This week, I got to see my baby via sonogram for the first time. She was eight weeks and five days old, 2.12 centimeters long, and she had no heartbeat.
“I’m so sorry,” the doctor said. “I’m so, so sorry.” She hugged me tightly, but I couldn’t raise my arms to reciprocate, my body frozen.
“Is this for sure?” I managed to ask.
“I’m sorry… I’m so, so sorry,” she repeated in reply. She left the room and asked me to get dressed, inviting me to join her in her office when I was ready to discuss what “happens next.”
I sat in the room for what felt like an eternity, naked from the waist down and equally emotionally exposed. What happens next? What happens next? I had already planned out what would happen next, and next, and so on for the next nine months. Next, I’d put her tiny sonogram photo in a frame and wrap it with my parents’ Christmas gifts. “Surprise! You are getting a new grandchild this summer!”
After that, I’d tell my co-workers and invite them to hand-me-down their lightly loved baby clothing. It’s going to be a girl, you see, and my first child was a boy and born in winter. I’d build her a perfect little capsule wardrobe of summer infant gear—tiny impractical shoes that would never touch the earth and onesies with sunshines and bumblebees.
I’d spend July and August shielding her perfect new skin from the rays of the sun, going out in the early mornings and the early evenings when we’d pick up her brother from school. I’d strap her to me while running errands and our bodies would sweat onto one another, connected almost as intimately as we are right now.
I’d need to tell our daycare soon—waiting lists in NYC are brutal, and I want to make sure her spot is reserved. Our apartment is smallish but would do; a move would be too stressful, I’d decide. A bassinet by the bed for now and figure out “what’s next” once she’s mobile.
But that wasn’t happening next. That isn’t what’s happening next.
It’s estimated that 15–25 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, but it’s still something many women don’t speak about openly. We are ashamed. We feel broken, like damaged goods. We blame our bodies and question our choices. We suffer in silence and cry in the bathroom between meetings and tell people we had a “family emergency,” keeping it vague and nameless. We let our grief and sadness fester beneath the facade of the “good face” we’ve been programmed to wear. Less than favorable moods and being anything other than “fine—how are you?” are not accepted in our society.
When I walked out of the office in SoHo, I considered staying silent. I began to walk downtown on autopilot, choking back sobs. I couldn’t get on the train and keep my composure. What would people think? This basket case of a woman ugly crying on the F train. What could I blame my sudden absence from work and weepiness on that wouldn’t also imply that I’m a failure of a woman and a mom?
I hadn’t shared the pregnancy with my family yet, so for a moment as I made my winding way toward the Brooklyn Bridge, I contemplated following the lead of so many people and telling no one but my spouse. I walked all the way home that night: three-plus miles in sub-40-degree weather, over the bridge during rush-hour traffic, oblivious to the cold and the sounds of the city. I thought about going home and concocting a story. In those first shell-shocked moments, that felt like the right thing to do.
But I knew that choice wouldn’t work for me. I was the one people came to when they were in tears, when they were confused, when they were suffering. Was I not worthy of the same consoling that I offer others so freely? Was silence the noble and self-protecting choice or one that simply cemented the shame I ought to be feeling from this loss? Was I capable of burying my grief behind a mask of surface pleasantries, even as I lived for five days with a lifeless life inside of me, waiting for the day of my D and C? And even if I was capable, could my heart withstand it?
For me, the answer was no. In fact, I wanted everyone I interacted with directly to know.
I needed everyone to know because the effort it would take to pretend—to lie—was more than I could bear. I needed to honor my process over my pride. I’ve been depressed, stressed, anxious, and on edge, but when people asked me, “How are you?” I’ve said, “Great!” more times than I can count. But this time was different.
What I experienced on the other side of that vulnerability was an immense opening of surrender and compassion.
The loss of a child is a sadness that shakes you to your core. It guts you. The anguish coupled with surging hormones and dashed hopes create a particular cocktail that feels insurmountable in its magnitude. It is a sadness that brings you to your knees, even if you’ve never once uttered a prayer. At the time of this writing, I still don’t have the strength to do more than cry, pray, bathe, and snuggle my toddler and husband.
As hard as it was to tell my family, friends, and co-workers—to even type or say the actual words—what I experienced on the other side of that vulnerability was an immense opening of surrender and compassion. I was released from the burden of loneliness and isolation that had been compounding the loss. I didn’t feel any better, but I didn’t feel alone. Countless women felt empowered to share their own miscarriage stories with me and offered me the assurance that only rings true from someone who has been there.
I asked for and received both support and prayers. I shared my suffering openly and allowed others to be generous and gentle with me. In this time of darkness and despair, I honestly don’t know if I could have survived without them. Religious friends sent me sermons, other friends sent book recommendations, and my yogis sent me meditations that have bolstered them during tough times. I’ve used the term “come to Jesus moment” before, but I’ve never felt it in my bones the way I do now. I not only want but need the support of my community, my collective, and even Jesus—if he’s willing to give it.
I don’t know when or if relief will come. I’m not sure when the flashbacks to that moment in the stirrups or the bad dreams will stop. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to normal, and in a way, I hope I don’t. My new normal will be as a woman who understands more fully the depth of human suffering and appreciates more immensely the blessings that serve as its counterpoint.
I’m a mom who, though always doting, now marvels again at the 10 fingers and toes on my toddler’s sweet little warm body in a way I haven’t since he first emerged from my womb. I am a survivor who can offer solace to women who have experienced, or will someday experience, pregnancy loss. And when I do get pregnant again—God willing—I won’t worry how we’re going to afford it or if our two-bedroom apartment will suffice. I’ll be brought to my knees again—this time with gratitude instead of sorrow.
In the spiritual New-Agey community where I live and work, people sign mundane emails and bikini-clad social media posts with “love & light,” and in this context, it can be a cloying and cliché turn of phrase. But when I found myself in this suffering—when despair and darkness took hold of me so completely I wasn’t sure I’d ever return; when I couldn’t do anything to change the situation or even ease my pain, my soul literally cried out for just that: love and light. I wanted it from everyone: Please send all you’ve got my way, and when you refill your stash, I’ll take some more. And though this might sound abstract, it helped. The text messages, the letters, the flowers, the calls. Each outstretched hand offered me warmth of human connection, which we crave so primally during times of grief and need.
When a relative dies and we sit shiva or give a funeral mass, we do it so that our communities, our loved ones, and our religious rituals can fortify us at a time when we need it most. Why should loss of pregnancy be commemorated any differently? It is a death like any other. A soul has departed and a proper send-off is their due. Instead of secrecy and darkness, I now have angels all around me energetically sending me their love and light and sending it to my angel baby, too.
Rumi says that, “the wound is the place where the Light enters you,” and though this is true whether your wound is public or concealed, I believe that the light is magnified when you allow it to be compounded by others. In this moment, I send love and light to all others who have or will experience miscarriage, and I accept with open arms and an open heart that same transmission in return.
No one should have to experience pregnancy loss, but that’s just not possible. So, instead, no one should have to experience pregnancy loss alone.