I’ve always been remarkably driven, ambitious, and—dare I admit it—selfish.
Hell, I’m not even ashamed to confess I spent the entirety of my 20s answering the Big Baby Question (or, as I like to call it, the “BBQ”) with a smug “my 20s are for me,” mantra. I meant it, too. I never dreamt that once I decided I did want a family, I’d have trouble making it happen.
But, hot damn, I was wrong.
Over the course of the last year, my husband and I have experienced three back-to-back miscarriages. Each one has been different, but they all have shared the same ending—pain, confusion, and some form of indignant anger.
As clichéd as it may be, my recent experiences have led me to a place in my life I never fathomed being, and I’ve hit a wall no amount of focus, ambition, hard work or selfish self-interest can break through. And I’ve run into it with my typical all-or-nothing bravado.
So, if you’ve slammed into the “Infertility Wall,” too, here’s what I’d like to say to you:
You’re Not Made of Glass
The first miscarriage (let’s call them MCs from now on) is the hardest—there’s no doubt about that.
The heady combination of anticipation, fear, excitement, and the unknown is a powerful intoxicant, but when it’s suddenly snatched away from you, there’s no way to prepare for the way the grief hits.
The all-consuming heartache washes over you in great big waves that feel like they will pull you under forever. Some women feel sadness or despondency, others confusion and guilt. For me, the first MC brought on anger—unbridled, unadulterated, unmitigated rage at the unfairness of it.
I blindly directed my anger at myself, my partner, my doctor, my (disgustingly fertile) friends—even the damn Huggies commercials that play on loop on my favorite channels. I kept crying and then raging, and finally, once the most powerful emotions had passed, lamenting to my husband the simple fact that, if I ever got pregnant again, I wouldn’t feel joy—I couldn’t. I’d just feel fear.
And that truth destroyed me.
Admittedly, I was right. The next two times I got pregnant, fear was the first, and in some ways, the only emotion I could feel.
But with the second and third MCs, the rage was not as intense; a sort-of-strange, unexpectedly calm acceptance has taken its place. That doesn’t mean I don’t still hurt or feel anger—of course I do and you will too—but nothing will ever hurt as much as the first time. There’s a funny irony in the comfort you can take from that.
In any case, no matter your method of healing or how you process your reality—it’s imperative for you to know the grief does pass, the rage does subside, and life does go on. Hearing (or reading) that doesn’t make it hurt less right now, but it’s still essential to keep tucked away in the back of your mind.
Let’s be real—you don’t need me to tell you this part of it. If you’re living this, you already know it. Instead, I’d like to share with you the remarkable thing MCs can teach you about yourself:
You are not made of glass. Like rubber, you bounce when you hit the ground.
While it may feel like you’ve shattered into a million pieces, the truth is, you haven’t. At least not literally. No matter how hard you hit the ground, or how many pieces your heart it is in, you are still whole.
Even if you’re left with an unsightly mark, or perhaps a hairline crack, you aren’t forever broken, and you are not less than you were before.
No one is going to sweep you up and throw you away. If you let them, they’ll help pick you back up, dust you off, and place you right back where you were before.
And if you don’t want their help, that’s fine, too. You’re still not going to be swept up and thrown away like broken pottery. It’s okay to roll around on the ground until you’re ready to get back up on your own.
The Truth Will Set YOU Free
One of the hardest things I’ve encountered through my MCs has been the world’s expectation of silence. I have a big mouth to begin with, so for me, keeping all this to myself has been tantamount to torture.
I eventually reached my fill with lying and decided to hell with it. I can recall the exact moment I hit my breaking point:
I had complications with my first MC and ended up in the hospital three months after I’d lost the pregnancy. It’s a long story, but the short version is that I had an incomplete MC (despite my HCG showing me to be back at zero and my doctor’s assurances it was over) and suddenly, without warning, my body was very intent on finishing it.
Imagine my frustration when I needed to take a few days out of the office to deal with the long overdue physical stuff I thought I had already experienced.
It couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time professionally. It was close to the holidays and we had many deadlines looming. My male boss couldn’t hide his displeasure and started pushing me for details on why I wasn’t in the office. Something inside me just snapped and I had to bite back the retort “I’ll be at your meeting once I’m done bleeding!”
I knew (and I was 100% right) any mention of the physical reason I was home, rather than the office, would make him uncomfortable. I didn’t actually say my sassy little come back, but I did very calmly explain to him, as he was insinuating I would miss vital information by working from home, that I was in the middle a miscarriage. Due to the unpredictable nature of it (never mind the physical pain or emotional trauma), I preferred to be home until the worst of it passed.
He was quiet for a long moment before mumbling his apologies and hanging up as fast as possible. He didn’t talk to me again until I came back to the office the following week.
After our call, I sat on my bed feeling my blood pressure rise—not due to his reaction, which was as I expected—but because my professional reputation was impacted because the world preferred I lie about my reality.
As women, we’re taught not to tell anyone about a pregnancy until after 12 weeks, just in case it doesn’t pan out. And if it doesn’t pan out, we’re expected to silently bear our burden, taking comfort only in our closest loved ones, and perhaps, a support group.
