Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan are finally pregnant with a healthy baby after three miscarriages, and the way they announced their joy -- by acknowledging the pain it took to get there -- gave hope to me and millions of other women who have experienced pregnancy loss. It also helped me decide once and for all to go public about my own miscarriage and to look back at notes I had written to myself back in April when the loss was still fresh.
Back then, I was writing an article in which the researcher, a miscarriage scientist named Dr. Zev Williams, explained how damaging myths around miscarriages can be. Most notable was the assumption that losing a pregnancy was somehow somebody's fault. This idea of culpability, in turn, is a huge part of why women are advised not to announce their pregnancies before 12 weeks.
"Implicit in keeping an early pregnancy secret," he'd written to me, "is the notion that if there is a miscarriage, you wouldn't want anyone to know."
When I interviewed him, I had just miscarried at around eight weeks. After a joyous day seeing the heartbeat flicker on the ultrasound in early April, we returned for a check-up to find our little one still shrimp-like, slumped against the wall of its placenta.
"Because your embryo made it to the heart beat stage, we know it tried really, really hard to live," my doctor said. My chest swelled and I felt like a proud mother. I squeezed my husband's hand and saved my tears for the elevator.
On the drive home I started shooting off emails immediately: to my editor, the handful of co-workers I had told, a circle of close girlfriends. We called our parents and told them the sad news. Siblings got text messages. And so it went throughout the days that followed; I'd be sitting in a daze on the couch and suddenly remember that more people needed telling. "You told John! Now you have to tell him about the miscarriage," or "Justin knew!"
"God-fucking-dammit," my husband would say, gritting his teeth as he tapped out more emails. Simon, who is naturally an anxious and cautious person, had fretted every time I told someone new about the pregnancy. And now that our worst fears had come true, he was more than a little resentful of the burden of telling so many people about the miscarriage. I felt ashamed. I didn't think I could have prevented the loss, but I knew I had broken the rules and made things worse for us.
"This is why you don't tell people," I repeated to myself in my prim, self-punishing way. "Next time, you'll know better."
I never set out to tell so many people in the first half of my first trimester. I really and truly did try to be that "good" pregnant woman who kept her happy secret with her husband for 12 weeks.
But I couldn't keep my trap shut because I was so unbelievably happy. After 14 months of trying, we had, with the help of our fertility doctor, finally gotten pregnant. And all the love and hope I had been building up during that time exploded into intense, overwhelming euphoria for my embryo. Pregnancy made me feel drunk with joy. It put a stupid smile on my face the whole day. It made me excited about drinking my vegetable smoothies and taking my vitamins. And it made me tell and tell and tell.
I told more than 30 members of our family, friends and co-workers the happy news. I had even blurted it out at a birthday brunch, half-filled with people I didn't know.
So now I had to tell them about the miscarriage. Only now I didn't want to talk about it anymore.
At the office, I wrapped myself in a blanket and worked in silence. My email announcing the miscarriage had also forbidden my co-workers from approaching me about it when I returned the next Monday. I cut off conversation with friends by telling them I felt "resilient" and ready to try again as soon as possible.
It was better this way, I thought at first. Most of the people I had to tell about the loss were appropriately sad and sympathetic upon hearing the news. But some were disappointingly callous about how to treat a grieving person, and some were so distraught that I ended up comforting them about the miscarriage, assuring them everything would work out in the end.
I brushed every cruel comment (or worse, inexplicable radio silence) off my shoulders and felt sorry for my friends and family -- that I had ever burdened them with this information in the first place, that I had made them think about blood and vaginas, or put them in an awkward social situation that, I felt with grim pity, had let their absolute carelessness and stupidity shine through.
Disappointing reactions, I figured, were the wages of my sin. Heck, even I was pissing myself off. Every morning I would wake up and triumphantly shout-sing, "I'M OV-ER IT!" Then my husband, grieving and sweet, would gather me up in an embrace and whisper tenderly: "What the fuck is wrong with you?"
Still, as weeks passed, something interesting began to happen. I started finding out -- as so many women new to miscarriage do -- that I actually knew several women who had personally experienced a pregnancy loss. I just didn't know it yet.
An old school friend, who had also seen some shit as an active duty military member, said that her miscarriage was "the worst pain she had ever experienced." A loving older family member who has three grown children said that she "never thought" about her several miscarriages, and assured me that I wouldn't either, in time.
An ex-boyfriend's mom, who had an early miscarriage in between her two children 30 years ago, quietly shared that she thought of herself as a "mother of three." A good traveling buddy and self-admitted lapsed Catholic said she hoped she would one day meet her baby in heaven.
What amazed and humbled me about these healing words is that the one type of conversation that succeeded in lifting my spirits after the pregnancy loss would not have been possible if I hadn't been such a Chatty Cathy and broken all the rules about discretion during early pregnancy and remained silent after a miscarriage.
These women were pretty much the only people I could talk to without feeling misunderstood or overlooked or diminished. No matter what they said or how they said it, or even if I disagreed with them, their words were like cool water pouring over my head, washing away my tears and giving me back my strength.
And yet, when I first finished this blog post back in May, I turned it into my editor and then decided not to publish it anymore. "I don't feel that way anymore!" I told my therapist, who had gently encouraged me to share my experience in an essay. More honestly, the reason might have been something more like, "I don't like being publicly associated with failure!"
Yet seeing the Zuckerberg-Chan pregnancy/loss announcement on Friday jolted me back to my original thought: "Miscarriages aren't shameful secrets, and neither was mine!"
Yes, losing my pregnancy was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. But it was also a universal experience, and one that now connected me to a cloud of mothers like Priscilla who gave me hope for myself and the future of my family.
In Williams' survey, 28 percent of women who had experienced a miscarriage reported that learning about a celebrity's pregnancy loss helped them feel less isolated, but that number jumped to 46 percent when it was a friend sharing about their own miscarriage. I hope no woman I love goes through a pregnancy loss in the future, but the odds are that about one in five will.
That's why I'm publishing this blog now. And, I suspect, why the Zuckerberg-Chans felt compelled to share their experience. So that anybody I know (or don't know, for that matter) who experiences a pregnancy loss in the future doesn't have to grope around in the dark for weeks before feeling understood. Come to me, tell me your story, and I'll tell you mine.
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