A friend recently asked me if I was going to do a walk or anything else to mark Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, which is today, October 15. Even though I had five miscarriages, for some reason I can’t seem to bring myself to “celebrate” this day. I think we are supposed to light a candle at 7 pm. I guess it’s just not my style.
It’s not like I am “over” what happened to me. Not by a longshot. So why can’t I take the time to remember? The truth is, I don’t need a day to remember. I remember it every day of the year.
My losses live inside me like a parasite or tumor. I have held it at bay so far, using my writing as a medicine to keep it in check. It’s always there, though, in the back of my mind. It’s present in how I parent.
So when someone tells me to light a candle, it’s just not something I care to do. If it works for you, that’s great. It’s just not my thing.
Coincidentally, my most traumatic loss, the miscarriage of my daughter at 17 weeks (it seemed like a stillbirth to me, but that label isn’t given until 20 weeks) occurred in October as well. October 28. I don’t remember the dates of my other miscarriages, just a vague recollection of the time of year it was. But October 28 stays with me. It was a couple of days before the freak October snowstorm, which I wrote about last year in The Huffington Post.
The next year, thankfully the only year afterward that I remained childless, I did not want to do anything depressing to mark the day. Some people have a cake, but that seemed too morbid to me. But neither could I handle doing nothing — I couldn’t stand to be alone with my thoughts. So, I had to do something. I decided, against my more pessimistic nature, to try to uplift the day by doing something fun. So I planned a night away in New York City for me and my husband. I found a deal on a room at the Waldorf Astoria. In the afternoon, we drove in and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I needed to be surrounded by beautiful things, priceless things that didn’t know time or place. Things that had existed before me, before my loss, and would exist after I was gone as well.
They gave me perspective.
If you ever visit the Met, be sure to check out the rooftop bar, where my husband and I enjoyed a glass of wine and a gorgeous view of Central Park before heading to our hotel. The Waldorf is another timeless New York institution, where all manner of famous people have stayed. A pianist played in the lobby bar at a piano that once belonged to Cole Porter. Once again, this was someplace that was bigger than my own little life.
We checked in to our luxurious room, fairly sizable for a NYC hotel, and got ready for dinner. We went to a swanky Greek restaurant, crowded and noisy and full of life. I was smiling. I was not depressed. It was amazing.
We made our way home and prepared for the big storm that was to hit the next day. Hurricane Sandy. One year after the freak snowstorm, another weird weather incident was about to happen. The coincidence was unnerving. But this time, instead of it being the worst day of my life, I was buoyed by our weekend away, a reaffirmation of our life, our marriage and the goodness of the world. I felt that life was still worth living.
Two months later, I conceived our son.
A year later in a sleep-deprived haze, I looked up from breastfeeding my newborn and asked my husband, “Do you know what today is?” “Yes,” was all he needed to say. I felt a twinge of guilt that we hadn’t done anything to remember our daughter on the day she was born. But I knew that I hadn’t really forgotten. Maybe, thanks to my son, I had simply found a way to move on.
Fellow miscarriage survivors, how do you deal with your grief? Will you do anything to mark Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day?
It’s my blogiversary! One year ago today I started Foggy Mommy with this post. As is the case with many aspects of parenting, it doesn’t seem like it’s been a year. I can’t believe LM has gone from being a one-year-old who couldn’t yet walk to a two-year-old who’s in school. One year ago I hadn’t yet ventured in the genre of parenting writing, and since then I’ve been published in The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Mamalode, Fit Pregnancy and The Washington Post’s On Parenting. I hope that doesn’t sound boastful, but I’m proud of how far I’ve gone!
Some observations on blogging:
- It’s hard to keep up with social media. I admit I probably don’t have time to tweet and Facebook as much as some of my fellow mommy bloggers. It’s just somehow not built into me — maybe I’m too old. Or maybe I just already feel like I’m too distracted from my son (this is something I’m working on as a mom). I can’t be tweeting every detail of my life. Not that there’s anything wrong with that if you can. I just haven’t yet mastered this — maybe that’s why I still need more Twitter followers. If you haven’t already, please follow me! I’ll try to tweet more in the future.
