When my first child was 2 years old, many of my friends with similarly-aged kids were pregnant, or at least thinking about it. I knew in my heart that I wanted to have another child someday, but I was not ready then. My son didn’t sleep through the night yet, his 2-year-old tantrums were epic, and he was an all-around intense soul. I loved him with all my heart, but I felt like I needed things to get a little easier before I had another baby.
We were using birth control, and my periods were very regular. That’s why I knew something was wrong when I ended up having a very short period, followed by a week of nausea, and then more bleeding a week later. My first thought was that something was wrong with my hormones. I was still nursing; maybe that was throwing things off? I called the midwife who had delivered my son to ask her what was up with me. The first words that came out of her mouth were, “Sounds like you’re having a miscarriage.”
Even typing these words now, I’m taken aback by the word “miscarriage.” I still don’t think of myself as someone who had one. I wasn’t trying to get pregnant. I had no knowledge that a baby was taking root inside me. And now someone was telling me that I had been pregnant, but wasn’t anymore.
I took a drugstore pregnancy test, which was negative. But I was still bleeding and felt awful, so I went to the OB office to get some further info. The doctor did a sonogram, which showed nothing, then some blood work to see if anything else was wrong.
I got a call the next day telling me that a small amount of pregnancy hormone was detected in my blood. I asked the doctor what that meant. He said, “Either you’re newly pregnant or miscarrying.”
I was confused and upset. If I was “newly pregnant,” why was I bleeding? And if I was miscarrying, that meant I’d been pregnant (which was news to me!), and I was losing a baby. My mama-instincts took over, and I felt madly protective of this little one that may or may not have existed. And the idea of not knowing destroyed me. I felt my stomach clench and my breath become shallow and labored.
I called the doctor back, and asked what to do next. I needed to know. “Come back in a few days. If the number has gone up, you’re pregnant. If it’s gone down, you’ve miscarried.” His bedside manner left much to be desired, but at least I knew what to do next.
After the second blood test, there was no pregnancy hormone left, and my bleeding had stopped as well. This time, I didn’t call the doctor for his opinion. I knew that I’d had a miscarriage. That part made sense. What I didn’t expect was that I would fall down in a heap on the bathroom floor sobbing.
Why was I mourning a baby who had probably lived in me for a blip of a week? Early miscarriages are common, everyone told me. It was probably nothing more than a clump of cells. Maybe it was just a “chemical pregnancy” (a term I abhor). Everyone said I was knocking myself out for nothing.
I felt ashamed for feeling anything at all, and yet I couldn’t shake my feelings of sadness for what could have been. That “clump of cells” was my DNA and my husband’s mixing to make someone who could have been as miraculous as the little toddler who slept all night with his arm draped across my stomach. I was mourning something real, but something that felt entirely unreal at the same time.
I spent the rest of that summer in a strange panic. I still didn’t feel ready to have another baby, but I longed to know more about the baby I had lost. I thought of the baby as a girl. Each time I saw a little girl walking around, tugging at her mother’s sleeve, I thought of my girl. I did it subconsciously, as if by instinct. And then I would try to shut out those thoughts. I felt so foolish for being attached to the idea of this child — the one who hardly even existed; the one I’d never asked for.
Six years have passed since then. I have two children now, and my family feels complete. But I still mourn for that “in between” child we might have had. Most of all, I feel upset when I think of how little support I had to work through my complex feelings over the miscarriage. I wish the people in my life hadn’t brushed off the incident. I wish I hadn’t tried to silence my own thoughts about it — that I hadn’t felt such shame about how deeply it affected me.
I don’t believe my experience of miscarriage was in the same league as mothers who have lost babies further along into a pregnancy, who have had many miscarriages or never ended up bringing a baby to term. But I think all miscarriages are meaningful. I never thought mine “counted” until I talked to other women who had similar experiences, and whose intense emotions also surprised them.
I think we need to speak out about all our experiences with miscarriage, whatever they looked like and however they played out in our lives. So many women are encouraged to just “move on” or “try again,” but saying things like this to women can only makes them feel more alone. It isn’t healthy to bottle up emotions or try to push them aside. Each pregnancy loss a mother experiences — large or small — is part of her history as a mother and as a woman. Every mother’s story deserves to be heard.