Lessons from an early miscarriage

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Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

d been contemplating parenthood for a while. I was never the type of person that always knew they wanted kids. As a child I only played with baby dolls because I liked changing their outfits. A classic self-centered hedonism characterized my early to mid-20s; I was occupied by career, love and squeezing the most out of whatever time was left over. But suddenly, around my 27th birthday in 2018, the idea of growing a human inside of me started to just… make sense. From then on I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

I waxed philosophical with the guidance of a virtual therapist (I was living abroad at the time with no access to in-person therapy), read books about others’ experiences, weighed the moral pros and cons of choosing to become a biological mother. Suffice to say I became fascinated with the subject. I learned about the power of mothering as a radical act; the meaningful generational change it could spur. I was deeply moved by the many stories (both real and fictional) I came across, detailing beautiful and complex relationships between parents, the humans they were raising and the world around them.

Around July 2020, steeped in pandemic and political miasma, I woke up one day and decided I was ready. I fully recognize and am grateful for the privilege of being able to spend a year just pondering what becoming a mom would mean to me. Reflecting on my bodily autonomy, the agency I’ve had to make this choice, still fills me with emotion. One of the many feelings that washes over me is anger. In 2020 America, people with female reproductive systems still do not have ownership of their bodies. Reproductive justice and gender equity simply do not exist in this supposed most progressive country in the world. The pandemic has already taken us back decades as women leave the workforce in droves to take care of their families. Immigrant women face the threat of forced hysterectomies. Black and brown women confront a racist healthcare system which puts their lives, and the lives of their children, at risk every day.

I decided to start trying to have a child in the middle of arguably the most fraught, tumultuous year I have lived through. Perhaps it was a coping mechanism. Maybe there was some boredom involved with being stuck at home 99.9% of the time. But I felt a strong sense of conviction, in no small part due to the mental effort I had already applied learning, listening, observing, trying to comprehend the responsibility of bringing a human into this world. I chose to be optimistic — to believe that investing in a new generation is one of the purest ways to show one’s commitment to humanity. To trust that I could be a good parent. I also caved to my biological impulses, of course.

Upon deciding to try to conceive, I dove headfirst into the many online forums on the topic. I only lurked, never contributed, but became invested in the stories of strangers with fertility issues. Reading post after post about the myriad of conception struggles I never knew existed struck me with a severe paranoia. I started tracking my basal body temperature in a Google sheet, my subconscious somehow waking me up daily at 5 AM to check for a spike indicating ovulation. I read about typical menstrual cycles and agonized over the observation that mine didn’t seem to align. With no data to prove anything one way or another, I worried that something could be wrong with me, that I might be infertile. I raised pointless, unanswerable questions with my spouse incessantly, attributing the obsessive chatter to excitement rather than fear. I even accused him of not being concerned enough, though he was with me every step of the way. I chose to ignore the fact that in a biological process utterly reliant on probabilities, you can only control so much.

Naturally, I was stoked but rather stoic when, on the second cycle trying to conceive, I found myself blinking down at a positive pregnancy test. I didn’t quite believe it so I took another, and then another, until I had racked up four double-lined sticks, stacked neatly under the bathroom sink. I kept checking back to make sure they were real and really mine.

The first few days after I found out I was pregnant, my stomach was perpetually in knots. I was overjoyed but anxious. The goal of conception had defined my entire day-to-day existence for almost two months, and now I was pregnant. Shouldn’t I have been relieved, celebratory? It was early October and I was feeling the weight of the upcoming general election, the bubbles of bad news popping up on my phone screen like clockwork, the heatwaves and wildfires that were obscuring the promise of autumn, the endless list of problems with no clear solutions. I deleted Twitter and started meditating.

In hindsight, I can admit that I did feel a twinge of regret. What was I doing, trying to have a baby during a time of such uncertainty and global malaise?

