Miscarriage is thought to happen in at least one in five pregnancies. That number might be a conservative estimate because some women never realize they were pregnant in the first place. Heartbreakingly common, yet rarely do we talk about pregnancy loss except in hushed whispers and tearful conversations with family and close friends.
It’s too sensitive a topic, this type of loss and grief. Part of it is the mystery surrounding it. As many scientific advances as we’ve seen in the past century, from moon landings to DNA sequencing, there is still so much we don’t understand about the human body, the female reproductive system in particular. Or rather, we do know about it, but are helpless to prevent the cause of most miscarriages before 13 weeks, chromosomal abnormalities that make a viable pregnancy not so.
The other is societal. We seek out what’s happy, and run far and fast from the sad. Because it’s all too much to process. And if you’re like me and have experienced recurrent pregnancy loss, it is overwhelming to the point of paralysis, devastating to a degree that makes you desperate beyond measure and largely inconsolable.
Miscarriage may have happened to you, your loved one, or someone you know. This is my story. I want to share it to help erase some of the stigma attached to recurrent pregnancy loss, show solidarity with those who have been there, and bring to light this all too common situation.
I know that in the world today, there are far larger tragedies and issues confronting many of us. Everyone has a mountain that is too steep, a darkness that goes too long, a struggle that persists. Mine began several years ago.
I was 33. Married for 10 years, we waited until we felt “ready” for to try for a baby. Our careers were in a good place, we thought, and financially we were OK. And friends our age were all starting to have kids. It seemed like the right time. I had been diagnosed the year prior with MS, but that was under control, with a Class C medication. Still, we became pregnant, and were ecstatic. But at 8 weeks, my first ultrasound, we discovered the beginning and the end – a fetus with no heartbeat.
It wouldn’t be the last time we’d hear the phrase “You’re still young. There’s still time.” Which is to say that the medical advice we were given was try, try again. How many have been told that same refrain?
But we weren’t satisfied with that answer, from an ob/gyn who wasn’t callous but wasn’t all that caring, either. We got a second opinion from a fertility specialist.
A hysteroscopy revealed a congenital uterine abnormality. A septate uterus, which was removed. The embroyo had implanted in that septum, unable to get any nutrients needed to sustain growth.
After a months-long recovery, we were going to try again, but my MS was not having any of it. Once I was feeling better, we began Letrozole to jumpstart my system to see if that helped. It didn’t.
We took a break, focused on other things, tried to live as though nothing was the matter. But it was always there, this nagging feeling of emptiness. Our friends’ babies were now toddlers. Life goes on.
I was 37. It was February 2016, and I was driving to work when a pain so intense and immediate hit me that I could barely walk. My co-workers helped me out of the office, and an emergency visit to my doctor led to my first ever ambulance ride to the hospital. We had no idea what was wrong, other than this incredible pain shooting up my right side.
Test upon test finally found that I was bleeding internally, from a ruptured tubal pregnancy. A surprise pregnancy.
I was rushed into emergency surgery, where live-saving measures had to be taken. My left fallopian tube was among the casualties that day. I was about 8 weeks along, but the embryo never made it to my uterus. It embedded in that tube, leading to a pregnancy that was not just unviable but dangerous. And women who have one ectopic pregnancy have greater odds of having another.
I was 38. We weren’t sure what was next for us, but we knew we wanted a baby. We started looking into adoption and IVF, both expensive and intensive measures. In October 2016, we began the regimen for IVF, which is full of cycles and shots to manipulate a woman’s reproductive system to control the timing of ovulation.
I didn’t have many eggs. Women who endure this can tell you that after age 35, things start going south. One egg was viable. One is what we worked with.
One wasn’t enough.
5.4 centimeters. Or, as the pregnancy app liked to measure it, bigger than a kumquat and about the size of a small lime.
My dad had texted me earlier in the week, saying he was looking forward to when it was the size of a jicama. What does that even look like, we joked.
I am 39. I was 12 weeks into what would be my fifth pregnancy, the longest of any thus far.
Early in the pregnancy, at six weeks, I began bleeding. We went to the ER, certain that was a bad sign. An ultrasound discovered a subchorionic hemorrhage, which is a tear in the lining. But there was also a heartbeat.
We were astounded. We hadn’t been trying trying, after being told by doctors that there was not much of a chance. But this news buoyed us, gave us hope that we hadn’t had in what felt like forever.
At our first official checkup at eight weeks, we heard the most beautiful of sounds—a galloping heartbeat, 155 beats per minute. We were starting to believe that we had beaten the odds. That we did, as the doctor said, have a miracle.
My symptoms were typical, which made me excited and nervous all at once. We started talking about baby names, and how to announce the pregnancy. Still, we couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that it was too good to be true.
And it wasn’t. Little Bean didn’t survive. Somewhere between 11 and 12 weeks, the heart stopped.
Our world has, too.