Let’s Talk About Miscarriage
Yesterday, my niece Kalli announced to the world that she and my nephew Madison are expecting their first baby in August. I had known for a few weeks that she was pregnant, and had prayed every day for a year that God would pluck some little soul in the universe who would want to come join our quirky clan.
You see, last January Kalli suffered a miscarriage. She and Madi continued to try to get pregnant, but with no luck. It was a devastating year for them, on many fronts. And I knew how she felt.
I shared with her the story of my other niece Ashley, who suffered eight – EIGHT – miscarriages before Madelyn arrived last April, a true miracle. Ashley was born with only half of her female reproductive organs, and the odds of carrying a healthy baby to full term were slim to nothing. But miracles happen. I know that too.
I had three early miscarriages before my first child was born. I was a mess for two years, certain I would never become a mother in the “natural” way and considering all other options. My sister, who had produced two beautiful children with ease, even offered to be a surrogate.
Kalli, Ashley and I are just three of the 20 to 30 percent of American women who suffer miscarriages each year, according to the Mayo Clinic. And those numbers are probably higher, since many miscarriages happen so early in pregnancy women don’t realize it.
Miscarriage is a somewhat loaded term — possibly suggesting that something was amiss in the carrying of the pregnancy, the Clinic says. This is rarely true. Most miscarriages occur because the fetus isn't developing normally.
But for those of us who suffer miscarriages, it’s too easy to blame ourselves. I felt I was being punished by the universe. I drank too much in college. I lied to my mom about taking that $20 from her purse when I was in high school. I talked about people behind their backs. I smoked pot twice (I never really liked the stuff). My husband didn’t love me enough. I was too anxious to be a good mom.
And there you have it. I wasn’t good enough.
And I got sick of people saying, “Oh, you’ll have a normal baby the next time,” “These things happen,” “It’s better now than losing a child,” “Buck up,” and “Just let it go.”
What I wanted to hear was “I’m so sorry,” “Take time to grieve,” and “This is a real loss, you did lose a child.”
So many women – so many couples -- hide their pain. I lost a baby on Saturday and was back at work on Monday. That’s not right. We have to take time to grieve, and our loved ones need to know that. Employers need to know that. Society needs to know that. Whether you are seven weeks along or seven months along, losing a baby before it is born is a devastating experience for couples, especially women. We have to talk about it. We have to share our grief, not grieve in private.
It has to be okay to suffer a miscarriage. It happens too often not to accept the real loss that it is. And not just for the woman carrying the child, but their partners and families, too. I know how my nephews suffered, not knowing quite how to handle their own pain while being worried sick about their partners.
I had a wonderful doctor. On my fourth try, she tested me before I even skipped a period. It was positive. She put me on a dose of progesterone hormones for the first three months. That seemed to solve my problem. The first time I threw up – on Highway 101 on my way to a wedding – I was thrilled. Being sick meant the pregnancy was progressing normally.
When I was 10 weeks pregnant I had a panic attack. My doctor allowed me and my husband to come into her office. “It’s probably too early to hear the heartbeat yet,” she cautioned. These were the days before early ultrasounds. But there it was, fluttering strongly through her stethoscope. The baby was okay. An ultrasound four weeks later confirmed it – I was having a healthy baby.
But I was a nervous wreck throughout the pregnancy. I wouldn’t carry heavy objects up the stairs, or even use the vacuum. Every twinge and cramp was a reason to call my doctor. I’m sure they were sick of me. “Your uterus is stretching,” she said calmly. “Get used to those aches and pains.” The first time I felt the baby move – a tiny flutter in my womb – I called my entire family to tell them.
Ashley did, and I’m sure Kalli will too.
I am writing this blog post on the anniversary of my daughter’s birth. She is 29 today, and has always been a happy, glorious addition to our clan. She keeps me sane. The only thing she’s never forgiven me for is giving her two little brothers, pregnancies that were much different from the first – except for that early fear I would lose them. I took progesterone in both their pregnancies, and they turned out beautifully.
There is hope for women who miscarry. The greatest fear is that we’re somehow not normal, that our bodies aren’t working right, that we’re not real women. That is especially true for women who haven’t had babies yet, but for women who have, the pain of miscarriage is just as intense.
So let’s not hide from it. Let’s talk about it, allow employers to acknowledge that the employee needs a mourning period, that it is a death in the family. Most of all, let’s admit to ourselves the real pain and sadness of losing a baby.
But there is always hope, that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That’s what my Francesca is to me, and her brothers as well. Little souls who had the guts to join our quirky clan – in their own time.