I thought my first ultrasound would go like this: My doctor would point out the baby and I’d turn to my husband, Brendan. He’d tear up, and I’d whisper, “Can you believe it?” So when the time came, I grabbed my husband's hand in my doctor's office before glancing at the ultrasound machine. This was it. We’d finally see our burrito — one of our favorite foods and our nickname for our unnamed fetus.
Instead, I saw a fuzzy gray screen. My obstetrician asked, “When was your last period?” Eight weeks earlier, I told her. “Come to my office.” I slipped on my underwear, looking at Brendan. He was pale. In her office, she told me that there was no evidence of life, just a gestational sac. She asked me to come back two weeks later. If there was growth, we were in business. If my uterus was still empty, I would miscarry.
For two weeks, Brendan rubbed my belly and talked to our little burrito. We joked that she just hadn’t gotten her tortilla yet. But I had a sinking feeling that my pregnancy wasn’t moving along like my Fit Pregnancy weekly emails were telling me it should be. Despite my waves of nausea and exhaustion, I worried every day that nothing was growing inside of me. Still, I religiously read mommy online forums where other women talked about disappointing first ultrasounds, but they saw the fetus at the second. This gave me hope.
But while in the waiting room for the second ultrasound, I whispered to Brendan that I was scared.
And the second ultrasound showed that there was no baby. The bun hadn’t even made it to the oven. Talking with my doctor, I was completely calm, asking when we could try again. Brendan hunched over, covering his face with his hands. Outside of the doctor’s office, Brendan held me close. “Everything’s going to be OK,” he said. I nodded.
It wasn’t until later that I curled into a ball on our bed, sobbing. My very first pregnancy became my very first miscarriage. The budding belly I had grown fond of I now hated.
As a 35-year-old woman, my Facebook feed is filled with status updates of cute babies. No one I knew ever posted to Facebook, "I had a miscarriage today." I was ashamed to admit that I couldn’t look at my friends’ baby pictures on my feed. It was easier to share how well other parts of my life were going on Facebook than tell people that I had developed a lovely habit of bursting into tears while driving.
I told a few close female friends, and that’s when the stories started coming out about their own miscarriages. One friend was going through a miscarriage at the same exact time as I was. Another suggested I check out #IHadaMiscarriage. What I found shocked me. So many women had had miscarriages. Many of us were still grieving. When I read the New York Times essay by Jessica Zucker that started the hashtag, I cried into my keyboard. Zucker vividly describes losing her baby at 16 weeks. I had thought I was alone, but it seemed so many women had miscarriages. I had no idea.
Meanwhile, in subsequent checkups, I was still pregnant — even though my body was slowly bleeding. A month later, my OB-GYN scheduled a D&C to remove what was inside of me.
On a late November morning, I was in surgery. The room was ice-cold. Pop music played in the background. The nurses covered me with a blanket, splaying my arms out. The anesthesiologist said, “Don’t worry. We’ll take good care of you.” I struggled to keep my eyes open. Then, darkness.
When I woke up in the recovery room, my throat was dry. I croaked, “Where’s my husband?” The blonde nurse in dark blue scrubs said, “Oh, honey, you’ll see him later. You have to stay overnight.” She’s wrong, I thought. I’m going home today. When I woke again, I nagged until I was allowed to see Brendan. “Did anyone tell you what happened?” he asked. I shook my head. It hurt to talk. “Your doctor punctured your uterus,” he said. I shut my eyes again.
I was wheeled to the maternity ward. In my room, there were breast-feeding instructions and a hospital advertisement for taking photos with your newborn on the wall. Whenever I had to go to the bathroom, I had to call a nurse. My midsection felt like I had done a million sit-ups. The nurse handed me a warm bottle of water. “To clean yourself,” she said. It burned to pee. The nurse then gave me a thick pink maxi pad to line inside the white hospital underwear. It felt like the least sexy piece of clothing ever.
An hour later the head of OB-GYN came in. He demonstrated with his hand how my uterus was inverted. When my doctor went in to dilate me, she accidentally punctured a small hole in the top of my uterus. They had to go in and stitch me up, leaving me with small scars on either side of my stomach.
