This is an essay I wrote following my first miscarriage. I’m putting it here because it really helped me to read others’ experiences when I went through mine.
I had the strangest dream the night after I miscarried.
Something was in my hand. It was squirmy, with little scratching feet and a body that kept tensing and relaxing, fur bunching up and spreading out. Palm-sized, hairy, wet. Scritch scritch with the feet.
I wavered between fascination and horror — pulling my body away in fear as I leaned in for a closer look. What is that? What are those tiny little feet? I can still feel it in my hand, step step, scratch scratch, its undulating body slip-sliding on my palm.
I woke up and started sobbing. I reached for my husband’s hand in bed. He was asleep, but his hand curled around mine as soon as our skin touched.
We had fallen asleep holding hands. We had spent much of the day holding hands, something we don’t normally do. It started after we went to the doctor.
I found out I was pregnant on June 2. It was a Saturday. The day before I said to my husband, Phil, “So, my period is late. Well, maybe it isn’t, but I think it is … just a few days.”
“Well, get a test when I get home from work,” he said, heading out to work an overtime weekend shift.
“OK,” I said, knowing I wouldn’t wait.
The minute he walked out the door, I grabbed my keys and drove to Walgreens. I had suspected something was up — that morning as I got ready to go for a run, something came over me and I almost vomited in my kitchen. The week before, all my emotions seemed right at the surface — I could barely keep from crying over things that were really no big deal. And everything tasted like metal. Lemonade tasted like vinegar in my mouth. I just figured my hatred of flossing was finally catching up with me.
After 18 years of having sex, this was only the second time I had ever worried about being pregnant. I had been so sloppy in my college years with nary a scare that I often have wondered if I can even have kids at all. And we had only been trying for a month. During that month, we had sex twice. What were the chances?
At home, I went straight upstairs, read the directions, and took the test. I waited. First, the window colors in with a grey digital screen. Then the control line appears. Ah, I thought, definitely not pregnant. Before that thought was through, the second line appeared.
I grabbed the box and reread the directions … “Two lines mean you’re pregnant!” I looked again. Definitely two lines. Is one fainter than the other? No. Could it be a false positive? Not likely.
I carefully set the test on the bathroom counter. Should I drive to Phil’s work and tell him? Should I call him? Wait for him to get home and surprise him? In the end, I couldn’t wait at all, even long enough to drive there. I dialed his number.
“Hi. It’s me. I have to tell you something.”
“We’re going to have a baby. I just took the test. I can’t believe it,” I practically yelled into the phone.
Phil was thrilled. He’s wanted kids since we met. Before him, I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted a family. But after I met him, I knew that if I did, I wanted it to be with him. I feel safe with him, and even though I want to strangle him sometimes, he’s my best friend. He wanted to shout it out at work, to tell all his friends.
“No!” I begged. “Please don’t. So many things can happen. Please don’t’ tell anyone yet.”
Of course, I can’t keep a secret. I immediately went to the computer and logged on to the running forum where I regularly post. It’s a friendly group of women who have become close friends.
They had known, before Phil had known, that I thought my period was late. “Test test test!” they posted, obsessive in their own babymaking haze.
“Guess who just took a test,” I posted.
A flurry of responses came up, excited, surprised, encouraging. “No, no a false positive is rare,” they wrote.
Then I called my sister and told her, swearing her to secrecy. I didn’t tell Phil I had been blabbing all day. I was convinced the people I was telling would understand if something went wrong.
When Phil came home that night, we celebrated and laughed and couldn’t believe it. We went to Barnes and Noble and bought “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” with its serene drawing of the joyously pregnant woman on the cover. I remember reading that book when my oldest sister was pregnant, more than 20 years ago. I would go over to babysit my nephew, and after he went to bed I would devour her Parents magazines and baby books. It’s strange — I never dreamed of having my own kids, but I was fascinated with how to raise them, what changes they would go through and which toys were safe to play with. Phil bought a book on how to be a good husband to a pregnant woman. Over the next few weeks, I would laugh inside when he would do unusual things, things I knew were written in that book.
“When did you get so sweet,” I asked one day.
“About two o’clock on Saturday,” he responded.
