I knew it could take a while to get pregnant, so when we decided to start trying, my expectations were set at about 6 months before we would look at REALLY trying. We headed off to Europe for a very belated honeymoon and I wasn’t surprised when my period was late, travel can do that, I told myself. About a week after my period was due, it started in the airport bathroom as we prepared to leave Austria for southern France. Those cramps weren’t normal cramps and the clots were not normal clots. I’d navigated this monthly for 18 years and this time was clearly different. Doubled over in pain, gushing blood, I passed what I would later find out was a 5-week old fetus, in the airport bathroom. The trip continued with me bleeding the rest of the time and feeling emotionally drained. I didn’t want to get out of bed-- not in the cutest small French town or near the beaches in Spain. When we got back my periods for the next three months were all over the place, much like my emotions. It was like tears were living behind my eyes all the time, just waiting to pour out.
I checked in with my doctor, who, after running a series of blood tests said, “I think your May period was a miscarriage. Your iron and calcium levels are really low and if you were pregnant your body would’ve pulled from any reserves you had to try and sustain the pregnancy. The timing of it, coupled with your late period in June, and emotional swings are all signs of a miscarriage. I’m really sorry. It’s quite common and doesn’t mean you won’t be able to have kids.”
A few weeks later, I was back in Maine for our annual family vacation, the one where my cousins who are like sisters bring their children and I play the role of other parent since their husbands can rarely take the whole week off work. I start my day in the morning with them, getting kiddos ready for the day, and proceed through each day with a child on my body for beach naps or getting lunches together for the kiddos. Being at the beach with kiddos fills my soul, except this year there was a gaping hole in my chest.
Mama needed a hand, outnumbered by kids, so I wrapped up the babe and walked the beach as she fell asleep on my chest. Once she was out, I brought a chair to the edge of the tide and leaned back, allowing her to snooze with the waves crashing in the background. As an elderly couple walked by, the woman paused and said, “Ohhh, soak up those moments. They go so fast and are just the best.” “I will,” I replied, the tears pouring from behind my sunglasses before she turned to keep walking. I sobbed, my tears dropping on her sun hat, as I wondered if I would get to have the chance to do this with my own babe, to soak up those fleeting moments that are just the best.
And then I found a therapist. Eliza came into my life and pulled me out of the depths. In the months to come, she would hold space for me to feel and help me encounter my biggest fears. She would lead me to the question that parts of me had built an army around, working so hard to protect me from having to answer, “Will I get to be a mom?”
In 2019, I tried sooo many things to try and get and stay pregnant. Weekly acupuncture, herbs, and natural remedies. I stripped my calendar down to try and reduce outside stress and focused on creating space for my mental health to be a priority. I went gluten & dairy-free. I removed all added sugar from my diet and stopped drinking any alcohol. I cycled through feelings of “I will do anything in my power to get my body healthy enough to create and carry a baby,” to “How do people ‘accidentally’ get pregnant.” Hearing folks say things like, “I just look at my husband and get pregnant” filled me with fury, all the while running a business that supports folks in raising emotionally intelligent humans. Kids have always been my world, and the thought of not becoming a mom to my own just didn’t feel like a world I even wanted to live in.
I entered December feeling defeated, all the things I was trying weren’t working. I was crushing the work I’d been doing in years prior to build a relationship of trust with my body where I could eat intuitively and respect what it needed. I was living the most restrictive diet I’d ever had, free from gluten, dairy, added sugar, and alcohol. I was doing weekly acupuncture and Moxibustion. Sex had become operational, sometimes desiring a sperm deposit without wanting to go through the process of connection. As a last-ditch effort, I added in a Young Living Progessence Plus essential oil to the daily routine of vitamins and herbs. I sobbed into Zach’s arms after calling the insurance company to find out they would not cover any fertility treatments, and alas, made an appointment for Friday, January 3rd to start seeking fertility treatment anyway. I felt like I was giving up, like my body had failed me.
