I didn’t mean to be public and open with my miscarriage. Public and open are not things I do very well, or willingly, or at all if I can help it–look, I’m from Kansas. We are experts at bottling things up and Not Talking About The Important Stuff, and a lifetime’s worth of habits are hard to break.
Here’s how it happened:
The Mr and I were delighted to be expecting again. (Shades of delighted: finding myself pregnant brought me all kinds of complicated feelings, worries, concerns. But largely delighted.) The Viking Prince had just turned five, I’m not getting any younger, and it was/is definitely time to start adding to the family, if we were going to do it. So, delighted.
So, the second we had confirmation, we told everybody.
These days of course that means call the family, then put the news on social media. And our friends were also delighted.
The Viking Prince? Also delighted; after all, he’d been talking about the little sister he wanted for nearly a year. (“I’ll dress up as Ant-Man, and my little sister can be Cassie.” “What if she wants to be Ant-Man too?” “…Well, I guess I could let her do that.”) He joined in the name brainstorming with a aplomb, and contributed the nickname Spiderling to the not-even-yet-a-bump in my belly, so that we could dispense with the clunky “your little brother or sister.” (He insisted sister, with typical stubbornness, and I lost track of how many times one of us grown-up types uttered variations on, “We have no way of knowing right now. It could be a boy.”)
So, universal delight. I started on the mental list of Stuff To Do To Get Ready–an extensive list, that any minute I was sure to put on paper and start ploughing through. My mom came for a visit: coincidence, but the timing worked out perfectly. I was perhaps five weeks pregnant.
I had felt pregnant, even before the little home tests gave me their blue plus signs to confirm. Micro changes in my body, my appetite, my mood. And extra tired, of course. First trimester pregnancy is mostly about building up all the things your body needs to support the baby’s development, and it is hard work. I felt tired, and grumpy, and somehow fuller and more inhabited. I knew there was a baby inside me.
And then, one day, I didn’t. I no longer knew. It was a Friday; I interviewed a midwife who specialized in home births. “What about the possibility of miscarriage?” I asked her. “Have I had a miscarriage?” I wanted to ask her. “How can you know? Is there a test you can do right now?” I didn’t ask that. (See above; I am bad at saying what I’m thinking.) We had a pleasant visit, and shook hands at the end, and I said I’d be in touch.
Saturday was the Viking Prince’s birthday party. It was a beautiful early fall day (early fall in these parts starts mid-to-late October; before that, it’s just frustratingly hot) at a playground near our house; the platoons of children played, the adults chatted. There was cake, balloons, a lovely breeze. Our friends congratulated us on our news.
“Oh,” I hedged, “well, I haven’t had the blood test yet, so I’m not completely positive I really am…”
But I had been positive. And what I was now was scared, and worried, and sad. But it was certainly easier to think I’d had a false positive on the home tests, that we’d accidentally misled everyone, than the alternative.
On Sunday morning there was blood in the toilet. I called the midwife, near panic, and left a message. I put in a pad–one of the pack I had just bought right before getting pregnant, the pack I hadn’t thought to need again for the better part of a year–and then went to church as usual. What else was there to do?
That Sunday was the first time our names were read during the prayers for those expecting children. After Mass, one of the mainstays of the parish approached me, beaming all over his face.
“Was that you?” he asked, delighted.
“Yes,” I said, struggling against tears. “But … I don’t think it’s going well. Please pray for us.” Translation: I think I’ve lost the baby, and I’m terrified.
He promised he would.
The midwife asked about the quantity of blood and when it had started and how did I feel. I had changed out the pad, soaked red, before Mass even started.
If you have been pregnant, or close to someone who has, or have frantically googled “bleeding during pregnancy,” you know that “spotting” is a term that gets thrown around. Lots of pregnant ladies have “spotting,” normal pregnancies, and a healthy baby at the end–which is of course the ultimate goal. Spotting to me suggests a few little drips, not a bloody (as adjective, not swear) waterfall.
But, the midwife said, a little bit of bleeding could be nothing, it could be normal. Or it could mean I’d miscarried. Or it could mean that I was still pregnant, but there was something else wrong with either me or the pregnancy. She told me to go get two blood tests, one early in the week, one a few days later; she would compare the hormone levels. If the comparison indicated I was still pregnant, she’d send me for a sonogram to find out what was going on.
So, my likely outcomes were: baby dead, or baby alive but something else hideously wrong with me.
Here followed the longest week of our lives. I will not describe the agony of the waiting, waiting to know for sure what was next. Did I have a baby inside me still? I wasn’t sure. Hope, painful and inconvenient, kept surging up. I didn’t feel pregnant, but what did that mean? Feelings aren’t proof of anything. The signs my body gave were ambiguous at best.
Except for the bleeding: blood and blood and blood, like an extra-extra-extra-heavy period, bright crimson (a beautiful color, but not one I enjoyed seeing in this context), soaking through several pads a day. A woman bleeds because her body has prepped the womb for a baby; if no baby takes root, she sheds the blood. A pregnant woman bleeds … in such quantities … because not only that slight blood layer, but all the extra blood she has produced as well (that’s part of what makes you so tired; making a baby really is hard work) is no longer needed.
But I wasn’t sure.
Not knowing was the worst. I was like Schrodinger and the cat and the box the cat was shut into, all at the same time, and the endless waiting for the blow to fall (which blow? was the cat alive or dead?), waiting to know not how to react but what I needed to react to, was torture. (I read a book, just this past week, in which the main character is tortured by having her hands strapped into a huge press for apple cider. Spoilers: her hands get damaged, but only a little bit. The chief torture is the slow, slow, slow dropping of the weight towards her hands, not knowing if the inexorable descent will be stopped, or her hands crushed, or some other third unknown outcome, probably too awful to imagine.)
Because we’d already told everyone about the pregnancy, I felt it was important to give updates regarding the progress of the (maybe, probably, but maybe not) miscarriage–something I would not have done, if we had kept the news to ourselves.
But I am so glad we didn’t hide it. For our friends responded with such an outpouring of love and prayer and kindness, offers of help (truly, there was nothing anyone could do, but the desire to help is itself a comfort), instant support, it sustained us and probably kept me from going crazy during the hellish waiting. (I am not kidding; by the end of the week I felt like an animal in a trap, snapping and snarling at anyone who came near. I would have gnawed my own leg off if it would have decreased the wait time by a millisecond.)
(And to those friends who stayed by even when I was at my wounded wolfish worst, extra extra tears of gratitude.)
I’ve already given away the end of the story. It is a sorrow, and my husband and I are grieved. But at least we know. And our grief is not lonely, or a burden we’re trying to carry all by ourselves, two wounded people staggering down the path trying to hold each other up in spite of our hurts. Telling everyone, against my inclination, opened us up to receive wave after wave of love that was almost palpable–as though hundreds of hands were upraised to ease the burden from our shoulders.
According to my reading, and to my midwife, early miscarriage like I experienced is common–around 25% of pregnancies simply … don’t work. (The numbers vary according to whom you ask, of course.) It’s not anyone’s fault (not my fault), merely a thing that happens, a sorrow that’s a part of life. I am intensely grateful for the support I received, for the knowledge that the Mr and I were not alone in our experience or our grief, without which our road would have been much, much harder–not just in that awful week of waiting, but in the weeks of recovery to come.
And to you, my friends, fellow mothers or mothers-in-wish or mothers-to-be, mothers who have lost: I reach out my hands to you. I know you are there, I have felt your sorrow. You are not alone.
Here is a website I found with good information about miscarriages, including what’s true and what’s myth. It helped me a lot.