Content Warning: This piece contains references to miscarriage, which may be triggering to some.
The day I found out I was pregnant, I couldn’t stop crying.
After buying a drugstore pregnancy test, I was too nervous to read the results, so I left it sitting on the bathroom sink and forced my roommate to look at it for me. She was greeted withtwo bright pink lines. As I called out to her, asking for the verdict, her hesitation gave me my answer. I immediately broke down in tears, and we spent the next twenty minutes re-reading the instructions of the pregnancy test, googling the accuracy rates of home pregnancy tests, trying to find a loophole somehow. We weren’t pleased with our findings; these tests aren’t often wrong. I was pregnant.
This wasn’t supposed to happen: I was single, recently turned 24, living in a group house with 3 other girls, and broke as a joke. What little money was left over each month after paying for rent often went to nights out, boozy brunches, shopping sprees, overpriced lattes, happy hours. Definitely not the type of lifestyle fit for a soon-to-be mother, let alone a pregnant woman.
The father was a whole other story; we weren’t together at all, and he was someone I barely knew. We met on a bus in my neighborhood, went on a few dates, and slept together once. Although older than me, he was still in school and made it very clear that he had neither money to help nor interest in becoming a father.
For the next couple of days, I mourned the loss of my social life. I know it sounds superficial, and I’m lucky that these were the biggest of my problems, but I couldn’t shake the feeling I’d be “missing out” on so much; none of my friends had kids and were all living in cities, working, enjoying life and doing whatever they wanted. Simultaneously, I worried that my potential child would be at a disadvantage without a father figure, and would suffer under my care as an immature and broke single mom. How would I pay for a kid? I didn’t even have my own health insurance yet. What would dating look like after having a child? How would I have any fun?
It occurred to me there were other options. No one would know if I got an abortion, and it was so early in the pregnancy that the fetus really was just a group of cells at that point. But I was raised Catholic, and throughout my Catholic upbringing, we’d been bombarded with stories of women who got abortions and regretted it, or never forgave themselves, or suffered lots of physical, and emotional, pain during the procedure. Even as I knew this wasn’t true with the vast majority of abortions, I was scared. For about the first 24 hours after I found out I was pregnant, I was convinced I’d just give the baby up for adoption. There were loads of nice-looking, infertile couples posted up on adoption websites, begging you to help them start their families. “You are not ‘giving up’ when you give your baby up for adoption!” the websites gladly told me.
But all it took was three days, and something strange happened. This wasn’t just a group of cells anymore. It wasn’t even just a baby, it was my baby. She was going to be a girl, I decided. Even though I was leaning towards wanting a boy, there was definite feminine energy down there. It really is possible to bond with someone you haven’t technically “met” yet, as many expectant mothers will tell you. Chalk it up to the pregnancy hormones, but I was in love with her and so excited for her arrival. We started planning; I’d move back in with my empty-nester parents and save money, get my own health insurance, friends and family offered to babysit and help whenever possible, I started planning for a nursery and picking out baby names. Physically, I was exhausted and nauseous, but mentally I was ready for that baby.
Not long after I settled into the role of nervous-yet-happy expecting mom, the baby that I hadn’t even known I was ready for was gone.
Some routine blood tests at the doctor’s office showed specific pregnancy hormone levels—which should have been increasing rapidly at that time—were either plateauing or decreasing. My doctor advised me to be prepared for a miscarriage, and told me what to do if, and when, I started bleeding.
At first, I held onto hope that if I just took good enough care of myself, ate healthy, avoided physical exertion, prayed hard enough, told more people about the pregnancy, that a miscarriage couldn’t happen. I was in denial. Why would God throw this massive event into my life, just to take it away once I’ve finally accepted responsibility and gotten behind the idea? It just seemed unfair.
