I spent the day lining up interviews, talking to real-life, jolly Santas from around the Northeast. It was expectedly refreshing. But even that wasn’t greater than what I was about to do on Thursday. I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled to see my unborn baby for the first time, hear the heartbeat and get that coveted ultrasound photograph that I planned to send in a Christmas card to my in-laws in Ireland.
This pandemic has brought challenges to so many people in various ways, but it may be easily forgotten that there is an entire population of women who are going through the process of pregnancy, essentially alone.
Every check-up, every ultrasound, every benchmark in growing a baby is being experienced alone as partners aren’t usually allowed into these appointments because of Covid-19 restrictions. Sure, they may just be doctor visits, but when it comes to learning every detail of your unborn child’s life, expectant mothers crave these updates. And with them comes a whirlwind of emotions as you work to meet each milestone in the grueling, but beautiful, nine-month journey.
It was the same for me. I was alone when I answered all of the doctor’s questions with pride — that I had a healthy 2-year-old boy at home, that we were rooting for a girl and that I was so sure I was having a girl, I had changed all of my passwords to what would be her name. I then laid down on the examination table, excitedly anticipating the feeling of the warm medical jelly and ultrasound wand on my belly.
I asked the doctor, “can I FaceTime my husband now?” He responded, “let’s just make sure everything is ok first.” For some reason, those words immediately nicked my heart. In my mind, there was no possibility of anything going wrong. The appointment went downhill from there.
I stared at the ceiling, feeling the doctor feverishly move the wand around my stomach as if he lost something. Soon he softly uttered the words I truly didn’t expect to hear — “I didn’t find a heartbeat”.
I couldn’t react. I couldn’t even cry. I just learned my unborn baby was resting in peace in my body and I was numb. I couldn’t even loop my husband in. I have never felt so alone and utterly heartbroken.
The next day was filled with more appointments. Another ultrasound. This time I could see the baby. It was a shapeless shadow, strikingly different than what I remembered from my first pregnancy. The technician described in one image how it would have a coloration if it’s heart was beating. It was grey. Confirmation of the miscarriage, as if I needed another. Tears, alone in front of strangers, came much easier this time. What followed was painful physical moments — all triggering the ultimate rollercoaster of emotions:
Disgust –Why did my body fail me?
Anger — Why did I let myself get excited too soon?
Panic — Did picking up my son cause this?
Shame — Why did I tell my parents, sister and some of my closest friends?
Guilt — Why don’t I feel like putting my son to bed tonight?
Grief — How do my husband and I work through this?
Confusion — What happens next?
I think most journalists would tell you writing can be cathartic. (In fact, I wrote this in a hospital waiting room to prevent myself from crying.)
So, I tried to bury every horrible feeling, as I scripted that story about Santa promising Christmas to kids despite Covid. Now it seemed like the most unfortunate assignment. In one interview, Santa said he just wanted this Christmas to be about keeping hope alive. But how could I write something hopeful when I was feeling so hopeless?
For a reporter who looks for answers, I had none.
Luckily, others did. My own network of women — friends and strangers — who experienced this before me, and who despite the stigma around miscarriages, didn’t keep it a secret. Women who were willing to revisit their own pain and share deeply personal details with me through phone calls and text messages.
My childhood best friend said God doesn’t make mistakes and to “lean into this.” She encouraged me to have faith about where it would all lead. She promised me something good would come from this.
A girlfriend called me. She had a miscarriage years ago. At the time, I remember immediately feeling terrible that I didn’t know what she was feeling. I knew now.
She gave me permission to be angry — a feeling I didn’t expect would come with this kind of heartbreak.
My friend’s wife who shared how it happened to her recently and how she desperately wanted to know why it happened and what she could have done differently.
A lab technician who asked why I looked so sad as she drew my blood. She told me she once experienced the same loss and we broke down in tears together.
Finding myself in pieces of their stories is helping me begin to process my own path toward healing. It helps to know that each of the women I spoke with have had children since or are expecting again — a reassuring sign.
As I still work through my loss, I’m choosing to find a wealth of comfort in my son’s giggles, my husband’s warm hugs and a chorus of strong, courageous women who do “talk about it”; who shared their most agonizing personal loss in order to swallow some of the pain for me. Thank you to those women who encourage me to honor every emotion, knowing it’s the best medicine.
And, thank you to Santa who unsuspectingly promised this 38-year-old hope in a year that brought the ultimate, unimaginable struggle for so many, in so many ways.
I encourage you, whichever emotion you are feeling as we close out this trying year, to find your circle of healers, because they’re looking for you too.