Women have been scared and shamed for far too long.
My fantasy of sharing the news of my planned pregnancy was vivid, more lucid than a dream, and extraordinarily straightforward. I’d take a pregnancy test and learn I was pregnant. I’d immediately tell people. They’d be happy and we’d celebrate!
But I only made it through step one.
After “YES” appeared on a stick wet with pee, I went online and through a series of rabbit holes, descended to a devastating truth: 15–25% of recognized pregnancies will end in a miscarriage, and 80% of these miscarriages occur in the first trimester.
Roughly speaking, this averages to a 20% risk. As in, line me up in a room with just nine other people, and two of us will leave without a baby.
I’d have to wait to tell people, and I’d have to wait to feel anything approaching excitement. Because how can one be happy, when perched on the edge of a staggering precipice?
I don’t wait completely. I can’t.
Twenty minutes after learning the stat about first trimester miscarriage, I call my mom.
“I just took a pregnancy test,” I say, slowly, measured.
“It said yes…”
“BUT! It’s really early. And it’s totally possible that something could happen. I don’t want to get too excited.”
Three days later, I break, comically easy, when two of my best friends inquire about my efforts to conceive.
“Well,” I say. “Actually. I am pregnant.”
Their eyes widen and they start to exclaim…
“BUT! I’m really not supposed to tell people. It’s super early and something could happen,” I quickly interject.
They stop, and nod solemnly instead.
This is not how I planned it.
Sure, I knew people don’t tend to announce their pregnancy right away, but not for three months? Because there’s a 20% chance of losing the baby? This was never covered in the cultural literature we call the Wonders of Childbirth.
Consider: In one recent study, more than half of respondents said they thought miscarriage was extremely rare, occurring in fewer than 6% of pregnancies, with men twice as likely as women to mistakenly believe this.
To report on the actual facts surrounding miscarriage would, perhaps, be unseemly; it’s far more quintessentially American for bright and blissful mommy blogs to revel in the sanctimonious miracle of birth. And it’s far easier to sell your pro-life (anti-choice) case that the life of a fetus must be cherished and protected at all costs if that fetus is presented as a guaranteed baby.
Maybe, too, we don’t hear much about miscarriage because the women who’ve lost babies are made to feel deeply embarrassed. That study about miscarriage misconceptions? It also found that 41% of women felt they had done something to cause their miscarriage, 41% felt alone, and 28% were ashamed.
These staggering stats are rooted in a host of fraught myths about pregnancy/miscarriage. A whopping 76% of people believe stress leads to miscarriage (not true), 64% think lifting heavy objects can cause pregnancy loss (nope), and 20% claim getting into an argument is enough to ensure a fetus’ death (absolutely not).
Whatever the reason, here we are, information-less and left to our own devices, fending for scraps at the bottom of internet rabbit holes.
Perhaps now is the right time to share some other facts society never tells you:
Even after an ultrasound confirms the pregnancy, there’s a >15% chance of pregnancy loss for a woman my age (33).
Most miscarriages are caused by fatal genetic problems in the baby.
1 in 4 women experience a miscarriage in their lifetimes.
More than anything, no one ever tells you: It is not the woman’s fault.
For two weeks, I don’t tell anyone else. Why are you not drinking? I’m trying to be good! Are you pregnant? Not yet…but we’re trying hard! (wink wink) You look tired. God, yes, it’s been a long week!
In the absence of telling, of excitement, I worry instead. The baby is almost invisible, the size of a lentil according to my newly downloaded pregnancy app, and already I’m certain I’m ruining its life.
I wasn’t supposed to drink while we were trying, just in case, but a week before I took the pregnancy test, I indulged in a glass of wine at girls’ night. Could that do it?
What about yoga? Sushi? Sleeping funny? Sex?
My husband is anxious too, already sharing his concerns about dropping the baby on its head, or fucking it up forever thanks to unintentionally bad parenting skills. But my anxiety is deeper, more visceral — because I know if something happens before the baby is born, any suspicion will be directed toward me.
It can’t possibly be his fault. I’m the bearer. I’m the vessel. It has to be mine.
We live in a world, after all, with headlines crowing “One in four miscarriages could be prevented with changes to a woman’s lifestyle”; a world in which women must resort to posting about their partners blaming them for pregnancy loss on anonymous message boards.
“After a pregnancy loss, many women feel a sense of responsibility or guilt for what has happened with their child. These feelings of responsibility can lead to a host of unpleasant emotions that bereaved mothers and their partners carry around for years,” one representative study states.
One day, I eat salmon in a sushi burrito; halfway through eating it, I remember reading something about raw fish being unsafe during pregnancy, and panic. That night, I dream that I inhale a cocktail in a comically large glass with a colorful straw. I awake in a sweat before the dream can end as what’s become my greatest nightmare.If I lose the baby…Will I blame me? Click To Tweet
If I lose the baby, will my husband blame me, divorce me, hate me? Will I blame me? Will I look in the mirror and see a woman whose selfishness has destroyed all that’s good, like Eve turning paradise into ashes?
(To be clear, I would only feel this way because we’ve chosen this pregnancy; if I had not made the choice, if the circumstances were different, I would’ve readily received an abortion. That choice is moral and right and every person’s to make.)
Yes yes, I know I said it’s not the woman’s fault. But I also know that won’t stop anyone from acting like it is.
It’s week 7, and we’re about to have our first ultrasound, an 8:45 am appointment. I oversleep, and spend the morning snapping at everything and nothing in particular. The dog, for barking. My husband, for taking too long to brush his teeth. The silverware, for not being where it should be. I’m operating at a frequency that signals impending explosion, so my husband leaves the house to walk the dog and escape the likely debris.
This appointment has me in a state.
When we finally arrive at the check-in desk, exactly five minutes late (it feels more like five years) I’m immediately sent to a room to pee in a tube. I panic — what if I can’t pee?! — but make it through, and then away we go, to a clinical little room where I’ll be meeting my child for the first time, if indeed the child still exists.
My doctor shoves a tube of some sort into my vagina, and there it is: a tiny flicker on a sonogram screen. My baby. Alive.
We listen to the heart beat, and it’s so fast. Too fast?! But my doctor doesn’t seem worried.
And then, just like that, we’re done. For today, at least, my baby is still here.
I go home, and do more research. At week 7, the chance of miscarriage for someone my age is 11%. Line me up now with nine other women in a room, and only one of us will leave without a baby. This is better!
I recognize this probably sounds overdramatic. But there really is a certain cruelty to this process; to telling us Here is this baby you wanted! But wait! It might not be for long.
Then again, I wonder if maybe this is the ultimate first test.
In the first trimester, in the second, in the third, in labor, in infancy, in grade school, in high school, in college, in beyond — something unexpectedly bad could happen. Stillbirth, dropped on the head, car accident, disease, murder, suicide, falling out of a window, slipping on ice, eating a poisonous mushroom, choking on a sandwich, nuclear explosion.
Any one of these things could happen. Most of these and other things happen all the time.
And so I have a choice — and the first decision of this early motherhood comes sharply into focus. I can be anxious unceasingly, spending my days online, consulting alarming statistics, telling myself I’m just trying to stay prepared. Or I can embrace in this moment that there is a chance, a better chance than not with each passing day, that I will have this baby.
I’m choosing the latter, and to carry this truth throughout motherhood. In a world that scrutinizes, dissects, and penalizes women at every turn from pregnancy to motherhood, I will be shouting my pregnancy news loudly, knowing that whatever happens, I will not be to blame.
And if I have this baby, and especially if it’s a girl? I’ll be ready with my message: Be fearless. Be strong. And my darling, it’s not your fault.