The XX Factor

Gone, But Not Forgotten

There’s been a lot of talk about fertility, pregnancy, single parenting, and adoption on this blog over the past few months, yet the one subject that hadn’t been touched on, until I got a slew of e-mails last week, was miscarriage.

Most women who are in the business of childbearing know the definition and the statistics-a miscarriage is a pregnancy that ends spontaneously before 20 weeks gestation. Between 10 percent and 25 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage.

Having had a miscarriage followed by a much later pregnancy loss myself, I was interested in the mail I received about this. The weeks and months after the loss are an intense, horrible time-as bad as anything I have had to endure. (If you are interested in reading more about my own experience, my husband wrote about it several years ago .) I remember all the books that I bought on the subject-and, sadly, there are a number-telling me that the best way to get over losing a baby was to have another one. As if it were that easy! I remember thinking it would never happen, could never happen, and even now as I look back on that time, I shudder with relief that it’s in my past. But the books were right. I did go on to have another child and the horrible months of 2000 are just a distant memory.

Which brings me to last weeks’ mail about pregnancy test results. There were so many miscarriages in the pile that I decided to make a few of them the focus of the blog today.

Jessica Timmons wrote:

After a few kid-free years, my husband and I decided to try for a baby. I tossed my pills, consulted with a doctor regarding whether I needed to wait any length of time to “clean out my system”-no-and sat back to enjoy the ride. Four weeks later, I took a home pregnancy test and gave my mother one hell of a 50th birthday gift. I spent that whole first week-the magical six-weeks pregnant-smiling and enjoying the glow of a new little life. And I told absolutely everyone. How could I not? I can’t keep a secret to save my life, and this beat juicy gossip hands-down. I did manage to keep my mouth shut at work, except for the handful I swore to absolute secrecy.

And then I started spotting. Not a lot, not bright red, no clumps, nothing that really showed up in my frantic Google searches. But enough to bring my moony happiness to a screeching halt. As the days passed and the spotting continued, I started wondering how exactly it feels to be pregnant. Because my happy glow, my certain something that couldn’t be named, it was totally gone. And without it, I was left feeling pretty damn normal. Minus the constant, minute, yet worrisome spotting.

I ended up at the emergency room on the Fourth of July at exactly 10 weeks. I bled through a pad, my underwear and my thin pants, close enough to the “soaking through two pads in an hour” miscarriage references the nurses had mentioned over the phone. It looked bad. And it was. The ultrasound my OB gave me two days later confirmed the worst-no baby. She said it was for the best, that miscarriages are natural selection at work, and that we should wait for a normal cycle and then try again. We went home and I was numb. I kept thinking of February, a dreary month that had held such promise just a week ago.

Three weeks later, I had my first natural period in years. And four weeks after that, I took a pregnancy test. It was negative. My husband smiled kindly at me, took my hand and told me not to worry. “I’m not worried. I’m pregnant,” I told him. He said he believed me, but I think he needed to see those two pink lines-the ones that showed up bright and clear about three days later-before he’d let himself get really excited. I find it hard to put into words, what exactly I felt. I just knew I was pregnant, and no $10 test with its missing pink line could tell me otherwise. The feeling lasted until other pregnancy symptoms and wonders outshined it, until I held my newborn son in my arms the following April.

Brie sent this in.

I am now 26 weeks pregnant. We found out that we were first expecting in April, close to Easter Sunday. I took a test early in the morning, with my sister-in-law, two nephews, and one niece in the other room. I was so excited and ran in to tell my husband, with toothpaste still in my mouth. Both of us had tears in our eyes that morning, so excited that this time had finally arrived for us. We had to keep it a secret while driving all of these relatives to the airport, but we shot each other conspiratorial smiles along the way.

I miscarried a few weeks later, the day after I lost my job. The day I was laid off, my husband was traveling by plane to a high school reunion. As soon as I called to tell him that news, he took the next flight home. I recall my mom telling me not to worry about the stress of the layoff, that many pregnancies had survived much worse circumstances. I was incredibly grateful that my husband decided to fly home, as he was with me the next morning as the miscarriage began.

My husband and I decided to try again immediately. Since this was our first experience with pregnancy, we felt very sad and deflated after the miscarriage. Nevertheless, we went to his parents’ house by the coast and “had lots of fun” as my midwife put it. It was hard deciding that I should test again at the end of the next cycle; there were all sorts of anxieties, including that I might not be able to carry a pregnancy to term. With the first positive pregnancy test, there had only been pure joy, so it was a bit melancholy to face the possibility of a pregnancy with anything but excitement. After delaying for a few extra days, my husband took me in his arms and reassured me until I took the test. It came back positive, and we’ve enjoyed many wonderful milestones since then.

The last e-mail comes from Dianne, who asked that I not use her last name.

To my knowledge, I have been pregnant three times. The first time I found out I was pregnant, it was a few days before my husband was scheduled to go for an infertility exam at a urologist’s (and you know what that entails). That was the reason I tested as early as I did and after an unusually short and light period. I was ecstatic and could hardly believe it, because I was in my late 30s and we had been trying for over a year.

My husband went for the exam anyway, and the doctor was very pessimistic about his chances of getting anyone pregnant-low sperm count and low sperm motility. My husband then told the skeptical doctor the good news, and the two of us later had a good laugh. We were all the more devastated, then, when the bleeding and cramps started a few days later, and my gynecologist told us that I had already lost the baby. There were complications as well, and I needed two D&C’s (dilation and curettage) to get things sorted out.

We heard three recommendations from three doctors as to how long we should wait to try again: 1 month, 2 months, and 3 months, so we took the average and waited 2 periods to start trying. I had heard that women are often very fertile after a miscarriage, but it had taken us very long to get pregnant. The date for my next period came and went, I started experiencing breast tenderness, breast enlargement, morning nausea and weird goings-on in my nether regions. I didn’t want to test, though, because I was afraid of having another early miscarriage. I would just rather not know. However, after almost two weeks of that, I thought, “Who are you kidding? You know what’s going on, and if the symptoms suddenly go away and you get your period, you’ll know that you had a miscarriage anyway.” So I peed on a stick, called my husband at work and made an appointment with my (new) gynecologist. My husband and I were excited and hopeful but also afraid. I was a complete nervous wreck through the entire pregnancy, especially since I had intermittent bleeding and cramps throughout the 1st trimester. However, they went away, and the result is now watching a DVD in the living room.

As you can see today’s stories, like my own, end with a happy birth. But believe me, the residual sadness and the feeling of what-might-have-been never entirely go away.

Photograph of woman by Digital Vision/Photodisc/Getty Images.