Every year, at the end of January, I feel a little sad. This began in 1997, when I was nearly 11 weeks into my second pregnancy and I miscarried.
There were so many reasons not to be sad–to be hopeful–then. I’d already enjoyed an unremarkable, full-term pregnancy, which culminated in the relatively easy birth of a healthy child. My daughter, a spunky toddler at 2 years old, was a source of great joy in my life.
We hadn’t really been trying to conceive, but we were delighted; I was about six weeks along when I confirmed my suspicions with the home test, and we foolishly assumed that everything would be as easy as the first time. We were uncharacteristically giddy and far less cautious. Arrogant in the face of folk tradition, we shared our news with family and friends even before calling the doctor to schedule a routine ultrasound to check the fetus’ heartbeat.
I had been feeling nauseated and uncomfortable since discovering that I was pregnant. But the morning of the appointment, I woke up feeling fine. I thought I was energized because I’d taken the day off from work to play in the city. It felt so illicit taking a mental health day while knowing that I needed to save my sick days for maternity leave. It didn’t occur to me that something could be wrong.
My spouse and I set out for the hospital together, confident that we knew what to expect now that we were expecting a second time. But when the technician had trouble finding the heartbeat–her furtive search lasted a few minutes that seemed an eternity–we knew it was over. Finally, she gave up and told us: “I’ll page your doctor and she’ll explain everything.” There was nothing to explain.
Intellectually, I realized that mine was a common experience. Many women comforted me with stories of their first-trimester miscarriages, and I knew several women in our community who had suffered worse tragedies in childbirth. Still, I was so emotionally raw that everywhere I looked I saw new mothers radiating post-partum joy. I attended a brit milah (circumcision) within a week of miscarrying and another just three weeks later. I felt empty and alone, despite being surrounded by supportive friends.
At the post-op visit, my doctor reassured me that I had recovered physically and there was “no medical reason to wait.” But she gently cautioned me to follow my heart before trying again to conceive. I wondered how much time would be necessary for this particular wound to heal. My spouse and I gave each other space. I needed to hold my grief close; he recognized that his sorrow was qualitatively different from mine.
In late spring, I saw my doctor for a 12-week visit. She calculated my due date and promised that she would be back in the office before my delivery. Distracted by my own concerns, I had failed to notice that she too was pregnant and had waited to inform me of her impending maternity leave until I passed the 11-week mark, a frightening week for me. On December 2nd, when I called to tell her I was in labor, she hurried to get her new baby bathed and met us at the hospital.
* * * * * * *
It is late January again, 16 years later, and I am a little sad. Of course I am grateful for the incredible gifts in my life, motherhood being at the top of a long list. I don’t think about “what-ifs” and “might-have-beens;” I don’t focus on regrets or mourn, not consciously, anyway. Often the daily concerns of raising three children don’t allow much time for contemplation. Most days the sorrow is outweighed by the joy. Still, at the end of January, I always feel a little sad.
When I told my spouse that I was thinking about writing this piece–not only because it would be cathartic but also because I believed that other women might be struggling with similar feelings–he repeated something that he’d said years ago and gave me permission to share it: “I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what month it was. I was sad at the time, but I never really think about it anymore.” The first time he said it I was angry, but this time I am forgiving.
I tell him that every time I complete a medical history form, every year when I go for a mammogram, I am forced to recall the miscarriage. I remind him of many details from that year, which I am able to recall with alacrity. He simply doesn’t remember these things; maybe because the miscarriage isn’t something that happened to him physically, or because we got so caught up in the subsequent pregnancy and transition from one child to two. Whatever the reasons, we decide that it is normal that we feel so differently about the miscarriage. As long as we can share the joy of parenting, we are happy.
For more stories of miscarriage, read one grandmother’s first open discussion of her miscarriage, what happens when there’s no fetus in the sac, and how one mother moved on from her invisible baby.