There’s something fundamentally wrong with the idea I need to keep my mouth shut or lie to avoid unsettling someone else—and it boils my blood to think of all the women around the world silently suffering because the truth of our reality might make someone else uncomfortable.
Let me be honest, before my MCs I usually thought women who brought up MCs were melodramatic or perhaps seeking attention. If it somehow came up, I’d offer my condolences and quickly change the subject. What else could I say, right?
Today, I hate myself for ever thinking, or behaving like that. I was a foolish woman with no empathy or insight. So, having been both women, I understand the differing points of view. That’s why I can say yours are the only feelings that matter. Let them be uncomfortable.
Telling the truth about your circumstances (when, and if, you’re ready) sets you free.
You have done nothing wrong, and you’re just living through a painful, unpredictable life experience. If lying makes you feel bad or is impacting the way people perceive you, don’t do it.
Tell the truth and shame the devil.
Nowadays, when asked the BBQ, I don’t lie, or even bat an eyelash. I just shrug my shoulders and tell the truth: we’ve had three MCs, so we don’t know if that’s in our future or not. End of discussion.
For those it makes uncomfortable, I usually smile—a small one, designed to put them at ease and assure them I’m not about to burst into tears—and explain, that’s life sometimes. We love each other very much, and if it never happens, that doesn’t make us less whole or complete.
The surprising thing about this tactic? How many women (and men) feel compelled to share their stories with you. It quickly becomes evident, not only are you not alone, but most people have more empathy and compassion than you ever expected.
And the ones that don’t? Well, they don’t matter. Your truth is your truth—and their opinion is irrelevant. Let them feel discomfort. You’ve got enough to deal with as it is.
You Are Not a Statistic
For those who haven’t experienced recurrent miscarriages—and there’s a lot because it isn’t that common—the easiest, most comfortable response is to reference the statistics around MCs.
We’ve all heard the “one in four pregnancies end in MC” factoid, which is often repeated as the reason you’re encouraged not to tell anyone about your pregnancy until after the 12th week. While true, no one wants to believe they’ll be the unlucky one—and when you’re that one more than once, this statistic is the most painful.
Even women who have experienced a MC offer this piece of wisdom, thinking it’s a balm to your wounded soul to know the “numbers are on your side next time.”
But, as I’m sure you know too, there’s no comfort in hearing about the statistical likelihood of you having a healthy baby the next time you try. At this moment, all you care about is that it didn’t work out this time—and this time matters so much more than the (mythical) future. When you’ve been the one in four multiple times, it really sucks to know the numbers were supposed to be in your favor…but somehow weren’t.
In the beginning, I tried to take comfort in these numbers, but I quickly realized thinking of myself in these terms just made me feel even more anxious and angry.
Here’s my thinking:
“If the statistic for success after two consecutive MCs is 76% (a wide margin), and I still had a third one, then that proves it: there is something seriously wrong with me. My body can’t do the most natural thing on earth—carry a child. I’m a failure as a woman. I’ll never be a mother.”
This sort of thinking is just a rabbit hole of pain. Don’t put yourself through it.
Are the numbers on your side for the next time you try (if you can bear it?) Yes, they are, but those damn numbers don’t consider all the nuances that make you who you are. They don’t embody your unique genetic makeup—or your lifestyle choices. They just represent an aggregate of data taken from a vast swath of other women. They can’t speak for you because, at their root, they represent other women.
If it doesn’t pan out the next time you fall pregnant, these numbers will lead you further down the “why me?!?!” rabbit hole.
There could be something wrong—and yes, you may need more advanced care or assisted reproductive technologies (ART), but trying to see your future in data won’t lead to comfort. If there is anything I can impress upon you, it’s that.
I was terrified the third time I got pregnant—much more than the time before—because I knew, if this one fails, I’m moving into a much different category, one where the numbers for success are lower than before. And, since only 1% of women experience three (or more) MCs in a row, very few people would understand my situation; I’d be even more isolated in this than I was before.
But the truth—having hit the “Infertility Wall” a third time—is that knowing the statistics didn’t do anything to improve my chances or make the pain of losing the third one any less sharp. All it did was doom me to a grieving period where I wallowed in these lower numbers and felt even more alone in my uncommonness.
I sincerely encourage you to stop trying to see yourself in statistics. Instead, take refuge in the knowledge that if you are the unlucky one, the door to motherhood isn’t closed forever.
You just need more help kicking it down.
Stay Away from IKEA
I’m not going to lie, I’m a millennial woman in my 30s. As such, there are very few things I love more than a Sunday afternoon at IKEA, or a brief stop at Starbucks before pushing my cart around Target.
But after a MC, the last place on earth you ought to go is an environment surrounded by happy, nesting pregnant women and their doting significant others.
And believe me, that’s who you’ll find at IKEA on Sunday afternoon.
