My second pregnancy ended quietly, with none of the sharp cramps that marked the end of the pregnancy Meghan Markle grieves in her recent New York Times piece. While her life may bear no other resemblance to mine, she, I and at least 20% of women share the tragedy of miscarriage.
But while we share in it, most of us never talk about it. We don’t share it with people; perhaps we even tell ourselves we’re OK. Who would even know to ask “Are you OK?” and start the healing process Meghan describes in her article?
My pregnancy only lasted long enough for my waist to thicken sufficiently that my partner’s mother privately noted that I’d gained a couple of pounds, and for me to crave starchy carbs. An eight-week scan showed a perfectly round, imperfectly empty, egg sac.
“It’s probably too early,” said the gynecologist, on a Friday evening, in the Spanish clinic in the next town from our vacation rental.
But this pregnancy hadn’t felt right for days. Somehow I knew it wasn’t too early. It was too late. Too late for whatever it was that had begun forming and, it turned out, had stopped, probably at about six weeks, leaving behind the beginnings of the placenta that continued to produce the hormones that were making me want mashed potatoes.
“I’m prepared for the fact there might be nothing there,” I told the doctor. “I know this kind of thing can happen.” He agreed with me, his own wife had experienced two miscarriages before the birth of their children.
Not that anyone asked, but if they had, I’d have said “I’m OK.” And I thought I was. I didn’t cry then, nor at the 10-week scan that showed the blob, now banana-shaped, as my body began to miscarry.
I was “OK.” If OK means feeling not so much sad but a burgeoning sense of secret guilt. Several people would be able to attest to my calm, pragmatic assertion that something had felt off about this pregnancy and that I wasn’t expecting the next scan to find a suddenly less camera-shy fetus. Curled up on the sofa that night as my body set about rejecting the blighted ovum, I said, “I just want it gone.”
Even at the hospital four days later I was fine, smiling even, in a photo taken of me gowned-up on the hospital bed before they put in the pessary that made me nauseous with cramps. It was almost over and I was “OK.” After all, I’d made it without painfully miscarrying at home over the long, and terribly timed, holiday weekend.
But inside, I was stacking up the case against myself. Hadn’t I left it recklessly late to have children, the first at a few years into the “geriatric” pregnancy age range, and this second two years later? “It’s almost as if you wanted to lose a baby,” my internal prosecutor said. “You are aware, surely, of the stats that show a 1 in 3 chance of an early miscarriage at your age?”
Was I feeling OK because maybe I hadn’t wanted this baby enough? Or, worse, had I done something to bring about what was called an aborto spontaneo in Spanish ― a spontaneous abortion ― as if it were something my body had carried out at the whim it had detected from the supposed mother?
In the nights after the operation, unable to sleep and Googling, phone glowing under the sheets, I found the evidence on spurious websites and forums. It must have been the super-strength ibuprofen tablets I’d taken for a nasty bout of pharyngitis before I knew I was pregnant. Ibuprofen, one site somewhere down the rabbit hole said, could cause problems with cell division in a developing embryo. And what about the raw organic apple cider vinegar I’d gargled at the same time, which another site claimed was potent enough to cause miscarriage? It was my fault. I was my own worst cop, chief prosecutor, judge and jury, sentencing myself to a life of wondering what I should have done differently.
But still, I was OK, I thought. Although when a friend announced her pregnancy on Facebook a few days later, the familiar due date put me off congratulating her for months. Logically I knew these things happen, that I had no reason to think I would have any problems carrying a baby to term in future. But somewhere under the logic, the fear and mistrust had settled in.
Fortunately, by the time my friend’s baby was born a few days before that shared due date, I was three months pregnant. Pregnant and paranoid. I refused to take a home test, knowing now that it could only prove conception and not a successful pregnancy. I booked the first scan as late as I could, at 13 weeks. I only told my partner at 10 weeks and no one else found out until it became too physically obvious to pretend.
Even then, I didn’t relax until I’d reached the 28 weeks when a fetus could be considered viable and likely to survive if my body decided to spontaneously terminate again.
I was lucky. My pregnancy resulted in my second, longed-for child, but it was a long time until I was truly OK. Perhaps if I had taken better care of myself by opening up to people and giving them the chance to ask if I was OK, I would have healed faster. I certainly should have been asking myself that question more.
I hope Meghan Markle checks in with herself, and that those supporting her and her husband continue to ask, “Are you OK?” Because miscarriage is short, but the recovery and grieving are long.