves double every 48 hours early on in a pregnancy, until about the end of the first trimester. hCG is the ultimate mommy hormone – it prepares you for carrying a baby, labor and delivery, and even breastfeeding.

Having a miscarriage is the hormonal equivalent of bungee jumping onto a concrete slab.

After a miscarriage, your hCG levels not only stop increasing, but they come crashing down. Within a very short time after a miscarriage, hCG levels return to about zero. Having a miscarriage is the hormonal equivalent of bungee jumping onto a concrete slab. So, a person that has never experienced a miscarriage – and men in particular – can’t possibly understand the physical and emotional fire drill.

Your Partner

In addition to the scientific facts, further proof that men do not understand:  During my recent (and fortunately successful) pregnancy, every time a doctor asked “what number pregnancy is this?” I would respond that it was my third, even though I only had one child at home. The first time I was asked was in my OB’s office, and at the same time I said “third” my husband said “second.” He looked at me like I was out of my mind and she looked at us like maybe she should leave the room. I’ve talked to a number of women that have lost pregnancies and they had similar experiences. My second – and failed – pregnancy just did not have as significant an impact on my husband as it did on me.

Your Emotions

Ladies, we need to talk with one another about this  because we’re the only ones that can understand.

For all of the same reasons that a miscarriage is lonely, it can also feel shameful.  This is a big part of the reason so many women don’t – and indeed won’t – talk about it.  You and you alone are pregnant.  You are solely responsible for growing and nurturing a baby to delivery (and for a significant time after). And then you lose that baby. You feel as though you have failed the baby, failed your family… You feel as though you’ve failed, period. Doctors, psychiatrists, friends – hell, everyone – will tell you it’s not your fault, but your human and hormonal brain needs reasons. Needs answers.  Needs something or someone to blame. But there’s only you, so it has to be your fault, right? Nothing can make a woman feel inadequate and lonely the way infertility can.

Pain hits in pieces, and grieving is like peeling away layers to get to a core you may never reach.

While I talked pretty openly about my miscarriage, I don’t think I ever really fully grieved. Pain hit in pieces, and grieving is like peeling away layers to get to a core I still have not reached. I may never reach it. Loss leaves a space in your heart and in your life that can never be filled.

When It Happens

My own miscarriage made me feel powerless. Guilty. Confused. And I was delusional. I’d been bleeding for more than 24 hours when I went to the ER. I refused to believe it was anything serious. I still didn’t understand what was happening when I was wheeled away in a bed to an X-Ray room for the trans-vag exam, but I do remember feeling that never in my life – not before and not since – have I felt that vulnerable and exposed. I cried and screamed at the technician that she was hurting my baby.

She looked at me like I was crazy. What baby?

Even as the on-call doctor waited until my husband was in the room and the door was closed to deliver my diagnosis, I still couldn’t comprehend – and refused to believe – what was happening to me. To my baby. To us.

I left the ER that Saturday with a printout that said I’d been treated for “abnormal bleeding” and a “threatened miscarriage.” They told me there was nothing I could do. Nothing they could do. But I mentally refused to accept that. I prayed. As if by sheer will I could stop the inevitable from happening. I begged, I pleaded. Demanded my body to make this right. I willed my baby to hang on. Just hang on. We’ll get through this, just hang on for me.

On Monday morning, while discussing my hCG levels with my OB, she said she was pleased to see them going down so quickly, and that I would probably not need a D&C (Dilation and Curettage). Going DOWN. When I know – I KNOW – they’re supposed to be going up. Doubling every 48 hours. I nodded like I understood – like this was good news – but I felt like my head was sinking into wet cement while the rest of the world spun around me. I finally realized I was not pregnant anymore. That there would be no baby in September. That the Chinese gender chart was meaningless and the baby – that next week would be the size of a raspberry – was no more.

My OB called this a “miss.” Yes, a “miss.” She had a goddamn nickname for it. You miss a party. You miss a train. You don’t fucking MISS a pregnancy. But in her world, this was as typical as a confirmed pregnancy. She even reminded me that miscarriages are very common. As if that somehow made it OK.