- I love blogging, and I love freelance writing. I love the flexibility to do it whenever and wherever. But, that flexibility often makes me feel that every available minute I have I should be writing, blogging, tweeting about blogging, etc. It’s not like I just stop working when I come home from the office. I write at midnight. I email during playdates. So I wonder if I just need to turn off sometimes.
- That said, I love that I get to be home with LM. Despite the multitasking, I do feel that I’m able to give more personal attention that I would if I worked outside the home and had to commute. I think our lives would be more harried and hurried. I think LM has benefitted from me being available and around most of the time.
- A note on “oversharing”: After a piece in Slate about the profusion of personal essays, the blogosphere has been abuzz. Are we oversharing? Are we going to regret oversharing? I do try to balance what I say and what I reveal with the repercussions: Is anyone going to be pissed that I wrote this? How will LM feel about this when he’s a teenager? So I do take that into account. But in general, I don’t see what’s wrong with talking publicly about the things one has gone through. I wholeheartedly agree with this comment from XOJane editor Emily McCombs (XOJane is on my writer’s bucket list):
I can’t tell you how often I have encountered the attitude that because these stories are about women’s lives, they are somehow superficial, silly, or unimportant. Women’s lives – our stories – are not unimportant. They often reflect the feminist maxim that the personal is political.
…to suggest that adult women aren’t fully capable of deciding when and where to share information about themselves denies them an awful lot of agency.
I write about my own personal life because I want to lessen shame and encourage connection. If people read a piece I wrote and say: ‘This writer has had this experience, done this thing and felt this way so maybe I don’t have to feel ashamed of who I am,’ it’s worth it.
That pretty much sums up why I write. I want to tell the truth about infertility, miscarriage, breastfeeding, parenting after loss, and just parenting in general. All parents are a work in progress, and this blog helps me (and hopefully helps others) become aware of the things we need to work on. People have said I’m brave to share my story. I don’t think of it that way. I don’t know why I should feel like I can’t share. I’m not ashamed of my story. That’s the point — no one should be.
Give me your feedback on Foggy Mommy, or just drop a note to say happy blogiversary! I look forward to hearing from you.
The front-page New York Times article on “leftover embryos” from infertility treatments earned an eye roll from me. The story explores what happens to extra embryos that are frozen after an IVF cycle – usually they are used if the fresh IVF doesn’t work or ends in miscarriage, or for a sibling or two down the road. For some couples, though, they have more embryos than they know what to do with. Hence the ethical dilemma.
We never had to make that decision. My cycles yielded a grand total of two frozen embryos, and that was after I begged and pleaded for our clinic to freeze something (they have “high standards” for freezing, which I fear may have meant that some viable embryos were thrown out instead of frozen, but that’s another story). These frozen embryos were created after my last IVF, from which I miscarried. I then used both frosties in my last-ditch FET (frozen embryo transfer). One of them became my son.
Now, faced with questions about whether to do a fresh cycle or to adopt, I wish I had the problem of too many embryos. It seems a much better problem to have than not enough. I can hear you now, though, telling me that’s a selfish way to look at it, that I’m only considering my own feelings and not those of the (potential) children frozen in time and space, just waiting to be born.
The thing is, even if you have lots of embryos that you think you won’t need, you may. FETs don’t always work. Miscarriages happen. Six frozen embryos could turn into only one live baby. So it’s really a moot point until you are done having kids. And even then, knowing my morbid nature and my tendency to hoard things, I would probably keep them for a long while just in case something happened to my living children.
Eventually, though, a choice would have to be made. And while I agree that it is difficult morally and ethically, I just don’t think it’s the sort of crisis that warrants a front-page New York Times story. Yes, there are some aspects of assisted reproductive technology (ART) that hold certain dilemmas. But it bothers me when the media choses to focus on those parts of ART when the general public still doesn’t even have an understanding of the basics. It just reinforces the weird and scary of this misunderstood process, and neglects the fact that ART has helped create thousands (millions?) of happy families over the years. One lawyer quoted in the piece even mentions an “‘ick’ factor.” Really?