Think about how torturous it is to sit in your OBGYN’s waiting room with a cavalcade of ladies rubbing their bellies and asking each other when they’re due—I think there should be a separate waiting room for women mid-MC because it’s a special brand of pain being made to sit there while you’re experiencing such heartbreak—and multiply that by 10.
Now you have an idea of why you ought to avoid these places like the plague. During this moment in your life, these places are not the sanctuary they usually are.
I made the mistake, during my second miscarriage, of asking my husband to take me to IKEA. In my mind, I was headed just to walk around, eat some Swedish meatballs, and get my mind off my situation by looking at economical and stylish household furnishings and gadgets.
Instead, I found myself surrounded by pregnant women/newborn babies/happy families AND all the beautiful, kitschy, and cute furnishings I could buy if I still had a reason to build a nursery.
It may sound melodramatic, and I’m sure pre-MC me would roll her eyes in disgust, but it’s also the truth.
While we can’t avoid our best friend’s baby shower, or ditch your one-year-old niece’s birthday party, you can dodge the happy family/nesting brigade holed up at IKEA.
Staying away from these places while you’re emotionally raw will help you avoid unnecessary pain.
Do Something to Make You Feel Like Yourself Again
After my first MC, I was scared, uncertain, isolated, and angry—I didn’t feel like myself, or even really know how to begin to feel like me again.
Friends and loved ones recommended grief counseling (not something I had any interest in), wine (I was very interested in that), or a new hobby (because hiking would surely soothe me), but none of these things helped me feel like me.
So, I threw myself into work and spent my down time trying to keep busy enough to not think about it. It didn’t work, and I’ll admit I fell into a depression. The only thing that shook me out of it was the sudden discovery I was pregnant again.
My excitement only lasted about a month before I lost that one, too. And of course, in my typical dramatic style, it happened just a few days before I was due to head to New Orleans for business. I was dreading it, but couldn’t cancel, even if I was right in the middle of the worst of it. Plus, I had written the flagship brand document the national sales meeting was centered on, so if I didn’t attend, my absence would not go unnoticed.
When I boarded that plane, I don’t think I’d ever felt lower. After the pain (and protracted drama) of my first MC, I didn’t know what to expect, or if I was going to be able to weather it. It filled me with a sense of hopelessness and uncertainty that was profoundly foreign to me.
But the most amazing thing happened to me during those few days I was in New Orleans. And it didn’t have anything to do with work or travel.
Rather, it had to do with being forced to confront the truth of who I am and who I will always be: a ballsy, unapologetic, independent woman who has never backed down from a challenge or let fear rule me.
Over the course of that week, I recognized my true self had not disappeared or been overshadowed by these MCs or the feelings they evoked in me. She was still there, as she always was, and she showed her true colors when she dared to get on the plane by herself, despite the unknown. She had the willpower to smile through meeting after meeting, all the while bearing unpredictable cramping. She still wanted to explore the city on her own, even if each step hurt.
When I think of all I did on that trip while I was in the midst of a miscarriage, I realize just how much internal strength I had to call upon. And that helped me finally see that I am not less than I was before.
If anything, I am more.
Now I understand this part of womanhood. Now I can empathize and genuinely understand the silent burden of a MC. Now I can offer kindness to another woman coping with these challenges. And that’s a gift, in a way.
My MCs don’t define me or my future. And they don’t define you or your future either. What I did in response to them is what defines me—and it’s what will define you.
Why am I telling you this?
Because when confronted with a painful trauma, whether it is a miscarriage, a divorce (that’s a whole other story), or death, you have two choices—get up and move forward or stay down and let life pass you.
I’m not advising you to get on a plane and fake smiles for your work colleagues. I’m suggesting you do something—anything—that puts you back in touch with yourself. An act that reminds you of the special strengths and quarks that make you who you are.
For a girl who moved to England at 20 with a single suitcase and no friends or family, the act of getting on a plane and diving into the unknown, despite my fear, allowed me to reconnect with the part of myself that I understand.
And I was damn happy to see that badass bitch.
Move Forward, Not Backward
By the time I had my third MC, I’d learned a lot about myself. So much so, that while it hurt, and I did feel fear, I had faith in my ability to bounce back. I rolled around on the floor for a week or so, wallowing in statistics, but I stood up again and rejoined the world more quickly than my loved ones expected.
Today, my husband and I are happy, but we both know the future is uncertain and there are no guarantees. To be frank, this blog post won’t end with an announcement of a healthy pregnancy—and I know there is a very real chance there will never be one.
But, when the time is right, we’ll try again, perhaps with some help from the professionals. For right now, I’m content to take a break from it all and focus on my career, my husband, and our weenie-babies.
I’m writing this not to say, “See, it’ll all work out in the end.” Rather, I want to assure anyone else out there that you’re not alone and you are not less than you were before.
Slamming into the “Infertility Wall” is always going to hurt, but when the hopelessness, fear, and isolation creep in, I remind myself of the points I just made to you:
You’re not made of glass; like rubber, you bounce when you hit the ground, the truth sets you free, avoid IKEA, and do something that puts you in touch with who you are, not how you feel.