We headed to Maine to celebrate Christmas with family. It wasn’t a giant shock when the snowstorm rolled in and we were snowed in for two extra days, allowing us to ring in the New Year with those same beach cousins. I was supposed to get my period on NYE, but it had been late without a positive test so many times in the previous months, that it didn’t feel exciting anymore when it was late. With the kids playing in the snow, Rach said, “I just feel like you’re pregnant this time. Maybe just take a test.” “I don’t want to navigate the disappointment,” I told her, but within a half-hour, I’d texted her husband who was out at work, and asked him to pick me up a couple of dollar store tests. I took one once he got home. Nope, just one line. Damn. Again. Screw it, I poured a glass of red wine and snuggled into Zach. “I just want it to happen,” I whispered. “I know, babe, me too.”
I kickstarted New Years Day without a period, peeing on a stick like I had so many times the previous year. Negative. I set it on the bathroom counter at Rachel’s, and headed into the living room, to drink my coffee and snuggle with her 8-month-old. It’s so easy to be with Rach, to be myself with her, full of sadness without having to hide it. What a perfect place to be as I started the new year with another negative test. Zach, who often wakes up after me, came out and said, “Is that two lines?” “Is WHAT two lines?!” I exclaimed. As he headed back to the bathroom I sternly announced, “This better not be some joke. This is NOT a funny joke.” Zach returned with the test, complete with two bold lines. “OMG, it is. Clear as day,” I said in shock. Rachel jumped from her chair, grabbed her son from my arms, started yelling in excitement, and dancing around the room. Her husband and daughter chimed in from the kitchen asking what was going on. “Alyssa has a baby in her belly!” Rach squealed with joy. I sat, stunned as Zach leaned in to kiss me, a smile beaming across his face.
Maybe I was in shock? It just didn’t feel real. I thought it would feel different. I thought I would feel different.
We told family right away and a week later, I shared it with our Seed village on social media. I knew there was a chance we would miscarry, and I knew that I wanted to share about the miscarriage if it happened. After silently carrying my rape story for years as a teen and silently carrying my 2019 miscarriage journey, I knew that walking in pain without company wasn’t best for me. After all, I co-created the Collaborative Emotion Processing method… collaboratively processing emotions was kind of my jam.
On January 11th we were visiting family in upstate New York when I woke in the middle of the night with really bad cramps. Damn, this is it, I thought. I worked through the cramps alone as Zach and I were sharing a room with my cousin in an old house where the floors creaked and I didn’t want to wake anyone. There was no blood at night and I checked right when I woke up. Still no blood. PHEW. That must’ve just been normal? Maybe my uterus is growing? Idk? Science? I wavered back and forth the month of January between feeling like I had lost the baby and trying to trust my body and believe that I was still pregnant. No bleeding felt like a good sign, and then the nausea hit. Boy was I nauseous. Great, I thought, this is a good sign. I can absolutely handle nausea if it means I’m still pregnant.
We met with our homebirth midwives, as a sexual assault survivor and with a mom who had 5 uncomplicated, unmedicated, vaginal births, I’d known for a long time that homebirth was my first choice. I didn’t want someone that I didn’t know, who happened to be on for that shift, in my vagina and I wanted to be able to control the environment I’d give birth in. Anyway, we interviewed midwives, found ones we absolutely loved, and set our date for our ultrasound to hear that heartbeat at the closest hospital.