I would like to see a greater effort to promote understanding and acceptance of ART, but that doesn’t sell newspapers. You know what does? Fear. Controversy. For every celebrity battling in court over frozen embryos (like Sofia Vergara), there are thousands of families living quietly and happily as a result of their own frozen embryos. Why do we have to pick out the rare occurrence and use that as a moral directive? And the issue of frozen embryos is not even new, so why is it being covered now?
But you’re still skirting the question, you might say. What about the frozen embryos no one wants? I think embryo donation is a wonderful thing. The whole “Oh, but what if they grow up and marry their sister?” thing is, again, an uninformed way of looking at it. As with children of adoption, psychologists now advise that children born as a result of donated eggs, sperm or embryos be talked to early and often about their origins, obviously in age-appropriate language. As more children born from donors grow up, hopefully society will catch up with the times and it won’t be a big deal. So if two donor children meet maybe they would be open with each other about that. True, many donations are anonymous, but there are usually enough clues to piece it together. Besides, the likelihood of this happening are rare to begin with.
If a couple just can’t wrap their head around embryo donation, though, I believe that donating to science is a wonderful thing that could improve infertility treatments in the future and maybe even save lives. I would feel OK about this option.
The NY Times article also mentions a clinic in California that is creating embryos which are then made available to couples. Patients like this program because it is quick and has a money-back guarantee. But one fertility lawyer quoted said it was commodification and one step removed from a “mail order catalogue.” To me, this is insulting to the couples themselves. Couples looking for embryos are at the end of the line. They just want a baby. They are not looking to pre-select a baby from a catalogue, choosing a child they think will be tall and blond and blue-eyed and smart. They are not sitting there thinking about creating the “perfect” child in some kind of Brave New World. When they imagine their child, they are probably imagining a baby who looks like them, imperfections and all. It’s not about selecting traits. It’s about finding a child to love who just somehow belongs in their family. Who is theirs. What is so wrong about that?
OK, but what of this child – shouldn’t he or she have a say how he was created? How will he come to view his origins? Well, first of all, none of us had a say in how we were created. And I would venture that far more babies are born “unwanted” the natural way than through ART. Couples going through ART really, really want a baby. You can bet that they will love whatever child comes into their family. And as for how these kids will view their origins as they grow, well, that depends more on us than on them. Children have to be taught that something is wrong or unnatural or weird. If we all accepted ART as a wonderful way to make a family, so would the children born of ART. They would only think it was weird if we tell them, consciously or subconsciously, that it is.
Do you agree that, once again, the media is perpetuating the belief that ART is controversial and weird?
I was not prepared for the reception, both good and bad, that my post It’s None of Your Business How Many Kids I’m Having (first published on this blog) received on Huffington Post Parents. Because I didn’t expect it to be so controversial, I found it hard not to take some of the comments to heart. Welcome to the life of a blogger, right?
But I did want to address one facet of the criticisms against the post. Those who called it “garbage,” said I should “get over it” and that I “wasted [my] time writing it,” here’s what I have to say:
The reason this conversation was important was not because it affected me so greatly that I can’t get past it. It’s not that I’m trying to air my dirty laundry on social media because I couldn’t confront this person directly. And it’s not that we can’t have discourse and that we have to be so PC all the time so that we don’t hurt each other’s feelings.
But it is a moment that mattered.
Every day, little incidents, offhand remarks and snippets of conversation happen that perpetuate bias, stereotypes, ignorance and prejudice. They reflect a lack of understanding, sympathy and plain old manners. The way that we as a society view certain things are revealed in the most subtle of ways. This is the case whether we are talking about racism, sexism, ageism or (what should we call this?) reproductive-ism. This is why the moment mattered.
When people are going through infertility or miscarriage, they often feel isolated and alone. No one seems to understand their pain. We don’t have a way to talk about these topics. People, like the man I talked to, don’t even recognize or remember their existence. It is our responsibility to take into account what might be offensive to someone else when we speak. This is not to say we can’t have discourse or that certain topics are off limits. But the how and when we discuss certain things is important.