On Monday I called my doctor, who said he delivered a baby in the back of a car once, and that was the last delivery he worked. He asked what I was looking for in an obstetrician, if I wanted a man or a woman. “Someone who runs or works with runners,” I said. “That’s my only request.” I already was bracing myself for the comments I thought people would have about me running. The women on the forum suggested several books about women runners who ran through their pregnancies. I ordered them online, arming myself with information.
He suggested a woman doctor in town, and I called her from work. “Hi,” I said to the receptionist. “I just found out I’m pregnant!”
She told me to come in in three weeks. Three weeks? Don’t they want to confirm it? Tell me how to take care of myself? Shower me with “You’re going to be a MOM!”
That night, I began reading my book — with its paragraphs on how if it is too hot out and you exercise, you’ll cook your baby. Cook your baby! About eating mangoes every day. About how a drop of caffeine will cause you to miscarry. In tears, I called my husband. “Please, take this book back. I can’t stand it. I’m going to kill our baby. That’s what it says.”
The women on the forum posted horror stories about the book, some saying their doctors had urged them not to buy it, saying more than half of their office calls from freaked out pregnant women were a result of reading that book. They recommended the Mayo Clinic guide to pregnancy. Phil bought that for me the next day, and What to Expect disappeared from our home.
As the next few days and weeks passed, I felt like I had a secret. A huge, wonderful secret. I found myself talking to the baby. Taking it on my run with me. “Baby, we’ll walk up this hill today. No need to push it.” I’ve always been a competitive runner, more so in the past few years, training for marathons and racing and placing in smaller races. The freedom of not pushing myself, of having a reason — besides laziness — to take it easy on a run, to walk up the hill, to just do a few miles was new. I didn’t matter anymore. Racing didn’t matter. I felt like I finally understood people who didn’t understand running — who said there was more to life. Yes, yes, there is. I just didn’t know it.
And, secretly, I felt smug. Smug that after hearing comments from people for years about how thin I am, how I probably am infertile, how I’m ruining my body — that I got pregnant. On the first try! How healthy is that? I’m a shining example of what a healthy body can do, I thought. I couldn’t wait to tell the in-laws. “Take that,” I thought. I started teasing Phil, calling him “quite the marksman.” He would strut around the house, until I reminded him that I must have a pretty hospitable shooting ground, a comfy place inside to call home.
I kept the pregnancy test on the top of the bathroom garbage, checking it every other day to make sure it said I was pregnant. Could it be true?
“You aren’t going to save that thing, are you?” my husband asked.
“No,” I said. “That would be gross.” The next day, I took it out of the garbage and tucked it in the back of the bathroom cabinet. Hell yes, I was going to save that thing; I can’t throw that away. And even though I’ve been pro-choice my entire life, this was a baby to me. The moment that second blue line appeared, this was a baby. Not a mass of cells. Not a tangle of things, a blob.
A baby. Our baby. My baby.
I finally broke down and called the rest of my family. My sister screamed. My father said, “Now, don’t pick up anything heavy.” My best friend was thrilled. Phil’s family collectively let out a sigh of relief and a huge “Finally!”
I told a coworker on a Tuesday. She hugged me on the stairs, and I asked her to keep it a secret. Another coworker, whose wife had miscarried a year before, assured me that I would be fine. “She’s much older than you,” he said. “You’ll be great!”
THE FIRST VISIT
I had been worried about miscarriage from the beginning. My mother had four of them. My sister had two. At least one in four or five pregnancies ends this way. The statistics are terrifying. But many said that once you hear the heartbeat, you’re in the clear. Your chances of miscarrying fall dramatically. I held this thought tight as Phil and I went to the doctor.
A close friend and running partner has a huge family. I told her who I chose as an obstetrician, and she said “She delivered Annie!” She also had helped my friend through a miscarriage. “You’re going to love her,” my friend said. “She’s so down to earth and natural.”
At the visit, on a Wednesday, we waited for about a half hour. Phil wouldn’t let me read the Reader’s Digest that talked about all the medical mistakes you should avoid. He tried to push “Fit Pregnancy” into my hands. I rolled my eyes and grabbed a “Newsweek.” But I wasn’t reading. I was watching all the hugely and barely pregnant woman file in and out. I’m one of them, I thought. That’s going to be me. They’re glowing in their stretchy capri pants and comfortable shoes. Can they tell? I’m in the club, a club I didn’t even know I wanted to join. Now, I want to be president. I want to be Mom of the Year. But first, I’m going to be Pregnant Woman of the Year. I imagined my certificate and trophy, which I would display prominently, but not too prominently.
