Trigger warning: miscarriage
I felt it as I hobbled nearly doubled-over towards the car on our way to the ER. The pain that surged through my body didn’t allow me to process what I knew had just happened.
“Don’t freak out if you don’t hear a heartbeat,” the RN (Registered Nurse) assured me as he was using a portable ultrasound machine on my abdomen. It was my first ultrasound of the pregnancy, my first ultrasound ever. “The vast majority of women experience bleeding in their first trimester and continue on to have completely healthy pregnancies. Only a certain percent of bleeding results in miscarriage.” One, then two, ultrasound machines later, and a heartbeat was still undetected. The doctor came into the room finally with another ultrasound machine. Nothing. At this point, I was drenched in the physical pain I was experiencing and confused, numb, and panicked.
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The RN kindly asked, “Before we send you in for the internal ultrasound, I noticed your bladder is quite full. Do you want to use the restroom while you wait?” Yes. I hadn’t noticed the incredible pressure building in my bladder. For two hours, I was locked into a fiercely single-minded concentration on the pain I was experiencing and how and when it would eventually end. The pain was so excruciating that I had never experienced anything like before, I could only in hindsight equate to contractions, whatever I imagined those to feel like.
I saw it, in the bathroom. I tearfully begged my husband to come inside with me because I was too scared to go into the bathroom alone—too scared because I didn’t know if something would come out of my body and fall into the toilet or if my bleeding would be extraordinarily severe. I was too afraid to go to the bathroom alone since eight o’clock that night when I noticed my spotting had turned bright, bright red. What I had felt leave my body while we were getting to the car, I saw sitting there on the pad I had been wearing. It was my first baby—I didn’t think about it in those terms then—I thought about it in the terms that the RN later kindly explained to me: the “products of conception.” I gasped and sobbed in the ER bathroom, trying to muffle my voice, as I sat on the toilet seat relieving my bladder. What I said to my husband when I saw the results of our first pregnancy loss, I can’t recall. My husband had gotten a zipper seal bag from another nurse for me before we went into the bathroom so that I could place the reusable pad I was using inside to take it home later and wash it as usual. I asked my husband if I should show what I saw to the nurse.
He didn’t know.
I placed my pad as it was in the bag and I informed the RN, who wanted to show it to the doctor.
The doctor, with his unmoved, unmoving serious calm, said, “You’ve had a miscarriage this morning…” I knew it at last with certainty. Finally, I knew it, conclusively and without a doubt. It felt like my soul left my body. I locked my eyes on the doctor and experienced the scene both from where I was sitting on the hospital bed and as if I were simultaneously floating above. Finally, after five hours of being in the ER, after spotting and bleeding starting around noon the day before, it was over. I didn’t have to worry about if I had the baby or not anymore.
“Can I take some pain medicine now? I really need some naproxen.” The doctor responded, “The pain you’ll experience will be much more than you’ve experienced in the past. You’ll need something stronger.”
He was right—the pain was much more than I had ever experienced and had ever imagined it could be. Pain of all sorts. Physical. Mental. Emotional. Spiritual. When I lost my first pregnancy, I was ten weeks pregnant and the products of conception had stopped developing at the six-week point. I barely felt pregnant—yes, I had some minor symptoms, but everything was great. I had just started my semester student teaching high school English at a local public school, and other than taking a ten-minute nap during my free period and my abdomen swelling the slightest bit, I didn’t really feel the pregnancy much at all. I hadn’t even processed that I was pregnant. I had only told my husband, my personal trainer, and my older sister who was getting married in the summer and needed my measurements for a bridesmaid’s dress. Nobody else knew—we were planning on telling everyone once the first trimester was over because that’s what everyone did. You’re supposed to wait until the first trimester is over to tell people just in case you lose the pregnancy. Well, we lost the pregnancy and we still had to tell people.
My husband texted his old imam, asking what we should do with the remains of the…fetus? Embryo? What was it even at that six-week mark? The RN reassured us to take our time deciding if we needed a burial or not—he was Catholic and he thought all unborn life was sacred. He gave us the number to call if we’d like to collect the remains ourselves later.
