Here Is Exactly What Happened When I Had A Miscarriage

Illustrated by: Ly Ngo
Late this spring, I was pregnant, and then, just as summer arrived, I was not. It was scary and sad, and there are probably a lot of very emotional things I could say about it — and someday I may well write about those feelings, as well as about how I hate phrases like “rainbow babies,” and how “At least you know you can get pregnant” and “This happens to a lot of people” are both accurate things to say but probably shouldn’t be your initial reaction when someone tells you they lost a pregnancy. But the main thing I felt about the experience was unprepared. When I discovered I was at a high risk for having one, I realized I barely even knew what a miscarriage was, not to mention how to tell if I was having one, how to know whether I needed medical care, or how to deal with myself and my life, physically, while it was happening.

What I really wanted to know was this: What should I expect? And it was very, very hard to find answers. Partly, I think, because — kind of like pregnancies, and labor and childbirth experiences — miscarriages vary widely, and there’s not necessarily a Platonic ideal here, no precisely “normal” run of show.

So that’s why I’ve decided to tell this story straight: the details of what actually happened during my particular miscarriage. It’s not going to be pretty — in fact, it’s going to be very, very ugly, so please do not read this if you’re easily grossed out — but I’m doing this for everyone else who may be going through it right now, or who will in the future, or who did in the past. Because the one sappy thing I will bring myself to say is this: Women go through some incredibly shitty shit, and they are amazing, and this experience revealed that to me in a way that I never could have anticipated. So this is for them. And for me.

Friday, May 20: I’ve been trying to get pregnant for about eight months, so I attend my first appointment with the acupuncturist (and all-around lovely person) Aimee Raupp, who specializes in fertility. She does my workup, and while I insist that I had my period earlier this week — at least, I think I had it — she thinks I may be pregnant and suggests taking a test this weekend.

Sunday, May 22: I take a pregnancy test. It seems positive? The plus sign is a little faded. I run to Target and buy the digital kind, and that one is pretty unmistakeable. I realize that wasn’t my period last week; it was implantation bleeding, and I’m about five weeks along. Freak-outs ensue. My husband, Akshay, is elated. I’m 30% elated, 70% certain this is too good to be true. We call our parents and our best friends. There are lots of tears.

Saturday, June 4: Akshay and I are on vacation in Dublin. We have sex. I use the bathroom, and there’s blood when I wipe. It doesn’t seem to continue, so I try not to worry, but I'm pregnant and bleeding, so it's hard not to.

Sunday, June 5 through Thursday, June 16: I find brownish spots in my underwear, or see a drop or two in the toilet or when I wipe, almost daily for nearly two weeks. I call my doctor, and she says it’s quite common and that there’s not necessarily a need to worry unless there is a greater volume of discharge and it looks like red blood. It never gets to that point, so again, I try not to worry, but.

Friday, June 17: I’m about eight weeks along now. I visit my new Ob/Gyn for my first prenatal appointment, where she says she’ll do an ultrasound to check for a heartbeat and make sure everything looks good so far. She inserts the ultrasound wand. Akshay grabs my hand — it’s like we’re setting the scene for “that ultrasound moment.” And then, the doctor calmly turns the screen our way to show us. She says, “This dark area is the gestational sac, but I don’t see anything inside, and I don’t detect a heartbeat. There’s a chance that we miscalculated and you aren’t as far along as you thought, but I would say you have about a 60% chance that this is not a viable pregnancy.” We spend the weekend crying.
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Illustrated by: Ly Ngo
Monday, June 20: I’ve gotten myself to a place where I feel comfortably numb. And I have a photo shoot today for work, so I need to be on point. In a way, it’s nice to have a distraction — when you’re on set, it’s busy, and there’s no sitting at your desk and staring out the window and ruminating. The shoot goes well, but on my bathroom breaks at the studio, I notice that the spotting has gotten worse. It’s not quite red blood, but it looks sort of like the last day of a period: dark brown, streaky goop in my underwear and the toilet. I go back to the set and back into Chipper Fitness Editor mode.