But I knew what was coming. The pregnancy symptoms that were so potent earlier on—sore breasts, heightened sense of smell, nausea—had practically disappeared. One day, while riding with the windows down in my brother’s beat-up Chevy Astrovan, he vocally recoiled as we apparently passed by some smelly manure. I immediately started crying behind my sunglasses, because I couldn’t smell anything, and I knew it was over. My imminent miscarriage made my body feel like a ticking time bomb. Cramping and heavy clots of blood followed about a week later. My biggest fear; I was miscarrying.
October was deemed Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month in 1988, to remember all lost in miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, or at any point during pregnancy or infancy, and to support their bereaved families. Most people have never heard of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and likely don’t understand why awareness is critical or even necessary. But that’s precisely the problem—people aren’t aware of how common miscarriage really is, the causes of it, or the toll it takeson the mothers and families. An estimated 1 in 4 (of known) pregnancies end in miscarriage, and it wasn’t until my own miscarriage that I heard from so many others who had been in the same position. If stories like mine were so common, why weren’t people talking about it?
The loss of a miscarriage can be especially isolating. In my experience, I felt guilty for taking time to grieve, and an irrational sense of shame for my sadness. Even though I knew the statistics on how common miscarriage is, and that technically it was likely caused by a chromosomal abnormality, I couldn’t help but feel inherently defective for failing to carry out one of nature’s most basic functions. This sense of guilt and shame is made even worse by the fact that miscarriage is still largely a taboo subject. Most pregnancies end in the first trimester, before many knew they existed. This can make miscarriage feel like a shameful secret; women are warned not to disclose the news of their pregnancies until clearing the 12-week “danger zone”, leading to further isolation after a pregnancy loss does occur.
After my miscarriage, I just wanted some kind of acknowledgement that my loss was valid, and to be supported or comforted by those who had suffered through it. Searching for articles and online support forums, I found that almost everything was told from the perspective of married couples, or women who would soon after have successful pregnancies. For all of them, emotionally healing from their initial miscarriage was contingent on the hope of conceiving another child. What about those of us who can’t or shouldn’t immediately just “try again” for a baby? How can people like me—who are single, or not in what society deems an acceptable place in life to have a child—engage in a healthy grieving process? I believe the first step is in creating a space where women are allowed, and encouraged, to share their stories. Miscarriage shouldn’t carry such a stigma, and women should be able to share as much, or as little, of their pregnancy journey as they would like.
In my experience, people often don’t know how to react to the unique type of grief that miscarriage can bring, and it can be a bit awkward for both parties as a result. For me, a simple “I’m so sorry” would have been more than enough. After my miscarriage, I received many good–intentioned but ultimately hurtful comments from friends and family. “It’s all part of God’s plan”, “It just wasn’t meant to be”, “Everything happens for a reason”, “At least you’re young, you can try again in a few years” were among the most common, and among the most infuriating. Advising me that this miscarriage was “part of God’s plan” sounds an awful lot like “You aren’t meant to be a parent.” And I’ve yet to hear of anyone mourning the loss of a parent or a friend who was consequently met with “Everything happens for a reason,” so why offer this to someone after a miscarriage? And most of all, I don’t want to just “try again later.” I need to grieve for THIS baby, because even though she wasn’t planned, it doesn’t mean she wasn’t wanted or loved. I want to feel justified in my heartbreak, and need a way to acknowledge that there was a baby and now there is not.
Some women I’ve talked to have found solace in ritualizing their losses. Where there aren’t formal ceremonies in most religions (or at least those I’m aware of) to commemorate a miscarriage loss, some have taken to creating their own. Lighting a candle, talking out loud to your baby, framing an ultrasound photo, running a marathon in their honor. Anything that gives the validation that what you lost was real, and worthy of mourning.
Every person’s grief and healing process will be different. I’m pretty sure I’ll never be fully “over” this loss, but rather will learn to live with a new normal, and hopefully find some peace in the process. It’s my hope that in opening up about miscarriage, and allowing others to do the same, we can bring greater understanding, greater support, and rather than hide the sadness it brings, help to normalize miscarriage as a true loss worth commemorating.