I’m not a big fan of statistics, but the statistics on miscarriages tell us that one half of all pregnant women miscarry.  One half. Indeed, among myself and my immediate group of 5 close girlfriends, three of us have miscarried. But, of the women I know well, I would not say that one half have told me they’ve miscarried. I was shocked by how many “me too’s” I heard when I shared my own experience. Someone close to me told me, “I wish I could take your pain away.”Now I fully understand what she meant. For my girlfriend that miscarried after me, it just seemed so unfair. Like, didn’t I already take the bullet? Why should she have to go through this, too?

My pregnancy ended in a level of obsession and paranoia that turned me into a person my husband probably would never have married.

I will not share my whole story because the details don’t matter. And everyone’s story is different. What matters is that each story ends in a common denominator – loss and pain. Confusion and tears. Anger even. Mine ended in a level of obsession and paranoia that turned me into a person my husband probably would never have married.

Ignore The Things That Don’t Make Sense

People say some really stupid and insensitive things when they learn you’ve miscarried. I know, because before I had my miscarriage, I was one of those people. I said stuff like “At least it was early,” and “It wasn’t meant to be,” or “This was just God’s way.” “You can always try again,” “At least you already have a perfectly healthy 2-year-old.” I asked “Do they know why?” and assured friends it wasn’t their fault. I thought these things made sense; would make someone feel better. The first thing I did after my miscarriage was call my friends that I had “consoled” before, and apologize for all of the insensitive comments that I thought were helpful.

I bit my lip to hold back tears of pain that I only pretended were from the needle.

People that don’t understand will be uncomfortable around you. I remember having to go to the lab a couple of times a week following my ER visit, to ensure my hGC levels got back down in the zero range. No longer did the phlebotomist chat with me about nursery colors, names, or Chinese gender charts. Now we sat in uncomfortable silence as I bit my lip to hold back tears of pain that I only pretended were from the needle. I could hear the women in the booths next to and across from me talking about due dates. Complaining about morning sickness.  Complaining when really they were wearing some badge of honor I was no longer entitled to. They were having the conversations I was supposed to be having. I felt torn between wanting to slap them and wanting to be them.

There is also the inescapable observation that suddenly, everyone is pregnant. Everywhere you look, there are shower invitations, sonogram pictures proudly plastered all over Facebook, birth announcements in the mail. In the block between my train stop and my office it seemed every woman was  waddling in her Pea in the Pod dress to show off a barely-there bump,and exhausted-looking new moms walking their infants in strollers, instinctively peaking in at them every 2 seconds. God, I hated pregnant women and new moms. Didn’t they know how lucky they were? Didn’t they know how hard it was?

There is also the inescapable observation that suddenly, everywhere you look, everyone is pregnant.

Recovering

You have to grieve. Because a miscarriage is a loss and one that you cannot escape or get over quickly. Grief is a process that takes time. Months after my miscarriage, I opened my Hotmail to see that The Bump and Babycenter were still sending me updates and, according to them, my baby was now the size of a coconut and I should be busy preparing the nursery and packing my bag for the hospital. All of the “if only’s” I’d tortured myself with over the past few months were right there in front of me. Staring me down in the form of fucking e-mails.

Even after you’ve accepted you’re no longer pregnant, the “what if?” and “could’ve been” thoughts still invade your conscience and your better judgment. 

The truth is, unless and until you successfully get pregnant after a miscarriage, there are so many moments in time when the “what if” thoughts creep in. They invade your conscience and your better judgment. You stop and think: “I’d be showing,”  “This was supposed to be my due date,” “She’d be three months now…”

Over time, the pain will lessen. The empty space will narrow. The pain and emptiness will never go away altogether, but it will get better. Tolerable. While I would never compare one woman’s loss to another’s, I do recognize that I am very fortunate.I know there are so many women for whom fertility issues are a barrier and not just an obstacle. I know there are women that miscarry many times, and others that carry babies they never get to hold, or hold only for a short time.

But, if my sharing can help even one person feel less lonely – and less hopeless – then it’s worth it.

 

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