On September 14, 2020, I thought I was eight weeks, two days pregnant. I was supposed to be. I should have been.
Since my positive pregnancy test, the first thing I did every morning was open my pregnancy apps to watch the number go up and find out how the size of the embryo growing inside of me compared to a food product. The day I found out I was pregnant, at four weeks and four days, it was size of a poppyseed. Time marched on. At five weeks, a sesame seed. Six weeks, a lentil. Seven, a blueberry. By week eight, the embryo was roughly the size of a kidney bean.
On September 14, at eight weeks, two days, I had my first ultrasound. I was so excited to see the heartbeat flicker on the screen. I planned to FaceTime my partner, who couldn’t be there because of COVID-19 restrictions. We’d see the heartbeat, I’d drive home, get back to work, and keep being pregnant. But there was no flicker.
Almost from the moment the midwife started the scan, I knew something wasn’t right. I alternated between searching for signs of life on the screen and for something encouraging in the eyes of the midwife, but I felt my own heartbeat quicken in my ears as I realized I was seeing neither. Normally, midwives are the type of care providers who would have offered a hug. But the pandemic forced her to say “I’m sorry for your loss” from a distance.
I spent the next few days in deep, blinding grief. I barely left bed. Friends sent dinner. Flowers, cards, cookie dough, and bourbon appeared at our door. But even these gestures were marred by the sterility of the pandemic—everything distanced, contactless, masked, save for one five-minute-long hug from a dear friend, wordlessly offered, gratefully accepted.
I felt simultaneously responsible and victimized. My partner took on everything for our four-year-old, who still asks what happened to the baby and whether we’ll get a new one. I was told I would start bleeding soon, so I waited.
I’ve been an attorney in the reproductive rights field for 12 years. I thought I knew everything about pregnancies and the ways they end: The statistics about pregnancy loss. The term “miscarriage management.” All of my options if the miscarriage didn’t happen on its own. But nothing could prepare me for how drawn-out and painful miscarrying would actually be. Over the next two weeks, I started bleeding, and thought Well, maybe this is it. Maybe this is all there is to it. Most things you hear say to expect just a heavy period.
But then, 13 days after the diagnosis, I went into labor.
I was making breakfast for my partner and son when it started. At first, the jabs were mild and five minutes apart, but I recognized them immediately: contractions, just like when I was in labor with my son. I spent the next five hours laboring in the bathroom with contractions four, three, two, then one minute apart while my partner alternated between comforting me and distracting our child. I don’t want him to see me like this, I said. My partner told me later that it was not unlike watching me give birth to our son. I was enormously relieved when I thought it was over.
It wasn’t over. Days later, I was still bleeding alarming amounts. I spent the next five days in a never-ending blizzard of calls with doctors, at appointments, getting ultrasounds. I never expected the physical aspect of the loss to eclipse the emotional, but it somehow managed to, at least during that miserable week.
“I’m in the middle of a miscarriage.”
“I’m in the middle of a miscarriage.”
“I’m in the middle of a miscarriage.” For three full weeks, that phrase kept ringing in my ears.
“Sorry I can’t join that call; sorry I can’t return your email; sorry I can’t stop and talk; sorry I can’t finish a sentence; sorry I can’t stop crying; I’m in the middle of a miscarriage,” I wanted to tell everyone: clients, colleagues, neighbors, daycare parents.
My miscarriage was finally ending when Chrissy Teigen revealed she lost her son Jack. I immediately felt a profound connection to her, the same way I feel after a friend becomes a parent. I know your joy, I would think. Now it’s, I know your suffering.
“You’re in this fucked-up club now,” a friend said to me on the phone. A club that no one wants to be in, but once you become a member you can’t imagine going without. “Let it transform you,” another friend said. She was right, of course, but my first thought was but I don’t want to be transformed. The transformation I wanted—that I should have had—was not the transformation I got. I wanted another baby. I wanted to watch my belly grow. My feet swell. My son become an older brother.
I feel marked by this experience in ways I never expected. Before September 14, I was someone who had not had a miscarriage. From September 14 on, I am someone who has had a miscarriage. I know I will never be that pre-September 14 person again. It’s the most profound sense of loss I’ve ever experienced, even though I know the statistics, even though I know logically the pregnancy was never meant to be. I became a lawyer in 2008. I became a mother in 2016. I became a person who had a miscarriage in 2020. These are not just dates on a calendar but moments that will change and shape me forever.
I feel humbled by what happened. I waffled for four years about whether to have another baby, and assumed it was always my choice to make. What a crushing realization that my assumption was unwarranted.
And I feel angry about everything I didn’t know about pregnancy loss, even after more than a decade working in the reproductive health field. I want people to know that miscarriage fucking hurts, both physically and emotionally. It can take a long time.
I want people to tell the truth about what it can really feel like. You might, like me, go into labor, and it might be during a pandemic, so you can’t drop your kid off somewhere so your partner can rub your back the whole time. And that you might actually not be mad at your body for the first time in weeks—despite the searing pain—because you might finally get some closure.
I want people who want to regulate pregnant bodies to know that pregnancies don’t always work out. That if they want to force people to stay pregnant and their pregnancy fails, that the interventions they are offered—pills that start contractions and empty the uterus or a procedure that removes the pregnancy—are the exact same options available to people who need abortions. Our choices and risks are nearly identical. I want anti-abortion politicians to know that I am no better, no more deserving of support, than someone who chose to end their pregnancy. I also want insurers and the government to cover every single fucking aspect and outcome of pregnancy.
And I want medical offices to consider the impact of their seemingly benign but thoughtless protocols, like having to tell them your “due date” in order to be patched through to the urgent nurse line after you said, “I’m in the middle of a miscarriage.” “I’m sorry,” one receptionist said softly, while I was in the middle of a contraction, “but the system won’t let me go to the next screen without it.”
I think about the baby who wasn’t meant to be all the time. Some days it’s a baby and others just an idea. We didn’t have a name or know the sex; it was too early to do much of anything other than dream.
But you do dream. I think about the spot at the kitchen table where I imagined the baby laughing at their older brother. I think about my son starting Kindergarten next fall; I was going to be starting all over with a baby by then. I thought the timing would be bittersweet. I was supposed to go into labor in April, not September. I should have been showing by Halloween.
I was going to be, I was supposed to be, I should have been. These tortured future imperfect continuous tenses.
I wonder if I’ll ever feel okay about what happened and if anyone ever really moves on. Some days I feel fine and others the grief washes over me like a storm and sometimes I try to shake it off and sometimes I let it envelop me like a blanket. I wonder what our life would have looked like had things gone according to plan—my plans, at least—and where the path of cold reality will lead instead. Maybe it will lead to a healthy pregnancy or maybe our family is complete, as it felt for so many years. Unquestionably, more transformation lies ahead.
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