Throughout my journey to have a baby, I was on the receiving end of a lot of unintentionally hurtful comments and actions by people who didn’t know what to say or how to act. Now that I have a child, I feel like I’ve reentered the “normal” world – except that I am not normal. But because you wouldn’t know that to look at me with my son, the offensive conversations still occur.
Should I have confronted the man directly, as said another of the criticisms of the post? Maybe. But as I said in the piece, in the moment I was so taken aback at the awkwardness of the situation that I just couldn’t. That may have been my mistake. I chose to write about it not because I want to passive-agressively complain about it, but in order to bring awareness to the inappropriateness of what was said.
Look, I’m sure that man was a perfectly nice person who didn’t mean anything malicious. But that’s the point. Even if he didn’t mean it, it was still hurtful. And a lack of awareness about infertility and miscarriage means the silent suffering will continue.
Some people who responded positively said the article helped them because they never thought about it like that, and maybe they had said something in the past that was offensive even though they didn’t mean to be. It made them aware of something they hadn’t recognized before. That outcome – giving people a new perspective and actually inspiring them to change their behavior – is why I wrote the piece.
Words matter, even if they’re not on the grand scale of offensiveness of those of a certain pair of fashion designers who will remain nameless. But they still matter. That’s why I posted the piece. That’s why I write.
Last weekend at the morning-after brunch of a wedding we attended, I was sitting at a table with family members and two friends of the bride’s parents, a couple who I’d never met before. This is the conversation that followed our initial meeting (actually, we were never formally introduced):
“Is this your first?” the man asked my husband and I, as my mother-in-law took our crying son from the room.
“Yes,” we said.
“So what’s the game plan?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, confused.
“How many more?”
“We’ll see,” my husband and I both answered, hoping that would bring an end to this line of questioning.
But the man pressed the point. “Are you going for a baseball team? A football team?”
Dumbfounded, we repeated, “We’ll see,” with some nervous laughter as the man made more sports metaphors in reference to our reproductive plans.
As he left the table a few minutes later, he brought it up again. “Five,” he said. “That’s the number.”
Five. This man had no idea that I had five miscarriages. Five miscarriages, six years and seven IVFs. That’s what it took to have our son. We’ll be lucky if we will have a second child. Five children, despite my obsession with large families, is not in the cards for us.
I continued to think on this bizarre conversation all day. As I fumed over the offense I had taken against this man, who unknowingly made feelings of inadequacy and hurt about my infertility and losses come to the forefront of my mind yet again, I wondered: Is what he asked inappropriate? Or was I just being sensitive?
I recalled a conversation along the same lines that I had with the colorist at my hair salon a week before. I had just met her. We were talking about our kids, and she also asked me if I had only one. When I replied that yes, I did, she said, “Do you think you’ll have more?”
Same question, but I was not offended at the way she put it. Instead, I replied, “I’d like to, but we had a lot of trouble having our son.” She then commiserated with me on that point – she’d also experienced some issues with polycystic ovaries.
Maybe it’s basic human curiosity to ask about someone’s family planning. If my son does end up an only child, I see a lifetime of such questions in my future. I don’t know why having one isn’t a valid choice. In my situation it’s not really a choice anyway, but is that really anyone’s business? And why is it so weird to have only one? Are only children missing out on something because they don’t have siblings? No only child who I’ve ever known as an adult has said that – they all seem to be perfectly well-adjusted and happy.
But it’s not the norm, so we question it, just like we question anything that’s unusual or different. I wish, for my son’s sake, that we could just accept “one and done” as something that’s just fine, that’s normal, that has its own advantages.
And asking the question presumes a lot. It presumes that the woman is not currently pregnant. It presumes that she is not currently experiencing a miscarriage. It presumes that she’s not experiencing postpartum depression and is emotionally ready for more children. It presumes that if the woman is considering future children, she’s not wondering how on earth to accomplish that – another IVF or two? Adoption? Which option will be less emotionally and financially taxing? – questions that run through my mind whenever anyone brings up having another.
In short, it presumes that the woman is able and willing to have more children.