January 31st, the day we would get to hear that babe’s heartbeat before heading off to spend the weekend with my family in upstate New York and tell our nieces and nephews about their newest cousin. I picked Zach up from work on his lunch break and we headed to the hospital. As we sat in the waiting room he asked, “How are you feeling? You seem quiet.” “I think nervous. I just have this feeling.” Into the room we went, gown on, legs up, which, by the way, I’m glad my midwife had told me. It’s an internal ultrasound, something hospitals should give all humans a heads up about (hello sexual assault trigger). A woman came in and introduced herself, explaining that she would get all the pictures and then an OB would be in to chat. She had a medical student with her who looked me straight in the eyes and smiled as he introduced himself. He was so warm and also made sure to include Zach. As they moved the wand around and snapped pictures she taught him about what they were doing and why, until the room filled with a different energy. “Are you sure you have your dates right?” she asked. “Yeah, we had a positive test just over 4 weeks ago and there isn’t a lot of wiggle room on the dates. Why?” I asked, already knowing the answer. “Hm, the baby is measuring about 5 weeks and 3 days,” she said, “I’ll finish taking the measurements here and the OB will be in to talk about what that could mean.” As they left the room the medical student put his hand on Zach’s shoulder, a thoughtful gesture I remember noticing.
I guess it was probably ten minutes of waiting, but that was the longest ten minutes of my life. Tears involuntarily streamed down my face as Zach held my hand, unsure of what to say. What do you even say? The OB opened the door and came just far enough into the room where she wasn’t in the hallway, but barely. She stood there as the medical student squeezed in behind her. “Well, the baby doesn’t seem to be growing and we couldn’t hear a heartbeat. Are you sure the dates are correct?” she asked coldly. “Yeah, I’m sure,” I managed to get out of my blocked throat. “Hm, well, we can do another ultrasound next Friday to measure fetal growth, ya know, to give it the ol’ college try. I will order the ultrasound and you can schedule on your way out. Do you have any questions for me?” What? The ol’ college try? I was stunned. I shook my head no, unable to utter a word in that moment. She left abruptly and the medical student looked Zach and I both in the faces saying, “I’m so sorry.” I wanted to hug him.
Booking the ultrasound for the following Friday took forever as I worked so hard to keep the tears from bursting, yearning so badly to be back in my car in the parking garage, not sure I could hold my cry in much longer. We skirted out as fast as possible and as my car door shut my insides exploded out. I sobbed and cried that primal, gut-wrenching cry. “I’m so mad at my body,” I said, once I could speak the words. Zach held me as we cried together.
I drove him back to work so he could wrap things up and got myself a chocolate milkshake. After sobbing through phone calls with my closest humans, I texted Aubrey, my midwife. I told her the news and she asked if I was in a space to talk on the phone. With Zach driving, on the road to see my family, I called her. Gosh, her voice was so soothing. She validated the awful care I’d received from the OB and held space for my sadness and grief. She told me that there were other options to confirm the end of the pregnancy other than the Friday ultrasound if I was interested. YES PLEASE. I did not want to go back to that hospital. I didn’t want that room to be the one I was sitting in when we got the confirmation. We chose to do two blood tests the following week to test my HCG levels and confirm that they were dropping. Monday and Wednesday. Monday’s results showed HCG levels that fit into me being 9 weeks pregnant, which explained the nausea and first trimester symptoms, oh yeah, I was still experiencing all of that, too. Wednesday confirmed what we feared and what a part of me had known ever since that night of cramping 4 weeks prior, my HCG was dropping, albeit VERY slowly, but the mere fact that it wasn’t rising meant the babe wasn’t alive.
Aubrey so beautifully validated the hard emotions, while giving me hope that I would get and stay pregnant one day. She explained our options for moving forward. Option 1: Schedule a D&C, a surgical procedure to remove the fetus and end this pregnancy. Option 2: Take misoprostol to kick start contractions and help my body miscarry the fetus. Option 3: Wait for my body to do this all naturally on its own. I really wanted to trust my body. I wanted to do this without medical intervention, but I also knew that I was not in a mental state to wait for weeks or months, feeling sick, with a baby inside me that wasn’t alive.
Option 2: Miso. “90% of women who take misoprostol will contract and start bleeding, beginning the miscarriage process within 24 hours.” I am the 10%.
