It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about my personal life for many reasons. It’s not that I don’t have material. Trust me, I’ve got a 2 ½ year old, a husband who hangs pictures with a laser level and a 9.4 pound Chihuahua (he lost weight!). I got material. Lots. But even now, I’m not sure I want to share what I’ve been up to simply because it’s private and emotional – the messiness of life that many of us like to hide. Yet I know there will be value in sharing – for someone else to feel less alone or confused.
A few weeks ago, I went through my third miscarriage in 12 months. All in all, in my journey of trying to have babies, I’ve lost five. Each time, it doesn’t get any easier. It hurts – bad – if not worse because each time it becomes more and more inconceivable to understand how (or why) it keeps happening.
Miscarriage is terribly common but that fact alone is not comforting. Some reports say that every 1 in 5 pregnancies will end in loss, most in the first trimester. Human reproduction is very inefficient and risky. And now that many of us have waited until we’re older – the risks are even higher. Age is not on the side of fertility.
More confusing is secondary fertility. You see, I know my body can do this. It’s done it before and if you’ve seen my son (often, on Facebook!), you know I can do it quite well! He’s utterly adorable and perfect! The pain of not being able to do that again is baffling. Yet like most women in my position, I keep quiet. How can someone talk about the pain of infertility if they already have a child? Why can’t we just be happy with that? I’m not sure I owe anyone else but myself and my husband answers. It’s complicated but the pain in our hearts is very real.
Like many women’s issues, miscarriage gets swept under the rug under a strange veil of secrecy. As a society, we encourage women not to even announce they are pregnant until 13 weeks has gone by. Once you’ve made it through the first trimester you’re much less likely to suffer a loss. If it happens before then, keeping it secret tells women that if they do go through a loss – it’s theirs alone to bear. Those of us who have gone through it feel uncomfortable talking about it because how can you mourn something that didn’t exist in the outside world? How you can get understanding and support from people who know nothing of what you are going through? And why is this ok?
Like much of this experience, I have no answers. Just mysteries.
Since October, I’ve done everything I could to create the best possible home inside of myself for new life. I played by the rules: I gained weight. I gave up coffee. I ate full fat everything. I did not exercise. I took everything the specialist told me to take; sometimes 4 injections a day! I did everything at the right time. I was monitored. I tried acupuncture, yoga, even meditation! When I found out we were successful, I was overjoyed but cautious. Cautiously optimistic, I said. Recurrent loss robs you of the innocence and joy you should feel with pregnancy. You become hypervigilant and worried. I didn’t sleep through the night for weeks. I was too anxious.
Not surprisingly, when I went to my 6-week appointment, I was already convinced I was having a miscarriage. I was spotting. I just didn’t feel pregnant. Imagine my surprise when the ultrasound technician said, well, I see two heartbeat! There on the screen were the tiny hearts fluttering of two babies; identical twins. We had been blessed.
The next few weeks I was in a delicate place, caught between fear of what could happen and the joy of what was happening. Some days I felt utterly pregnant. Other days I felt normal but wired. I spotted on and off. I found no solace in the phone calls from the nurse informing me that the numbers looked great. In part, I feared that things were going wrong because it made the risk of a loss much easier. I expected things wouldn’t go well because for the past few times they didn’t go well. Depressing, yes. But in fearful situations like this, I think we do what it takes to protect ourselves.
At my 8 week visit, after seeing a strong heart beat in both twins twice before, the technician’s silence when she stared at the ultrasound was enough. At that moment, I knew they were gone. She didn’t even have to say anything. The worst part: no one knows why. There on the screen were two perfectly developed babies – with no heartbeats.
Each time it happens, I have a road map of where the pain goes. At first you feel a helpless, this can’t be happening to me pain. Then, it moves into deep grief. You feel mostly alone in the darkness of night uncomforted by the outpouring of your own tears. Then, you have quiet acceptance. And from there, you move on. It doesn’t happen that fast but it happens. You just have to hang on through the darkness – the light will eventually come. It just takes time for things to settle.
