I am twelve weeks pregnant. After my first loss, I turned to numbers to help mitigate my anxiety. I internalized a chart that broke down incidence of miscarriage over time. After twelve weeks, there was a precipitous dip. This baby is known only to me and my husband. I still regard social media postings early in the first trimester with a degree of awe. I can’t not marvel at the confidence that these parents-to-be seemed to have, a confidence I would never be able to feign again.
I came face-to-face with this brand of confidence that day in the most unexpected way. There is a planned visit to see my relatives in Connecticut, including my grandfather who has been having more bad days recently at the tail end of a long fight with cancer. I am picked up by my brother, his wife of two months, and my mother. I encouraged my husband to sit this trip out for some reason or another. I am so entirely in my own head, fighting through the fog of fear, telling myself that if I can just keep it together till my appointment later in the week that maybe, just maybe, I will turn back into a person I can tolerate instead of this timid, broken shell I see in the mirror.
“I’m so glad you were able to come today, Kris,”, my brother begins. I’m nodding, agreeing that it is important that we spend time with Gramps while we still can. “We have really exciting news to share. You’re going to be an aunt.”
This is exciting news. And yet, I feel like I can’t breathe. They are roughly six weeks along and planning to announce it to the extended family today. My brother hopes it will give my grandfather something to fight for. For the rest of the day, I am there, and yet I am not. I have enough presence of mind to hit record on my phone when they share the news, capturing his reaction for posterity. I try to smile at all the right times. I’m certain on some level I am happy for them. I’m just also so fearful and a little bitter. The first baby I expected to bring into this world was supposed to be due back in June. I can’t help but dwell in this alternate reality in which my grandfather already has a great-grandchild. If this pregnancy continues as expected, my due date will be six weeks ahead of theirs. I don’t even consider saying anything today – my own pregnancy still feels far too tentative, and it would feel weirdly like I’m trying to upstage them, when all I’m really trying to do is endure the time left until it’s “safe” to share what could be my own exciting news.
Later that week, we are at the doctor’s office when the ultrasound tech gets a telling expression on her face. She makes some comment about my bladder being overfull, so I go to the bathroom. When I get back, she has upgraded us to an actual physician. I know before they say anything. Once again, they can’t find a heartbeat. Once again, they recommend scheduling a quick and easy surgical procedure so that we can put this all behind us.
My husband convinces me to share this loss with my family. He’s right. I’m not a good enough actor to be fully present for the next eight months without occasionally grappling publicly with the unfairness of it all. And this loss is joined by others in a quick succession. By the end of September, we lose my grandfather. By October, we are in a new world marked by my father’s illness. In March, when my sister-in-law gives birth to a healthy little boy, there is nothing left to feel but pure joy for something to collectively celebrate.
When I become pregnant again, I tell my immediate family right away. But I’m still weird about sharing the news. I desperately hide morning sickness during an end-of-the-year trip for work. I come back in August noticeably rounder and still uncomfortable with public acknowledgement of my condition. I vigilantly monitor what I’m tagged in on social media, finally relenting to approve tagged photos after my baby shower with roughly a month to go. I wonder if there are people who think I must just not be that excited. How else could you explain failing to participate in our modern rituals of uploading monthly bump photos or having some elaborate gender reveal? Only those who have been through it can possibly intuit why one would want to withhold celebrations until their baby is safely in their arms.
The irony is that if I have learned one thing, it’s that I should have let myself be more vulnerable. I should have invited the world to bear witness to my pain. In the time since, I have learned of so many women who know this kind of loss, even the statistically unlikely loss after 12+ weeks of “healthy” pregnancy. In my defense, I think the unanswered question of “will I get to be a mother” loomed too large for me to be transparent with how desperately I wanted the answer to be yes. Declaring my hopes to the world required a boldness I simply did not possess.
It makes me angry when I think of how society handles miscarriage. Even the world itself can work me up into a frenzy. The prefix mis- means wrongly, implying that there was fault when often medical science can find none. We even had the remains analyzed after my second loss. The only insight they found to share was that it had been a boy.
It’s not the same and it requires far less courage, but I am now eager to share my story with other women. Especially those who are blindsided by their first loss and can’t help but blame themselves, who are haunted by the possibility that this one incidence is a harbinger of what could be ahead, a lifelong struggle to have children. I have been there and I was completely consumed by that guilt and those fears. And now, as my daughter grows bigger, there are still moments when I am holding her when my heart just seizes up in profound realization of how her very existence is more than I felt allowed to want, more than some undoubtedly deserving of more souls will ever get to have.