We decided to embark on this on a cold, February Saturday, giving me two full days with Zach at home, anticipating what Aubrey described as “intense contractions with a lot of blood.” I placed those chalky pills under my tongue, following the instructions to wait for them to dissolve into my mouth around 9:30 am. We hung out, played a board game, and tried to stay occupied so we weren’t sitting and waiting. Then it started, the contractions came in waves, and within a half of them starting, I was leaning over my bed rocking back and forth breathing through them. The entire day went on to be very primal, in my body, not my mind. Contractions came and went for hours until they ceased before dinner. “Contractions happened all day, but only a little spotting at the end of the day,” I texted Aubrey. “Can you talk on the phone?” she replied. Aubrey told me that 90% statistic and then said, “This is really rare, but would you be down to take the second dose tomorrow? Your body needs to bleed in order to end this pregnancy.” “Sure,” I said. Followed by, “This sucks.” “I know,” Aubrey validated. “I’m here to text or call anytime. Keep me posted.”
Sunday was similar to Saturday, except it ended with me sobbing about not bleeding after two hard, exhausting days of contractions. I beat the odds again. Damnit, I didn’t want to beat the odds anymore. We cleared my February work schedule as I was set to be presenting and feared being on stage when the bleeding began. I tried to hold space for my body, to allow it to be on a timeline different than my head's was. I wanted to trust that it could do this.
Two weeks later, en route to upstate New York to help take care of a sick family member, Aubrey called. “It’s been a couple of weeks since the miso. I’d like to connect you to an OB I worked with as a nurse-midwife for years, who is really great if you’d be okay with that. At this point, we are leaving the scope of my practice.” “Yeah, I am actually feeling like I need to schedule a D&C anyway. The waiting is getting to be too hard.” Aubrey connected me and I made an appointment for an ultrasound the following week with that OB at a hospital an hour away from me rather than the one 5 minutes from my house. 30 minutes after that appointment was scheduled I started cramping in the car on my solo drive. Two nights later, in the midst of caring for my family member, the cramping intensified. I couldn’t sleep and had to move through them again. Ahh, these were the contractions. They came in waves as I texted Zach, 5 hours away, carless in Vermont. Saturday morning I woke up, still contracting, and this time, with some blood. “I need you here,” I texted Zach asap. His mom drove him 5 hours to drop him off and turn around to drive home. She’s incredible.
Over the next week, my body lost more blood than I’ve ever seen. I woke up every night in the middle of the night for about 3 hours to pass giant clots and sway through contractions. I’ve never felt so lonely in this world as I did those nights. Even when Zach woke up with me, there’s something about being the only one physically experiencing it that is so isolating. I found comfort in connecting with other women who had been there, mamas who were up feeding their kiddos in the middle of the night would join me in Instagram DMs, validating how shitty it was not to know when it would end, and knowing that when it did, I’d be back to an empty uterus.
Over the next month, the bleeding mainly slowed to spotting. I’d have days where it felt like it was done and then bam, massive clots, and contractions would come-- during family game night, at Easter dinner, after lifting a laundry basket. One day my FIL was visiting from out of town. We were all hanging out in the living room when I felt a bad cramp, bad enough to have to pause and breathe. I’d learned to do so without drawing attention to myself, silently feeling the pain. I stood up to go to the bathroom when my favorite underwear filled with blood. The 15 steps to the bathroom suddenly felt like 15 acres. I got there and carefully slipped down my pants to angle my body backward over the toilet and pull my underwear down to release the deluge of blood into the toilet. After the bleeding paused, I cleaned myself up, washed my underwear in the sink, and hung them in the bathroom closet. I popped a pad into my jeans so I could get back to my bedroom and change without dripping blood down my legs. The baby died almost three months ago, why was this still happening? When would it stop?
Aubrey suggested connecting with that OB again, the one I was supposed to have the ultrasound with but had canceled because my body was miscarrying. I had been hesitant to go the OB route in March because COVID had swept through the U.S. and our outside world was shut down. But I agreed with her that it was April and I shouldn’t still be hemorrhaging blood, so I made the call. Over the course of the next 6 weeks, I’d meet this incredible OB who kickstarted our relationship by saying, “I’ve worked with generations of uteruses. They are all so smart and we will figure out to best support yours.” He was my angel on earth. An ultrasound showed that there was fetal tissue left in my uterus. Why wouldn’t my body just let go? We went on to test my HCG levels over the course of three weeks to see how fast or slow it was dropping. Remember the first HCG test, back in February, the ones that were 90k+? Well, now we were down to 15, but holding firm at 15. No matter how much my body bled, it still seemed to hold onto this small piece of the pregnancy. “What was it holding onto?” I wondered each night as my eyes closed.
