This week, I’m featuring a story by Lauren Cowin, a Washington, D.C. area mom of two who recently suffered a miscarriage 12 weeks into her pregnancy with her third child. While many women experience miscarriages, Lauren hopes to convey to readers that each loss is unique and deserves to be grieved. Here’s her miscarriage story in her own words:
I’m sharing this story for one simple reason: when I was in the thick of it, I would have wanted to read it.
A few days into a much anticipated trip to visit family and friends in Texas this past summer, I was hit with a pretty big surprise – I was pregnant!
My husband and I were having a third child. After a lot of deliberation following the births of our first two kids 26 months apart, we’d decided to go for it; if it didn’t happen, we’d move on. Well, it had happened. We were stunned, but also excited in a way that was different than before. Given my advanced maternal age – 35 – and the sense that things were just too good to be true, we attempted to keep our giddiness in check until the pregnancy could be confirmed by a doctor – a month that felt like an eternity. Luckily, the appointed date finally did roll around, and the news was good! Our third child was due around Valentine’s Day.
Finally, we were able to tell my family during another planned trip. It turns out, my parents each had their suspicions, but that didn’t bother me. I was ecstatic to say the words, “For the last time, I’m pregnant.”
Too good to be true…
Roughly 48 hours after arriving back home in Maryland, that was no longer the case. At the 12-week mark, after what I had called a “dream” first trimester, I suffered a spontaneous miscarriage at home. Things were too good to be true after all.
What started as light spotting Saturday gradually increased throughout the day. I tried to slow down and take things easy, in case maybe this was my body reacting to the stress of travel. My husband googled enough to convince himself everything would be fine. He eventually urged me to call the after-hours line at my OB’s office though, despite a note in my pregnancy packet instructing not to call unless it was “really important.” And who was I to bother an obstetrician on a weekend just because I was bleeding? The on-call doctor assured me there was no reason to rush to the ER, to “sit in this space,” and added that at 12 weeks, having already seen a heartbeat via sonogram, there was only a 1% chance I was miscarrying.
We determined that the next day, I would put myself on bedrest. I was convinced that even if there was a live baby in there, something was up and I should do everything in my power to maintain the status quo. I still wasn’t in pain, but the bleeding had remained consistent. I began mentally preparing for what would happen the next day: I would make an emergency appointment with my OB, learn there is no longer a heartbeat and schedule a D&C, a procedure to remove the baby from my uterus. I wanted to hang on to hope, but it was easier to prepare for the worst.
I called the on-call line again that night, spoke with the same doctor and, once again, was assured that my “bleeding” was “spotting,” and there was nothing to do but wait. I commented that I was “bracing myself” and that I was worried a miscarriage would happen at home. “Oh, I don’t think you need to brace yet,” she said.
A few hours later, I would call her for the third and final time: to ask for guidance on what to do after delivering a 12-week fetus at home.
“I see the baby”
After my children were asleep, thankfully, I began experiencing painful cramps and knew definitively that this pregnancy was over. I hoped to get some sleep and to see the doctor first thing in the morning. But soon my bleeding picked up. I was a bit frantic trying to figure out how I would get to the hospital if needed, given we had two children asleep and I was in too much pain to drive. I finally tried to stand up, and I looked down to assess just how much blood I’d passed, assuming this was information I’d need to tell a doctor.
I should have known better, but when my pregnancy app cruelly announced that weekend that my baby was the size of a plum, I stuck with that visual. I was looking for a plum. Nothing could have prepared me for what, or who, I’d actually see in that life-altering moment.
I remember making some sort of noise, not a scream because even amid trauma, a parent doesn’t want to wake her kids. I remember my husband Sam frantically asking, “What? What is it?”
“I see the baby.”
It’s an image that will remain imprinted on my mind all the days of my life.
That’s when the dam broke. The tears flowed. As we sat sobbing on our bathroom floor, visions of our wedding day kept flashing through my mind. Weddings are beautiful, polished and joyous – the pretty part of marriage.
I remember saying, “I guess this is the worse” of for better, for worse. This was the bottom.
More talk about pregnancy loss
In recent years, there’s been a shift in pop culture to encourage more talk about pregnancy loss and infertility. Celebrities like Meghan McCain, Chrissy Teigen and Carrie Underwood have spoken publicly about their losses.
