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Miscarriage and Feminine Identity

This article first appeared on my former blog in September of 2007, when I lost my first pregnancy to miscarriage.  I edited it and re-posted it as my “Sexy Mother” column for September of 2010 as “Falling off the Pregnancy Pedestal.”  The article below is a reprint of the Carnal Nation column.  I own all rights, but will allow you to re-post/re-print if you contact me to ask permission first.  While I rejoice in my positive pregnancy news, this is the reason my joy is tempered–I know all too well that sometimes a pregnancy just isn’t meant to be.

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There’s something powerful about a first positive pregnancy test. If the pregnancy is wanted, it is a moment of awe, fear, and triumph. If the pregnancy is unwanted, it is a terrifying sword of Damocles hanging over your head. I’ve peed on many a stick in my day (my picture should be next to the words “pregnancy hypochondria” in the dictionary) and I’ve hoped for both results over the years. But at no point while waiting for the results do you expect the pregnancy to end in miscarriage.  Most of us anticipate a live birth.  Some of us start considering abortion.  But we don’t expect this potential life to be taken from us without our consent…until it happens to us.  I should know…three years ago, it happened to me with my first pregnancy.

In my own words (with a few modifications for clarification) this is my story, written on the day I knew my first pregnancy was not going have the end result my husband and I were hoping for.  There would be no healthy baby the next spring.

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On August 30th [2007] I saw my first positive pregnancy test. I used the Clearblue Easy Digital Test, which is kind enough to just say “pregnant” or “not pregnant” instead of giving you lines or dots or some other Morse code. In the 30 seconds that followed I think I experienced at least 50 different individual emotions ranging from glee to terror.  This pregnancy had been planned, but that didn’t make the reality any less scary or thrilling.

Underneath it all, though, was a uniquely feminine sort of pride. I had accomplished my biological imperative, my hypothetical biological destiny, and spawned. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that every woman get knocked up, but it is something that only we can do, and regardless of what the most stubborn person would say, it’s a magical realization to know you’ve done it (if the pregnancy is wanted).

I felt more feminine than I ever had, even more than when I’d lived out my fairy tale princess fantasy on my wedding day. Becoming pregnant was a special sort of validation that I never knew existed.  Unfortunately, that pride was exceptionally short lived.

I had my first cramps within a few days, and went in for a second blood test (the first had confirmed the pregnancy and provided baseline hormone levels) on September 3rd [2007]. My hormone levels were shooting up, and the nurse reassured me that everything was fine, and that the pains I was feeling were probably just my uterus growing.

Within two weeks I was in the Emergency room with pain and small patches of blood on my panties. Via ultrasound baby was measuring a week and a half too small, but as I’m irregular we weren’t too worried, yet. Pregnancy Math is based on the faulty assumption that women have perfectly regular 28 day menstrual cycles, and that had never been true for me.  A baby whose measurements didn’t line up exactly with where I was “supposed to be” was not a major source of concern, especially when you also factor in that early ultrasounds are not 100% reliable with regards to dating a pregnancy.

Last Thursday [September 20, 2007] was the ultrasound that resulted in a negative prognosis [the baby still wasn’t growing appropriately]. Only 48 or so hours ago [September 25, 2008] was the moment of hope-a heartbeat. But it was too slow, the baby was too small, and the pregnancy was moving down towards my cervix.  On Thursday [September 27, 2007] the blood was soaking through my panties rather than merely staining it with dots, and with the blood came the end of our dreams for our first child.

The thing about miscarriage is how much it robs you of your femininity. You go from believing you’re some kind of fertility sex goddess to a failed mother in an instant (or, in my case, over a few weeks). Regardless of how common miscarriage is, it’s impossible for me not to take it personally, to grieve, and to hurt.  I feel robbed of that special feminine power I’d tapped into.

Defective.

No one needs to quote statistics at me. I know them. I know that 95% of all pregnancies that end in the first trimester like mine are because of a bad sperm/egg match, or a glitch somewhere in the formation process. I know that more than 25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. I know a number of women whose first pregnancies ended in miscarriage, and who have beautiful children today. That doesn’t make it easier.

For me, the prohibition on sex and orgasm that was put into place when I first had spotting made it all worse. I’m not just my sexuality, but it is a huge part of who I am, and how I relate to the world around me. Losing that part of me, especially as I was losing my child as well made me feel lost, isolated, and like I was locked outside in the middle of a blizzard. I remember putting on jeans, sneakers, a long sleeved shirt, and a jacket, and stepping outside into our unseasonably warm weather, feeling confused. How could it be warm and sunny-hell, perfect beach weather-when I felt so cold on the inside? It should be pouring, thundering, a hurricane, a blizzard outside, not this perfect blue sky and obscenely bright sun.

I’m angry. I come from a long line of fertile women, with the last miscarriage in my family belonging to my great grandmother (although my grandmother’s first child died within 2 days of birth) over 60 years ago. Why the hell couldn’t I pull this off?

I did everything right. I hadn’t had a drink since our anniversary in July. I stopped drinking Diet Coke (my preferred source of caffeine) entirely, even though all I had to do was cut back to like a can or two a day. I started eating vegetables, and I HATE vegetables. I drank enough water to fill an ocean. I walked every day. I started on pre-natal vitamins over a month before I got pregnant.

It wasn’t enough.

I’m jealous of every pregnant woman I see. When I see a baby, a wave of intense longing and a small voice saying “I was supposed to have that” washes over me. I try to remind myself that I don’t know how hard won those pregnancies or children are, but it still hurts.

