I was triggered by a recent news article about singer Lily Allen temporarily leaving Twitter because faceless cowards attacked her for losing her child. Someone on Twitter called Allen mentally ill because he/she didn’t like Allen’s criticism of anti-immigrant policies; Allen agreed that she was mentally ill and described being bi-polar, depressed and experiencing post-traumatic stress after delivering her stillborn son in 2010. Instead of empathy, the Twitter abusers blamed Allen for her baby’s death at which point she stepped away.
I remember when Allen lost her child at six months pregnant, and I felt so sad for her that it happened and that she had to deal with it as a public person. She opened up about her loss nearly four years later in 2014 after becoming a mom of two. I noticed more women sharing their stories of loss, stillbirth and miscarriage in recent years or maybe I’m more aware of them because these stories reflect me. When I miscarried a year ago, I searched online for answers and wanted to hear from women who had been through it. I needed a guide, a community who understood how I was feeling. Even though I felt alone, I knew I wasn’t.
After my first post of the year when I mentioned my miscarriage, people privately messaged me and shared their own stories. By sharing my pain, I created space for others to be open, share their burden and lift me up. One person appreciated how I described “the difficulty of mourning the loss of a child who was invisible to the rest of the world,” and another person talked about healing process after naming their child. Some of my friends described how they endured multiple miscarriages and others expressed gratitude of their successful pregnancies after. One kind person emailed me photos of a chapter from Cheryl Strayed advice book Tiny Beautiful Things about a woman who felt stuck after her miscarriage. I connected with people and became a safe space for others. A friend had a miscarriage and felt comfortable enough to share her loss and ask questions about my experience; she didn’t want to have to turn to Google. I was able to give her advice and illuminate a difficult situation heart-to-heart, human-to-human.
While I can’t have coffee with every friend going through miscarriage, I can offer my testimony and experience now. I turned to digital search for answers, and I share the details of my miscarriage so you don’t feel so lost. It’s been a year since it happened, and I’m ready to have this conversation.
My mother gave birth six times which these days seems like A LOT. I never worried about my fertility because like my mom, my sisters didn’t have issues getting pregnant. (Even my sister, who was told she couldn’t get pregnant by her doctors, had four kids). When my husband and I decided to have a baby, we got pregnant within three months and were equally shocked and happy that it happened so fast. I was 36 when my first child was born and had a healthy pregnancy and birth while we lived in Singapore.
Although, I was blessed with an easy first pregnancy, I worried throughout because of my “advanced maternal age” and “geriatric pregnancy.” I tried not to feel attached until I passed the first trimester when the likelihood of miscarriage was reduced. I confirmed my pregnancy at 5 weeks with an ultrasound but it didn’t feel real. I tried to protect myself from feeling, but after seeing my ultrasound at 12 weeks, I couldn’t deny my emotions. I was full of life and fear and love and hope. I was really carrying my baby and going to be a mom.
When we decided to go for a second child, I got pregnant on the first try in December 2015. I texted two of my sisters a photo of the positive pregnancy test stick with a caption of “Surprise! I’m pregs!” I shared the news with one of my Bump friends in Singapore who recently told me she was pregnant with her second. She encouraged me to get started so our second kids could be close in age like our firsts. Eric and I didn’t conceive in the window of my most fertile time, which prompted my sister to speculate that I was having a girl. I started searching for an original and fitting girl name for Fei Fei’s little sister.
Unlike my first pregnancy, I wasn’t holding the news inside. I asked my hair stylist if it was safe to dye my hair while pregnant. I told three neighborhood mom friends that I was expecting in September. I told our babysitter who occasionally watches Fei Fei when we have a date night. I was comfortable telling people around me even though I was waiting to announce Baby 2 to our parents and extended family and friends until after 12 weeks. I would follow protocol even though I felt at ease since getting pregnant was so easy for me.
With the success of Fei Fei’s natural hypnobirth without drugs, I sought health care providers in New York that supported natural birth. I chose a midwife in her 60s with more than 40 years of experience and waited for my first checkup until after my 10th week of pregnancy.
