Question: Did you ever get over your miscarriage? You are the only person that has ever really talked to me about having one, so I hope it’s ok that I ask, but I think I think about it too much, like I was supposed to have a baby last month. My baby would be one month old this week . . . you know, am I totally crazy for thinking about it this much?
I recently exchanged some emails with a friend I haven’t talked to in several months. We had a lot to catch up on, but the miscarriage was a big part of it. Another friend of mine is now waiting, at 18 weeks, for her non-viable fetus to die. Once you have a miscarriage, you find out that almost everyone else has too. Yet we don’t seem to share the stories of them like we do our birth stories.
It was December 22, 2003. I was studying for my linguistics final at the American University in Cairo. Sally was three years old, and it had taken me that long to think that maybe another baby would be a good thing. My first prenatal appointment was scheduled for the next week. I was eleven weeks along, and I noticed a trail of reddish-brown blood when I went to the bathroom.
I screamed for Dick, which is what I do whenever something scares or angers or thrills me. I couldn’t get a hold of Dr. Hamza (whom I hadn’t met yet), and we frantically called other doctors, without success. Living in Egypt would have been a punishment worthy of the Spanish Inquisition if not for the friends we met who were like family.
Josh, one of those friends, ran to our house (not even stopping to hail a taxi), when he couldn’t get through on our line to give us a doctor referral. He and his wife (and their two sons) took Sally overnight so we could go to the hospital.
In our hurry and agitation we forgot to take any money. I think we did take our letter of introduction/guarantee from the University (Dick’s employer), but Dick ended up taking a taxi to get our credit card. I should have gone with him, because the admitting people took pity on me and let me into the ultrasound room after a nurse checked my cervix and found it completely closed.
I think most women remember how quiet the room gets when the technician or radiologist looks at the screen, finds no heartbeat, and wonders how to break the news to the anxious woman on the table. It was like that, only my technician had to figure out how to say it in English too. But I knew. And I cried, in that dark room, while Dick was rushing to get money.
My baby, who we were hoping would be a boy we would name Simon had been dead for three weeks. I was admitted to the hospital for a D&C the next day. (I don’t know if it would have been fine to go home and wait for things to happen naturally, but with the baby already long-dead and the language barrier, I stayed at the hospital).
My mom had three miscarriages between my first brother and my second sister. I don’t think I spoke to her on the phone while I was at the hospital, so maybe I was just remembering her experience. I know that her advice was that I needed to see the body of my baby in order to get closure and aid the healing process.
The one good thing about miscarriage (and Egyptian hospitals) is that they can give you some fine drugs, as there are no other considerations. I drifted to sleep in my bleak hospital room feeling pretty groovy.
I woke in the night to use the bathroom. Perhaps the worst thing about Egypt as a country is that you have to baksheesh (bribe) the nurses in order to get toilet paper and handsoap in your room. We were unaware of this cultural quirk, and so the unresponsive (and understandably resentful) attendants were very frustrating.
As I sat in the bathroom, I felt the baby coming out, and I panicked. The thought of the baby falling into the toiled was horrifying. I raced back to the bed and rang for a nurse. She came in, sullen and impatient, and I tried to explain what was happening. She checked me and pulled out a large blood clot. Looking back, I don’t know why Dick didn’t stay with me at the hospital, and I don’t know why the nurses weren’t just a bit more sympathetic.
I never saw the baby’s body, and I didn’t want to. I still have the pictures from the ultrasound, and they make me sad enough.
But most of the time I don’t even think about what happened almost five years ago. It was a quiet Christmas. We spent Christmas Eve with just Josh and Suzy’s family, instead of the noisy party we’d gone to the year before. When I came home and we got Sally back, I sat on the floor just inside our apartment and held her.
Suzy asked me if I wanted her to tell our friends what had happened so I wouldn’t have to talk about it all the time. That sounded like such a relief to me.
A few things helped me heal relatively quickly. First, of course, were the loving, generous friends we had, including the women (esp. Alyson F.) who shared their own miscarriage stories with me. I guess it could seem like you’re trying to minimize the grief of each individual situation to say that it “happens all the time,” but for me it’s a comfort to know that others have experienced similar things and gone on to better times.
Another thing that helped was my belief system, but in a perhaps-unconventional way. In the Mormon church we believe families can be together forever. I grew up thinking I had three brothers waiting in heaven to join our family after we all died. After my miscarriage, which the doctors told me was due to a chromosomal abnormality that was incompatible with life, I wondered what my church’s doctrine really was about this sort of thing. Nothing I found in my research dictated anything conclusive about when the spirit enters the body or whether children miscarried are part of families. In short, it bothered me to think of my baby in heaven, when the fetus could be described as a “biological mistake.”
I’m not saying that any woman (Mormon or not, Christian or not, religious or not) would be wrong to believe and to feel comforted in the belief that her baby is happily awaiting her in heaven. But this is not what sounds right to me in my situation. (If I’m wrong, I just hope the baby is growing up, at least past the potty-training stage.) It comforted me to think/believe that, while God allows mistakes to happen, it was definitely for the best that my baby did not survive with whatever completely debilitating (I mean, actually incompatible-with-life) chromosomal anomalies were present.
And the biggest healing aid (which is not a possibility for my sweet friend who is still thinking of her baby) was that I got pregnant again a month later.
Of course, fears of miscarriage never leave you once you’ve had one, and when I started bleeding copiously at 16 weeks with my next pregnancy, I feared the worst. This time the blood was a bright, bright red, and an ultrasound showed that a blood clot had formed and broken between the membranes surrounding the uterus. I was on bedrest for a couple days and took strange suppositories with scary side effect warnings and Katherine brought me chili and talked to me. Five months later I gave birth to Susan in Florida.
My heart aches for my friend who still thinks of her baby who would have been one month old this week. And for my friend who went from being excited about her second baby, to worrying about Down’s Syndrome, to mourning a baby who most likely won’t survive the second trimester.
But to answer your question, Danielle, I don’t think you’re thinking about your baby too much. As long as you’re able to care for the child you do have and to take pleasure in everyday things and to sleep and eat pretty normally, I think you’re healing, slowly. If you’re not able to do these things, or if you feel sadder now than you did six months ago, it might be a good idea to get some counseling. There are online support groups, but I think an actual, drive there and see people face-to-face sort of thing might be even more helpful.
There’s nothing wrong with mourning for a life and a baby, so long hoped-for and loved already. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what being a mother is all about. That, and the rejoicing when things miraculously do go right.