A Baby

I originally published this post in April of 2015 after suffering a miscarriage in March. Writing it helped me to organize and process my grief, and sharing it helped me to memorialize my baby. I deactivated the blog as it remained dormant for the months following; I had little inspiration to add or to follow-up the blog’s only entry. In the days, weeks, and months following the public announcement of my miscarriage, I received an overwhelming outpouring of support, love, and gratitude for telling the story. Nearly a year later, I’m reposting it in hopes that sharing it will make others feel less alone in their grief as many of you made me feel less alone in mine. 

This is a story about a baby. Like all stories, it has a beginning.

I am not a patient person. The test I took on January 29th should not have been positive; it was too early. I’d already wasted a box of tests because I couldn’t wait, and it was like peeing on $12. I took the test anyway that morning because I just knew. And there is was: a very faint, but visible, line.

I don’t remember being surprised. It was the manifestation of everything I’d learned in health class. Do this without this, and you’ll get pregnant. Of course it happened the first month we tried because Alex and I have always kind of had this charmed marriage. I walked out of the bathroom and told Alex, who was still in bed. We had a weird, surreal, happy, is-this-really-happening? moment before I left for work. At noon that day, Alex accepted a job offer in Dallas. The timing of the pregnancy and the job offer just clicked together. The stars aligned.

We told our parents and siblings within about 30 hours of finding out ourselves. Patience is really, really not my thing. We told a few friends after the six-week ultrasound, where we found out everything was progressing normally. Alex was still in LA at that point and went to the appointment with me. It was his first trip to the gynecologist, and we giggled at the diagrams on the wall like the real adults that we are. We wondered what a “fundus” was and stared in horror at a circle labeled “10 centimeters.” I thought, I can’t believe we are actually old enough to have our own child. I looked at the little ultrasound picture the whole ride home. There was my tiny little bean-shaped baby, measuring at only a third of a centimeter. That baby had effortlessly become the most significant person in our lives.

In the next few weeks, we spent time preparing for Alex’s move to Dallas (I’ll be joining him in July), talking about our Texan baby and Alex’s new job. We told more close friends about the pregnancy when we’d see them; it was hard to hide the fact that I’d been turning down drinks for two months. (It was during this time that I also realized how much our friends like drinking.) Alex and I spent an early babymoon week in St. Lucia during the first week of March where I turned down probably hundreds more drinks at the all-inclusive resort. When we got home from our trip, Alex moved to Dallas and I moved in with friends. We started our long-distance relationship about five days before my next ultrasound- 10 weeks- was scheduled.

On March 18th, I went to my appointment alone. Everything seemed fine going in. I felt like in just the few days leading up to it that I was starting to look more pregnant. According to four different apps on my phone and What to Expect, the baby was bigger than a grape and would look significantly more like a baby in this ultrasound than it did in the last one. I was excited to hear the heartbeat for the first time. I had my phone out so that I could take a video of the ultrasound for Alex, who was in the middle of work during the first week of his new job.

The midwife struggled with the ultrasound machine a bit; she couldn’t get the screen to focus or zoom in correctly. I was getting annoyed, impatient. She couldn’t see what she was supposed to see and was moving around so much that neither could I. She found the baby, still kind of a dark shape that was more difficult to make out than I had thought. On the screen, a white line scanned over its little body; a speaker played a flat static sound. It happened again, and I knew we were looking for a heartbeat that we weren’t finding.  She told me that she needed to have a doctor come in to look at the ultrasound, and she left to go find one.

Having done my homework, I knew that it was common this early for a heartbeat to be hard to hear. The baby could be in a difficult position. It could be earlier than they initially expected. I was getting nervous, though, and texted Alex:

“The machine is being weird and she can’t find the heartbeat. She went to get a doctor. I’m scared and I don’t know what to do.”

I don’t know what to do then became the theme of my whole life.

When the midwife returned with the doctor, they looked for the baby again. I could see it, though not well. The white line came, and the horrible static sound played again, twice. A radio not picking up a station- emptiness where the heartbeat should have been. A flat line stretched out along the bottom of the screen- a visual illustration.

“There isn’t a heartbeat. The baby is measuring 8 weeks and 5 days instead of 10 weeks like it should,” I was told.

“So, what does that mean?”

When I asked, I knew the answer. In my head I answered the question with every scenario but the truth.

“It means the baby is just smaller than we thought.” “It means the baby is in a difficult position to see and hear.” “It means our ghetto machine is broken.” “It means-“

“It means the baby died.”

It was what everybody and nobody had told me about pregnancy. It is hiding in small print or in the corner of all four of my pregnancy apps, the hospital pamphlets, and What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It is the subtext behind not announcing a pregnancy on Facebook until it’s past the first trimester, just in case. Miscarriage- one out of five pregnancies will end in one.

