I knew something was wrong.
I had this uncomfortable pain in my lower abdomen while hiking one Sunday morning. It wasn’t a particularly strenuous hike, but I suddenly felt a little dizzy. And the pain, though dull and manageable, wasn’t going away.
As soon as I got home, I ran to the bathroom to confirm what I was already suspecting: I was bleeding.
I was a month pregnant and bleeding. With cramps. This wasn’t good.
I started to panic.
And when you panic, you Google.
Every website said the same thing: bleeding during the early stages of pregnancy is normal. But bleeding with cramping isn’t — and it’s often a sign of a miscarriage.
“This can’t be happening.”
It was just a few days earlier that I was sitting in this exact place — in my bathroom, on my toilet — and found out I was pregnant.
My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant since we got married a year ago. At my age — now 40 — we knew it would be more, well, challenging to get pregnant naturally, so we wanted to get an early start.
I was always a bit defeatist about the whole thing. I have friends around my age who have had difficulties getting pregnant, and we’d often commiserate about ovulation tests and the side effects of Clomid. I envied those who got pregnant so easily, sometimes on a whim, while the rest of us struggled with daily urine tests and regular visits to our OBGYN.
Here’s the thing: I’ve managed to plan every aspect of my life — the jobs I got, the degrees I’ve earned, the places where I’ve lived — and yet I couldn’t accomplish something that should be so natural to us.
I couldn’t get pregnant.
Yes, I know there are a lot of factors involved in getting pregnant. And yes, I realize my age plays a part. But it became so frustrating that this was something I couldn’t control or make happen.
And I started to feel like a failure.
So when my husband showed me the second line emerging on the small window of the at-home pregnant test, I almost didn’t believe it at first. I squinted at it. Was that really a second line? But it was so faint…
I was shocked into silence, which is rare for me. I couldn’t believe it. I was finally — finally — pregnant.
For the next few days that’s all I thought about. I wondered if it was too early to plan. (Remember, I’m a planner!) I thought about possible names. I started to eat better. I even refrained from confirming flight reservations to New Zealand in December because I’d be giving birth around then.
Life was changing — and I liked it.
That morning I thought about how this was the first of many hikes I’d do with our child. How awesome would that be, taking our little one on these adventures, surfing and hiking and playing, sharing the world with this new life. It was going to be so much fun!
And then, just like that, it was gone.
My husband drove me to the hospital that night to confirm my fear. I had what’s called a “threatened miscarriage,” which basically meant I had vaginal bleeding within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, but the doctor couldn’t verify for sure if I had truly miscarried.
That was confirmed a few days later.
It was strange to lose something I never really had. That feeling of complete and sheer happiness was suddenly replaced by a great loss, a gaping void, a depth of emptiness that I never realized I could feel. It felt like the miscarriage happened in my heart. It was devastating.
When it happened, I didn’t even consider blogging about this experience. In fact, I didn’t really want to tell anyone. I wasn’t that I felt embarrassed. I just didn’t know what to say.
“Hi there! I was pregnant, and then I had a miscarriage. How was your day?”
In my Google panic, I discovered that miscarriages are fairly common, regardless of age. About 20 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage for a variety of reasons. Between 50 to 70 percent of first-trimester miscarriages — like mine — are thought to be random events caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the fertilized egg. Older women — like me — have a greater chance of miscarrying than 20-year-olds.
Like my OBGYN told me matter-of-factly, “It happens.”
When I started sharing with a few people about my miscarriage, I was surprised to find out that more of my friends had experienced it than I had realized. Women I had known for years. Some who went on to have children, others who stayed single. And they never said anything.
In that aforementioned frantic Internet search, I came across a blog written by Jessica Zucker on the New York Times site last year about her miscarriage at 16 weeks. This struck me:
We shouldn’t feel ashamed of our traumas, nor should we hide the consequent grief. It’s not that I necessarily feel proud of having a miscarriage, but I do feel compelled to question why it seems as if we rarely talk about pregnancy loss, though the statistics are staggering. Is it resounding cultural shame? Speckles of self-blame? Steadfast stigma? The notion that talking about “unpleasant” things is a no-no? It’s a hard topic. But if every woman who has lost a pregnancy to miscarriage or stillbirth told her story, we might at least feel less alone.
So I’m sharing my story in the hopes that anyone who’s gone through a miscarriage will know there are lots of women and couples dealing with the same loss, too.
I’m luckier than most. I’ve heard stories of women losing their babies at later stages of pregnancy, the horrific loss of blood, the depression in which they drown. I had some clotting, some cramping, but that’s it.
The next day my sweet husband took the day off and spent it with me. We drove around the island, soaking up the sunshine and marveling at the beauty of our home that we often take for granted. And I realized this miscarriage, while awful and painful, wasn’t entirely bad. The embryo clearly wasn’t healthy. And I have a great life — with a family that includes a husband and three dogs who love me no matter what. That’s really all I need.
So we planted a lemon tree.
It might be cliched — lemons, lemonade — but there’s truth to the idea that while we can’t control everything in life, we can control how we embrace it.
So I’m embracing it.
And in a year or so, I’ll make lemon bars.