At just past five o'clock in the morning, I couldn't wait any longer. Quietly, I snuck out of bed and into the washroom. As my partner slept, I took the third pregnancy test I had in two days since missing my period.
This time, a dark second line confirmed what I had been suspecting. This time, I told my partner that he was going be a father. We were officially expecting. November 14 would have been our due date.
Would have. Because within 24 hours of finding out I was pregnant, it was gone.
In the moment, we were thrilled when we learned we'd be having a baby. Shocked and ecstatic. We texted back and forth all day about how lucky we were, how crazy this was, how easily we conceived, how we hadn't been planning to start trying until later. We talked about how deeply that child would be loved.
After work, my partner shared his plan for telling his mom. And his dad. And his sister. I smiled and laughed and felt joy explode in my heart. The timing was perfect for my parents as well — for Mother's Day I would share the news with my mom and step-dad. A family trip was planned over Father's Day weekend, so I could tell my dad and step-mom in person, surrounded by extended family.
There were scary things about the timing as well. My partner was in the midst of completing his professional exams. I launched my marketing and branding business a year ago and am focused on growth. There's no maternity leave or extended benefits for the sole proprietor, so financial options and business continuity would need to be considered right away. I'd have nine months to get organized.
We can get pregnant. We just haven't been able to keep it, yet.
We hadn't really been trying. At 32 and 40, we hadn't been not trying, either. In fact, six months before, I wasn't sure that I could even get pregnant. After a number of ultrasounds and X-ray tests that left me bleeding and in tears, it was determined that the sporadic cycle issues I'd been experiencing were related to uterine fibroids. Two of them, underneath the endometrial lining. I've been on a year-long waitlist for surgery.
I also had symptoms indicative of polycystic ovarian syndrome. There were numerous cysts in my ovaries. Having been on birth control for more than half my life, we weren't sure I could ovulate naturally. After taking myself off the pill and tracking my cycle for a few months, I was confident I was ovulating on my own. My cycles evened out, but there were still internal doubts, buried deep down inside. Feelings of fear and inadequacy that I had to push away.
Needless to say, we can get pregnant. We just haven't been able to keep it, yet. Zero for one.
How strange it is that as women we can go from the debilitating fear of an unwanted pregnancy during our teens and 20s, to being 30-something and dealing with fertility issues. Womanhood — swinging like a pendulum, from one anxiety to the next.
Watch: How to support someone who's lived through miscarriage. Blog continues below.
The next morning I woke to more than spotting. Blood blood. Serious blood. In my body, I knew almost right away. I did my best to feign strength and hope, but there was only devastation. Amidst panic, I tried to go about my day like usual. As my partner and I walked to the bus that morning, I found myself looking at him, imagining what our child's face might look like. Which of his features will the baby be blessed with? Will his eyes light up the same way? I couldn't help but hope — pray, even — that the bleeding would be temporary. For his part, he was doing his best to maintain optimism. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe the bleeding would stop.
The rest of the day was a blur of me attempting normalcy. I teared up in front of a cashier at the local bakery, and was distant and cold in a morning meetings. Between crying, I met about being on the board of directors for a non-profit that helps women and children flee from violent homes. Twice I got emotional about something that wouldn't normally bring me to tears. I sat there, bleeding into a pad, rushing urgently to the bathroom after standing up to say good-bye.
My partner kept checking in over text, encouraging me to be calm and optimistic. It's weird trying to explain to a man what it's like in your body. How their attempts at helpful logic and distraction just don't work. There was no ignoring it. Every time I moved, I felt it. With every cramp and pain, I worried. Each time I went to the bathroom, anxiety took over at the amount of blood in the toilet, at the amount of red I couldn't just wish away.
There were beautiful moments, too.
The only word I can think to describe the next few days is... intense.
There were numerous blood tests. A decline of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone produced in early pregnancy) rather than a steady growth. There was a rise and then immediate dip in hormones, resulting in what I can only describe as what felt like an exorcism — crying, then laughing, then laugh-crying as my hormones returned to pre-pregnancy levels.
There was a lot of blood, but no discernible tissue. That I could tell, anyway. There was a five-and-a-half-hour-long visit to the ER when the bleeding worsened and wouldn't stop. Excruciatingly painful internal ultrasound tests to confirm it wasn't ectopic. A rollercoaster of emotions I wouldn't wish on anyone.
There were beautiful moments, too.
My best friend, in the middle of her busy day, joined me at my workspace, literally rushing to my side. Eight months pregnant herself, she sat across from me working on her laptop. She muted herself on calls to ask how I was doing, kissed me on the head even though she was on a video conference, and walked me to find a cab when I was ready to give up and go home.
My partner visited me at my co-working space over lunch to give me a hug and to see how I was feeling. He brought me soup and treats in bed later that night, making sure my water glass never got below half full as I watched movies, curled up in blankets surrounded by pillows. He touched my face and stroked my hair and held me how I needed.
A girlfriend reached for my hand in public a few days later, both of us crying. She too, had an early loss before her firstborn.
'I downplayed my grief'
Today, I find myself mourning the loss of even being pregnant. I didn't get to feel what it's like, really. I didn't hear a heartbeat or see a scan. There was no cute bump, nor maternity outfits. Not enough time to even digest the news. We were only five weeks along.
Being that it was such an early pregnancy, even while it left my body that Friday afternoon, I downplayed my grief — "There's so much worse. There's so much harder."
I've known women who have had stillbirths, and family members who tried for years to have a baby only to experience loss after loss. I can't imagine their suffering.
I kept telling myself that what I went through was nothing. I was lucky. Coping mechanism, or unhealthy disregard of one's own grief? I'm not sure.
The truth is, one in four pregnancies are lost. Many early on — which every caring and well-trained medical professional continued to tell me in the appointments, tests and calls that followed. As a society, we don't talk about it enough publicly, let alone in circles of family and friends. Searching for support when I wasn't ready to share yet, I discovered there are movements and Instagram accounts dedicated to breaking the stigma of pregnancy loss. Women bravely sharing their stories and their pain so that others don't feel as alone in this world.
I read once that grief is the loss of imagined futures. It's true. When two lines appeared on that positive test, I couldn't help but imagine. I can do a lot of imagining in 24 hours. I also Googled a lot in that time. What couldn't I eat? Can I have a hot bath? To this day, the ads I'm served on Facebook are all about pregnancy or conceiving — algorithms deciding I should see maternity clothing and nursery décor. As another twist of the knife, the prenatal vitamins I ordered from Amazon arrived a few days after the loss.
In what felt like the cruelest joke of them all, I lost my pregnancy on Friday, March 8, 2019. International Women's Day. Somehow that hurt more.
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At first I was angry — "How dare this be taken from me while everyone is celebrating being a woman?" But the more I thought about it, I realized, no. Of all days, on this day in particular, I knew I wasn't alone.
On March 8 I joined a tribe of women around the world who know this loss.
I see you sisters. You are strong.
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