Less than a week ago, my partner and I found out we were pregnant with our first child. Yesterday, we found out that the pregnancy was not progressing. My HCG levels had fallen in the four days between blood tests. Four days to hope, dream, be joyful, surprised, delighted, anxious, nervous, excited. Four days to realise hopes and dreams we’ve been building since we started trying to conceive 18 months ago. Four days to believe that my efforts to address my infertility (PCOS, amenorrhea) had finally paid off. 18 months of exercising 3-5 times a week. Of cutting out dairy, gluten, sugar, carbs. Of beginning weight training to make sure my blood sugar and insulin levels are under control. Of reducing the amount of activity in my life in order to reduce stress. 18 months of counting a sometimes regular 30-to-33 day cycle, of checking cervical mucus for changes. Of charting Basal Body Temperatures. You name it, I’ve tried it. I was about to start looking into Chinese Herbal Medicine. If that failed, I would have tried Clomiphene.
This loss feels like a punch in the gut. I am grieving. I am weepy. I am so tired. Tired from the adrenalin. Tired from the conversations with family and friends. Tired from the crying. Tired from oversleeping due to feeling depressed, and trying to pass the time. Tired from resting, or restlessly trying to rest.
I’m not unfamiliar with depression, and processing loss. I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression quite well throughout my late teens and early 20’s. I’m in a good place with my mental health, and I have a large quiver of emotional skills and self-care methods to draw upon to deal with this. But I feel like I cannot express this loss as openly and authentically as I would like. Why? Because I was not far along in my pregnancy. An ambiguous HCG level indicated anything from 3-5 weeks along, and was actually a post-miscarriage blood test, so it could have been a lot higher before I started bleeding. I can’t count how many days it was since my last menstrual period because I have an irregular cycle, and didn’t get a period the month prior.
The doctor called this ‘a chemical pregnancy.’ The medical textbooks call it a ‘failed pregnancy.’ Even miscarriage websites and forums diplomatically label this an ‘early loss,’ not a ‘miscarriage.’ All of those terms are an attempt to quantify the level of loss someone is experiencing. The problem with pain is, you can’t quantify it. Especially emotional pain. Each person who is in pain is having a different experience to the next. Each one brings their own history, their own hopes and dreams, their own losses and their own level of resilience to an experience of loss. I bring my own special brew of life experiences to this loss. Unique as the next person’s .
I bled for two weeks, but I did not experience much pain. I had an almighty backache, but no cramping in my abdomen. The bleeding was strange to me, not like a normal period, which is what prompted me to take a pregnancy test. I had hoped this was just implantation bleeding. Initially it seemed like it was, but it gave way to heavier bleeding. By the time we found out we were pregnant, it was nearly all over. That’s another thing that makes me feel almost guilty for grieving this loss - I may never have even found out about it, had I just assumed this was my period. This happens to many women, probably most who are trying to conceive. But the fact is, I did know about it. I can’t go back and change that. Thinking it could have passed without me knowing cannot change how I feel about it. Believe me, I’ve tried that on myself. It doesn’t slide.
On the first day I knew I was pregnant, I surprised myself by stopping in the middle of my workday, tears overflowing, to write a letter to my baby. My poppy-seed sized, more-dream-than-reality baby. I say ‘I surprised myself’ because prior to this pregnancy, I had adamantly believed I would be quite emotionless about a tiny developing foetus until it got to a stage where I could actually feel pregnant (ie. nausea, sore breasts,). How wrong I was. As soon as I knew that we had conceived, and a ball of cells had made its way down to my uterus and implanted in the uterine walls and started growing a neural tube and a heart and a placenta, I felt in the deepest part of me that there was a baby inside me.
Now I will be the first to say that I cannot possibly compare the experience I am having to that of someone who is much further along, I cannot possibly imagine how much harder this gets as the weeks go by and the baby, along with your hopes and dreams, grows bigger and bigger, and takes up more space in your body and in your heart. I cannot even imagine the pain of losing that baby. But what I can tell you, is that I was pregnant, and now I am not. For me, that’s enough for me to feel deep sadness and grief.
Trawling through online forums of other mothers experiencing loss at this same stage has brought up mixed results. On the one hand, there are many expectant mothers only 3 or 4 weeks along, with their first faint pregnancy test line, at the first possible point they could know they are pregnant. Those mothers expressed the same sense of hope, expectation, joy, and excitement as I felt. And the same sense of loss when their 3 week, 1 day old foetuses stopped growing. Or when they started to bleed in the 4th week, 3rd day of their pregnancy and feared the worst.
Other forums asked the question as to whether a pregnancy below 5 weeks was technically considered a miscarriage, and should they count them in their miscarriage tally? Many of them seemed nonchalant about their early losses, not counting them as ‘true’ miscarriages. Others counted them, but didn’t seem overly emotional about them. All of this searching on online forums was exhausting and eventually I had to stop looking at what others said about whether their losses were real. Essentially, I was searching for validation of my own loss, and the pain I feel at that loss. But that validation will probably only come from inside myself, when I decide that what matters is not what others think, but how I feel.