In the meantime, I felt pregnant. I was nauseous, bloated, cramping and gassy. I heard women’s bellies pop sooner with subsequent pregnancies, but I was shocked to see my newly pregnant body was the same size I was at 3 months pregnant with Fei Fei. I bought Current/Elliot maternity jeans with a wide elastic band and wore them daily because everything else was so uncomfortable. I complained about the constant gas bubble in my stomach, my tender breasts, lower back aches and the inconvenience of cutting back on coffee and wine. With Fei Fei, I was strict and stayed away from the no-go pregnancy food list. I didn’t do anything to jeopardize my pregnancy. With this second, I stole sips of wine to comfort myself since this pregnancy seemed to be a much rougher ride.
When it was time for my checkup, I went on a Monday at the beginning of my 11th week of pregnancy. The fetus was roughly the size of a fig and some bones were beginning to harden, according to BabyCenter. I brought Fei Fei and was greeted by my midwife, who I’ll call Sharon, and a student midwife from overseas who was observing. I had my blood drawn and a pap smear which included getting a swab from my cervix, a safe and routine procedure, but Sharon accidentally dropped the sample on the floor with a jarring clatter. Fortunately, she didn’t have to redo it but I laid on the exam table unsettled.
“Now don’t worry if I can’t find the heartbeat right away,”explained Sharon as she rubbed ultrasound gel on my lower belly. “A fetal doppler first detects the heartbeat at 10 weeks which you just passed.”
The student midwife was entertaining Fei Fei, who acted out fight scenes with two oversized dinosaur action figures from the office toy bin. I was grateful Fei Fei, who was turning 2 years old in 2 months, took to the student midwife because often she was clingy, a byproduct of always being together.
I breathed in and out as Sharon rubbed the cold gel around my stomach searching for the heartbeat. She warned me not to freak out so I kept breathing and waiting, but it felt too long. Sharon asked me to move to my right and then shift to my left but still silence. I told myself to keep breathing as my eyes watered and tears dripped down the sides of my face. The student midwife quietly left the exam room carrying Fei Fei, and I let the silence sink into my aching heart.
“I’m going to insert my fingers inside to check if you have a retroverted uterus meaning it’s tilted,” said Sharon. “You do. This can make it harder to find the heartbeat because the fetus is hiding in a place the doppler reach. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong,” Sharon said trying to reassure me. “Do you feel pregnant? Are your breast tender? Feel nauseous?”
“I do feel pregnant,” I answered feeling guilty that I ever complained about the cramps and gas pains and feeling huge.
I made my next appointment with Sharon and waited for my first ultrasound scheduled for the following Thursday at Mount Sinai West. I clung onto the tilted uterus theory the same way Fei Fei clutches her blanket to her nose and sniffs the corner searching for security. I relayed the events of my exam to Eric, who went to every appointment my first pregnancy but we deemed unnecessary this time. He filed it away and told me not to worry, but I could see the worry in his own eyes.
In the 10 days until my ultrasound, I barely slept. The dread mounted and stress built up in my shoulders; I laid awake recounting the times I drank wine. I hated myself for all the times I complained. I actually wished that I didn’t feel so pregnant. I made this happen with my negativity. I was too cavalier. It was too easy, and I didn’t care enough. I did this somehow, but even worse than the noise of my guilt was hearing the terrible silence of where a heartbeat should have been.
I’d recently watched Beyoncé’s HBO documentary Life is But a Dream, and she revealed that she had a miscarriage. She spoke about hearing the heartbeat of her first child and how in a follow-up appointment there was silence. No heartbeat. She wrote an achingly beautiful song, pouring her pain and heartbreak into her art. I prayed to hear a heartbeat at the ultrasound and bargained that I would not complain again during the pregnancy.
My friend in Singapore brought her 18-month-old to her first ultrasound for their second baby. She wanted to introduce her daughter to the idea of being a big sister and get her excited for the baby. I thought it was a lovely idea and had been talking to Fei Fei about the baby in mommy’s tummy before the appointment. Eric planned to go with us too, and I was so grateful for his steady presence as we piled into the cab.
I filled out paperwork as Eric, who was wearing a suit and planned to go to work afterwards, played with Fei Fei in the waiting room. We were called in and I laid down. The technician put gel on my swollen belly and with her wand made an image of the fetus appear on a big screen taking up an entire wall.