Akshay and I meet up and walk home, over the Brooklyn Bridge, and I talk to him about how my discharge has changed, but I’m not sure what it means — and the more I think about it, the more I have no idea what to expect if something does, indeed, go wrong. I call Akshay’s cousin, an Ob/Gyn based in California, and she walks me through it: Based on what my doctor saw and said, she guesses our chances aren’t good. The miscarriage may happen on its own, and it’ll be like a very heavy period with very bad cramps. If it doesn’t, I can either have a D&C procedure or take a medication to induce the miscarriage. I think, In a way, I hope this happens on its own. I don’t want to have to have some awful procedure or take some weird drug on top of everything else. She also tells me that if it does happen naturally, I’m probably best off just dealing with it on my own — if I’m filling more than two pads per hour or feel faint, I should go to the ER, but other than that, it’s probably more comfortable to just let it pass at home.

There’s no mistaking it: The bleeding has started in earnest.

We arrive home, and I go to the bathroom, and there’s no mistaking it: The bleeding has started in earnest. I think, Okay, here we go. I decide to try to be cool about all this. I have a pad handy, for some reason, so I change my underwear and put on the pad. I don’t have any other pads, so I have to ask Akshay to go buy me some. By the time he gets home, I’ve lost what little fragment of cool I thought I might be able to have — the cramps have started already, and they are bad. Way worse than period cramps, which are pretty awful to begin with. I’m tearing the house apart looking for Advil. Turns out, Akshay had it in his work bag. I take a few and get myself into bed with a heating pad. I toss and turn, and maybe sleep a little, eventually.

Tuesday, June 21: I wake up, go into the bathroom, and close the door. As I’m pulling down my shorts and underwear to use the toilet, I realize there is practically a flood of thick, viscous blood gushing out of me at too fast a pace to be caught by my pad. (It’s not that I’m actually bleeding this heavily, it’s just that I’ve been horizontal for seven or eight hours and it’s all been pooling.) Blood gets everywhere: my underwear, my pajamas, the toilet seat, the floor. I wipe up what I can reach from the toilet seat, then do some Kegels to see if maybe I can clear more of it out of me before I stand up to get a new pad. I change pads, then get on my hands and knees to scrub the blood off the tile floor.

I send a friendly email to my team: “Hey y'all — I have a health thing going on and will be doing some combo of WFH and sick day today. Will keep you posted and hope to be in tomorrow.” I spend most of the day on the couch, sitting on a red towel. Thanks to the benevolent gods at Netflix, the new season of Orange Is The New Black has just been released — the perfect “Something terrible is happening to me and I need distraction and to be reminded of the incredible strength of women” binge-watch. Every time I get up to go to the bathroom, I bleed more, and my cat has taken my spot on the red towel by the time I get back to the couch.
Illustrated by: Ly Ngo
“Red Wedding”-like morning aside, things are honestly going pretty smoothly. There’s a lot of blood, but it’s not much more than my worst period days. I have cramps, but they've improved since last night, and I’m handling them with Advil and the heating pad. I start thinking about how my best friend is on maternity leave, and how it might be nice to take advantage of the chance to see her and her 8-week-old daughter during a weekday. I text her and see if she wants to meet up — she’s aware of what’s happening and wants to help however she can. I get myself dressed and start heading out, but I immediately begin to wonder whether this is a good idea. I’m a little dizzy, and very tired, and I just feel off. I make it to the smoothie shop where we said we’d meet, and we get a smoothie, but I’m pretty sure I’m acting super weird. I’m telling her all the gory details — they’re just coming out of me, no pause to consider whether she really wants to hear them, though she listens kindly and graciously. We walk to the park, and I start feeling worse. I realize I’m barely listening to anything she’s saying, and reluctantly tell her I need to go home. I feel awful for making her go to the trouble of getting ready, strapping on the baby, and walking in the summer heat to meet up with me.

I get on the subway and am not sure I’m going to make it home. I’m hot and nauseous. I get off at my stop and call my mom and brother (not really for help, mostly to distract myself), and they are both very, very worried and very, very sweet. I get inside, strip down to my underwear, and lie on my bed on top of the covers, trying to cool down. I go to the bathroom, and there’s another flood — but this time, it’s happening in real time. I’ve never seen this much blood come out of anyone, except maybe in a terribly gory movie, which is not exactly my genre of choice. And then there are the clots: Unnervingly solid chunks the size of apple slices just fall out of me. I can’t imagine how they were able to squeeze themselves out through my cervix.

