"You've Joined the Miscarriage Club"

At the end of October, 2008, I was seated in my car outside a community center, waiting to take my polling place worker training in advance of the upcoming election. I was talking to my Ma on the phone, and as is often the case when I talk to her, I ended up disclosing something I didn't think I wanted to talk about yet; I just couldn't help myself.

"I'mpregnantbutdon'tgetexcitedyetbecausetheyaren'tsure" I blurted out.

Imagine these words landing on a Mom. She was, of course, overcome with excitement (jeez I told her not to get excited!)...and some confusion.

"What do you mean they aren't sure."

I explained that I'd taken a positive pregnancy test at home but that when I went to the doctor's the pregnancy test was inconclusive and they said it might just be too early (because when you're a certain age and *looking* to conceive--feel me ladies--you know the MOMENT it occurs). Still though, something didn't seem right.

I would be heading into a lab a few times in the following days to have blood drawn, which would measure my levels of hGC, a hormone produced in pregnancy. The levels rose as they should, but the doctor still seemed reluctant. She wanted me to come in in a few days for another ultrasound. She said if my date of conception was correct, by the time I came in again (what would be the 6-week mark) we should see a heartbeat.

Those were a long few days.

I steeled myself for the possibility of heartbreak, expecting the worst. See, my two best girlfriends had both had miscarriages in the past year. All of a sudden the reality of mis-carrying, as a thing that happens, was on my radar. I had the memories of the phone calls with these women fresh in my mind. I'd been in my friend's living room, helplessly watching her curled up on the couch, in pain--the physical pain that the doctor had sent Vicodin along to assuage, the emotional pain, about which there was nothing to be done.

These thoughts close at hand, I headed back to the doctor. During my ultrasound, she pointed to a teeny tiny, rapid flickering on the monitor and she smiled for the first time I'd seen. "This is good news," she said. "See this? This is the heartbeat. Once we see this there is a 98% chance the fetus will be viable."

I left the doctor's feeling overwhelmed with relief and happiness. I called my then-husband to share the news. Then I called my Mom: "What do you want to be called...Grandma or Nana?" I asked. I could hear the joy in her tears.

This was the free-and-clear, wherein women begin cruising the Babies R Us website and making big plans.

But this wasn't the free-and-clear. Everybody knows 12 weeks is the free-and-clear. (And if you're around this planet long enough, you learn that the free-and-clear is a myth; there is no such place or time or state of affairs.)

In the bathroom at the gym a few weeks later, I noticed I was bleeding a little. (Pregnant women don't get periods!) A feeling of dread took over and I called the doctor immediately, but since it was late on a Friday, I wouldn't be able to see the doctor's midwife for a couple of days.

In that meantime--the meantime that now takes the position of the very worst meantime I have ever lived through--I did the only thing I knew to do and the thing that many women between the ages of 30-45 who are trying to conceive (TTC) do: I took to the internet.

I spent 2 1/2 solid days surfing around every possible site I could get to. I Googled word combos like "spotting during pregnancy" and "symptoms of miscarriage" and "miscarriage after heartbeat" and "conception after miscarriage" and so very many variations of the theme. TTC was just one of a number of acronyms I learned: the secret language of a network of sisters trying to help each other propagate the species.

I read the tales of dozens of other women who had at one point been in my position. I joined a sad, sad club of frantic others grasping impossibly for some kind of control over a situation so entirely out of our control, the effort would have been comical, if it hadn't been so despairingly tragic. So thoroughly futile.

My husband accompanied me to the next appointment. He held my hand while a midwife performed the ultrasound, and I watched her face as she moved to deliver the news. I won't try to quote her because I'll never remember exactly what she said. The point that came across was that things were not developing normally--that my pregnancy was not progressing.

I remember throwing a Hail Mary pass of a question her way, mentioning that the doctor told me the ultrasound machine in this office wasn't as good as in the other. Was it possible this machine just wasn't accurately conveying the information?

The midwife looked at me with pity (my ignorance was so complete), yet no trace of condescension. "I'm sorry," she said, and then, very definitively: "there is no fetus present anymore."


The midwife told me I could expect bleeding and abdominal pain. I could either have a D & C (a procedure in which the uterine lining is scraped to remove the placenta, etc), take a medication that would cause the onset of the miscarriage, or wait for things to occur naturally.

I waited.

And despite the protests of my rational mind, I read more internet tales, instances of rare, mis-diagnosed miscarriages. They were the pleas of women imploring other women not to take their doctor's word for it. They were miraculous tales of babies that weren't supposed to be...but were! They were mostly to be found on religious websites with strong Pro Life undertones. It didn't matter to me where they were coming from. I held on to a small belief that I had some kind of beat-the-odds wonderchild brewing inside me--why NOT my baby, if it could happen to these women?

