Miscarriage and expectancy don’t seem like the should be in the same sentence, do they? But for some women, this becomes their reality.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting is a guide book given to an expectant mother by her physician once she has a confirmed pregnancy. This book was first published in 1984 (I was 10 years old), written by Heidi Murkoff & Sharon Mazel, and is now in its 5th edition. Usually this book is received with great anticipation. I remember when I got it back in 1997. Though shocked, a part of me was excited. As a 24-year-old woman, I was about to bring forth what I was created for…LIFE.
The Normal Expectation
Though I cannot say I experienced a seamless pregnancy with no complications (HYPEREMESIS IS REAL), I still managed to deliver a very healthy baby boy. The first five years of my son’s life, I was a single mom, in the Army, finishing my masters and completing officer training for the Army; so, considering having another child or my ability to have one wasn’t on my list of priorities. Besides, when the time came it should be easy enough, right?! This would be a question I’d be searching to answer for the next decade, not realizing that just being a woman doesn’t guarantee your ability to bring forth LIFE the way you might expect it.
Someone said to me once, “No expectation…no disappointment.” They were referring to not putting all your hope in people. I didn’t realize that I would attach that saying to pregnancy too.
Awareness and Recognition
October apparently is very big on holidays. In fact, there are 470 holidays recognized globally in the Month of October. Some are more obvious to most of us like Breast Cancer Awareness, Domestic Violence, and Halloween; but one that I had never realized was an actual thing was National Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month, with October 15th being the official day of recognition and remembrance.
National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness is set aside to bring attention to the commonality of women who lose their pregnancies and babies prematurely through miscarriages, stillbirths, or infant losses. The irony, from the beginning, is that time is set aside to bring attention to this experience. When the truth of the matter is, most people want to ignore, forget, and act like it doesn’t exist or never happens; especially those women who actually experience it. I, at one time (3 times in fact) being one of them.
Yes, I am her, and she is me. The woman who at some point learned she was pregnant just to later learn…that which once was…no longer would be.
Advanced Maternal Age
As I mentioned, I experienced this misfortune three separate times. My first miscarriage happened at the ripe old age of 40. It’s a shame that I have to refer to 40 as a ripe and old. In most cases the age of 40 is the point of perfection and evolution. At the age of 40, most women I know have figured out this thing called life enough to navigate through it gracefully. However, to be an expectant mom at the age of 40 feels like a death sentence or a place of shame; if you let some people tell it (even some medical professionals).
Now grant it, I get the complications are greater for woman after a certain age, just based on where her body is physically and hormonally. But you mean to tell me with all the modern medicine and advances available to us today, this still for some women remains a place of shame and hopelessness? Now that’s what’s a shame.
I can remember in October of 2014 when I learned I was pregnant…to be truthful…I thought to myself, “God has a strange sense of humor.”
For about 8 years I had considered the thought of becoming pregnant, and actually hoped and expected it, and even somewhat prepared for it. But when it didn’t happen as a blazed into my 40s, and after my husband’s test confirmed he wasn’t the disabled culprit, I chalked it up to, “This must not be God’s plan for US TOGETHER.” Because keep in mind…I have a son. So, I can get pregnant. My husband has four birth children, so CLEARLY he’s capable.
Yeah…maybe this just isn’t in God’s plan for us. Besides, I thought, I’m 40. My son will be heading off to college soon. I can see it now…an empty nester, walking around the house naked and as free as a bird. LOL!
A girl can dream, right?!
That particular October, I just wasn’t feeling like myself. I was so tired. Not like a regular tired. I mean I was EXHAUSTED. Also, my breasts were really tender. Not to mention, my emotions were all over the place.
Could it be? I’M GOING THROUGH MENOPAUSE! Oh gosh! Menopause at 40!?! Yep! That’s what it had to be; because God would surely not divert my plans to walk around the house naked.
I immediately called my mom. “Mom, I think I’m going through early menopause. What are the symptoms?”
My mom asked me a series of questions about my symptoms before she offered my personal family diagnosis. But after I answered her questions, she tells me she’s unsure that it’s menopause and tells me to follow up with my doctor, just to be sure nothing else is going on. So, I did. I called to make an appointment and asked if I could have blood work done prior to coming in, so that the doctor would already have a baseline of what was under the surface of my issue.