Meanwhile, I have searched everywhere I can think for answers. The doctors, tests, the internet. I’ve searched my heart, my gut and even God. There is nothing wrong with me. No test has pointed a finger at anything that can be fixed. Specialists don’t have answers. I’m just an inexplicable statistic. About 20 percent of the women with recurrent pregnancy loss never find out why. It just keeps happening.
Why share this? I realize it’s raw, it’s awkward and depressing. Sometimes life is messy like that. But there is value in sharing this experience. Because out there I know there is a woman wide awake in the middle of the night who will be wondering what she did to cause it. Or why it keeps happening. These are deep questions that often don’t have answers. But she needs to know she is not alone. It is ok to grieve, to feel anger and to be frustrated. I have felt these things and more. I have hated myself. I have looked woefully at my son wondering why I can’t give him a sibling. I have endured quarrels and then silence with my husband because neither of us knows what to say. We expect to go through many difficult things in marriage but we simply do not have a language for how to deal with infertility. Even more, I have wondered how I could be so close to family and friends yet felt so utterly alone. For none of this could I find an answer. It is an unfortunate part of the experience – no one talks about it which doesn’t make it any better. But for anyone going through it – what you’re feeling is real. Talk about it, cry about it and let yourself feel it. You deserve that.
Why share this? Not for sympathy or feel good comments. But for shared understanding that we all have tough times – yet that’s not what defines us. It’s how we choose to bounce back. We’ve all had loss and setbacks. We’ve had obstacles, disappointments and difficulties – maybe an injury, maybe an end to a relationship, a job loss, an illness. Through life, I’ve encountered many obstacles. And the only way I know to deal with them is to pick myself up and move forward. Prove others wrong. When you are at your lowest, set your sights on your highest point and then bust your ass to get there. Maybe it’s called a comeback. Maybe displacement of anger and sadness you can’t find a place to put anywhere else. Or maybe this is the stuff that makes champions.
About 2 weeks ago, I got back into training. After nearly a 10 week hiatus. I put together a training plan. It started by stepping on the scale. 121 pounds. I race under 110. The first time I hopped on my bike, I was putting out 87 watts with my HR in the 150s. That’s nearly a zone 3 heart rate for me. My second run back was a 45 minute out and back on one of my favorite paths. I hit the first mile in 9:15 – well over a minute slower than my Ironman marathon pace. By 30 minutes into it, my ITB hurt and the remaining 15 minutes might as well have been straight up a mountain. I wanted to stop, cry and walk but you know what – I didn’t let myself. This is where I’m at right now. I trust my body enough to know that with patience and consistency it will only get better.
That following Monday, I went back to masters. I could easily have left when the coach announced we would be doing a 10 x 100 test set. Instead, when my lanemate said, you lead, I said gladly. When she passed me 300 yards later, I swam with my heart in my throat to limit the gap. When I felt like the world was sitting on my back at number 6, I said to myself only 4 to go, you’ve got this. And when I saw my old lanemate, Tom, standing in the next lane over, proud to have averaged 1:12s, I accepted my 1:21s and said to him my new goal is to be able to swim with you again. His response:
You can do it.
There’s a lot of things all of us can do but you have to make the choices. You have to take the first steps. It’s so much easier to make excuses for yourself and play it safe. Feeling sorry for yourself gives you the illusion that you’re doing something but it gets you nowhere. Overcoming your setback or even yourself is part of the healing process. Move on, move forward. Make things better for yourself.
It won’t be easy but it will be worth it. I have faith in that.
So here’s to starting over. To new beginnings with hope and promise. Take the first steps towards who you want to be this year. No matter what’s behind you. It starts with YOU. Ask yourself what it will take to make it happen. Then go there. At a time of the year when we are so filled with promises to ourselves, understand that to improve it takes patience through small, persistent daily actions. It is not a quick process. And at times it’s boring, frustrating, even repetitive! But it’s worth it. Trust in that.
Wishing you all a new year filled with joy, health and success!
I’m closing comments on this one. If you have gone through or are going through infertility or miscarriage, please do not hesitate contact me any time through my email address.