I entered the last year of my 20s four days after the first positive pregnancy test, trying to fight my fears with a cautious optimism. I did prenatal yoga and joined a pregnancy support group wondering if others felt a similar anxiety. There had to be other pregnant people out there who were just as worried about their bodies, the world.

Then, those fears were abruptly confirmed. I’d had no idea how common chemical pregnancies and early miscarriages are. I suppose they don’t have time to teach you that in health class between preaching abstinence and pulling condoms over unripe bananas. Mine happened at about six weeks. The first day I bled I convinced myself it was normal. Spotting! That’s a thing. But then it didn’t stop, and I found myself sobbing uncontrollably every time I went to the bathroom. I rushed to the OBGYN, who, after delivering the bad news, patted one of my stirruped feet and reassured me that it “happens all the time.”

My miscarriage was a relatively “easy” one, for lack of a better word. It was early enough that it could have been deemed a chemical pregnancy, but I’ll never know for sure. Regardless, after it happened I felt a rush of self-hatred. I hadn’t been grateful enough to be pregnant! Why had I questioned things? Why hadn’t I allowed myself to just embrace the bliss? Was this just another failure to add to my growing list? I knew that, biologically speaking, the miscarriage was not my fault; it was up to chance. Still, I told myself I’d deserved it. In a journal entry, I wondered whether all of this was a sign that I was unfit for motherhood. Meanwhile, the handful of immediate family and friends we had dared to tell about the pregnancy tried to console us by saying things like “it just wasn’t the right time.”

Day after day, all I could see around me were pregnancies and babies. Walking the dog I spotted a young couple doing a photo shoot in their front yard with a toddler on their shoulders, holding a Biden/Harris 2020 sign to boot. Seemingly every day brought new pregnancy or birth announcements among friends, relatives, colleagues, celebrities, influencers. Chrissy Teigen’s heartbreaking miscarriage had occurred right around the same time, so think pieces on the subject abounded. Social media algorithms confronted me with aggressive ads for fertility, pregnancy and baby products (with a healthy dose of political campaign advertising sprinkled in for good measure). I replaced the Trying for a Baby sub-reddit with the one called TTC after Loss. Every encounter made my stomach clench and my eyes well up.

Of course, I simultaneously felt immense guilt about being sad. I had barely been pregnant, had only known for a couple weeks. Many, many people have had it so much worse. I was embarrassed to feel as depressed as I did, and avoided expressing my real feelings to anyone aside from my spouse.

Eventually the tears dried, I regained some composure and the intrusive, self-deprecating thoughts backed off, giving way to a phase of YOLO-riddled euphoria. Think: frivolous online shopping (something I generally am successful at avoiding), attempting to plan a pandemic-safe road trip to Arizona, asking friends where I could get my hands on an eighth of shrooms for a psychedelic experience in the woods, driving eight hours round trip to view a cheap old Victorian home for sale in the Eastern Sierras.

The ceramic tableware I ordered arrived broken. We likely won’t drive to Arizona due to an impending COVID surge. I still haven’t tripped on magic mushrooms. And the Victorian proved a pipe dream.

As I write this, we are five days from Election Day. I still want to bring a human into this world. I still feel confident that I can, and will, be a most competent mother. I still believe in the beauty and power of intergenerational (ex)change. Though I would rather still be pregnant, I feel perhaps even more ready for the journey than I did before. I’m still afraid that something could be wrong, that it’ll happen again, that I won’t be able to have a happy, picture-perfect pregnancy, but I’m choosing not to let that fear drive me.

In the same vein, I’ve decided not to be afraid of this country’s future, and to instead approach it with courage, hope and a willingness to fight — like a good mother would. I dropped off my ballot weeks ago, I donated what I could through ActBlue, I’ve had endless conversations about the importance of voting — and voting blue — and now I’ll wait. If there is anything I’ve learned in the past few months, it’s that though results require action, it is equally important to accept the randomness of it all.

Tired in Los Angeles. (Previously: Berkeley, NYC and Mainz, Germany)

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