I knew I was pregnant before my first positive pregnancy test. My body was acting weird; sore boobs, hot flashes, increased appetite. The test confirmed what I already knew: I was pregnant! I was going to be a mother! My otherwise mediocre life was about to become exponentially more meaningful!
We cautiously told our immediate family members at Christmas, when I was only 5 weeks pregnant. At that point, I believe I was still thinking rationally (i.e., aware of the risks of miscarriage), but it wasn’t long before my imagination got the better of me, skipping ahead to the following Christmas when our little one would be 4 months old.
When I went back to work after the holidays, I did so with the energy and enthusiasm of someone planning to take a one year sabbatical. Nothing really bothered me because I was working on the most amazing side project imaginable.
I downloaded pregnancy apps and followed the baby’s development from blueberry to brussel sprout. I celebrated the day that our embryo became a fetus.
Unfortunately, those apps reflect normal, healthy pregnancy development.
My Sweet Pea
Our embryo never grew much bigger than a sweet pea; it did not become a fetus. It pains me to use the pronoun ‘it’, rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’, but the truth is, its personhood is debatable.
My first symptoms of miscarriage came when I was 10 weeks pregnant. I went to see my doctor about the spotting. She was unable to get a heartbeat with her fetal heart monitor. I went for an ultrasound. The embryo measured 6.5 weeks and there was no heartbeat. My husband and I drove home in silence. There was nothing to say.
For six weeks, our lives had revolved around this little bundle of joy and hope and love and purpose, now a bundle of disappointment and sorrow. It takes time to erase all of those visions of the future: I would no longer be 6 months pregnant for our would-be babymoon, we would not be a family of three at our one year anniversary, and we would not [likely] have a new baby by Christmas.
Are You Really Gone?
My physician called the next day and cheerily reported that everything was fine, and that we must have been off on our dating. We were 6 weeks pregnant, not 10. She recommended that I come see her again in a month for my next prenatal check-up.
I could have falsely accepted her reassurance. Instead, I reminded her that I had had multiple positive pregnancy tests, including one in her office, more than 6 weeks ago, therefore her hypothesis was impossible. She sent me for blood work and a repeat ultrasound.
I was right and she was wrong. I take no comfort in that, but it does provide me with someone to be angry with. I spent one of the worst weeks of my life trying to prove to my doctor that the baby inside of me was dead, not growing.
We Need to Talk About Miscarriage
My doctor never even spoke the word “miscarriage”. She certainly never warned me what to expect when expelling “products of conception”. If you’ve never had a miscarriage, you likely don’t want to read this. Expelling products of conception is horrifying!
What starts out as a light period gives way to intense cramping and extreme blood loss. Consider-going-to-the-ER kind of blood loss. According to Telehealth I likely should have gone to the ER. Fortunately, I was able to phone a friend. My friend is a family doctor and she told me what to expect. My husband of 5 months went to the drugstore to buy me the thickest maxi pads they had and a pack of adult diapers.
‘What the fuck’ is with selling 20 million copies of a book called “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and not telling a would-be expectant mother what to expect when experiencing a miscarriage?
I was fortunate to have had the medical advice of my friend and the support of my partner. As for my physician, the health care system and the baby-product industry, all I can say is, “What the fuck?!!!”. ‘What the fuck’ is with selling 20 million copies of a book called “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and not telling a would-be expectant mother what to expect when experiencing a miscarriage? Seriously! I get that pregnancies that end in live births are happier and more fun to talk about, but I’ve read What to Expect When You’re Expecting and spoiler alert: Expect your belly to grow for approximately 40 weeks and then expect a baby to come out. It’s a pretty predictable plot. Except in real life, it’s not that predictable.
Since my miscarriage, I’ve read some of the less popular pregnancy books. The ones where real women tell their stories of miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death. Obviously, I see why these are not required or recommended reading for expectant moms, but given that as many as 1 in 3 pregnancies end in miscarriage, I don’t understand why I had to special order them from the bookstore.
We need to talk about miscarriage.
Gone and Nothing Matters
My embryo died in early January, I bled for most of February and it wasn’t until mid-March that I could get a negative reading on a pregnancy test. For two months, I was pregnant, but not pregnant. Maybe this is only an issue for editors, but what is the word for someone who is hormonally pregnant, but does not have a child or young developing in the uterus?
If you’ve ever been pregnant, you’re likely familiar with how you start to think of your body as an incubator. Suddenly, what you eat matters. Getting enough sleep matters. Avoiding environmental toxins matters. Medical advice for pregnant women is basically medical advice for humans. It’s all the things you’ve always known you should do, but didn’t care to do when it was just you. Further evidence that pregnant women care more about the health of their offspring than their own.
So then, when you’re pregnant, but not pregnant, the pendulum swings in the opposite direction. Suddenly, nothing matters. Your body is an empty vessel that failed you. Why would you bother to care for it? Why bother eating? Why bother sleeping? Why bother getting out of bed in the morning? And that’s when you realize that you’re depressed. Obviously. a) a shitty thing happened to you and also b) you’re experiencing pregnancy hormone withdrawal.
Postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbearing. It affects approximately 1 in 5 new moms. New moms with their bundles of joy get depressed in large part due to the withdrawal of pregnancy hormones. And it’s so common that physicians have developed a screening tool for it.
…if the withdrawal of pregnancy hormones is enough to make a woman who’s just experienced the miracle of childbirth depressed, shouldn’t you also screen the women who are experiencing pregnancy loss?
Now I’m not a doctor, but if the withdrawal of pregnancy hormones is enough to make a woman who’s just experienced the miracle of childbirth depressed, shouldn’t you also screen the women who are experiencing pregnancy loss?
So I went to see a psychologist. She was kind and understanding, but our visit had a kind of “What can I do for you?” vibe. She acknowledged that miscarriage is a big deal to would-be parents that the medical community seems to treat as a non-event. But she also reminded me that I had had very little trouble conceiving, and would likely be pregnant again within a few cycles.
Basically, I paid $180 to have the conversation that I should have had with my physician.
I Loved You From The Start
I understand that to a family physician, a miscarriage is a kind of non-event. I understand that it doesn’t make practical sense to get attached to an early pregnancy when the risk of pregnancy loss is so high, but by that logic it doesn’t make practical sense to get attached to a marriage either since more than half of them end badly. And you would never say to a person going through a divorce, “these things happen for a reason”, “your marriage just wasn’t viable”, or “you can always remarry”.
you would never say to a person going through a divorce, “these things happen for a reason”, “your marriage just wasn’t viable”, or “you can always remarry”.
There are few instances in life when humans let their feelings override their practicality. More often than not, love is involved. Well, despite my better judgement, I loved my embryo.
And despite all of the pain and sorrow it caused me, I hope to love the next one just as much.
#Content in this article has been by contributed by Guest Blogger, E. Hendy. Please apply credit if referencing this article.
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