The nurse called us in, and led me to a scale. I stepped on, after taking off my shoes, sweater and giving Phil my purse.
“One hundred twenty,” she said. “Is that what you normally weight?”
“No, I’m usually closer to 117,” I said, thinking how good I was, gaining weight already. I’m not fat. I’m growing a baby.
The nurse asked a series of questions about my history, my family history and Phil’s history. Then she told me to put on the gown and wait for the doctor. “I feel weird,” I told my husband. “I’ve never exactly brought a date to the gynecologist before.” He assured me he would stay up near the head of the bed when the time came.
The doctor came in — long, hippy dippy red hair, a raspy voice and looking like a trustworthy Midwesterner. If she weren’t an obstetrician, I told my husband later, she should have been a veterinarian. She looked like she could get a baby out. I loved her immediately.
She asked when my last period was and determined the baby would be due on Feb. 4. My birthday. An Aquarius baby. That’s right, we were going to have a visionary, an intellectual. The smartest baby in the world. Then the exam started. I was hoping she would do an ultrasound — please show me that heartbeat. Please.
She got out the machine, and turned out the light. The screen was turned away from us, but then she said, “There it is, a heartbeat! One hundred beats a minute, what we would expect at six weeks.” Then she turned the screen, pointed, and showed us the flicker. That was the heartbeat. That was our baby. Phil was silent as he squeezed my hand and looked. I said nothing. I thought I would feel relief and excitement, but I didn’t. I was terrified. Terrified that something would go wrong. This was so real now. I saw it. She gave us the printed photo, smooth and filmy feeling. “That’s a good baby,” she said.
“I thought I was seven weeks,” I told her. But she said I only measured at six.
“Well, how long can sperm live,” I wanted to know. I knew we hadn’t had sex at a time that would put us at six weeks. “No, honey, we did,” Phil said. “I don’t remember,” I replied. “I’m sure it was mind-blowing, but I don’t remember it.” We laughed, but inside I worried.
My anxiety level is always high — I can’t run enough to lower it without injuring myself. Being pregnant was bringing out the worst of it — I was waking up terrified. I was Googling things I shouldn’t Google. “Stop looking at that,” Phil had said for the past week.
We came home and I framed the ultrasound photo and put it in the kitchen next to a rooster statue.
I started bleeding on Thursday morning. I obsessively looked up bleeding in the first trimester — site after site, looking for reassurance. I didn’t tell Phil. I had already been living in fear of going to the bathroom, so afraid to see blood. And now, here it was. The books and sites said it is normal — an internal exam can cause it. The doctor had said I had an irritated cervix.
Maybe that was it.
I canceled a work event that night. I couldn’t go and try to sit through it, terrified something was happening to me. I left work in the afternoon and called the doctor’s office.
“I’m bleeding,” I told the nurse.
“Is it bright red,” she asked. No, no, not really, I said. She said it probably was from the exam and not to worry but to call back the next day if it hadn’t stopped.
That night, I went for a run with my neighbor, a nurse. We ran three easy miles, and I told her about the spotting. She said not to worry, but it didn’t help. Something was wet in my running shorts. Something that wasn’t like sweat.
Bright red blood.
But still, I didn’t want to believe it. I laid down in bed, determined to just lie still and will it to stop. My friend called. She said she spotted through all five of her successful pregnancies. “Oh, don’t worry,” she said. “You’ll be fine!”
I agreed. But then I called another running partner and canceled my Friday morning run. I didn’t say why.
My dad called to see how I was doing. He told me not to tell Phil about it. “No sense in both of you being worried,” he said.
Phil came home from his night-shift job, crawled into bed, and I still never said a word.
I woke up early, maybe 5 a.m., and stumbled to the bathroom. The toilet paper was bright red. Like the side of a barn. And then something sort of came out. It was clear and sort of resembled the shape of a dog treat. As soon as I thought that, I felt terrible. What an inappropriate comparison.
“Honey, can you come here,” I called.
