After 5 Miscarriages, What's Next?
For the past six years, I’ve been writing in a diary to a child who doesn’t exist. This was supposed to be my child. Our child. My husband’s and mine. And I believed that with the help of two fertility doctors, the Secret, daily shots of blood-thinning Lovenox into my belly, progesterone supplements, new-moon rituals, two acupuncturists, and a fleet of psychics, numerologists, energy healers, and astrologers, writing to this being who had yet to incarnate would actually bring him or her to life. In fact, after reading one particular “Modern Love” installment, I very nearly booked a trip to Bhutan to climb my way to a faraway mountaintop temple that allegedly granted every unfulfilled wish for a baby that was brought there.
I was willing it to happen. In my words, in my actions, and in my dreams. And it didn’t work.
Over the past five years, I’ve had five miscarriages. Seven, if you include two “chemical pregnancies,” which is medical code for early miscarriage. Also, over the years, I’ve shared these experiences with various people; sometimes planned, sometimes not. The reactions have been mixed: Some are deeply sad for me, some are shocked, some simply nod in a sort of solemn understanding or, occasionally, share their own difficult story of reproductive loss. Almost unanimously, though, they all have offered a version of the same thing in responsive support: Don’t worry, you’ll have a child one day. You’d be a great mother.
I used to think so. All the time. But now, I’m not so sure.
Even though I’m in my mid-40s — a full decade past the threshold when the global medical community has ascertained women’s fertility begins to really rapidly plummet — I don’t believe my window has yet closed. Delusional, maybe. But I’m healthy, I have a lot of energy, and, not least of all, I have a terrific husband who, in true Lean In wisdom, would be a model example of a bona fide “equal partner.” From time to time, I still imagine myself holding a baby that is mine, feeling the warmth of this soft, tiny body against my own skin, looking into his/her eyes and having that “feeling” wash over me. This feeling is the one so many of my mother friends have told me is unmistakable, intoxicating, addictive: This person has chosen you. They are part of you. Everything is now different.
I just don’t imagine this as often as I once did, and I’m not sure what to make of it.
To be honest, what has been harder to reconcile over the past few years, in the wake of so much loss, is something much simpler, and more raw, than predicting my own future as a mother: It was embarrassment. And, really, the shame of not being chosen. Shame that I was skipped over. That my body didn’t work the way I wanted it to, that I couldn’t do the "job" that was given to me. Shame and, God, guilt that I didn’t try hard enough, see enough doctors, spend every last penny on more treatments, tests, experts, and ancient cures. So much shame that I had let my partner down, because surely, if he was married to someone younger and assumably more fertile, he could be a father right this very moment.
Picture this (because I do all the time): My tall, athletic, seemingly ageless husband, walking down the sidewalk in our quiet Brooklyn neighborhood, with a child. They stroll along, smiling, my husband often glancing down at this mini-person; the mini-person, continuously gazing up at my doting husband, in attachment, wonder, and love. And then, I literally want to crush a wine glass in my hand to punish myself for having robbed my husband of this reality — an idyllic scene that, in a parallel universe, with said younger, prettier, more fertile wife, is actually happening.
Here’s another scene that continues to haunt me from time to time. It was Fashion Week, several years ago, about a month following my first miscarriage. I was new to the whole “infertility” thing. I thought, like most hopeful yet hopelessly naive people who are newly pregnant, that surely a pregnancy will lead to a live baby. Right? It didn’t. And I had to sheepishly un-tell all the people I’d been sharing the news with.
I was still pretty shocked and saddened by it. And then, at a party during Fashion Week, I ran into a designer who had always been particularly lovely and kind to me over the years. We said hello, hugged, and clinked our respective complimentary cocktails. When she asked me how I was doing, I told her fine, but then inadvertently blurted out something along the lines of that I’d just had a miscarriage. I don’t remember exactly how I told her, only that I told her, and am still not entirely sure why. In hindsight, I think I wanted her interest, her acknowledgment that it was okay, because I respected her so much. Maybe I even wanted her sympathy; it’s so hard to say, given I was still making sense of this strange and unfamiliar void in my belly, like a presence almost, which is possibly the most ironic and cruel feeling to inevitably follow a miscarriage.
I was willing it to happen. In my words, in my actions, and in my dreams. And it didn’t work.
I’ve thought a lot about that night over the years. And with every miscarriage — I averaged two a year for a while — that pity-party reel switched on in my brain. She, this striking, successful woman, gazing back at me from a magazine spread with her own perfect, healthy, living child. And then there’s me: booking yet another appointment for a sonogram where I would, inevitably, feel such terrible anguish and sympathy for the growingly nervous, always apologetic technician who frantically tried, over and over, with her magic wand to detect a heartbeat pulsing there on the screen. In the handful of times my pregnancies have led to the fateful moment of an ultrasound — generally, at six to eight weeks after implantation — I’ve never seen a heartbeat. Only a shadow of an embryo…empty stillness. The soul has left the premises.
