In a small, dust-filled conference room sits a bunch of abandoned technology: computer screens, phones, cords, and keyboards, plus my husband and me. Some of the objects are stacked up on the floor, and others cover a conference table we’re sitting next to. Instead of heading back to the lobby with freshly printed ultrasound pictures in hand, we’re back-doored to this depressing space to discuss our pregnancy, which is no longer viable. It makes me feel like a burden to the clinic staff, much like the misplaced items around the room someone dumped here to deal with later.
Since no one knows where to put us or the IT equipment, we’re now one in our obsoleteness. The seclusion is two-fold I suppose: one, we won’t scare the other expecting parents by an outpouring of emotion in a common area, and two, I won’t see the bright, shining faces of the folks that got good news today who I instinctively hate already. They instruct us to wait for a call from the only operational phone in the room or a visit from an available OBGYN. Being left in here without a definite plan is so strange…the phone might ring, someone might come to speak with us. Minutes ago, we waited to see our baby’s heartbeat for the first time but instead saw the tiniest beginnings of a human with no flickering movement.
Now I’m still, like my baby, holding a purple grief folder in one hand and my husband’s hand in the other.
To mask my true feelings of disappointment, shame and embarrassment, I start making jokes about the ridiculousness of our situation, starting with the grief-stricken dad pictured inside the folder. He’s standing alone in a sunflower field, hands on his hips, gazing off into the distance. If he really was so sad, would he look this posed and pensive? I decide he’s a fraudulent griever, which makes me angry with this 30-something model, likely just trying to get by.
My sarcastic commentary on the situation is interrupted by the phone ringing, which sends a shiver down my millennial spine. In addition to the mental anguish I’ve already endured, I must accept a call from a landline with no caller ID. My husband passes on his chance to intervene because it’s “most likely for me,” the one who has to deal with this trauma head-on. This makes me momentarily rage as the parenthood scales have already been tipped in my direction. I refrain from answering, “Who the hell is this?” Instead, I go with a confused, “Hello?” and the caller tells me there’s someone on their way to speak with us. I begin to dread yet another painfully awkward exchange that goes something like:
Them: I’m so sorry.
Them: This just happens sometimes for no reason.
Me: Ok, will it happen again?
Them: We really have no idea, but hopefully not. You’ll want to follow up with your regular care doctor soon.
Me: Got it.
On the way out of the clinic, I ask my husband if he wants to find a sunflower field to grieve in. Sadly, there isn’t time, and we jump right into the next layer of hell: telling family and friends about our miscarriage.
A few weeks before, we announced our happy news during Easter dinner by having our families crack open plastic eggs with the word “baby” inside each one and a few Hershey Kisses.
Everyone saw this news coming. What else would we be trying to tell them simultaneously before mealtime? “Surprise…we’re expecting…a new…dishwasher, in three weeks. In each egg is a commemorative cleaning tablet.” They played along anyway and were glad to share our excitement over a little one to cuddle and spoil.
Most of our friends perceived the news when I stopped ordering drinks at social functions. As new parents themselves, a sudden switch to lemonade was an undeniable clue to our growing family. Since we’re bad liars, we told our bosses the reason why we’d be late to the office on this day–first ultrasound, yay. Yet another person to bum out with our bad news now. As a reward for our honesty, we receive the rest of the day off to go home and drown our sorrows. We decide on McDonald’s breakfast as our pity meal, guilt-free on this occasion. I talk to my mom on the way home, shedding a few tears over how crappy I feel now to just be a bloated, non-pregnant person. Except, I still am sort of pregnant, because I am experiencing what is considered a missed miscarriage.
A missed miscarriage is especially unfortunate because prior to arriving at the doctor’s office, you thought you were, indeed, still pregnant.
But, surprise! You aren’t. For whatever reason, the fetus’s heart stops beating, but your body doesn’t release the pregnancy. So the symptoms of pregnancy continue on a more mild basis leaving one to believe their symptoms just aren’t “so bad.” When the moment of truth arrives, however, instead of receiving a blurry black and white photo of a blob, the technician says they need to consult with a doctor mid-ultrasound in a concerned, quiet voice. They come back together to deliver the bad news in a sort of a good cop, bad cop fashion.
Technician: It’s so great you can get pregnant!
Doctor: The baby stopped growing several weeks ago.
Technician: This just happened to one of our coworkers.
Doctor: Here’s some information for you (with terrible stock photos shot in a sunflower field). Better luck in the future.
Unfortunately, the news doesn’t quite register with my husband.
Husband: (Silent. Looks confused)
Me: Baby’s dead and stuck in my body.
Following the appointment, I started my quest for knowledge by calling a friend who experienced a similar loss about a year before.