When Alex had first given me the green light to try to have a baby, I became obsessed with watching Youtube videos about conception and implantation and the dividing of the egg and the development of an embryo. I was fascinated with the way that so many variables had to align to create a human life, and yet there were so many humans just walking around the planet, no big deal. It’s miraculous, really, that people are ever born. There are thousands of connections that can be missed in the process, which is the main reason why one out of five pregnancies will end in miscarriage. A missed connection, a tiny fluke in the dividing of a tiny cell sends the pregnancy in the wrong direction. I knew this, but I didn’t really know it. I’d been told this, but I hadn’t really been told until…

“It means the baby died.”

I remember when Alex first saw that stat on our pregnancy pamphlets. He was shocked at how high it was. I’d already read it and knew it, but what were we supposed to do, dwell on it? Become obsessed with our odds of miscarriage? No couple ever wants to linger over the fact that they could lose their child. We knew people that this had happened to, and thought, How sad! I can’t imagine. They’re so young! But we focused on the 80% of pregnancies that went exactly as planned- because why wouldn’t we? Why wouldn’t anyone?

I didn’t know what to do. I made three phone calls after I found out about our baby. First to Alex, from the room in the clinic. It was horrible that I had to call him, and I had to repeat the phrase, “the baby died,” out loud, making it real to both of us. I called my mom on the way home (my temporary home with friends). I called my best friend when I got to the apartment. I realized weeks after that I made all of these calls in the middle of the day on a weekday, when all three people were at work. It was a terrible way to deliver the news, but I needed them. Alex left work to go home; we decided that we could wait a week and a half to see each other because he’d barely gotten to Dallas and his new job a few days prior. My mom called my dad, and they both headed to the airport to come to LA. My best friend shared the news with others we had told because I couldn’t handle making any more calls or sending texts. I hid in my room and cried. Friends came to visit with food and we cried. I picked up my parents from the airport that night and I hid with them in a hotel room for three days, only really emerging for meals.

The loss was (is) absolutely devastating. I loved the baby before the positive pregnancy test. None of my other world views are relevant to this scenario, this baby, my baby. Our baby was real when its existence turned a line pink, when it made me feel overwhelmingly tired, nauseated between meals. It was real when we took it to St. Lucia on its first international vacation, our little world traveler who didn’t even have a passport. It was real when we wondered what it would look like, be like, laugh like. It was real when it didn’t have a heartbeat. It is still real now.

Mine was a missed miscarriage. My body, as stubborn as my brain and my heart, would not acknowledge that the pregnancy had ended. In the first few days after finding out, I didn’t want it to. I just wanted to keep the baby where I knew it was close. I hated my body and nature and the universe and statistics. I often hate them still. All of them have failed, and now our baby doesn’t get to have the life we were expecting for it, planning for it, wanting for it. I failed, too, because I didn’t protect the baby. Worse, I didn’t even know it had died. I missed it. The guilt that inevitably comes with miscarriage is a horrible punishment for an already grieving mother.

I’ll spare the medical details. Nature never did come through with the miscarriage, so doctors had to. The physical recovery process is long, tedious, and unpredictable. Leading up to the procedure I had to have and after it, my pregnancy symptoms left one-by-one and I stopped feeling pregnant. I guess it gave me some closure that I needed, and I needed overcome the fear and anxiety that accompanied waiting. A lot of people were extremely supportive during this time, Alex especially- even from Dallas. (We finally did get to see each other, and we really needed it.) My parents dropped everything to let me go off the grid with them. My mother-in-law sent flowers and helped give me enough confidence to get through the day, the week, the procedure- all things she’d had to do, too, at one time in her life. A friend helped me track down medical information so that I could make an informed decision on how to proceed. Another dear friend spent an entire day in the hospital with me. Friends and family created a network of support and brought food and sent texts and called and gave space and let me cry, and this was uncharted territory for them- for all of us- because people don’t often publicly talk about miscarriage. Which is why I’m writing about it now.

For as common as miscarriage is, the topic is rarely discussed. It is underrepresented in media, too; one-in-five movie pregnancies does not end in miscarriage, and one-in-five celebrity couples doesn’t make their miscarriage public. I have been leaning on this one-in-five statistic like a crutch. I sleep with it under my pillow. The fact that 20% of pregnancies ends this way means that there are millions of couples who have felt what we feel. And believe me, I wish that no one ever had to feel this way, but it is comforting to know that we are not alone. It also means that my miscarriage was unpreventable, which is both a comfort and a huge source of frustration. One of the most frustrating parts about our entire experience has been the lack of answers.

Yes, one-in-five pregnancies will end this way. About 70% of these are a fluke, caused by some missed connection during fertilization or and error in the dividing or combining of chromosomes- the pregnancy is doomed from the start. After an a loss, most women will go on to have healthy pregnancies and babies. There is nothing that the mother could have done to prevent the loss.

And this information is helpful, but it leaves me with so many blanks to fill in. Most especially, Why? And, Why us? And, What if…?