“Baby!” squealed Fei Fei as she pointed to the white figure amidst the black void of my womb. Eric and I smiled at each other and told her, “yes, you’re right.” We looked at the figure floating in space and then each other and then at Fei Fei. Neither of us said anything but we both saw that the fetus was not moving. Silence filled the room while the technician worked and then she excused herself to go get the doctor.
“Baby! Baby!” said Fei Fei again looking at the screen. Eric stroked my hand as we waited to hear what we already knew. I felt the lump in my throat gather ready to choke my breath. The doctor entered and introduced himself. He went to the ultrasound machine, and we both saw the flatline on the monitor.
“I’m sorry to tell you that there’s no heartbeat. From the size of the fetus, it appears to have stopped growing sometime last week” he said. Then he looked me in the eyes and told me, “These things happen. You did not do anything wrong.”
It made me feel worse that he tried to absolve me of my guilt. How could it NOT be my fault? I miscarried. I did not fulfill my motherly duty.
They told me they would send my scan to my midwife’s office and that she’d be in contact with me for next steps. Eric hugged me and we left. The receptionist asked if we needed to schedule our next appointment, and I shook my head no with tear-filled eyes. The smile fell from her face, and I walked out with my head down.
I spoke to Sharon in the cab, and she recommended I get a D&C since I had a missed miscarriage past the 10 week mark. So that’s what this is called, I thought, a missed miscarriage or silent miscarriage. Even though the fetus died, my body didn’t know it wasn’t pregnant anymore.
“What’s a D&C?” I asked.
“Dilation and curettage. It’s a procedure where your cervix is dilated and the fetus is removed,” said Sharon. She had obviously explained this before. “After the surgery, your pregnancy hormones hCG will flush out of your system in about 10 days. You can try to get pregnant again after two normal cycles. I’ll send you the contact information. And Mai, miscarriage is very common. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
There it was again. It’s not my fault. Somehow hearing it made me feel worse. It made me feel seen and all I wanted to do was hide.
Within minutes, I received a text with an attachment from Sharon labeled “Terminations.” Terminations. I realized that a D&C was probably the same or a very similar medical procedure as an abortion. I felt jarred by the label as if it was a sign of my deep, dark desire to not be pregnant. I wished for the gassiness and bloating and aching to stop and now my pregnancy was over. Terminated.
I made an appointment the next morning for the D&C and asked my cousin to come over and watch Fei Fei. Eric would work from home but he had some meetings that he needed to take over the phone. He didn’t return to the office that Thursday and instead of wallowing in my guilt, we took Fei Fei to the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City.
It felt right to do something as a family. I watched Fei Fei rush from one fish tank to another and find the frogs camouflaged in their ecosystems. She carried a soft foam turtle that she wouldn’t put down from an interactive exhibit and explored the museum with her new sidekick. When she saw a real turtle swimming in a tank, she pressed the toy turtle against the glass as if to reunite old friends.
Watching Fei Fei examine her world and giggle with wonder lifted me heavy heart and distracted me for what was to come. However, I still had to ensure my medical records were sent to the hospital performing my D&C. I called my midwife’s office and spoke to the other midwife in the practice, who I’ll call Stacy, as I stood near the boa constrictor tanks.
“Hello!” Stacy said in an all-too-chipper voice for my liking. I asked about my scan and records being transferred, and she replied. “Oh yes. I’m sorry. What a bummer. I’ll send those over. We’ll also reimburse you half the cost of your first visit since you will not be continuing on with us.”
What a bummer? A bummer?! No Stacy. A bummer is when my shoe size is out of stock during a 75% off sale. A bummer is when I see a spoiler on social media to an episode of Game of Thrones that I haven’t seen yet. Miscarrying is NOT just a bummer, you idiot! I know this is part of your job but this is my LIFE and FAMILY you are talking about. Thanks for the cash reimbursement, but I want to strangle you like a boa constrictor squeezing the life out of a rat!
I felt like a cartoon character whose eyes were bulging and had red lines zigzagging from its pupils. Didn’t she know that I was 38 and this second pregnancy was supposed to be it for me? Didn’t she care that the kids would be about 2 1/2 years apart, which seems like the standard sibling formula? Did she really think that this was just some inconvenience? A bummer? But instead of yelling any of this, I said “thanks” and hung up.