The doctor’s office called me a few days after I had provided my blood and explained I would need to report to a different clinic because my blood work revealed I may need additional tests. What!?! What does that mean? I of course thought the worst. Is it cancer?!? The person I was speaking with couldn’t tell me the details of my report. She had just been instructed to direct me to a different clinic for additional tests.
On the morning in question, I.was.a.ball.of.nerves. What could possibly be going on?
I was asked to go to provide a urine sample before going back to see the nurse. When the nurse came to get me, she was all smiles. She asked, “Mrs. Green, do you know why you’re here today?” I explained that I had requested an appointment with my primary doctor because I had concerns that I might be experiencing early menopause. The nurse assured me that she knew for certain I was not in menopause. When I asked how she knew, she answered, “Because you’re pregnant.”
“Ma’am?!” I retorted. “Do you know that I am 40 years old?” She countered, “Yes, Mrs. Green, I am aware of your age; but this is a good thing!”
Me: Is it really?!? Because I’m feeling some kind of way.
Nurse assuring me: You’re gonna be fine, Mrs. Green.
Just about that time, my husband (who also works in the hospital) came down to meet me. When he entered the room, the nurse gave him a big smile. He asked if everything was alright. She pleasantly responded that everything was great and that I could fill him in on the details while she went to get some additional materials.
Then I broke the news to my 50-year-old husband, who rather than expressing disbelief and shock like me…reared back to reveal the all-encompassing “S” on his chest that had suddenly appeared.
Yep! We were about to be a modern Bible story. Abraham and Sarah in the flesh. LOL!
Lord, what are the people going to say?!? Rather than feeling excitement, in that moment, I was ashamed and embarrassed.
The few people who I shared my news with looked at me in disbelief, usually followed by the words, “At 40?!?” One even asked me, “What are you going to do?” As if considering aborting my child WITH MY HUSBAND should be considered. Still another expressed, “Why weren’t you on birth control?! You shouldn’t still be trying to have a baby at your age. You should have done that in your 20s and 30s.”
DAMMIT! I’M 40 (46 now) … NOT 142.
Now understand this…this was my reality. My process. I know that there are other women who have to make different decisions based on what’s best for them and their situations. So, no judgement if anyone has been in similar shoes and thought differently or made a different decision. But for me… no one ever asked if I wanted a child with my husband; because my answer would have been yes. And to answer the question…the reason I hadn’t had any babies in my 20s and 30s was not because I hadn’t tried. It was because it hadn’t happened.
Pregnant at 40
For the next few weeks, I tried to maintain a low profile as much as I could. I tried to grapple with the fact that I was about to have a baby just a year before my son leaves for college. In all honesty, the scenario was a bit like my mom’s, who had my brother when I was 15. The difference though, she had me at 18; so, she was 33 and my dad was 36 when they had my brother–an acceptable age by society’s standards.
No, my scenario was more like my grandmother’s; who had my mother at 41, while my grandfather was 52 ( I may be a year off). But that was back in 1955, so it was still more acceptable to the culture.
Why, after being married almost 11 years to my husband, did I have to be embarrassed about being pregnant?
Then, I started not to feel so well. I was experiencing a lot of pain from day to day; wasn’t sleeping well; and I could hardly find a comfortable resting position. I learned that I had fibroids, and they were beginning to grow. In fact, I was told I had a fibroid that was the size of a newborn baby’s head. It was further explained it would be difficult for the baby I was carrying to compete with the fibroids. Moreover, I was insensitively told I should have considered a hysterectomy prior to this point, because my periods and sex should have been unbearable.
Well, they weren’t. Or maybe I was just used to them both. Either way, I was offended to hear this crass explanation from a highly recommended OBGYN. Where is the bedside manner and the empathy? In that moment, I remember feeling like a teenager, who was only being told about my body and circumstance, versus being asked and included. I shrank further into myself.
