“I’m sorry, I’m not seeing a heartbeat.”
It was over just like that. No cramping, no bleeding. Just the worried eyes of a sweet, bubbly ultrasound technician darting between me and the screen.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
Immediately, I cycled through the ways in which it could be my fault. The day I forgot my prenatal vitamin. The massage I got at the chiropractor. That wine tasting in Spain before I found out I was pregnant. The meats and cheeses I sampled in the Barcelona markets.
And then my mind went all the way back to Spain, to the secluded beach in Costa Brava where I first thought I might be pregnant. My husband and I wrote baby names in the sand and took pictures before the tide washed them away. I had thought of the baby that may be growing inside me and felt enchanted by the idea that he or she could be sharing the beach with us.
The tech pulled the wand out, and my dead baby disappeared from the screen. She wrapped her arms around my knees and looked at me straight. “Are you okay? How are you doing?”
In the days and weeks to come, I would say this a lot. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine. I said that I knew it was for the best, that it meant this baby wouldn’t have had a good quality of life. I was only nine weeks. This is common.
But internally, I felt embarrassed by how shaken I was. In the five weeks that I’d known, I had made plans for the baby. I had envisioned our life with him or her. The baby would have been two months old on our daughter’s second birthday. I pictured wearing the little one in a baby wrap at the party. I imagined those first few months as a combination of newborn haze and soft summer breezes. In an instant, all of that was gone, like the names washed away from the beach in Spain.
These emotions were dramatic and unruly. I didn’t want people to know about the miscarriage because I didn’t want to talk about it. As our parents quietly informed the people who had already been told of my pregnancy, I dreaded the pitying looks — the possibility of someone putting a hand on my arm at a Christmas party and saying, “Oh honey, I heard about what you’re going through.”
Don’t look at me, don’t talk to me, don’t tell me it was all for the best. My doctor recommended dilation and curettage (D&C) — a quick surgery to go in and remove all the tissue — because he said it was preferred for closure and moving on. The other options were a pill that would cause bleeding and pain so intense that I might think I needed to go to the emergency room, or just letting nature do its thing, which could take weeks. I scheduled the surgery without question. Anything to put an end to this purgatory of carrying something that no longer could be in my body.
I’m fine, I’m fine. I kept saying it. People believed me. Family members said I was handling it well. I pride myself on this: handling things well. This has nothing to do with my emotional well-being; it’s a measure of my ability to keep moving, keep doing, to work and live through pain.
I was nervous about the surgery but didn’t want to Google for fear of falling into one of those terrible mommy chat boards where everyone tells you everything you’re doing wrong. I texted a friend I trust in the medical field to ask if she knew anything about the D&C.
Instead, she shocked me by telling me she had had a miscarriage the year before.
She answered my questions with patience and empathy. For the first time, talking about it made me feel better. In our shared experience, I felt less alone.
This was not an isolated incident. As I moved on from the surgery, I felt more comfortable telling people about what had happened. And so many women looked at me with understanding in their eyes and said, “I went through it too.”
Woman after woman in my life told me about their miscarriages. Young women, older women, women with and without other children now. In each instance, I had been oblivious to their loss.
Why do we not talk about this? Why didn’t I, when I first found out? We hide pregnancies in the first trimester so that if something goes wrong, we don’t have to reveal our devastation, but why?
We all process pain differently. Certainly, at first, I felt more comfortable processing mine privately. But once I dared to share it, women I love rose to the occasion and bore it with me. No one should feel that they must reveal or perform their pain for anyone. But maybe, as a culture, we could make it easier on women to feel like they don’t have to discuss miscarriages in whispers behind closed doors.
So here it is: I had a miscarriage, and then I had a D&C. I can talk about the procedure in detail. I won’t tell you it was for the best or part of some larger plan. I will listen, and I will do my best to answer any questions you have. I will let you know that however you choose to process your pain is the right way. If you want to go to work, do it. If you want to take time off, do it. If you yell at your partner for simply not understanding the exact minutiae of your feelings, that’s okay.