I am still analyzing, however, the differences in those two conversations. Why is it that one offended me and one did not? Well, one was asked in a less confrontational manner – “Do you think you’ll have more?” comes across as if arisen out of curiosity, whereas “What’s the game plan?” is in-your-face and demands a satisfactory answer.
Also, the non-offensive conversation occurred in the privacy of a one-on-one interaction, and hair salons are traditionally a place where women go for girl talk. We spill our secrets in that chair. The other felt like an interrogation shouted across a table filled with other people. It assumed that we would, in fact, be having more – it was just a question of how many. I could have answered the man’s question the way I answered the stylist’s – with a brief history of our difficulties – but it wasn’t a place where I felt comfortable getting into that.
So if you’re going to ask the question, a question which is really NOYB but is somewhat human nature to wonder about, please make sure it’s phrased in the right way and asked in the proper venue. Please do not shout it across a table.
And please, don’t use sports metaphors.
What do you think of asking someone about their child-bearing plans?
Confession: I just now finished reading all the comments to my Scary Mommy post The 8 Biggest Misconceptions About Infertility. I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the commenters were supportive of what I wrote. The several commenters who stupidly responded without having read the article – as evidenced by the fact that they actually spouted off the misconceptions from the article in their comment – were called out and chastised by other commenters. I responded to a couple comments myself to clarify a few points I made in the piece.
But what struck me was the multiple responses from people asking what TO say with someone experiencing infertility or miscarriage. I’m not sure if this was because my list crossed off all the platitudes they would otherwise have used, or because they genuinely had no idea. In any case, whenever someone asks me this, while I appreciate their desire not to say the wrong thing, I still wonder why it’s so hard to put themselves in another’s place. What would they want said to them if they were experiencing infertility or miscarriage? Is it really that hard to imagine? To me, the lack of innate understanding of “what to say” just emphasizes the isolation and divide of the infertiles from the fertiles.
But I suppose I should put aside my own bitterness and snark and just answer the question. So here is what to say to someone experiencing infertility and miscarriage:
1. “I’m sorry.”
2. “I’m here for you.”
3. “I’m thinking about you.”
And…that’s about it. Nothing, no words, especially no platitudes, can help ease their pain, so don’t even try. Just let them know that you are there to support them and that you have their back. That you understand if they need to skip your baby shower, or if they need a little distance from you if you’re pregnant. A few other tips:
Call them up or text them, but don’t make them feel pressured to call you back if they don’t answer. They might just need some space.
Don’t avoid the topic. If it’s the first time you’ve seen them in a while, tell them you’ve been thinking about them.
Joking won’t help. If anyone makes jokes, it should be them, not you.
Don’t make yourself the victim – it’s hard to be the friend of someone experiencing these things, but I promise you, it’s infinitely harder to be that person.
Oh wait, I realized I’ve ventured back into the territory of what NOT to do, instead of what TO do.
OK, so what should you do?
There are no magic words to say. Just be there as a friend. Be supportive, be open to listening, let them lean on you figuratively and literally. Bring them food or something they might enjoy, like trashy magazines (just make sure there are no pregnant celebrities in them). It’s simple: Just be a friend.
The most supportive thing anyone ever said to me came from a family member of my husband’s, who I didn’t know well and hadn’t seen in a long time. She was visiting my in-laws and bringing along her baby, who I’d never met. When we got there, there was no big introduction of the child. She just let him play quietly with my nieces. After he’d gone to bed, she pulled me aside and said:
“I heard about what you’re going through. It must be really hard for you to be around all these babies. I just wanted to let you know that we’re thinking about you. Please call if you ever want to talk.”
I remembered that moment for a long time. It gave me a great feeling of support that someone, even someone I didn’t know that well, had such compassion and understanding. It gave me hope that there were people out there who “got it.” That even if they weren’t going through the same thing, they could sympathize. Because of this one person, I felt just a little less isolated and alone.
So that’s it. That’s all there is to say.
Fellow infertiles, would you agree that’s all someone should say to those experiencing infertility and loss? Fertiles, does my advice make sense?