As I approached the end of my first trimester, I convinced myself that if I trusted God and embraced my place in life…everything would fall into place. That weekend, I did it. I went out and bought maternity clothes. I called my mom to let her know I was pregnant; who in turn probably called my aunt. You know how that goes. LOL! Also, I had decided that I would let my job know on Monday and move forward in the place where I was.
I was going to have a baby. That’s what you expect when you’re expecting.
That Sunday night I didn’t feel well at all. I began to have a lot of cramping, so I retreated to bed early. During the night when I got up to use the bathroom, I noticed light spotting in my underwear. I woke my husband and told him I thought I needed to go to the ER. We called first. I was told that light spotting was not abnormal, but if it became dark like a period, I should come in.
Well, when I woke the next morning, it was dark like a period. I was so hurt, disappointed, and embarrassed…as a woman…as a wife.
Why was I having a miscarriage? Women are supposed to have babies. It’s a part of our functioning. What was wrong with me that this was happening? And why would God allow me to get pregnant after I was over the thought, then allow me to accept it, and now take it away? Could someone please do some explaining? This scenario is not working into my need to PLAN and CONTROL the narrative.
I didn’t want the children to know that anything was wrong, so I told my husband we would go to the ER after we got them to school. My son headed out first; giving me a kiss and me smiling and pretending to be ok. My daughter (who we were still in the adoption process with at the time, and who was supposed to be my answer for not becoming pregnant previously) was sitting on a stool between my legs getting her hair combed. Once I finished, my husband would drop her off at daycare and come back to get me. That was the plan.
When my daughter got up to walk out of our room, I stood up from my seated position and that’s when it happened. A large mass of tissue fell from my vagina into my underwear. I fell to the floor and let out a gasp. OH MY GOD! It was official. I had miscarried…without ever making it to the hospital.
The Devil’s in the Details
We put the mass into a specimen cup that I was supposed to be use for my next appointment and then put it in a brown paper bag. How humiliating. The baby I was supposed to be having was now being carried inside a cup in a brown paper bag like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, to either be tested or discarded. Maybe both. Was there any honor to be given to my little person? Was it to end like this?
Silence is what rested between me and my husband on the ride to the hospital. Did he even care what had just happened to me? Why wasn’t he asking me any questions? Did he think that I was a woman enough to carry his child? Would he ever be attracted to me again? Yep! I thought of all of that in the 20-minute ride to the hospital; and those thoughts continued for several years thereafter.
*Just note, this process isn’t just for the once-expectant-mom. The once-expectant-dad is going through his process too, but probably doesn’t know at all how to express it.
The ER doctor confirmed, I had a spontaneous abortion. Has anyone in the medical field ever thought of revising this term? It really makes a once-expectant-mother feel even worse about her circumstances. As if she chose in some way for this to happen. This is my opinion.
The interaction between the medical staff and I was as sterile as the room I was in. They offered no explanation. No support. No empathy. It was as if I had come in for having flu-like symptoms. I was told to take ibuprofen if needed and follow up with my OBGYN. I came into the ER with a bag containing my baby…and left the ER not knowing if there was a bag for my emotions. What was I supposed to do with them? I guess since I wasn’t offered anything, maybe I was supposed to leave them behind just as I did the baby.
What I have learned over the years is that so many women do this…leave it behind. Once- expectant-mothers leave their emotions behind after having a miscarriage, stillborn, or infant loss…somewhere…tucked away…because no one they know may be able to handle the debris left behind from this loss of a being they didn’t personally know. But it will remain the guilt, shame, embarrassment, and insufficiency this woman will carry with her for probably most of her life.
Grief and Support
The ton of bricks hit me. When I got home, I got in the bed, covered my head and stayed there for two weeks. My husband had to call my job and inform them of what they already didn’t know and then of the results that followed. How would I go back and face them? At the end of the day, no one knows what to say (not even spouses, partners, family members, or friends).
Most people actually avoid women who miscarry; expecting that they are emotional wrecks. Which they sometimes are. BUT forgetting, that in that moment, this woman needs emotional support and reassurance more than ever.
She in this moment is questioning everything about herself. Whether she is enough….or loved…or whether she will ever be capable of having the child that she so desires.