The sad reality is many women who seek to become pregnant will miscarry. Up to 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, with many happening before a woman even knows she’s pregnant (though thanks to improved at-home pregnancy tests, more and more women do know when they experience these “chemical pregnancies.” Including me.) While it is often the case that detecting a heartbeat in the first trimester indicates smoother sailing, as was told to me throughout my ordeal, there are those unlucky few who experience the opposite.
In the aftermath of my miscarriage, I learned that nearly every woman I spoke to had experienced a loss. While it’s comforting to know you’re not alone, the increased effort to raise awareness about this issue can come with a downside – the sense that “it happens to everyone,” therefore making it ordinary and not a big deal.
It is a big deal.
“Someone did die”
The morning after our loss, my husband sent a generic email citing a family emergency to explain why he’d be out of pocket for the day. A while later, he commented that maybe his note was too cryptic and that he should give further explanation so that his boss didn’t think anyone had died. He then paused and said, “Well, someone did die.”
Someone did die. Someone we didn’t get a chance to meet, but had spent most of two months awaiting. Someone who we’d imagined as our children’s baby sibling, whose name, room and routine we’d discussed, and who we’d excitedly announced to our family was gone.
For the first time in our adult lives, we were grieving.
I’m grateful that my husband gave himself a break from work on the days following our loss, and also that his employer was understanding. While that should be a given, it’s often not. But a miscarriage is a valid reason for a sick day or two. It’s a valid reason for bereavement leave if you have it. The fact that every other woman you meet has had a miscarriage doesn’t make yours unworthy of grief; every person on the planet experiences the death of family members, and nobody would ever dream of treating those losses as commonplace occurrences that happen to everyone and therefore aren’t worthy of missing work.
As anyone who has lost a loved one – be it human or four-legged – knows, grief isn’t linear. It’s crushing, confusing and just as it seems to subside, it creeps up at the most unexpected and inconvenient times. I recently had to physically restrain myself from breaking down at a funeral because the parable being told by the clergy brought about imagery of a mother and baby that I couldn’t bear.
And then, of course, there are the more obvious triggers: the pregnant women at Target, the newborns in strollers, the ads. As I drove home after my post-miscarriage sonogram and bloodwork, an ad for a fertility center came on the radio. I began maniacally screaming while fumbling with the screen to change the station. It’s a miracle I kept the car on the road.
Posts like these come with a trigger warning, and for good reason. It’s tough stuff, and for some it’s easier to shut the door on that painful memory and avoid dredging it up at all costs. But in the immediate aftermath of my miscarriage, it wasn’t the stories of other losses that were crippling, it was the pregnancy and birth announcements.
It’s not weak or selfish to need time to heal from pregnancy loss before visiting a pregnant friend or the newborn next door. It’s self-preservation in a most vulnerable hour.
I told everyone who reached out to us that week, “We’ll be okay. I’m not sure when, but we’ll be okay.” That eventually became, “We’re not great, but we’re okay.”
The other side of grief
It does get easier. Our brand new neighbors were expecting their baby the week we were abruptly forced to say goodbye to ours. We were terrified of that first interaction with their new little bundle. One evening, I decided to go for a walk, and as I headed down our driveway, I saw them leaving at the same time with the stroller. I panicked and ran back into my garage until the coast was clear. I felt (and likely looked) ridiculous, but my fight or flight instinct was sending a crystal clear message.
Today, I saw that baby. He’s over a month old now, and while I’ll always be sad the little friend I thought I’d be introducing in February is no longer a reality, I was okay. The road to being “okay” has been bumpy and unpredictable. But it’s mine, and I’m leaning hard on my inner GPS to get me to the other side of this bout with grief.
Maybe it’s true that misery loves company. I know this much: this is a club nobody ever wants to join. The cost of membership is unfathomable heartache and there’s no handbook for healing. But there’s strength in numbers, and while I wish this grief wasn’t so common, I’ve been comforted greatly by speaking with others who have endured similar losses. For anyone reading this miscarriage story who finds him or herself a new or not so new member, please, give yourself grace in this moment and the ones that follow. The loss is real, your feelings are valid, and if they require you to take a break from your job, your social engagements and your to-do list, so be it. I know your pain and I fully recognize that there is no statute of limitations on your tears.
Read about another’s mom’s experience with delivery complications in When Postpartum Pain Isn’t Normal.