I texted my cooperating teacher and supervisor at the school. I told them I was at the hospital being discharged after having a miscarriage. It was around the time that I would normally leave to get to school in the morning, but I was going home to get some sleep. Once my husband and I got back into the car, I said, “We’ll have to tell our parents. I just don’t know how and I can’t. You have to do it.” He called them later that morning after I was in bed. He did not want to do it. “Good news and bad news, but everything is okay. We just came back from the ER. Meena was pregnant, but she had a miscarriage. She’s fine and everything is okay.” I didn’t know what his parents or mine said. I couldn’t listen. My mom wanted to talk to me, but when my husband tried to give me the phone I just cried and shook my head. I can’t remember if I spoke to her or not, I can’t remember what she said.
I thought one day of rest would be enough. I felt so alone at home that day. My husband went to work in the afternoon to finish up an experiment. When he left, I felt even more alone. When I was pregnant, it felt like I was never alone—even though I had barely thought about the baby that was growing inside of me. It was like a protective shield against loneliness which gave me a little bounce in my step as I walked through the high school halls. Just being in the high school environment made me question myself with little swells of teenage angst I was absorbing from my students—but I would remind myself that I was pregnant and I felt cool, of all things. I was incredibly nervous to go into student teaching and test out my chops as a teacher, but being pregnant was my invisible, secret talisman. I was so busy in my last semester of graduate school and teacher training that I had subconsciously pushed the thought of the realities of the pregnancy to when I’d graduate at the end of the semester and how I’d have to figure out what I’d be wearing since I’d be showing at that point.
The pregnancy was just a part of my body at that point and not much else.
After spending the first miserable day after the miscarriage feeling so alone, I decided to go to school the next day. I was still feeling physically ill as if I was having the worst period of my life. It did feel nice to get back to my normal routine, to see my students and talk to them. It felt so good until I had hall duty at the end of the day. A teacher who I had spoken to a few times here and there was walking through the halls carrying a baby in her arms. She said hello to me as she passed and I responded, asking her if that was her daughter. And then I exploded into sobs.
Alarmed, she asked, “Honey, is everything okay?”
“I’m—I’m so sorry. I don’t mean to cry, I just, I just…I just had a miscarriage yesterday,” I replied, choking and sputtering.
“Yesterday?” she exclaimed, in disbelief. “What are you doing here? Should I leave with her so that you don’t–?”
“No! She’s beautiful, you don’t have to leave.”
“You need to go home, go find your teacher and tell her you’re leaving,” she responded with the stern sympathy only a teacher has.
That was the moment when I realized what I lost wasn’t just the pregnancy, but the baby that I could have held in my arms a year later, the baby I could have walked around the halls with at my school two years later. Of course, that was only the beginning of understanding what I had lost. Even today, three years and a healthy two-year-old child later, I don’t fully understand what I lost that day.
What I experienced for the next couple of months was one of the most trying periods of my life. I blamed myself for the miscarriage. Why did I have to run two blocks to catch the bus with a heavy backpack on my back earlier on the day of my miscarriage? Couldn’t I just have waited twenty minutes for the next bus? What was wrong with me? Could I get pregnant but not carry a pregnancy to full-term? Would I ever have another pregnancy or a pregnancy that resulted in a healthy baby after that? My mind was plagued with questions and doubts and I spent so much time living inside those fears and unknowns. I thought I was ready to have a kid when I got pregnant—this was a planned pregnancy. It happened so quickly and everything was so smooth up until the miscarriage…was I deluding myself? Was I not ready? Was Allah slowing me down because I needed to grow up some more or…for some other reason? The confusion I experienced was overwhelming and sometimes shook me to my core.