And even though for me, in the weeks prior, I wasn’t sure if learning of my child was what I desired…losing him made me realize I desired him more than I ever knew. I wanted him and missed him. We had gotten attached (literally) in the weeks we were together. I wanted a do-over.
There are many women who feel like I did. Some are eventually able to go on, work with their doctors and have successful pregnancies. Others, like me, go on to get pregnant again, just to face multiple miscarriages. I had three in all, over the span of five years. One almost a year to the date of my first; and the third even after undergoing a Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE)(even though I was told my likelihood of becoming pregnant after the procedure was slim to none). Still some women will never know the joy of having a child of their own.
THIS sorrow is a place of silence that 1 in 4 women carry daily, while feeling marginalized, unseen, and unheard. Not only by friends and family but even by their doctors. Conversations of hope and other options are never even offered to some women; particularly women of color. Instead, some of these women are offered hysterectomy consultations.
“Wait, Sir…Ma’am! Did you ask me if I wanted a child? Yes, me…the 40-something-year-old. Is there no hope for me?”
Women with advanced maternal ages are not the only women who struggle. There are also younger women in their 20s and 30s who have this unfortunate journey of miscarriages, stillbirths, and infant losses. The reason I am being so grossly transparent about my experience is because I want all women, especially those of younger maternal ages, to know that they are seen and there is no reason to hide in shame and silence. There is a village of other women who hear and are familiar with your cries and will offer the engagement and support needed to help you get through the process. Whether that be to talk about what you’ve gone through with someone who understands, or to help you advocate for yourself so that you are seen and heard by your medical professional.
Fulfilled and Unfulfilled Expectations
That book, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” ended up in the trash. The third one I don’t even think made it out of the hospital. No, sadly, it doesn’t seem it was in my cards to birth another child, aside from the 22-year-old son that I have. If it was, no one presented my options or possibilities. Nevertheless, I have a beautiful daughter who grew from my heart, not in my womb; and God has also allowed me to love and support so many other children throughout the years. I don’t take any of it lightly for one moment.
Purpose in Pain
What I have come to realize through my experience is how God has allowed me to connect with other women with my same experience. Women who never spoke of their journey with loss until speaking to me. So, I consider myself a steward, a supporter, and a sounding board. My fellow-sister, you are enough. You are seen. You are valuable. Period. The rest…is a process.
No, sometimes it’s not clear to see or understand what to expect when you’re expecting anything out of life. But the expectancy and reassurance that comes from God leads to unexpected and fruitful rewards, despite difficulties. Because of this awareness, I still trust God and acknowledge Him as the strength of my life.
A couple of scriptures that speak to this:
Job 11: 17-18
17 Your life will be brighter than sunshine at noon,
and life’s darkest hours will shine like the dawn.
18 You will live secure and full of hope;
God will protect you and give you rest.
Romans 15: 13
13 May God, the source of hope,
fill you with all joy and peace by means of your faith in him,
so that your hope will continue to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I dedicate this blog to my three heavenly babies, and to all those other women and their children who underwent premature losses of miscarriages, stillbirths, or infant losses. My heart goes out to you and I pray my thoughts, love, and hugs reach you just where you are.
I would like to especially thank three women who stood in the gap with me, to represent so many women who share this experience, by telling their own personal stories on The Conversation which took place October 16, 2020: LaKrisha Lindo, DeAnne Winey, and Ginette Williams. LaKrisha experienced 3 miscarriages and 1 still birth. DeAnne experienced an infant loss, as well as 1 miscarriage. Ginette experienced 1 miscarriage and difficulty becoming pregnant. Ginette, along with myself, DeAnne and LaKrisha, would like to bring more light to this topic of pregnancy and infant loss to help; to remove the stigma of shame, guilt, and silence that has been associated with it for so many years.
Discussed during the conversation:
- Abandoning Shame
- Things people should or should not say to someone who has had a miscarriage
- Finding Support
- Advocacy and Awareness
If you have questions or want to hear more on this, or think that there might be another appropriate segue from this topic and women’s health, let me know. I would love to address it and help to find helpful experts to help us navigate through the process. In healing, we don’t just need the emotions, we also need the facts.
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