Phil mumbled something and I heard him sigh himself out of bed. He came to the bathroom door. “Do you have your glasses,” I asked. He did.
“Does this look red to you?” I held up the toilet paper, bright, bright bloody red.
“Well,” he said. “That is red. Isn’t spotting normal?”
“Come look at this.”
We peered into the toilet, silently studying it. What IS that? We debated fishing it out and taking it the doctor. Horrified, I just flushed the toilet. No no no. Nothing is wrong. That was … I don’t know. Something else. I don’t know what that was, but I’m not looking at it anymore.
I went downstairs and sat there. Until 7 a.m., when I called the on-call service at my doctor’s office. The harried ob/gyn on call called me back and said not to worry, to call when the office opens at 8. I waited. I took a shower. I got dressed for work. The office answered and said I could come in at 9:30. I called work to say I would be late. As I got ready, a wave of nausea hit me. That’s good, I told myself. That means you’re still pregnant. I silenced the voice that reminded me that the metal taste was gone, had been gone for a day or two.
“Symptoms come and go,” friends said. “Consider yourself lucky.”
Phil and I drove separately to the doctor, so convinced that everything would be fine. I would need my car to go to work. He would go home. We would still be parents-to-be. We were seen quickly, and the doctor brought in the ultrasound machine. She turned off the light. And was silent. She moved the vaginal wand, clicking, clicking on the computer.
“Did we see a heartbeat on Wednesday?”
“Yes,” I practically shouted. “A good one.”
“I can’t find a heartbeat today,” she said. “There is a lot of bleeding. If there is a clot there, it might be obstructing the machine, but I don’t think this baby made it.”
I had no words for that.
She had me sit up.
“I want you to go to the hospital. I’ll have the nurse make you an appointment. They might find something on their ultrasound — it’s more powerful. But I don’t think so. I don’t think this baby made it. You aren’t thinking about this now, but you can try again in a month …” and on and on. She told us the statistics, that it usually means a genetic problem. That there isn’t anything you can really do to cause or stop a miscarriage. It just happens.
I was silent. Phil was silent. When the door closed, I sobbed, shaking, noisy tears. Phil rubbed my shoulder, stood quietly. I got dressed and the nurse told us we had an appointment at 11. She hugged me and told me she also had miscarried once. I would soon learn how many people have miscarried. Some call it the “Silent Sisterhood.” No one talks about it. Why would you? Who looks at a newly pregnant woman and says, “Oh! Congratulations! I miscarried once!” No one wants to hear that.
I got in my car, alone. I called work, sobbing hysterically to a coworker that I couldn’t come in, to please explain to my boss. “I’m sorry,” she said, over and over. “I’m so sorry.”
Then I called my sister, Kim. Kim doesn’t usually answer her cell phone. Later she told me something told her to pick it up, even though she was in the middle of shopping with her two boys. I cried as I told her, barely able to drive through my tears. “Just get through this,” she said. “You have to get through this part. Just get through it.”
“Please, call everyone else. Please. I can’t do it,” I begged. She promised she would.
I got home and put on my favorite old army pants. I curled up on the bed, waiting for 11 o’clock. Phil came home, climbed the stairs silently and curled up behind me. We started holding hands. “I’m so sorry,” I said, thinking, I’m so sorry I killed our baby. I’m so sorry I couldn’t hold onto it. I’m sorry I couldn’t carry your baby for you.
“Shh,” he said. “You didn’t do anything. I love you.”
We chose to walk to the hospital, which is only a few blocks away. On the way, I saw a good friend. She didn’t know I was pregnant. I didn’t tell her why I was at the hospital. I must have looked ashen, though, because later she called a mutual friend to see if I was OK. Phil and I held hands on the walk.
I only had a slip of paper that said “Medical Building 2. 11 a.m.” on it. I gave it to the receptionist. I’m supposed to check in, I told her.
“Why are you here?” asked the elderly volunteer.
I stared at her.
“Ultrasound,” my husband said.
“What,” crowed the other elderly volunteer. “Why are you here?”
I started sobbing. How can you say, “I’m here to see if my baby died.”
They directed us to radiology, where I had to wait while the receptionists finished a chatty girlfriendy conversation before seeing me. Shut up, I wanted to shout.
