I Want To Hear About Your Pregnancy Loss (And I Want You To Know About Mine)
From the minute those two pink stripes came up, I was in love with this baby. I did not anticipate how quickly I would attach. I especially did not foresee the intense fear of loss that accompanies such great love. At the slightest belly twinge or on low-symptom days, I would read all the old wives' tales on online forums on pregnancy loss signs. The most common advice:
"Trust your body."
"If you are still having symptoms, you're are still pregnant!"
"No blood, no cramps, no problem!"
So, all day long, I would press at my breasts to make sure they were still sore and check the toilet paper each time I peed, even in the dark in the middle of the night. If I was nauseous or felt sick, I would be happy, because that meant everything was going well, right?
To share or not to share?
How can you love someone you have never even met? That you didn't even know you wanted? How can your entire life feel completely different in a matter of weeks, when outwardly nothing really changed? Those three and a half weeks of knowing I was pregnant felt like the longest in my entire life. I suffered through the nausea, heightened smell, endless hunger, and an incredible roller-coaster ride of emotions. I wanted to simultaneously sleep for hours and dance in excitement screaming, "I am pregnant!"
Even though it was still early, I adjusted my upcoming work schedule and began to tell people the news, even though everything I read and even close friends warned, "It's too early to share."
Well before pregnancy, I had heard of the first trimester rule—that the first three months are the most common time to lose a baby. I was more than aware loss was possible. Honestly, I was paralyzed with dread most days. I would Google "signs of pregnancy loss" hourly and took six pregnancy tests to make sure I was still pregnant. I grasped tightly to the (now I know) false hope that if you are symptomatic, you are pregnant. But I still didn't understand why I could not tell people about being pregnant. Would not the people I told be the same people I would lean on if, heaven forbid, I did lose a child?
We had our first doctor's appointment, finally, when I was seven weeks and three days in. (Most doctors will not see you until seven to nine weeks into your pregnancy. The wait feels interminable.) We huddled in the cramped office, shaking with excitement. They wheeled in the intravaginal ultrasound machine in. The coarse image came up on the screen: black, white, and grainy. I did not see anything. Then the doctor started speaking slowly and taking long pauses. We knew something was amiss right away.
"There is the gestational sac," she started, waving the wand around this little black void sitting inert on the screen. Where were the arm buds and legs all my pregnancy apps had promised? The start of the head? The indent of the eyes? "It looks like it is in the uterus, which is good, but it is no guarantee?" It sounded as if she was asking herself. But? But what? I wanted to scream. My husband squeezed my hand. And then she measured it, this black hole before us. It measured at five weeks; we were supposed to be well past seven weeks.
"I have all the symptoms, though? They seem to be worsening?" I was negotiating, with whom I don't know.
A "missed pregnancy loss" it's called. It refers to when the baby has stopped growing or developing in the uterus without any symptoms.
At this point the colors in the room had dulled. I was in a dream I desperately wanted to wake up from.
Why I hope you share.
When we lost the baby, for a brief moment, I understood why people don't tell.
I was overwhelmed by emotion. I felt shame for failing. Embarrassment for telling too many people. Anger toward the universe for taking away this gift. Distrust in my body for lying to me for weeks. It was a well with no bottom, and I was slipping deeper and deeper into it, even muttering to my husband at one point, "This is why I never wanted a baby in the first place." Some days after our loss, I lay on our couch catatonic and swollen from crying.
Then I got on Instagram and looked up the hashtag "pregnancy loss." I could not believe how many women were openly talking about their losses, and I was especially surprised to see how supportive they were all being of one another. How brave these women are to have shared! How courageous of these women to keep trying and trying. The further down the rabbit hole I went, the more empowered and inspired I became.
I knew it was time for me to share. If I could help one person feel less alone, just as those brave strangers on Instagram had helped me, perhaps there could be some purpose to this awful experience. On my social media where I shared our story, I wrote, "You may think this is TMI, but what I'm learning is that I wish women talked about this more. If you have had a similar experience, please know that I feel you, and it is NOT your fault. I would love to connect and hear your story and share about our angels."
I could not have imagined the outpouring of responses that followed. So many women and men came forward in the comments. People wrote me privately sharing about their losses, some saying they still had not even told their closest friends.
My own friends and family came forward, and for the first time I was given the privilege of hearing the stories of their losses. I spent almost two full weeks on the phone every single day hearing stories of pregnancy loss and fertility struggles. I also started to read about celebrities recently opening up about their losses. I downloaded and listened to all nine hours of Michelle Obama's Becoming, mostly to hear about her pregnancy loss. I watched Ali Wong's Netflix special Baby Cobra, in which she openly and humorously shares about her own.
Where we once would not dare speak the "M" word, it feels like we are finally starting to be able to, and I am honored to be a part of this movement. You see, my dreadful loss is not special. In fact, it is quite ordinary—we just don't talk about it enough to know that. We keep them a secret, often out of shame or fear that it was something we have caused, or that we will jinx the next one, or that people will judge us.
But the truth is, one in four pregnancies end in loss. One in four! Many of us may have even had one before but just assumed it was a late period.
In those early weeks of my pregnancy before I learned of my pregnancy loss, I was advised over and over again not to share the joy of my pregnancy with others because we wouldn't want them to see our loss should the worst happen. But why shouldn't they? Why shouldn't we be able to experience these moments of extreme emotions with the people who will lift us up?
What is saddest to me is not that we have lost a child-to-be. It is that women still don't feel comfortable talking about these events. I believe we can change this. In fact, we are changing this. Through social media and celebrity platforms, we are learning to talk about this very common, albeit extraordinarily painful, part of having children. The difference now is that we can go through it as a collective of sisters. We can hold each other's hands along this journey. And though our bellies may be empty for now, our hearts will be full.
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