As LM becomes a better sleeper and my mind becomes a little less foggy, I’ve been able to take a step back and reflect on my life before and after I had him. Certain things – smells, places, even songs – remind me of how different my life used to be, back when I was in the throngs of infertility treatments. It was such a dark time for me. I had thought about writing then, but I was worried that instead of helping, exploring my feelings would throw me into an even deeper depression. I was barely hanging on to my sanity, and I needed to keep my emotions in check lest they put me over the edge.
I’m finally in a place where I can look back on it with a clearer head. In some ways I want to forget about it, just pretend like it never happened. Now that I’m part of the mommy club, it’s like I’m a normal person. Like I fit in. Like I’m not a total freak.
But I don’t want to deny who I was, or who infertility made me. Because it did change me. It changed how I look at the world and how it works, how I feel about God or any kind of higher power, what I want out of my life and what kind of person I want to be. It cost me friendships, some of them dear ones that I didn’t think could ever be broken. It taught me to see good where I didn’t think there was any, and how to deal with the bad. It left scars. There are things that haunt me, that I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of.
Those of us who’ve done many, many treatments or had many losses call ourselves “veterans.” We went through our own personal battle. I’m not sure if military veterans consider it offensive when others use the metaphor of war to describe traumatic experiences. If that is the case, I apologize, but that’s what it felt like.
When you start out doing treatments you are all full of promise, so excited that you are finally getting help. The doctors have found out what is wrong, and they know how to fix it. You’re in their hands, and they are the experts. Couples doing their first IVF often have a sense of hopeful anticipation, that this is going to be the thing that solves all their problems.
And for many couples it does. But we veterans had been here a while. We looked on these rookies with cynicism, because we no longer felt anything resembling positivity. We watched couple after couple pass us by as they had success. But we were still here.
It was that way for the miscarriages, too. After we lost our daughter at 17 weeks, we went to a support group at our hospital. All the other couples kept saying things like, “when we have another baby” or “when we get pregnant again,” and it made me feel that my sadness was deeper than theirs (not that I want to play the Pain Olympics, which I’ll talk about in a later post) because I didn’t know if I would ever be pregnant again. Or even if I was, could I carry a baby to term? I had already had three prior miscarriages. Maybe that was my last shot.
I was in a hopeless situation. I couldn’t get pregnant without help, and I couldn’t stay pregnant once I was. Adoption was on the table but that involved so much, from home study visits to waiting to be picked to the fear the birth mother would change her mind. It seemed overwhelming. Plus, I just really wanted to experience pregnancy. That might seem selfish, but I felt like it was my right as a woman. I didn’t want to have to mourn the loss of that, too.
Sometimes it scares me how close I came to not having LM. I know I would have been a mom anyway, that I would have pushed myself through the adoption process and eventually I would have had a child. I wasn’t going to accept living child-free. I told myself that I could do it, I could be strong, even if it took years longer before we found a baby to adopt (or rather, before the birth mom found us).
LM was our last egg, our last hope. I had begged our fertility clinic to freeze whatever embryos we had left from our last cycle, no matter what shape they were in. And they did. We had two little guys, and they were both transferred on our last-ditch-effort frozen cycle.
The pregnancy did not go well at the beginning and I was sure I would lose him. But he hung on, and somewhere along the way I morphed from bitter infertile to fairly normal pregnant person to regular old mom.
Sometimes I feel like I’m hiding some big secret, like I’m pretending to be someone I’m not. I hang out with all the other normal moms and feel like I was rescued from a terrible fate. Like somehow someone lifted me up and pulled me out of my dark, depressing life and gave me a shiny new one. And that someone was my son.
Any other infertiles-turned-moms out there? How has your experience affected your life as a parent?
Thank you all for the kind responses to my Huffington Post piece, The Storm That Follows a Lost Pregnancy. One comment, though, got me thinking. A Facebook friend said, “That must have been hard to share.” In some ways, it was. I was nervous to have people who know me read my story; but I was not scared to have other people, the entire internet really, read it. Maybe because even though I’m giving my name, to strangers I still feel like I’m anonymous.
But why should I feel anxious about sharing it with the people in my life? Shouldn’t those be the people you want to share your struggles with?