Later, I took a walk down the hallway. Brendan held my arm as I wheeled my IV with me. I clutched the blue hospital gown to cover my butt. A group of medical workers were walking through the maternity ward.
“Congratulations!” one woman said to me. I shook my head. “No, there’s no baby.” She frowned then left.
Even after taking a sleeping pill, I barely slept. I was still pregnant. The D&C hadn’t happened. I would still be wearing maxi pads. When I was discharged, a volunteer wheeled me out. “Congratulations, mommy!” chirped a nurse. I didn’t bother to correct her.
At home, I spent two days in bed. I marathon-watched Gilmore Girls. I changed my maxi pads. I ignored my email. The physical pain made it hard to get out of bed, so I didn’t. I didn’t cry. I just wanted to not exist anymore.
On the third day, I called my doctor's cell. I wanted to be done. What could she do? Could I take a pill? She said there were risks with a pill, and no matter what I would have to wait at least three weeks before I could do anything about the miscarriage. “This experience has been really sad for me, and putting me in the maternity ward didn’t help,” I said.
“As your doctor, I need to know if you’re depressed," she said. "You should be taking antidepressants.” I wanted to scream at her, but I didn’t have the energy to fight. I just wanted this failed pregnancy to be over and done.
Our awful phone call led to my frantic search for a new obstetrician. Through a friend’s recommendation, I saw a new doctor. She answered my dozens of questions. “The uterus is a strong muscle. You’ll heal just fine.” She brought me into her ultrasound room. I was shocked to actually see the outline of my uterus on the screen. With my former doctor's seemingly '80s-style ultrasound machine, Brendan and I joked that we could play Atari games on it. Now, staring at the screen, as my new doctor showed me around my uterus, I felt stupid that I had never questioned my first doctor.
She told me I would have intense cramping during my miscarriage. I didn’t. She said my body would naturally abort. It didn’t. When she told me she didn’t believe in prescribing a pill to help my uterus contract, I didn’t listen to my gut instinct that what she said didn’t make any sense. She was the one with the medical degree, years of training, and a wall of baby pictures to prove she knew what she was doing. This was my first time being pregnant, so what did I know? The only information I could find on miscarriage was one page in What to Expect When You’re Expecting and some stories on the internet. So instead of trusting my nagging feeling that something was very wrong, I trusted my doctor.
My new doctor told me that there wasn’t much left inside of me. With the aid of misoprostol, a pill intended to treat ulcers, my uterus would contract and flush out what remained. While waiting to get my blood drawn to monitor my pregnancy hormones, my old doctor called me. She noticed I'd canceled my appointment and apologized if anything she'd said had hurt my feelings. I told her I was seeing someone else. “Does this new doctor know your history?” she asked.
“I think it’s best for both of us if I pursue a new path,” I said.
When the miscarriage finally happened, I welcomed the cramps and the tissue that came out. I was relieved to see the end. Now that the physical part was over, I could finally move on.
I told more friends via email. The outpouring of support and love was tremendous. Flowers arrived. Cards came in the mail. The “Girl, that is crazy!” from my outraged girlfriends was exactly what I needed to hear. The laughter that came from saying, “I finally saw my uterus!” was a relief.
Two months later, Brendan and I were shopping at Target. I “accidentally” wandered into the baby section with rows of cribs. I told myself I was completely fine. I had talked to my therapist about every detail of the miscarriage. I had cried. I was ready. Besides, I wanted to look at cribs. That turned into looking at baby clothes. Those tiny booties. Adorable onesies with “I love mommy” written on the front. Hats with cat ears. Suddenly, my heart raced. Tears were coming. My only thought was to run like hell. So I ran out of the baby aisle, passed the kids’ toys, and found Brendan in the DVD area.
All I had to say was, “I went into the baby section. I don’t know why.” He pulled me into a giant hug. I rested my forehead on his chest. “I need to go,” I whispered.
What I’ve learned is that there is no “getting over it.” The grief of my loss is part of me. It always will be. Now instead of being ashamed to tell anyone on Facebook, I’m going to break the bad-news barrier and say it: Last fall, I had a miscarriage.
Jennifer Chen is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles who has written for Cosmopolitan, The Bold Italic, Bust, and several other publications. She blogs about writing at jchenwriter.com and tweets about her rescue pups at @jchenwriter.
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