If I would have gone in sooner, when the spotting started, I thought, my baby could have made it. Sitting in the ultrasound room, looking at the dark screen with an empty sac, guilt flooded over me. The measurement proclaimed that my pregnancy had stopped growing at five weeks and four days. Yet that day, I should have been eight weeks.
It was my third pregnancy. The first two had ended almost before they began, shortly after four weeks and, if I wouldn’t have had such extreme nausea and a general sense of feeling “different,” I might have missed them myself.
This time, it had been different. This time, the symptoms were stronger. I made it to five and then six and then seven weeks. I felt that it would stick. I had my first appointment at eight weeks, even though I had called the OB in a mild panic around six weeks when I had some brown spotting.
“That is perfectly normal for many pregnancies,” the nurse told me. There was no reason for an earlier scan. I was a pregnancy newbie, so I had no reason to question her. But as the spotting continued, and my general cramping increased, I couldn’t help but feel worried.
Looking at that scan screen, I realized I hadn’t actually been pregnant for two and half weeks, even though I still felt the symptoms. Shame and grief plagued me instantly, feelings I wouldn’t be able to shake for years. I blamed myself, yet hardly knew why. Having an earlier scan, when the spotting started, wouldn’t have saved the pregnancy. Yet because I felt like I should’ve taken action and didn’t, I blamed myself. All of the anger, grief, and helpless feelings that come with losing a baby, I turned inward.
I never voiced those feelings to anyone for years. I see pictures of myself from those few weeks where I was pregnant, not yet knowing it had gone terribly wrong, and I cringe. I see pictures of myself in the weeks after that miscarriage and I see a women whose eyes look clouded and distant, only a hint of the despair that had consumed me internally.
Women commonly blame themselves for miscarriage, but shouldn’t.
Even if you have a definitive cause for your pregnancy loss, like a trisomy or chromosome error, the feelings of shame and guilt can persist. When I had testing done with a different loss that proved without a doubt that my body hadn’t caused it, it didn’t make me feel better. I felt shame and guilt anyway. If only I had been able to save my son. If only I had been able to rewrite his genetics. The shame of loss isn’t rational, and a mother’s grief over losing a child—any child, even one that was the size of a sweet pea—can be all-consuming.
What has helped me is to focus on the facts.
If I could talk to myself back then—the broken woman who blamed herself for the loss of her baby—I would tell her with all confidence that she did not cause that loss. Miscarriages happen frequently, and I would reassure her that women can never cause them like we think we can. More than 25 percent of all pregnancies, known or unknown, end in a loss. In a majority of cases, it’s because of chromosome or genetic errors in the embryo—a miscarriage is nature’s way of making sure that a pregnancy that isn’t viable doesn’t continue, leading to a host of other complications.
Ultimately I’ve come to embrace the fact that women cannot cause miscarriage. Sneezing too hard, coughing, eating that one food, having that one drink before you knew you were pregnant, or any of the other hundreds of ways our brains decide that we’ve caused it—none of them are true.
Seek information that can help you from feeling helpless.
If you have had a miscarriage, I am so sorry. I grieve with you. No woman should have to lose her baby, whether she’s been pregnant for two days or two months.
Miscarriage is common, but it is far from easy. It is not commonplace to deal with, emotionally, physically, or mentally.
Unfortunately, the medical world considers miscarriage so common that often doctors won’t do anything to address potential underlying problems until you’ve had two or three consecutive losses. In my case, because my losses were so early, it took me seven miscarriages before I was able to get a doctor to take my problem seriously.
In the last few years, miscarriage awareness has risen and more women are taking their health into their own hands. If I could go back and do anything differently, I’d insist on a full-on investigation after my third loss. Not all women have blatantly identifiable factors causing their losses, but I did: an autoimmune clotting disorder, as well as some other genetic factors. Mine were not “easy” fixes, and I’ve still had losses after discovering them, but at least I had a better understanding of why my body couldn’t get them to stick. Getting more information helps.
Every woman’s fertility challenges are her own. We all have a complex set of underlying factors, like genetics, inflammation, autoimmunity, ovarian and uterine health, and more that could affect her ability to conceive. Even if you’ve had one miscarriage, in my opinion, you have a right to investigate the why. We don’t always get answers, but as a woman who has been there, I can say that wondering if there is an answer is infinitely more painful than at least trying to get one.
While every doctor handles miscarriage differently, you need one who is at least willing to dialogue about it. Any doctor who brushes it off as common, and insists that your next pregnancy will “probably” make it, is not considering you, the individual patient. When I’m working with a doctor I want them to consider me personally, not just in the context of odds and statistics.
While I have had 16 miscarriages, all of them before six weeks gestation, I am thankful that I also have two healthy, perfect sons. I found a doctor willing to work with me individually, to dig deep and investigate obscure aspects of my health until we found a way forward.
Miscarriages may be common, but, to me and many other women, they matter. In addition to finding yourself a helpful doctor, take advantage of the communities of women who have also experienced pregnancy loss.
Whether you’ve had one loss or more, you deserve to feel like you have someone fighting on your team. For me, this started with me being on my own team as well—not blaming myself for something that wasn’t my fault.