I went on some very lonely internet searches my first few nights after finding out we’d lost the baby. I wish that no woman ever again has to type “miscarriage” into Google or Pinterest. I did; I was looking for answers. What I found is that right below the surface of the internet’s vast knowledge of pregnancy, there is a very thin veil. It loosely hides the subtext that I was so trying not to read when I was pregnant- the fact that pregnancies often fail. Pull back the veil, and the internet is buzzing with people quietly seeking an outlet to discuss pregnancy and infant loss and to share their experiences with each other. They offer questions, strength, support, wisdom, and advice. Within this community, the baby is regarded as real regardless of worldview, regardless of how early in the pregnancy the loss took place. Here I found a remedy for loneliness, guilt. A few other women in my life have since privately confided in me their own experiences with miscarriage, and it has been so helpful to know their stories, their grief, their acceptance, and their eventual happy endings- rainbows, I learned. I wish, though, that these stories did not have to be so often whispered or hiding on the internet. And I don’t think that they would be if we could create a culture where women feel safe and comfortable to feel sad about their miscarriages publicly, and most of all, to not feel ashamed or blamed or guilty.

The guilt- it is absolutely the worst part. (Or the unknown? I’m still figuring out what the worst part is.) My guilt is not rational, and as a rational person I know that. We were trying to get pregnant, and I know that I didn’t do anything, purposefully or accidentally, to cause my baby harm. But that doesn’t mean I don’t question every single thing I ate or drank or didn’t eat or didn’t drink during those months. Every run, yoga class, plane flight, day in the sun in St. Lucia has been under scrutiny because I need answers. What if…? I need to know why my baby died. I need to know I didn’t cause it. And I do know that I didn’t- doctors and experts and statistics have told me, just like they tell so many other women.

The guilt and the what-could-I-have-done-differently? that women feel over their miscarriage is a natural part of the grieving process, but it isn’t helped by the fact that so many people who don’t understand miscarriage (And how could they- no one talks about it!), assume that the loss of the baby could have been the mother’s fault. And if not that, the assumption is that it is a fertility issue for the mother or the father, which usually is not the case either.

I’ve known for a few weeks that I was going to post this blog because I need a way to talk about our baby, and this is my way of controlling that conversation. I want people to know that the baby existed, why I haven’t been myself lately, and what they can say when they see me. I don’t need people to avoid the topic outright, to struggle to offer an explanation, or help me find a silver lining. I just need them to be there and acknowledge it happened. No one has to fill in the silence that comes after, “I’m sorry for your loss.” The acknowledgment is enough.

I feel safe having these conversations now, because people know that we’re grieving and that the baby was a very real person to us. They know that our baby didn’t just disappear; it lived and it died. They know that it isn’t my fault (this is more for my own comfort than anything else), and they know that miscarriage is common. If the entire world already knew this about miscarriage, I don’t think people would be as afraid of sharing their experiences. Couples would have more freedom to choose what and how they disclose about their experiences. Family members would have the language to console a person who has lost a pregnancy. In the world as it is, the norm is to stay silent because miscarriage has been a silent topic for a very long time. But life and loss need to be acknowledged, and I’m ready for that now.

This is a story about a baby. That’s where it began and where it will end. We had a baby with a broken heart, and now we are left with broken hearts, too. Some of my lonely internet searches have been for ways to remember a baby who died in early pregnancy loss. I’ve looked at jewelry (I’d lose it) or trees (what if they died?) or tattoos (I’m serious), and nothing has really satisfied me. I want to memorialize this baby; I want our friends and family to know the story of its life. I want them to know how the baby affected our lives. I’ve learned recently that this experience is part of a lot of people’s narratives, and I want to share my voice in their conversation. Sharing our baby in writing has been the best way that I’ve come up with to honor and remember its life- the littlest and biggest life I’ve known.

In only a few months, this child managed to bring so much joy to us. I was so proud of all of its tiny accomplishments and milestones- “The baby is the size of a blueberry!” “It has limbs!” “It no longer has a tail!” “It makes me want to eat cheese!” The baby flew with us all the way across the country and on to St. Lucia, where it swam with me and went paddle boarding with me and saw a volcano and rode in a catamaran. It became the topic of many conversations, the source of so many happy tears and hugs and congratulations. It was loved by friends and family simply for being alive, for being ours. It was the easiest love I ever gave.

Perhaps the greatest mark of this tiny life, though, was the baby’s ability to strengthen the marriage of his or her parents- to bring together two people already very much in love and teach them how to grow that love beyond themselves. The baby did this effortlessly; it lived and died and became so important and unforgettable. Because of this baby, Alex and I will always be closer, love deeper, and cherish each other and our children more. We will be better parents, not take pregnancy or babies for granted. For the rest of our lives and our future babies’ lives, we can thank our first baby for a lesson in simple, effortless, unconditional love.

I wish that I could change the story, go back in time, rewrite the ending. I wish I were telling the world, “I’m pregnant!” instead of, “I was pregnant.” But the story is out of my control, I guess. I’m not really the one writing it, just retelling it. And some day I hope I’ll be able to truly accept that. Until then, I can accept that for its entire life, our baby was loved. And now beyond its life, it will be still.

“In one of those stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night. And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend…I shall not leave you.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

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