But I knew. Really, I knew.

When the pain began about a week and a half later, I was resolved and prepared. I spent that day--Thanksgiving Day--at the restaurant my husband and partners were working to launch, and I began to look forward--toward the possibility of conceiving again.

That part was probably at least as bad as the pain of losing a pregnancy, the part where I worried that I wasn't actually able to carry a child at all. I wondered how long it would be before I'd know for sure. Another friend of mine miscarried during her first pregnancy and another her first three. Both went on to have multiple children, but the anguish of those initial failures (because that's what it feels like: failure) is haunting and anxiety provoking. 

As with so many things in life, it's the not knowing that causes so much fear.

People say all sorts of things in an effort to comfort women who've suffered a miscarriage. All are well-meaning, and so they have no idea how entirely unhelpful their words can be. "At least you already have _________" or "You can always have another" are common. No matter that to the non-pregnant person, the mis-carrying mother's "baby" was just a cluster of cells that determined itself to be nonviable. To many of those mother's what was lost was a child. A person. An already-loved and often-dreamed-of world of possibility. It really doesn't matter which children may have come before and who will come after. That Mama wan't that baby to live.

Fetus at 10 Weeks
I was incredibly fortunate to conceive again two months after my miscarriage. I'd found a new doctor with a much warmer bedside manner than the first (the comfort and value of which cannot possibly be overstated), and I enjoyed a complication-free pregnancy.

Except that for the first few months I couldn't shake the fear that it would happen again. I kept checking the tenderness in my breasts (since this was the first symptom I experienced in both pregnancies and the one which I noticed had ceased when problems arose the first time around). Though I knew the gym had nothing to do with my miscarriage, I didn't go back to working out until I was at least 5 months along, and at that I mostly kept it to water aerobics.

I gave birth to a healthy boy 9 months later. 

But the pain of that initial loss took a long time to shake. I've never stopped wondering who that child would have been, if that child could have actually been. And  I can still, suddenly and shockingly, find an aching in my heart when I think about that child that wasn't.


These thoughts are with me right now because, as the 5th anniversary of my miscarriage passed, a good friend of mine--a mother of two beautiful girls--came to know that same pain. Which means that my three best friends from high school all had miscarriages. I know three other women who experienced them in the past couple of years (and these are just the ones I'm aware of). I can't believe this wasn't something I heard about growing up, or even through most of my 20's.

My good friend mentioned that it's the thing nobody talks about. She suggested most women have no idea how common it is until they themselves experience it and people come out of the woodwork to tell their own stories. Like suddenly, she said, "you've joined the miscarriage club."

I knew exactly what she meant. And of course it's not a club that any woman wants to be part of. But it can be comforting, or normalizing at least, to know that so many other women have lived through this same trauma in their desires and efforts to help bring new life into the world.

In writing this, I read that as many as 15% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage (from WebMD). The rate is much higher (as high as 50%) when including those pregnancies that end before the mother even realizes she's pregnant. Those numbers are staggering.

But see, creating a whole new life is a complicated and incredible thing. Our bodies reject pregnancies for any number of reasons, all boiling down to this: that particular cluster of cells could not have been life, ultimately. Different people have different opinions about whether or not a cluster of cells attached to a uterine lining is already a life, but that doesn't change whether or not that life was viable to the extent that the mother's body could bring it to full term. Viewing it as a life cannot will the body to keep it alive.

And that might be the most difficult part of miscarriage: acceptance of the idea that no matter how badly we want to have a child, these things can't be measured in or outcomes predicted by our amounts of love and devotion. But we don't mindfully enter into relationships thinking about biological responses. We feel love, and we want to surround ourselves with more of it.

So a friend probably shouldn't bring up the science of miscarriage with a friend who has suffered one. She shouldn't remind her of the blessings she already has and those to come. She should hug her and tell her she is sorry for her loss and for her pain.

To my dear friend and to all women who are part of this club, this sisterhood of mourning: I wish you healed hearts and the knowledge that there is no correct amount of time to spend with the news, with the sadness.

Years after my miscarriage I was driving down the freeway when I was struck with the memory of that child that wasn't. I felt tears come on suddenly, warm in my eyes and on my cheeks. It was a reminder to me that my love for that child was real and was strong. And it didn't make me so sad anymore. It made me feel alive that I could have wanted so badly to know that person. And yes, it made me thankful for the lives and the blessings that I'd come to know since.

If you are so inclined, please feel free to share your story here...

Scenes from Manzanita Project Work Time, Week 4

I've been enjoying being indoor lately, taking in the sight of our totally over-populated-with-ornaments Christmas tree and welcoming the refuge from the cold. 40 degrees in California during the DAY?!

I just like the pachyderm background/pachyderm foreground thing going on here:

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