I learned that to release a missed miscarriage, you can take a pill orally or vaginally (that’s a first), wait for it to happen naturally, or schedule a dilation and curettage (D & C) procedure. She tells me she opted for the procedure, which seemed rational, leaving it in the hands of actual medical professionals. Armed with this sort of “Our Bodies Ourselves” advice, I make an appointment with the only open OBGYN the next day, who happens to be my first male doctor of a grandfather’s age.
Grandpa vagina doctor is rather brash and convinces me that I should have no problem passing the fetus by taking medication, thankfully, by mouth.
Him: You’re a healthy 30-year-old woman. Let’s start with the meds.
Me: Ok, what are the potential side effects?
Him: Uncontrollable bleeding.
Me: Geez, does that happen often?
Him: Once in a while.
Me: What if that happens to me?
Him: Go to the emergency room.
Me: Silently nods, freaks out internally.
A full 24 hours pass after taking four tiny pills, and hardly any spotting occurs, so my new, least favorite doctor orders up another round of medication two days later, and still, not much happens. At first, I thought it was sweet of my body to try and protect this pregnancy, but now I’m just pissed off. Let it go already, I think. It’s not happening this time. Continuing to carry this deceased baby around, likely equivalent to a grain of rice, is depressing and frankly hindering future chances to get pregnant again as I need to get through at least one normal period cycle to try. Though this failed pregnancy was a little overwhelming to process just after my 30th birthday, all I want now is to be very knocked up, painting nursery walls while snacking on a jar of pickles. I panic-schedule with another senior male doctor and hope for the best.
After describing my failed, in-home miscarriage induction to the new doc, he suggests getting a D & C procedure on the calendar a week out to give my janky body one final chance to pass things naturally.
Him: It sounds like you’ve exhausted your other options and need some closure.
Me: Yes, exactly. I’m losing my mind. Are D & Cs risky?
Him: We usually don’t see complications when performing one for early pregnancy loss.
Me: Good to know.
My new doctor’s confidence calms my nerves, and by mid-week, I schedule with a Wiccan acupuncturist to try and stir things up naturally one last time. This doesn’t do much besides make me feel woozy as I lay flat with needles all over my body. My gothic practitioner assures me no matter the outcome, my body is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. I silently doubt her and swipe my credit card for the obscenely expensive hour of witchcraft. Later that night, I began to wonder if I’m going to go completely insane by this experience—a non-emergent medical situation that doesn’t have a singular, clinical solution.
The day of my surgery finally arrives, and I receive all the “good drugs” I’ve darn well earned by this point.
More than numbing actual pain ahead, I just want something to take away my negative and intrusive thoughts that go something like: “You’re going to keep having miscarriages. You did something wrong. You shouldn’t have told anyone. Your body is broken.” In reality, I know that 1 in 4 women will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime, and with time, my sadness will fade.
Since I’ve had weeks to feel depressed, on the day of my procedure, I mostly feel anxious. It’s the usual nervousness that goes along with any medical episode, but I’m ready to move forward. I enjoy a quick trip to Neverland; not completely awake or asleep, and then I’m out of the surgery suite. The team is confident I’m in the clear now and optimistic about my reproductive future when I remain uncertain. I get a popsicle and again hold my husband’s hand. The doctor comes by to check in.
Him: How are you feeling?
Me: I’m okay.
Him: If you think you’re bleeding too much, please go to the ER immediately.
Me: Will do.
Him: I hope to see you again soon, complaining about how nauseated you feel from a new pregnancy.
Me: Me too; I just never want to leave here again with a purple folder.
Him: That’s the most profound thing a patient has ever said to me.
I never did leave again with a purple folder, but rather two baby girls born 22 months apart.
The miscarriage now feels like a faded memory until I’m in for an annual exam, and the nurse asks, “You’ve had three pregnancies, and two live births, is that correct?” I hesitantly say that it is and wish there was a gentler way of asking about my loss. My hope is that we find better ways to embrace moms who have miscarried and moms struggling to conceive. Rather than heading to a gloomy, tucked-away space, how about a room with an endless supply of candy to consume, a punching bag to slug, and a therapist on-hand to vent to? Anything that takes the edge off and doesn’t make you feel like a keyboard missing some keys. Removing the stigma surrounding miscarriage starts with acknowledging them thoughtfully, asking women how they’re feeling, and listening intently.
If sharing my painful memories can make one other person feel more normal during their time of grief, then it’s worth it. You’re not alone, your story matters, and there will be brighter days ahead. I believe in your strength, resilience, and ability to pay it forward to the next woman who needs to hear it too.
- We are Here For You: A Letter to the Parents who Received Bad News About their Pregnancy Today
- Miscarriage, Stillbirth, Infant Loss, and Pregnancy After Loss: It Takes a Village, and a Sisterhood
- Next Steps to Take After Having a Miscarriage
- What You Need to Know about First-Trimester Loss
- What to Expect When Your Baby Dies