I keep asking myself questions like ‘Will my family and friends think I’m making a big deal out of this very early loss?’ ‘Is it silly to expect other people to feel sympathetic towards me?’ ‘Am I making a big deal out of nothing?’ ‘How much of what I feel can I express to the people around me?’ I made the decision to tell my family and close friends when we found out we were expecting, as I wanted their support in the case of an early miscarriage. I believe the ‘12 week rule’ can be unhelpfully isolating in the case of loss. Of course, each couple should make their own decision about what they feel comfortable doing in terms of informing family and friends of a pregnancy. But I feel the 12 week rule is highly informed by fear. Fear of upsetting others. Fear of feeling embarrassed or ashamed about having had a miscarriage, in case anyone thinks it’s the mother’s fault. I’ve always known that I had a higher chance of miscarriage because of PCOS, and it’s one of the reasons I chose to tell my loved ones straight away. I wanted the love and support that would go with them knowing of my loss. If they choose to, I want them to go on the journey of infertility with me, as it’s a big part of my life right now.
I also wanted to be someone who speaks about pregnancy loss. One of the reasons I think I am able to cope (on a general level) with this loss is because I know other mothers this has happened to. I was aware of the rates of pregnancy loss before I started trying. I know that our bodies sometimes abort a growing foetus because it’s not developing healthily. Or sometimes for no reason at all. I know that miscarriage happens to millions of women around the world on a daily basis. I did not go into the journey to conception thinking it would be easy, or a straightforward. So I’m telling people. I’m telling my friends. In case this has happened, or does happen to one of them. I’m telling my family. Even the children. My nieces especially. So that they will go into adulthood knowing this is a normal experience to have within their childbearing years. So that if one of them experiences miscarriage, they know at least one other person in their family that they can talk to.
From my psychology studies, and from my general experiences of processing tough emotions (and my experiences of the consequences of not properly recognising and processing tough emotions) I know it is incredibly important that I consider my own feelings valid, legitimate, and real, and process them in whatever way I need to, as long as that processing is generally healthy and not too destructive or harmful to others. But I am really struggling to consider my own feelings of loss legitimate. I am afraid other mothers who’ve lost a baby at a later stage will think I am making a big deal out of something small. I am afraid the doctor will think I’m overly emotional. I am afraid my friends and family will secretly think I should get over this more easily.
Loss before 6 weeks is often characterised as ‘Early Loss.’ Loss at 6 weeks is characterised as a ‘miscarriage,’ because a heartbeat can be detected through an ultrasound. But can the ultrasound detect the effect the knowledge of this baby had on my heart? For four days, my heart was filled with the joy of knowing a new life was growing inside me. A tiny foetus that would become a baby, that would become my child. Physically, I lost a tiny, poppy-seed sized ball of cells that was slowly forming into a foetus. But those facts don’t matter to me. I’ve tried to use the facts to console myself, but my heart won’t listen.
I can’t answer the logical questions about whether what happened to me was a ‘chemical ‘pregnancy’, an ‘early loss’ or a ‘miscarriage. Because emotionally, I lost my first baby. So I’m going to choose to acknowledge my awkward mess of feelings. My grief. My sadness. My weepy eyes. My devastation at finding out I was pregnant for the very first time, but that my baby did not grow. My awkward insecurity about my own feelings, and the sense that I should just get past this more easily. I’m going to remember with excitement, the first positive pregnancy test I ever had. And the 6 tests I took after that just to make sure. I’m going to create a memory box for my first baby. In it, I’ll place the letter I wrote to my baby the first day I knew they were there, the pregnancy tests I took and labelled with the dates and times, the roses my partner got me the day we found out our baby had not grown, and a few messages of love and support from family and friends.
The day we found out our baby was gone, my partner stayed home from work and we laid in bed and cuddled and let out some tears. Then we went for a walk around the park together with our two dogs. As we were walking, I was overwhelmed by the feeling of wanting to name my 3 or 4 or 5 week old baby. On realising this desire, I burst into tears all over again. I knew this desire came from a place in me that wanted to honour the little soul that so briefly touched our lives. So, despite my insecurity about the legitimacy of my own feelings, I named our baby.
Our baby’s name is ‘Hadiah-Kivah.’ I chose words from some of the languages my partner and I have studied or have a connection to. ‘Hadiah’ is an Indonesian word meaning ‘gift.’ ‘Kivah’ is a Hebrew word meaning ‘hope.’ Together they mean ‘Gift of Hope.’ I want to thank my tiny ageless baby for giving us the ‘gift of hope’ that we are actually able to conceive. I am grateful for this glimpse of hope in what can sometimes be a long and difficult journey towards having children.
By Miriam Forte, Melbourne, Victoria.
Miriam is 31 years old, born and bred in Melbourne. She and her partner Scott have 2 dogs and two cats who they love to spoil. Miriam is studying music and psychology in the hopes of going on to be a music therapist, and she also enjoys painting, singing, spoken word poetry and blogging (wordpress.com/view/turningreenblog.wordpress.com). Miriam and Scott lost their first baby Hadiah-Kivah ("Gift of Hope") in late June 2018 but they are looking forward with hope that they will conceive again soon.