1) What is your personal experience with infertility/miscarriage?
My husband and I have gone through two miscarriages together.
I was pregnant for the first time in 2017 and was feeling grateful and a little surprised that we had conceived on the first try and a spring baby was on its way, just as I had planned! I knew I was pregnant almost immediately. I can’t recall ever being so sure about anything else, but this I knew. I just felt different, and then the food aversions came on, and my sense of smell was heightened. It was a weird and exciting time! We went for our dating ultrasound and saw a healthy heartbeat at 8 weeks 4 days. We were instantly in love with the little bean that we nicknamed ‘Grape’ because that’s how big it was. We told my parents and they were thrilled. I agreed that my mom could share the news with our family at Thanksgiving dinner (I wouldn’t be there because I lived in a different province at the time), and I heard after that she was beaming with pride when she made the announcement. It still pains me to think of the announcement she had to make three weeks later. We all knew we were still in the so-called risky zone of the first trimester, but I had read online from multiple sources that the chance of miscarriage decreases dramatically after a healthy heartbeat is detected. Also, women get pregnant and have healthy babies all the time! I didn’t yet know anyone my age who had a miscarriage (I was 31), and for all the women I knew who were going through IVF (including two friends very dear to me), there seemed to be at least twice as many women apparently having no trouble making babies and clogging my social media with photos and announcements about their newest addition.
At some point all my pregnancy symptoms abruptly stopped. I noticed and was concerned, but denial is a powerful thing! Those who I told were so reassuring at telling me I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t feel like crap in the first trimester.
On October 28th, 2017, my birthday, my midwife booked me for an emergency ultrasound after I experienced a small gush of pink fluid the night before. We were told it was a missed miscarriage, meaning the embryo had stopped developing a couple weeks before and my body didn’t get the message right away. After finding out the pregnancy wasn’t “viable”, my husband, who had been so optimistic that everything was okay, commented with awe that I had known all along. Chalk that up to women’s intuition, I guess.
I got a prescription for Misoprostol and took a week off work. Telling people was hard and I felt so embarrassed, and also curious that I felt embarrassed. The emotion didn’t really fit the situation, but nevertheless I felt it. I had failed in something that others make look so easy.
The following February I was pregnant again. At approx. 8 ½ weeks gestation we saw another healthy heartbeat at our dating ultrasound. The due date was the day before my birthday, which I attributed significance to because it would mark a year since our miscarriage. Before we made it to 9 weeks, I started bleeding and was admitted to the hospital. The diagnosis was “fetal demise”. Matt and I held each other in the exam room and cried and wondered what had gone wrong this time. I was given another prescription for misoprostol but didn’t need it. My body had gotten the message loud and clear and started the “clean out process”. Passing this tissue hurt way more than the first time (which had hurt A LOT) and I was doubled over puking from the pain. I know childbirth takes the cake for pain as one mother pointed out to me, tactlessly but not maliciously. But it is still labour pain no matter the size of what’s being delivered, and miscarriages come with a whole bunch of emotional pain. There are no feel-good hormones rushing in at the end, no bundle of joy to greet.
My mom was appalled when I described the experience. She’d had a D&C for a miscarriage after I was born and recalled that process being “neater”. I appreciate that my miscarriages took place in the comfort and privacy of my home and didn’t come with the risk of scar tissue like a D&C, but it was eye-opening. I remember thinking I had joined this club, a club I never wanted to join but that was no doubt made up of some amazing and resilient women.
2) What have you learned through this experience?
Matt and I often talk about how naïve we were during our first pregnancy. It’s admirable that people can look at two lines on a stick, or see a heartbeat on an early ultrasound, and assume they’ll be holding their baby in less than 9 months. For many people, that is what will happen. But not for everyone. In our case, our miscarriages were explained by chromosomal abnormalities that aren’t expected to be genetic. It was just shit luck. It was nature. This explanation hasn’t satisfied some of the people who love us and want to know WHY US, but that’s an impossible question. Miscarriages are part of the reproductive process. They are enormously hard to go through, and it is rare to have them consecutively at my age, but really, why not us?
I was also struck by how little I knew about miscarriages before this happened to me. I think it’s positive that there’s a general awareness that miscarriages are relatively common, and women are of course used to bleeding and cramping, but the actual process of miscarrying…this is not something I remember being taught in sex ed class way back when. Or maybe it was, and I blocked it out in the way that only humans can do. Part of me fears that the ‘common-ness’ of miscarriage, especially first trimester miscarriage, gives people the false impression that it’s less of an impacting event than it is. For me, it was horrifying, and the second time was even more so. Not just because the pain was more intense, but because I was tasked with retaining a sample of the tissue for testing. And this time it didn’t come out as a “deflated gray balloon” (I’ll never look at balloons the same way again) but was already starting to break up and there seemed to be more of everything. So, as I was throwing up, I was also holding a yogurt container to catch what my uterus was expelling. Never in a million years did I think I’d be doing that. Then, a few weeks later you’re meant to take a pregnancy test to make sure your hormones are back to normal (indicated by a negative result) and I can’t help but feel there’s something cruel about that. Suffice to say, I’ve learned a lot about miscarriage. And my hope is that writing this knowledge I’ve gained can help someone else through the hard times.
3) What do you hold on to for hope/courage/strength on your bad days?
My worst days were when I was in that fog of knowing my pregnancies were over, but I hadn’t had the actual miscarriages yet. During this time, I met with a nurse who just radiated kindness – Annette, you gave us the greatest gift of true compassion and we thank you for it!
4) In what ways has your experience with infertility/miscarriage changed you as a person?
Initially it was hard to be around pregnant friends and other people’s little ones. I was envious and grieving. I found it helpful, and still find it helpful, to be open about my experience with miscarriages. I’ll admit my motivation for this isn’t always honourable – sometimes I enjoy the discomfort this can cause the other person – but it’s a conversation that I think needs to be had. A question I encounter often is “Are you and Matt thinking of having kids?” It’s always been asked with good intentions and I’m not crusading for people to stop asking it, but the answer might not be the light and cheery response that I think is usually anticipated. There are lots of reasons why people are child-free. Not everyone’s lives are leading up to that, by their own choice or by things outside of their control, and I think we need to be careful not to position having kids as the pinnacle of life. For Matt & I, we’ll try again to have a baby, but we know our reactions to the next positive pregnancy test, or the next ultrasound, will not be what we wish they could be. Instead, we’ll proceed with caution, expecting the worst and hoping for the best.
5) Tell us about you. What are your hobbies/passions/pursuits?
Matt & I live with a very affectionate bunny who we spoil terribly! We enjoy going to new restaurants and to the movies. I love cuddling up with a good book and eating dark chocolate.
Thank you for reading my story.