We scheduled the D&C for Monday, May 11th, three days before my 31st birthday. I did NOT want to enter 31, still pregnant with this babe who had been dead since January 11th. I didn’t have any patience left in me. The entire experience at Copley Hospital was incredible. Every nurse, every doctor, every interaction was empathetic, thoughtful, and nurturing. I felt so safe there. Recovery from the D&C was surprising. Quite *easy* the first couple of days. No cramping, very light bleeding. Holy Hannah, I’d made it. I woke up on Thursday, on my birthday in a familiar place, contractions, clots, cramping, bleeding. I survived the next few days. That’s where I was, survival mode. One day at a time. I CAN do this. It will end. This won’t be your forever. I cycled through mantras each day because the reality was that life hadn’t stopped around me. I was still running a business. We were entering into a big launch. I had people depending on me. I NEEDED to be okay. I didn’t have time to crumble right now. So, I survived it.
About 10 days after the D&C the bleeding stopped, but I kept waiting for it to start again. It felt like the temporary pause that I’d had the last four months of this journey. The first time I had sex after the D&C was the most ecstatic I’d been in a long time. “OMG! There isn’t blood!” I yelled to my husband for 24 hours after having sex. I hadn’t had sex without blood since 2019 and this was the end of May 2020. I went into launch mode for work and my body took a back seat mentally, thank goodness. It’s so exhausting to think about what your body is or isn’t doing all the damn time.
The time had come to head back to Maine, to see Rach for the first time since the positive test, since COVID, since my world had changed. My uterus plays by her own set of rules, so one day before we left for Maine I got my first period. On day four of my period, I told Rach how rad it was to be bleeding without intense pain. “How neat is that?” I asked her. My uterus, in true dominant fashion, heard me loud and clear. That night as I got ready for bed my cramping went from 0-1000. Zach sat with me in Rachel’s bathroom, the one he found the positive test in, as I writhed in pain, unable to sit or lay, trying the shower, but just crying my way through it. “I don’t want to live like this anymore,” I told him. “I know, love. I know,” he said softly. The pain got so bad that I threw up, my body in distress. Eventually, I fell asleep on a toddler mattress on the floor with my face down in the pillow. The days that followed were just as chill as the days that had come before, minimal cramping, light bleeding. I hear you, uterus. You get to do your own thing. You always have.
On the other side of my first period after the D&C, after 2 miscarriages in a year, I feel like I’m right back where I started. My uterus has never felt so empty. I wonder how it will be to trust my body again. As I chatted with my therapist friend, Lynyetta, she said, “Man, it’s like infidelity. Having to rebuild trust, not sure if you can trust. It’s heavy and it won’t be easy, but you aren’t alone.” What I know without a shadow of a doubt in my mind is that humans with uteruses are badass. We experience pain that is so incredible, all the while showing up in life. I know that my pain was believed by my medical team because I have white skin. I know that Black women and women of color need our systems to change because the medical system is systemically racist. I know that it cost us thousands of dollars to have this last miscarriage and that should never be the case. I know that we need to share our stories, without shame, without someone telling us what we should’ve done because healing happens with connection. I know that it’s okay if allowing myself to wonder if I will be a mama one day elicits tears and sadness every time. I know that it’s okay to feel all of our emotions and not to find a silver lining, just to be in it. I know that I am standing here today with every bit of strength that I have because of the village surrounding me with love and support on this journey.
I finished writing this in June 2020. Stay tuned for part II on navigating pregnancy after loss as we found out about our 3rd pregnancy.