The one thing that really helped me was talking to people. At first, I had to tell so many people that I had lost a pregnancy because of what was going on in my graduate program. Suddenly so many faculty and administrators knew of my predicament and I heard so many words of sympathy, encouragement, and kindness. I heard other women tell me that they experienced miscarriages, too—women who were as old as my mom and even older. It felt so nice to talk about it and get the “secret” out that I started calling the friends who I stayed in touch with, some of them who were still single and not even close to being pregnant. I talked and talked; I was healing myself with sharing. It felt so good that I couldn’t help it sometimes and when a cashier would casually ask me how I was doing, sometimes I would just blurt it out, word vomit: I had a miscarriage recently and it’s been hard. Sometimes I’d get blank stares (not really an appropriate level of sharing at a grocery store…) but sometimes I’d get sad smiles or encouraging words. The more I shared with others, the more they shared with me. I soon found out that I was far from the only person who had a miscarriage and as a matter of fact, many of the women I knew had miscarriages in their first pregnancies. I also encouraged my husband to share with others. I don’t think he shared as much as I did, but he had a right to share if he wanted with others because this was his pregnancy, too, wasn’t it?I don’t think he shared as much as I did, but he had a right to share if he wanted with others because this was his pregnancy, too, wasn’t it?Click To Tweet
The few messages that stood out the most to me are the ones that follow. Our imam, who is from West Arica originally, said that in his culture, a miscarriage is a good sign because it shows that a baby is coming soon. I didn’t get it at the time, and I don’t get it now, but at least I knew that in one culture having a miscarriage isn’t some weird dirty secret that symbolizes a woman’s failure to carry a child.
My husband’s aunt, who is an OBGYN, said to us that she says this to all of her patients who lose a pregnancy, and even to her daughter after she had a miscarriage herself. “When you’re planting a garden, you get some seeds and put them in the soil. You water them, you give them sunlight, and you treat them all the same. Most of them grow into plants, but some of the seeds never grow.” That’s what a miscarriage is — a seed that didn’t grow because it just couldn’t. I took care of the seed, but the seed wasn’t destined to blossom into a beautiful plant. There is neither any control nor any failure on the part of the caretaker of that seed. And lastly, I loved reading a post that Shaykha Maryam Amir Ebrahimi wrote reflecting on her own experience with pregnancy loss (related talk she gave). She touched on so many of the raw emotions that I felt as well as brought me some solace from an Islamic perspective, mentioning the rewards that a mother gets for losing a child in that way.
Three years later, the lost pregnancy is still a part of my life and it’s a fact that I don’t conceal unnecessarily from others. If people talk to me in detail about my experience being pregnant or a mom, I often share with them that I have had two pregnancies—the fruits of one is running around at our feet and the fruits of the other go largely unknown. It isn’t overwhelmingly painful for me to talk about anymore—perhaps because I have a (second/first?) child now—but I do think sharing and talking healed me as well. With all these conversations I have had with women in the last few years who have experienced pregnancy losses or stillbirths or infertility issues or even abortions or unplanned pregnancies, I have come to know how common it is to not be on an easy path towards having children and I have learned a lot about mourning and coping and moving forward.
But I know that not all people want to or are capable of sharing about their fertility complications. Although keeping those struggles to myself would be destructive for me, personally speaking, I guess I am also coming to terms with the fact that some people might have to keep that private in order to heal. It’s complicated by our cultural understanding of miscarriages—and if you’re wondering what is the cultural understanding of miscarriage in America, look no further than the term “miscarriage,” which feels like it blames the mother, and by asking yourself how many women do you know who have talked about losing a pregnancy. I fluctuate between being annoyed and severely wounded when close friends or family members confide in me that they had a pregnancy loss months or even years ago—but that’s a weakness I have to overcome myself. My way of dealing with my miscarriage is not the way everyone I love and care about will deal with theirs.
In the last month, I think I managed to get the rest of the closure I was looking for by naming the child of our first pregnancy. I told my husband that I wanted to name our first, and lost, child, because I wanted that child to feel more real to me, as real as our son feels to us now. We never found out the gender of the child from the first pregnancy, but we both agreed we thought it was a boy. (We’re biased since we have a son now.) Still, I told him I wanted to name the baby a gender-neutral name, just in case it could have been a girl. I chose the name Rayyan—the name of one of the gates of Paradise. Now every time I think of our Rayyan, I think of how a door may have been opened for me due to my loss. Now I have an easy way of thinking and communicating my loss: when I lost Rayyan three years ago, after the miscarriage in which I lost Rayyan…etc.
One thing that I have learned the hard way for myself is that I will never keep a pregnancy, no matter how early on it is, to myself. If I need that person’s support going through a potential pregnancy loss, I will tell them about the pregnancy as soon as I have a chance to do so. I’m tired of the secrecy and the shame and the taboo around pregnancies and miscarriages.
Losing a pregnancy is difficult and perhaps losing your first pregnancy is even worse. It has been a long road of recovery for me, but I hope that sharing my experience helps others who are also grieving a loss and helps destigmatize a common loss that many suffer.
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