Nine months emptyPosted: October 20, 2017
I am nine months not-pregnant.
Nine months ago, I found out I was incubating life, expecting what my husband and I hoped would be our third child. Six months ago, that ended. Life is now a (guilt-free) glass of wine with dinner, nights of mostly uninterrupted sleep, making plans for the get-away we are taking next week to Joshua Tree. When I see friends with burgeoning bellies, I’m sad, but not despondent.
It hasn’t always been this way.
They say one in four women will experience miscarriage. For me, the numbers sink in most when I’m filling forms at the doctor’s office. Number of known pregnancies? Five. Living children? Two.
The first was six years ago. My husband and I decided it was time to start our family and, after four months of trying, I was slightly apprehensive—friends had struggled with infertility and we lived, at the time, in an East Asian city without the full resources of modern Western medicine. The non-profit for which we worked did not cover infertility treatment and our non-profit paychecks provided no margin for extra expenses.
It was with relief that I saw a faint second line appear on the pregnancy test I took after my period was about a week late. Then, two days later, I took another pregnancy test, this one negative. I was confused. Shortly after that, my period started, longer and heavier than usual. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but internet searches showed I had most likely experienced what is known as a chemical pregnancy: a very early miscarriage that takes place before anything can be seen on an ultrasound. I wasn’t deterred, feeling a bit melancholy but mostly grateful to know my body could conceive. I shared the experience with a few friends (who hadn’t even known we were trying), but assured them my main feeling was excitement for the pregnancy I felt was in my future.
A few months later, I dropped my sister, who had come to visit, at the airport. I also had a flight to catch, and while I was there, took another pregnancy test in a crowded public restroom. It was positive. So was the next one. That night I would tell my husband. I was joyful, but overwhelmed by the changes parenthood would bring. After a few weeks we told our families, but no one else. I began to feel nauseous, and complained about the indignities pregnancy visits on the bodies of women. I exercised, ate carefully, and then one day, while I was FaceTiming a friend in the States, started to cramp. I hadn’t told her I was pregnant, but made excuses and quickly got off the phone. The blood was bright and there was lots of it. My husband, the eternal optimist, told me (and himself) that it would be fine. It wasn’t.
My heart broke. Was there something wrong with me? Two in a row can’t be normal. (Surprise: it’s not abnormal, doctors refer to it as “bad luck.”) Still, I was hopeful. But my body had other plans, and what followed was nearly a year and a half of fertility struggles.
I’ll skip that part. Suffice to say: it sucked, and I cried (a lot) when friends told me they were pregnant, when I looked at FaceBook, when I attended baby showers. I was happy for them, but my heart ached. I wasn’t at all sure things would work out the way I hoped, and I wasn’t sure what to do with the deep sadness and dissonance of my uncertainty. I also felt guilt over my previous ambivalence to the experience of pregnancy: I’d take all that, every bit, with joy–if only it ended in a child.
When I did finally become pregnant again, my main emotion was terror. What if it happened again? Why bother to hope when the simple fact of pregnancy in no way meant the thing ended with a live baby in your arms? I held my breath through the first trimester, and finally dared to breathe after I passed the magical 13th week mark. Still, my wonder was tinged with surprise when, in June of 2013, I clutched my tiny daughter to my chest. After another two years, her brother was born. While my pregnancy with him was not as full of overt fear, it was filled with grateful tears: I’ll never again take the prosaic phrase the “miracle of life” for granted.
This time, it was at my nine-week appointment that they couldn’t find a heartbeat. My husband had stayed home to watch our kids, and I called him, crying, to let him know. The doctor wasn’t sure it was over—she thought maybe my dates were wrong, and the baby was there, just not as big as we expected. Three nausea-filled weeks later, at what should have been my 12-week appointment, the OB confirmed: this little one was gone.
The nurse in the office squeezed my arm compassionately. “Sometimes it’s worse when you already have one,” she said, “then you really know what you’re missing.” That wasn’t how I felt, though. I was sad, disappointed, but the tears came just the once, back at that very first visit. Mostly I felt oddly numb and un-surprised: “Well, this is how it goes. And I’ve already been granted more than I would ever have dreamed.”
In the months since, my emotions have continued to be mostly stoic. Sometimes I feel bad about this. Does it mean I didn’t care about that tiny one? Where is the heartbreak that ruled me last time? But the truth is I do care, and I’m trying to grant myself grace for the sways of my emotions. I am a finite human with limited capacity, and this time, my grieving hands are full with two very busy little people. While I’d rather be planning post-partum meals than vacations, my now is still very, very good.
Another thing that’s different, besides my miscarriage emotions, is the way we handled the pregnancy. This time, we told our community—even friends we didn’t know as well—almost as soon as the test was positive. We did so, not because we were certain there would be no problems, but because isolation didn’t help the sadness. We didn’t announce it online or anything, but I told most people I saw regularly, and all the distant friends with whom I chatted in that season. After the miscarriage, more than one friend asked if I regretted this choice. I didn’t and I don’t. It’s not for everyone, but the assurance that friends were praying and folks knew there was sadness under the surface brought me great peace. My only hesitation was one I didn’t consider ahead of time: could other people handle the knowledge that things don’t always work out? Did my openness make them uncomfortable?
Perhaps it did. Perhaps it does! But I ultimately decided that is fine with me. These things happen—a lot!—and for me, sharing the burden helps.
I still hope to have another child. While the specific grief of miscarriage has not been as debilitating as in the past, my arms yearn for a tiny life. There are others longing too, I know: those who face the barrenness of singleness, and those who face the loneliness of infertility together with a spouse. I’ve no easy assurances, but share the sadness of what was not to be.
For now? I’m sad for what is not, but grateful for all that is.