I know, that sounds so sad. But if it seems sad to read, it’s hard to describe what it was like to experience it, over and over again. Each time, my wonderful, kind, hopeful husband would accompany me to the radiologist’s office. After daily blood testing to ensure my hormone counts were high enough to confirm there was, in fact, something growing inside of me, the sonogram was imminent. The same thing would happen, sitting in those ugly waiting-room chairs, early mornings before work, CNN squawking on an overhead flat-screen, dated copies of People magazine everywhere. Every time, my husband would nod, squeeze my hand, look at me, knowing I was sick with fear, and say assuredly, “This time.” I wanted to believe him. But it was never “this time.” Truth be told, the last sonogram I had, about a year and a half ago, my husband actually broke down beside me weeping as I stared blankly at the screen when the technician determined what I had already known. No heartbeat. No baby.
Over all those years, those strange, unknowable moments, I soothed my husband as I soothed myself. With wine. Cigarettes. Crying. Writing in my journal. Reading spiritual writings that attempted to keep my hope afloat. I went to see a birthing coach who I’d read had a lot of success working with couples who’d experienced numerous “spontaneous abortions” (another terrific term, courtesy of our fertility doctors). I saw her exactly twice, but on the very first visit she told me something that stayed with me: Birth is a mystery. That was it. Simple enough. And though I’m sure the billion-dollar baby-making industry would beg to differ, it strangely lifted me out of my despair. Even if only for the time it took to move on to the next option, whatever that would be.
And, so, with every failed pregnancy, we kept open minds and began exploring other routes: Calling upon an adoption lawyer referred by a friend; seeing a new fertility doctor to explore more aggressive treatments (“the best in the country!”). One of my favorite psychics even told us spring of 2015 was “a great window!” The hope was so appealing, so familiar to me.
But, this time, it was fleeting. Somewhere along the line, over the past two years, hope quietly morphed into ambivalence...or maybe even indifference — but my husband told me he’s truly uncomfortable with this word, as, I suppose, am I, since it equates to such unfeeling, to nothingness. But, in a way, that’s the only way I can describe it — indifferent to positive results from new fertility testing; indifferent to friends’ continued encouragement of successful reproduction; indifferent to success stories (“Kelly Preston had a baby at 48!!”). Indifferent to my husband’s growing indifference, or ambivalence. And so, we stopped trying. No discussion or big intervention. For the time being, babies were off the menu.
Until they weren’t.
We have to eventually give ourselves permission to say 'Fuck it' when we need to.
Which means, we might be trying, we might not. I simply refuse to decide either way. Honestly, the urge comes and goes, along with my feelings about booking an appointment to explore next steps with our new doctor in a few weeks. I’m not sure how I’m going to feel about what he’s going to say or recommend at this stage of attempting to become first-time parents. It might be so grim it makes us laugh. It might be so optimistic it makes me even more indifferent. I really have no idea, and, for the time being, I’m not beating myself up about it. What I've learned through all of this, and reading about other women’s grief and struggles through miscarriage after miscarriage, is that we have to eventually give ourselves permission to say “Fuck it” when we need to. To put the weight of all the shame and loss and crushing disappointment aside, even for just a while, to remember what it feels like to be free. Otherwise, what is the alternative? I just don’t want to look ahead to another five years of wondering and waiting and mourning a life I’m not entirely sure I’m supposed to have anyway. And so...I’m not going to.
Just two years ago, a friend whom I loved very deeply was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. I was floored by the news, as so many of us were. She was young — just 36. She was someone we’ve featured on this site, whom I admired and loved spending time with. She gave me gifts of jewelry she made with her hands, along with late-night dance parties in our favorite Brat Pack bar in Palm Springs. She was a magnificently luminous, hilarious woman, inside and out, and she died just as quickly as the cancer laid claim to her body, this past June. I cry about her being gone a lot. Sometimes I forget, and then remember, and I am heartbroken all over again. But she left me something that somehow brings me relief. Or maybe even hope, whatever of that remains.
Just a few years before her death, she wrote me in an email about a dream she’d had about me. When she told me about it in person, I was so completely moved by it, stirred in my heart, that I was afraid I would forget it. So I asked her to email me the dream, which she did, and I now have it archived forever, I hope.
In this dream, we were having lunch in a bright, sunny apartment, we were all laughing, drinking wine, as we liked to do. She remarks that out the window she sees a swimming pool down below, blue, clear, beautiful. I am holding a baby in my arms…and there is another small child crawling across the floor. Another friend of ours is maybe there; she can’t be sure. She goes on to describe the high ceilings and the streaming light of the space — a place I hadn’t known. But, you know, my husband and I moved just this past January, and somehow, all those years ago, she described a familiar scene of our lives, and the exact home we now live in.
Except for the babies. They’re not part of the picture. Yet. Maybe. I guess we’ll see.