I have a hard time accepting the condolences of my friends. They try so hard to make me feel better, but the comments don’t always help. One friend said something about how “it’s not really a baby yet, just cells” and I almost hung up on them because they don’t get how real the baby was to us. It’s funny because it’s the same argument I’d make about a woman electing to have an abortion at this point in her pregnancy, but I realize the difference between an unwanted invader and a desperately loved and wanted child.

I wonder if anyone will remember me on mother’s day. I became a mother the second I got pregnant, and I embraced it the second the stick read “pregnant.” But I know that to most people, my partner and I don’t have children and we’re not parents. I hate those people.

The loss of our child is a wound, both on my heart, and on my femininity. I know from losing my grandmother when I was a teen (who was essentially a mother to me, and with whom I was very close) that these wounds eventually heal, and while the person we lose is never forgotten, the anniversary of their death and the dates important to them become less painful over time. The wound on my heart will heal.

The wound of my femininity will also heal, but only completely with the live birth of a healthy child. Sure the odds are good that it wasn’t my fault, but I’ll only *really* believe it when I can hold the evidence of that.

I have a feeling it will be hard to win back my sex goddesshood. I’ve been knocked off my pedestal, and my own ego made it a pretty high one at that. I’m bruised and standing on the ground, unsure of how to climb up the smooth sides of my pedestal.

The first step on that journey, though, is to allow my husband to give me an orgasm in a few days time, followed by our sexual reunion next weekend.

Here’s to letting the healing process begin.

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With very few modifications (and the date clarifications) that is how I felt the day I started bleeding and finally accepted that I was losing my first child. That I would not have the pregnancy that made it against the odds.  My child’s heartbeat on the day it was detected was 48 beats per second.  120 beats per second is considered the minimum “viable” number, and 150 or more is the normal heart rate of a healthy fetus.  I kept asking my Obstetrician if there was any chance, even a 1% chance that things would improve.  Every rise in my hormones, the appearance of a heartbeat all sustained that small ember of hope until the heavy bleeding when I couldn’t deny that we would not be that 1 in 1 million (or whatever) pregnancy where things just worked out and resulted in a healthy baby.

I had a D&C procedure (dilation and curettage) the day after the entry was written.  By that point I had been suffering for almost 3 weeks, much of it in very real physical pain.  Once I knew that the pregnancy wasn’t going to happen, I couldn’t handle waiting for it to pass naturally, and took my obstetrician up on her (to my eyes) kind offer to remove what was left of the pregnancy.  At least with that procedure, once they had done it, I had a chance to see the bucket of blood and tissue they’d removed from my uterus and say good-bye.  I knew the hospital would dispose of the remains according to procedure…I couldn’t bear the idea that I might flush my child down the toilet.

I was right; time has healed the deep emotional wounds I felt.  But not until after I stayed in bed for almost a month, was cleared to start trying again, and finally had a successful pregnancy, proving that my uterus was not defective and that it wasn’t my fault that I had lost that first child.  I actually had to look up the specific date I’d had the D&C this year to write this article.

Every couple has to find the right way to grieve for themselves, if they need to.  Some don’t grieve, which is also normal. We did, although I grieved far more than my husband. My first child was not forgotten. We have a small box with the few ultrasound pictures and ultrasound CD we have of them, and the start of an unfinished baby blanket my mother had started to crochet. We named him or her, and I have a necklace charm with the name engraved on it—I don’t need to wear it every day anymore, but I do wear it on occasion. The baby also has their name on a Christmas ornament for our tree. We will eventually tell the Little Mistress, when we think it’s appropriate. But for now, it’s enough that the LM has a bear that we were given at a memorial service hosted by the hospital we were affiliated with hosted for parents who lost a child during pregnancy.

The Little Mistress’ first month after birth was, to this date, the most emotionally wrenching and frightening experience of my life—we came very close to losing the child that I’d just given birth to, after losing a baby to miscarriage just over a year earlier. For ten long days and nights we watched machines do her breathing for her. We were given frightening statistics about possible outcomes; long term physical or developmental disorders. We had to make decisions no parent should ever have to think about making for their child, much less one only days and weeks old.

In a strange way, we are grateful to our first child. Going through that loss, having to make what felt like incredibly hard decisions with him/her, and cutting our baby parenting teeth with him/her…in a twisted way, helped us when we really had to step up to the plate with our daughter just over a year later.

Although I am the opposite of religious, shortly after my miscarriage, I learned of a Buddhist belief that gave me comfort then and even today.  The idea is that a miscarriage is a soul that had to experience love one last time before they could reach Nirvana.  It’s a beautiful idea.

While my child was very real to me, my miscarriage only further cemented my pro-choice politics.  I don’t want anyone reading this to get the idea that I (although it is common) became a pro-life zealot who protests at Planned Parenthood.  Because of my experiences, after the LM was healthy and strong again, I made a point of volunteering for Planned Parenthood to help other women learn about and secure their reproductive freedom. No one should have to go through a pregnancy who doesn’t want to-the experience, whether it results in miscarriage or a child (healthy or unhealthy) is not one anyone should have to undergo without being willing to do so.

Three years post-miscarriage, I am still saddened by the loss of my first pregnancy. The Little Mistress has a cousin who was born within days of my due date with the first pregnancy and I sometimes look at her cousin and wonder about what might have been. But I can’t regret my daughter…if the first child had lived, I wouldn’t have her, and that is unimaginable to me today, no matter how often she tests the limits of my patience.

I lost my first child, but I have regained my feminine identity.

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