I think there is still a pervading feeling in our culture that pregnancy loss, and infertility, shouldn’t be talked about. These issues are still hushed-up, still only whispered about, still stigmatized. Some people think that these things should be private, that they are nobody else’s business. And while it’s true that others should respect our privacy, is the real reason we feel these topics should be private because there is a sense of guilt and shame around them?
While trying to get pregnant, I saw differing ways of handing loss. Many women who miscarried said they wished they hadn’t told everyone they were pregnant because then after their loss, they had to “untell.” My feeling on this was…so what? I was pregnant and now I’m not anymore. Maybe then people can offer their support, if only to lend an “I’m sorry.” OK, it’s fair to just not want to talk about it to acquaintances you don’t know well. But keeping quiet also means we suffer alone because the world does not know the sorrow we are going through. Everyone will just expect us to carry on as normal, when inside we are in mourning.
After my Huff Post story, some people I know sent me private messages to tell me that they went through something similar, and I had no idea. Other people, mostly mom friends I’ve met since having my son, said they had no idea what I had gone through. And why would they – I had not talked about it. It’s hard to bring miscarriage into normal conversation. And if you do, you often just gloss over it because it can make people uncomfortable. I remember once a few months after losing my baby, I got a compliment from a very good friend on a necklace I was wearing. I thanked her and said it was to remember my daughter, and it stopped the conversation short. My friend and her husband were visibly uncomfortable. But why should they be? Why can’t we acknowledge miscarriage the way we do other deaths?
There is no word to describe someone who’s lost a pregnancy or a child. We simply don’t have the words to talk about something that so many people go through. And I want to change that. It wasn’t hard to share my story, because that’s what I want to do as a writer, a blogger and a woman. To talk about the things that we don’t talk about.
Do you have a story you want to share?
When I was growing up, I could never leave the house without my mom telling me to “be careful.” I think she thought of it as a counter-jinx, like if she didn’t say it something awful would happen. I would always roll my eyes and say yes, of course I’ll be careful. But now that I’m a mom I understand. Parental worry is never-ending.
I’ve always been a worry-wart. But it’s gotten worse since I’ve had my son. Now it’s not only myself I have to worry about (well, plus my husband and family) – it’s a tiny, helpless little creature whose safety is my responsibility. The weight of it is soul-crushing, as this Scary Mommy post recently explained.
For me, the worry also comes from being a miscarriage survivor. I failed to keep safe all the babies I lost before LM. I know it wasn’t my “fault” – I had no control over it – but that doesn’t matter. It was still my responsibility, and I (or my body) couldn’t do it.
I used to look at rare, terrible events in a logical way. Chances are, those things would not happen to me. But then…they did. My infertility journey was fraught with falling into the one percent chance time and time again – and not in a good way. With these odds, I used to joke to my husband, we should play the lottery. But that would have required us to be extremely lucky. Instead, we were extremely unlucky.
First were my unlucky diagnoses. Then came the losses. Most pregnant women think that once you’re out of the first trimester you’re “safe.” And yes, something like 99 percent of pregnancies are safe past 12 weeks. So when I lost my daughter at 17 weeks, I fell into the one percent yet again. I mourned my baby, but I also mourned life as I knew it. How could I ever feel safe again?
While I was trying to get pregnant I noticed a message board called “Parenting after a loss” on a website I frequented. What could that mean, I wondered. Pregnant after a loss, OK, but what does a loss have to do with parenting?
Now I know.
The grief I felt after losing our daughter has stayed with me and clouds everything I do. I see danger everywhere, from sharp-cornered wooden toys (we spend our time putting foam on table corners but then give our kids a wooden box with a corner just as sharp?) to germs LM has picked up crawling all over the floor. And let’s not even talk about driving him in the car.
My mind skips forward and sees accidents everywhere, before they’ve even happened. Maybe if I think of them first they won’t happen. A counter-jinx.
My husband takes a different tact. He just doesn’t think about it. I’m not quite sure how he accomplishes this, but he is just fundamentally not a worrier. He’s able to shut off that part of his mind that conjures up disturbing thoughts and images. I try to take his approach. Sometimes it works, and I’ll look back at my day and say, wow I can’t believe I went here or there with LM and managed to keep him safe and avoid having a panic attack.
