Keeping it Secret: The Loneliness of Pregnancy Loss
When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I could not contain my joy and excitement. I began sharing my special news with everyone immediately. Here I was, five weeks pregnant, shouting off the rooftops, “I’m having a baby!” I remember the shock of so many of my friends. They would say things like, “It’s too early!” or “Why are you telling people?” and “You should really wait until at least 12 weeks, to make sure it sticks.” Despite feeling slightly embarrassed each time I shared my news, I could not help myself, I told anyone who was willing to listen. Nine months later, I had a beautiful baby girl.
Three years later, I was pregnant again. This time I wanted to do it “right.” My excitement got the best of me the first time around, and I felt I had cheated myself out of a special time where only me and my nuclear family knew of this new life developing inside me. I had no quirky announcement, no gender reveal parties, and no cute social media photos. This time, I wanted to follow the rules: No announcement until the first trimester was over. My lips would be sealed for 12 full weeks.
The first trimester is one of the hardest periods of pregnancy. As my hormones dramatically changed, I experienced extreme exhaustion, food aversions, nausea and mood swings. Not one of my friends or coworkers offered any support and understanding for my sudden change in mood, because no one knew what my body was undergoing. I held my secret close, only telling my immediate family. As my 12th week approached, I counted down the hours to make my announcement. I fantasized about adorable “big sister” photos with my 3-year-old, that would alert my friends, family and community of my big secret. Sadly, I never made it to that milestone.
I miscarried just days before I planned to make my announcement. I was underprepared for this twist in events. No one ever talks about what it is like to miscarry. Society works hard at keeping pregnancy a secret until a baby bump pops, for the precise purpose that if a miscarriage happens, no one needs to talk about it. No one has to confront the loss. If your friends and family don’t know, perhaps it never even happened. But I need to talk about it. I need to talk about it because it is the saddest thing I have ever been through. I need to talk about it, because the more I hold it in, the sadder I become. I need to talk about it, because before I was sad, I was scared.
Despite spotting for days, I did not believe I miscarried until there was clearly no denying the truth. My husband rushed me to the ER after I nearly fainted on our bedroom floor. I was pale, and there was no color in my lips. The ER doctors prepared me for the possibility of a blood transfusion due to the gross amount of blood I had lost, and was still losing. And, because no one ever talks about miscarriages, I never knew that when a woman miscarries her body actually goes through delivery, contractions and all. It is an extremely different emotional experience between contracting to push out a healthy, alive baby verses contracting to push out a dead fetus. Doctors say the contractions feel the same, but I argue the latter is much more excruciating.
It wasn’t until after an emergency D&C that my physical pain subsided. My emotional pain, well, that lingered. With most traumas, positive outcomes are highly linked to the support around you. And since I chose to hold this secret, I felt extremely alone. While I am grateful I had my immediate family to support me during this time, I needed more. In order to get that support, I began to share my news with my closest friends. What I had planned to be a joyous pregnancy announcement, turned into a tearful release of my miscarriage story. As I shared my story, I was surprised to hear my friends confess and share their own stories of miscarriage and pregnancy loss. If a friend did not have their own story, then they knew of a close friend that had. It started to seem like every woman alive either had a miscarriage story of their own, or they knew someone close to them who had. I did not feel so alone anymore.
We shared our stories of sadness, loss, grief, shame, anger and guilt. The “It isn’t your fault” line proved to be a script delivered to each and every one of us. And no matter how much our heads knew this was true, our hearts told us otherwise. This experience forced me to wonder how keeping my pregnancy a secret impacted my recovery. This secret isolated me, took me away from support, and contributed to my feelings of guilt and shame. There is a great stigma of miscarriage. No one talks about it, and no one asks about it. This stigma only perpetuates the shame and guilt that comes along with miscarriage. Women need support, understanding and space to tell their story. Why must pregnancy be kept secret at all? For fear of miscarriage? The first trimester is hard enough: wouldn’t the support of others only help soothe women during this time of discomfort? I can’t help but wonder how things would change if women were not afraid to share their stories of loss, and if this world was not afraid to hear their stories. Would I have felt empowered after my experience? I wonder if I would have thought, “Wow, my body is amazing, it knew this baby was not viable and knew what to do so this baby would not suffer” rather than carrying the shame and thoughts of “My body is defective; there is something wrong with me, I did this.”
I do not know if I want to try again for another baby. I am still healing from this loss. But, I do know that if I do, I will not be ashamed to tell others of my pregnancy. I will share my joy, while building a strong and solid support system that will hold me no matter how long life lives inside me.