At the museum, I texted my friends that I told I was pregnant. I didn’t want to deal with it later or talk about it in person. “I have bad news” I typed, copied and pasted. Some called me. Some texted back. One girlfriend sent me a tub of popcorn with flavors divided into three sections: butter, caramel and cheese. I ate the cheese section first. When I saw my hair stylist two months later, I forgot that I told him and had the awkward job of saying I miscarried when he asked. I understand why doctors recommend not announcing your pregnancy until after the first trimester, but I also recognize how keeping it secret makes some women feel like like they should suffer in silence. It sucks either way.
The night before my D&C, I curled myself into the fetal position in my bed and let myself cry hard. I let my body shake and eyes sting. I wailed into my pillow and wiped my snot away like glistening snail trails. I let all the guilt and sadness ping-ponging in my brain release through my body while I convulsed and kicked and cried until I felt dry and cracked like farmland in a drought. I mourned the baby that I would not raise and for the family life I expected to have.
I made myself sick with worry, which knowing what I know now, I wish I had not. I wish I spoke to someone who could assure me that the D&C was safe and that I’d be okay after. I knew what I read on the Internet but knowing something is different than feeling something. I obsessed about the dead fetus inside me and having my womb emptied. I didn’t have to go to such a dark place. I caused myself unnecessary pain, and I hope any one else going through miscarriage avoids beating themselves up or dreading a D&C.
The procedure was done under anesthesia and takes 10 to 20 minutes. I was told not to eat or drink for at least 12 hours before the surgery. I also read that I should avoid taking aspirin, which can increase bleeding, laxatives and cold medicine. The worst part was waiting for hours before seeing the doctors. Why did they make me come at 9 a.m. if they weren’t seeing me until 2 p.m.?
As I waited, I thought about the people who came to end a pregnancy. Terminations. Sharing that physical space reminded me that I’m in no position to judge someone else’s life. People deserve to seek health services in peace, and any person who has or will sit in that waiting room is dealing with living their life just like me. I imagined if I had to enter the facility and be yelled at by protesters. They wouldn’t know that I was there because I lost a baby I wanted. No one needs that judgment and added trauma. We all deserve access to healthcare that we need.
Before I changed into a hospital gown, I spoke to an attending doctor. In my shock, I didn’t question Sharon whether I needed a D&C and it only occurred to me to ask about my other options then. The doctor said I could wait and let the fetus pass naturally, but a D&C would ensure all the tissue was removed and give me more control and closure. I definitely wanted to put this behind me and opted to go ahead with the surgery. (This article about first trimester miscarriage explains more about passing naturally, passing with medication, ecotopic pregnancy and D&C.)
As the anesthesia took hold while I laid on the operating table, my doctor, a woman with kind eyes, touched my hand and told me, “I know this is hard but you are going to be okay.” She didn’t say it wasn’t my fault. She acknowledged me, what I was going through and offered me the comfort I needed. Tears roll down my cheeks, and her kindness was the last thing I remember before waking up in the recovery room.
Eric, my cousin and Fei Fei met me after and we ate an early dinner at Congee Village. The doctor was right that the surgery gave me peace of mind and closure. The recovery was fast with some bleeding and cramping. It felt no worse than a bad period. For some women, their periods return after a month, but mine came back in late June after three months.
It took me a while to tell people that I miscarried. I felt odd bringing it up when they never knew I was pregnant, but I also felt awkward omitting it when people asked how I was or what I was doing. My miscarriage informed many decisions I made in 2016 from exercising to lose the baby weight, injuring myself because I went too hard doing Insanity Max 30 and then rehabbing my knee. I pushed back Fei Fei starting preschool since I wouldn’t have a newborn, and I started to think about what the next phase of my professional life may become.
I have moments of sadness, but I really am OK. One friend told me that it was natural to complain during my second pregnancy and helped me recognize that I carried unhealthy guilt. The whole experience made me more grateful for Fei Fei, Eric, my family and strong women in my life. (BTW Beyoncé, congratulations on your three heartbeats!)
I still lose my temper when Fei Fei doesn’t listen, but I approach parenting with renewed joy and presence since the miscarriage. I hold deep respect for women who’ve go through miscarriage before having their first child and hope they don’t lose heart or hope. You are not alone, and do not have to suffer alone.