But other times I’m glad not to have anywhere to go, so I can just stay in my house. It seems safer (sharp-cornered toys notwithstanding). But lest I turn agoraphobic, I check myself and appeal to my sense of logic. One cannot live like that. Yes, life can be taken from us at any time. I’ve learned that firsthand. But we can’t stop living because of it. If anything, it should make us live better. Carpe diem and all that. I’m trying to look at life that way instead.
Of course it’s every parent’s worst nightmare to lose their child. But besides reasonable safety precautions, there’s really nothing we can do to ensure their survival. As Dori says to worried parent Marlin in Finding Nemo, “If you don’t let anything happen to him, then nothing will ever happen to him.” And come to think of it, Nemo gives us a great lesson about parenting after tragedy, about letting go of worry and embracing life instead. For me, it’s a work in progress.
Are you a super-worrier? How do you deal with the anxiety?
I spent six years trying to get, and stay, pregnant. I went through seven IVF cycles. I had five miscarriages. Putting it that way, it sounds crazy. Why would any sane person go to such extremes to have a baby? And if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result, does that mean I was nuts?
Looking back now at everything I went through, it does seem a bit insane. But in the moment it didn’t feel that way. It starts as one problem to solve, one IVF cycle. Then it turns out there is another problem to solve, then another. Every cycle is going to be the cycle, the one that fixes the issue you didn’t know about before. It’s a strange sort of addiction, and the habit is hard to break.
Adoption seemed to require giving up more – not only my genetics but my biological urge as a woman to grow a life inside of me. I desperately wanted to do what I believed women’s bodies are created to do: become pregnant and bear children. The IVF process was likely to be a lot quicker than the potentially years-long wait for a child through adoption.
But as time went on and cycle after cycle ended in failure, wasn’t it time to give up? What were we doing this for? We had spent so much time, energy and money on cycling. We had grown apart from our friends who had had kids. I was an emotional wreck who couldn’t stand any reminders of babies or children – and those reminders were everywhere. Clearly, something was wrong with my body that it couldn’t sustain a pregnancy. But all the losses were different; because they didn’t fit a pattern, no doctor could say what was ultimately causing them.
Eventually all our options had been extinguished. I had to decide what I wanted: to be pregnant or to be a mother. We had two frozen embryos which we would use in a “closure cycle” while we pursued adoption. I grieved the likelihood that I would never experience a baby growing inside me, never feel kicks, never give birth.
We pulled out all the stops for our frozen cycle. I went on a gluten and dairy-free diet to help reduce an inflammatory response. I took Prednisone for three months, which puffed me up and made me gain weight, for the same purpose. I took blood thinners. I continued the acupuncture that I had done for the past several years. I saw an immunologist who recommended using the cancer drug Neupogen off-label. My fertility doctor didn’t like it, but at that point I was in a position to insist.
Once again the pregnancy test was positive. But my second hormone “beta” level hardly rose at all, an indication of an early miscarriage. Resigned to the end of my fertility, I emailed the adoption agency we’d chosen to tell them we were on board. I followed up with more blood tests to make sure the levels went down.
But they didn’t. They continued to double. No one could explain why the second test hadn’t risen – a vanishing twin, in which both embryos implant but only one keeps growing, was a possibility. In any case, my ultrasound showed a baby with a heartbeat, and he became our son.
I know I would have been a mom even if I had not been pregnant, but that was a dream I had a very hard time relinquishing. Another woman might have chosen to move on sooner, and I wouldn’t have blamed her. That might have been the smart thing to do, and saved me years of emotional turmoil. But in the midst of everything, it always seemed that if we just fixed this issue, if we just solved that problem, things would work out. And eventually they did, although now I don’t attribute that to anything other than sheer luck.
Some might call me desperate or crazy, and maybe I was. But you can’t see your way out of a maze when you’re in the middle of it.
What was your TTC (trying to conceive) story? Any other infertility or miscarriage survivors out there?