Every October during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, I am brought back to my own losses—to the traumas that no longer cloud my everyday life but which exist just under the surface, easily triggered by the unexpected and unexceptional. They have become a part of my being, my story, and my journey. They didn’t end with the physical passing of those pregnancies or even with the healthy birth of my rainbow baby. As any woman who has endured the pain of miscarriage knows, they have never really ended at all. And while I used to feel desperately lonely in my experience, the years have brought a measure of peace; a peace due in part to the many stories others have willingly shared.
Today I know that I am not alone, that I am a member of a sisterhood. And with that comes, I believe, the responsibility to share my story—to help end the stigma of sharing and to encourage others to give witness to their grief. Because our miscarriages weren’t just a moment in time. They continue. Here is my story:
My daughter was about 10 months old when my husband and I found out we were expecting again. We were thrilled to be having kids close in age and, as a military family, felt especially grateful that my estimated due date fell comfortably between what we knew would be an extremely short upcoming duty station.
At the time, I didn’t think twice about the fact that my positive pregnancy test had been extremely faint—so faint, in fact, that I continued to test all week with the same barely discernible result. Though I had gotten pregnant before my first postpartum period and, therefore, couldn’t determine a due date in the conventional way, I had consciously decided to stop taking the mini pill so I knew how long to wait before testing. The results were becoming slightly darker with each passing day but I could never get that bright pink line that appeared instantaneously (before even missing my period) with my first pregnancy. Frustrated but unconcerned, we finally bought a digital test in order to clear things up once and for all. When that one spelled out the word “pregnant” I felt relief rush over my body and immediately forgot about the odd results from the other tests.
Having already had a successful pregnancy, I felt confident telling family and close friends as soon as we knew. Of course, I had heard the conventional wisdom advising against sharing the news before twelve weeks but who does miscarriage actually touch?
It turns out, a lot of people—myself included.
About one week after getting a positive result from the digital test and confirming the pregnancy at our clinic, my back started to ache. At first it was a dull pain, making me think that perhaps I had pulled a muscle. But as the day wore on, it became increasingly intense. I remember writhing around in bed that day, trying to sleep away the pain. Alarm bells had yet to start ringing. The idea that I could lose a pregnancy was so far from my mindset that I had missed one of the most common early signs. What was actually on my mind was that my husband had planned a date night and I was determined not to let a scheduled babysitter go to waste! By the time I woke up, the pain had mostly subsided and I happily readied myself for a much needed night out.
The next 24 hours proceeded pain free. Instead, I was floating high over the surprise party my husband had planned for me. There had been dinner, dessert, and Nori Bong (Korean karaoke) with friends. The following day—my 27th birthday—several friends stuck around our house and watched movies. For some reason, everything about that lazy, low-key day is forever etched in my memory. I remember what we watched and what we ate. I remember the dreary late winter sky that lent itself to snuggling under blankets and dimming the lights. I remember saying goodbye to our friends and walking them to the door, exhausted and ready for bed. And I also remember the bleeding.
It started late that night, still my birthday. And while I had plenty of light, intermittent bleeding throughout my first pregnancy, I instinctively knew this was different. Suddenly, the intense back pain and faint pregnancy tests made sense. Something was wrong and I steeled myself for what had previously seemed an impossible outcome.
The bleeding continued throughout the night—far more, I knew, than could be considered normal. Early the next morning, I passed what looked to be a large clot. And in that moment, reality came crashing down. I sobbed into the cold bathroom tile while my husband mercifully flushed it from sight. The harsh jolt of toilet water seems like such a cruelly mundane ending—like there should be more to it than the simple flip of a handle. Kneeling on that bathroom floor, I officially became part of this sisterhood, unable to process exactly what that meant or how to move forward. That moment, in all its intensity, will stay with me for the rest of my life.
After consulting with my doctor, she suggested I head into the hospital to be examined. We lived overseas at the time, and while we had access to an on post clinic, anything but the most basic medical care was referred out to a local Korean hospital. Though I was familiar with the hospital, walking into that ER was a daunting experience. I was afraid of having to explain what was happening through a hefty language barrier, unsure that I would have the physical or emotional strength to communicate well enough. Numbness had already set in. Despondency was close behind.
To be honest, I don’t remember speaking at all. I’m sure my husband spoke on my behalf as I stared off in a daze. Once they understood what was happening, we were sent upstairs to Labor and Delivery. Newborns wailed through the nursery wall. A woman in active labor grunted through her contractions. A nurse who remembered me from my first pregnancy smiled and waved excitedly as my husband jumped to explain that the occasion was not a happy one. Walking through that hall was exceedingly difficult. But being sent to the very delivery room, the exact bed, where I had given birth to my daughter less than a year prior? Gut wrenching.
Before long, I was moved to a small area with four other beds where healthy swollen bellies were periodically monitored during the early stages of labor and where cervical softeners were inserted in order to induce labor. I had been in that room before, as well. And though the nurse was kind enough to pull a curtain around my bed, the excitement of soon to be mothers was unmistakable, language barriers be damned.
We waited for quite some time before a doctor appeared to conduct a vaginal ultrasound. And what happened next was…well…odd. Neither of us could communicate well with the other but I assumed he had read my file and knew why I had been admitted. After an extremely brief scan, he abruptly announced that, in fact, I was not pregnant at all but simply on my period. Puzzled, I tried to explain that the pregnancy had been confirmed through a blood test at our on-post clinic. That didn’t seem to phase him. I can only assume that, because the sac had already passed, he couldn’t verify the pregnancy via ultrasound and that his word choice was simply lost in translation.
Aside from being a strange side note, I mention that experience because I would go on to encounter that same flippancy from people who simply couldn’t grasp the very real heartbreak that accompanies miscarriage. Whenever I have felt particularly unheard or invisible in this process, that scenario with the doctor would flip through my mind.
Upon having the miscarriage confirmed, I was monitored for several weeks by our on post clinic to ensure that my HCG levels returned to normal. My doctor was kind and gentle, explaining that miscarriages are fairly common, especially during early pregnancy, and that I could attempt to get pregnant again after one normal ovulation cycle.
And, it would seem, that was it. Once my doctor assured me that my HCG levels had safely returned to zero, I was ready to close that chapter and move on. With our daughter’s first birthday quickly approaching and an international move close at hand, distraction was easy to come by. Looking back, I didn’t take the time to process what had happened or allow myself to fully grieve. I rationalized away the experience as a fluke and felt that our upcoming move would provide a fresh start. In spite of it all, I was truly excited about the future and confident that the pain would stay in the past. Life, it turns out, had plans of its own.
**C also writes for POMP USA, a start up company promoting businesses owned by service members, veterans, and their spouses.