I had a miscarriage a few months ago. I’ve never understood the taboo around miscarriages. We told our family and many of our friends about the pregnancy right away, knowing full well the inherently high risk of miscarriage in the first trimester, because we wanted them to be around us through joy or, if it came to it, pain. I’ve never announced anything publicly about it because I have not been up to the task of accepting public condolences. Our closest friends came over the day we knew I had miscarried—two of them were there when it happened—and they offered the support we needed in that time. I find that I retreat in grief. I stay home and refuse phone calls. It is my way. But now, a few months out, I find the need to express.
I didn’t know what to expect with miscarriage. Many people who are close to me have gone through it themselves, but I still didn’t imagine it right, back when it was part of Imagination Land. I thought it would be sad. I thought a person would mourn and move on. Maybe I didn’t know what the mourning would be like.
I found out I was pregnant on August 7, well over a year after we had started trying to have kids. We had to delay trying for many years while we got over some “practical” obstacles, and then we had to endure further obstacles related to my health. I’ve always wanted to be a mom. In second grade, I wanted to be a mom and a pediatrician. In third grade, mom and teacher. In ninth, mom and photojournalist. In college, mom and whatever, man. During our time of trying, pregnancy continued to elude me while I watched our friends have their second and third kids. I saw teens get pregnant by accident. I saw friends debate about whether or not they should have another, then get pregnant, then take a few hundred photos in a field, then have their babies. Facebook had never been more annoying. Every #blessed was a reminder that I was #cursed. I was frustrated and furious and sad and jealous.
Then on August 7, that test said “Pregnant.” We sprang for the expensive one that writes out the answer in digital letters, because the stupid, generic, three-year-old waste of storage space in my medicine cabinet had shown only ambiguous pink lines. That super-deluxe, crystal-clear test was worth every penny. When it said “Pregnant” we were lost for words, simultaneously floored and uplifted by the fantasy of it all. Could this really be happening? It was.
I have never been more elated than I was in the following week. I was carrying a gorgeous secret within me. That clerk at the grocery store—she didn’t know. The coworkers I passed in the copy room—clueless. I tried not to smile so much, so as not to give it away. I thought of nothing else. We marked dates on the calendar and started talking plans for moving to a bigger place. I spent a thousand hours looking up OB/GYNs and an actual 60 minutes on the phone with the insurance company. It was every bit as good as I had imagined it to be. My mom told me, “I’m sorry to tell you, but your body is never going to be the same ever again,” and I hate that she was wrong.
The miscarriage happened on a Saturday morning, and I don’t want to say much about it. It happened just a little over a week after I found out I was pregnant, and it turns out you can get very attached in a week. It was an early miscarriage, which is the best that can be said for it. Everyone’s experience is different, so I can’t make any sweeping statements about what miscarriage is like in general. For me, it was lots and lots of tears, lots of weakness in my limbs—as though I couldn’t lift my arms—and a hearty dose of anger. The word for that day was Empty. I had been betrayed by my own body, the same body that had been tormenting me for years. Our neighbors had brought home a newborn the week before. We had the door open the day of the miscarriage, and the newborn’s cries came floating through the air that night to rattle around in my empty soul. We shut the door. My husband Jonny held me all day long for days.
Before I had a miscarriage, I had thought of them, physically, as a single event. In my mind, it was something that happened quickly. In truth, it carries on for days and days, like a heavy, painful menstrual cycle. It was a relief when it finally ended; we could call that chapter closed and try to move on. Our friends and family were supportive through the whole thing. I’m glad they knew. They brought us food and gave us lots of hugs. They sent care packages. My workplace gave me as many days off as I needed. We were surrounded by love, and we felt it, but the sadness was overwhelming.
The kindest gift came from my brother, who is familiar with sorrow. My voice broke when I called him to tell him the news, so he guessed it right away. He said, “Do you want to take a trip somewhere? Anywhere? I’ll send you wherever you want to go.” I told him no, but later that week I called him back. Jonny was about to go out of town on a long-planned trip, and I craved time with him outside of our usual routine. I’m claustrophobic in L.A. in the best of times, and these were not the best of times. My brother sent Jonny and me on an overnight trip to Santa Barbara, where we chartered a sailboat for a few hours on the ocean, accompanied only by our skipper Spencer, an occasional pod of dolphins, a champagne and cheese picnic, and silence.
My family owned a little sailboat when I was a kid. We crammed into it and took it out on a nearby lake on hot, Oklahoma Saturdays. I used to love sitting on the lower side of the boat (which surely has some kind of nautical name about which I know nothing) and leaning my head way back, as far back as I could risk it, until the ends of my hair grazed the water. From that perspective, the horizon flipped. The sky was water and the water was sky. I did the same on the boat in the ocean, and although my head came nowhere near the water on the much larger vessel, the effect remained. I sat and looked and considered the new world, now that the horizon had flipped.
Something changed for both of us when we disembarked. The sail felt timeless. We lost ourselves in the peace of the ocean, and when our feet touched land, the ocean stayed with us. Our shoulders loosened and we walked on steady legs.
Since then, the sadness has ebbed and flowed. I never know when something will trigger it, and Jonny has become accustomed to finding me crying from time to time. He always knows why I’m crying, and he comforts me with his arms. He’s a good man. I think about the miscarriage every day, on bad days every hour. I hate to call them bad days though, and now that I think about it, the truth is that I think about the baby, not the miscarriage. I cherish the memory of our little one, no matter how little time we had, and I want to remember. I am hopeful that I’ll be pregnant again, that my body will forever change, that once again my senses will take on annoying superpowers and I’ll smell every ounce of perfume the world has ever produced every time I go to the bank, and that I’ll get to meet and hold the next one, but I hate to think of other people calling the Next One the First One. The next one will always be Number Two and the first will always be Number One. That’s who they are. I fear forgetting.
I also fear Fear. I think I was given a special grace with the first pregnancy. I usually worry about everything, but with the first, I didn’t worry at all. I was full of joy for that week, which is as it should have been. It was the time to dance. I want to be pregnant again, but I fear never again being able to abandon myself to joy in pregnancy. I fear living in fear, so I fear, so I fear, so I fear…
Jonny and I are trying again, of course, and the old feelings are there. I’m frustrated and furious and sad and jealous, but I’m hopeful too, and excited, and sometimes—crucial sometimes—content. About a year ago, long before the miscarriage, I had a conversation with my friend Elizabeth about my frustrations with my unpredictable, uncooperative body, and my weariness with ugly feelings of jealousy. No one enjoys jealousy. It doesn’t feel good to want what your friends have, to look at the life you’ve been enjoying and say to yourself I want more. I was telling this to Elizabeth and she gave me some wonderful words, as she always does. She said it was OK to grieve the experience that I had thought I was going to have. She said it was normal to feel the way I felt, but the important part was not getting carried away with it. “I’ll pull you back from the edge if you get too bitter,” she said.
I’ve peeked over that edge a few times and learned that the method that has consistently pulled me back has been the age-old adage “count your blessings.” I’ve counted my blessings again and again for the last year and a half. I’ve counted them the way an angry father in a sitcom counts down from ten, tapping my fingers and huffing and puffing. I have been surprised to find myself smiling by the time I’ve gotten down to 3, 2, 1.
Thanksgiving is coming, and as I count my blessings in thanksgiving, I count down to number 1, the baby we had. I believe in Heaven and I believe we’ll meet our first child someday, but April 13 will come and go this year, and we won’t have our baby in our arms. The sadness still overwhelms me, but my God, I’m grateful.