We were led back to the room, and a technician came in with a huge machine. She was silent as she clicked. I couldn’t see the screen. Phil said he stoped looking when there was no flicker, when there was no heartbeat. She told us the phone in the room would ring, and it would be my doctor, so I should answer it.
I got dressed. The phone rang.
“The baby didn’t make it,” she said. “You should feel some cramping. You can take some Motrin for that. And you should miscarry in the next few days. If it doesn’t happen by Monday, come in and we’ll do a D&C. Don’t worry. You will have a baby one day.”
Phil and I walked home. We admired the petunias in the park. We held hands.
Lunch tasted like sawdust. Phil called in sick to work, breaking down when he had to say why he wasn’t coming in. Our neighbor called to borrow some tools. Phil walked them over and told him what happened.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “That’s a pain there are no words for.”
I called my best friends. I posted on the forum what happened and then turned off the computer. I would come back the next day to more than 100 replies, more than half of them sharing their stories. Many saying, “Don’t blame yourself. Women runners always blame themselves. You didn’t do it.”
I sat on the porch swing with Phil. Just sat. My friend called, and I burst into tears, asking her to come over. When she arrived, I begged her to take me to buy flowers. I spent nearly $100 on flowers for our porch. I had to have them. Pink and white impatiens. My friend suggested different flowers, and I wouldn’t buy them. I knew I could grow impatiens. “If I buy some kind of flower the day I am having a miscarriage and it dies, I think I’ll go crazy,” I told her.
I bought an angel statue for Phil. We aren’t religious. He put it in the kitchen next to the ultrasound photo. When I saw that, I cried.
I bled all day, worse and worse as the day went on. I finally just stood in the shower, clots so big I got down on my hands and knees to look at them, lacy bloody masses. I forced them down the drain with my toes.
We woke up early. Phil watered the lawn. I drank coffee — caffeinated this time. We walked around each other, silent. Finally, I put on my running clothes and left, intending to just go for a half hour. Eight miles later, I was ready to come home. I only cried through the first mile.
“How was the run,” Phil asked.
I burst into tears as a response.
We didn’t answer the phone most of the day. What is there to say?
It happened on Saturday. A red mass. Later I read someone describe it as a plum. That’s about right. I almost reached in the toilet to touch it, to hold it, to call Phil in to see it. But then I didn’t. I just flushed it down. turned away. I was relieved my body knew what to do. Relieved to have things happen naturally, to feel confident that this is how nature operates.
We went to the movies that night. A comedy. I laughed until I cried. I drank a huge glass of wine and went to bed early.
On Sunday, I returned the phone calls.
We are trying again. I haven’t told anyone but the forum. I won’t tell anyone we’re pregnant until a week before I deliver, if I get pregnant again.
The doctor said to wait a month, but I’m not. I can’t. I need to try now. I like to have a goal.
I know this pregnancy won’t be the same. Before I only enjoyed three weeks of blissful, innocent pregnancy. I know the next time, I won’t have that joy.
That’s what bothers me the most. I’ve been robbed of that. I’ll stare at my belly with trepidation, convinced that one false move and I’ll miscarry again.
My doctor is talking about fertility drugs. I’m only 32. To my body, that’s old.
I can’t stand the grocery store. Does every mom bring her kids there? It’s crawling with them. With newborns and pregnant women. I wish I could look at faces and see if someone had miscarried. I want to pass that look, the one that says, “I know.”
It’s hard to try again. I struggle with the risk. I bring it back to running in my mind, thinking of my quest to qualify for the Boston marathon. I’ve run four marathons, two with qualifying hopes. Both times, I blew up halfway through and didn’t make the cutoff time. I’ve dealt with nagging running injuries for over a year, taking time off to heal, knowing that my eye was still on qualifying, working toward that as I cross-trained.
And that’s what I’ll do now. I’m planning a fall marathon. I’m hoping I get pregnant again and don’t have to run it. But if I don’t, I’ll need those long, lonely miles to clear my head and make room for a baby.
A month later
Is that a pale, pale pink line on this pregnancy test? Phil and I stare at it, then pick up the phone.
UPDATE: I wrote this in 2007. That pale pink line at the end was a positive, but we miscarried that baby, too. We did get pregnant that winter, and delivered our son in 2008. And a daughter in 2010.