I cry, for what might actually be the first time that day. I’m sad, yes, but these are tears of horror, disgust, and shock — and frustration about my life’s total incompetence at preparing me for this. There are also some tears of embarrassment: How stupid could I be, thinking the middle of a miscarriage would be a good time to meet up with a friend for a fucking smoothie?!

I’m sad, yes, but these are tears of horror, disgust, and shock — and frustration about my life’s total incompetence at preparing me for this.

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I calm down, and things slow down in my pelvis, and I get back on the couch and cue up OITNB again. I text Akshay and ask him if he wouldn’t mind going to Target to buy me some new underwear — I own mostly thongs, and thongs are not pad-friendly, so I need briefs. He gets home with my undies, and we research what you’re supposed to eat after significant blood loss. Meat, it seems, and leafy greens. We order pork schnitzel and a spinach salad from the nearby German restaurant.

Wednesday, June 22: I wake up, go to the bathroom, and see that the bleeding has slowed down significantly. I decide to take it a bit easy and see how I feel, so I sleep for another hour, watch some crappy morning TV, and at about 10:00 decide I’ll just feel shittier if I stay home again. I get myself together and go into work, but when I arrive I again get the feeling that this might not have been the best idea. I can barely make eye contact with anyone — I feel like a shell of a person. It’s just too weird to be there, to try to act like everything’s normal. I make it through the rest of the day, and then head to Naturopathica in Chelsea, where I’d scheduled a massage a few weeks ago that our Ob/Gyn cousin told me it would be safe to have post-miscarriage. The massage therapist starts to touch my back, and I’m suddenly in tears, from relief at feeling cared for and comforted.

Thursday, June 23: The bleeding is about the same. I go to work on time and feel slightly more human. I even manage to crack a smile at someone’s joke. I realize tomorrow is the birthday of two editors on my team, and one of them will be on vacation, so I throw together some plans for a last-minute celebration.

After lunch, I go to the bathroom and wipe, and a blueberry-sized, odd-looking reddish object appears on the toilet paper. I look closer and realize it’s the fetus — it looks just like those 3D illustrations from the pregnancy-tracking apps that tell you what fruit your baby is the size of this week. I am shell-shocked. I can’t believe I’m seeing this right in front of me. I’d thought this was over. And what the fuck do you do with a fetus that comes out of you in your office bathroom? I burst into silent tears, then try to breathe deeply and think more clearly. My doctor’s office is just downstairs, and they’ll know what to do. I unroll a clean piece of toilet paper, carefully transfer the fetus onto it, wrap it up gently, and put it in my pocket. I exit the stall, wash my hands, and get on the elevator.

At the doctor’s office, a kind nurse tells me that I don’t need to do anything with the fetus — they don’t test these things unless you’ve had three in a row or you’re over 35. Then she asks me how I’m staying so calm and positive. “I’m just barely keeping it together, I can assure you,” I say. I go back upstairs and back into the bathroom. I look at the fetus one last time, spend half a second wondering if I should take a photo or something, and flush it. I later learn via Google that this kind of odd-sounding instinct (to hold or touch or photograph the fetus) is extremely normal, which actually makes me feel a little better. I sob silently in the bathroom for a few more minutes — this time, tears of trauma and exhaustion — and then splash water on my face and head back to my desk. I text Akshay to tell him what just happened, and he comes running — his office is maybe a 15-minute walk away, but he’s here in six. We walk through lower Tribeca and the upper Financial District, and I tell him about the whole thing. I’m upset, but it’s hard to sustain, so we also look at cute dogs and make jokes, which also feels weird. I feel better and go back to the office. I’m 15 minutes late for the birthday surprise. I walk in, and my team hands me a card and a little bag of cookies as a congratulations for my recent promotion. I almost cry again, from gratitude.

Monday, June 27:
I go in for a follow-up at my Ob/Gyn’s office. We’d scheduled a second ultrasound after the first one didn’t look promising, just in case there were any positive changes. Even though I obviously knew there wouldn’t be, I kept the appointment so we could do an ultrasound to see if there was any tissue left in my uterus — a suggestion from Akshay’s Ob/Gyn cousin. My Ob/Gyn is businesslike but gentle, reminding me that if this pregnancy didn’t work out, it’s because there was likely something very wrong with the fetus, and it wouldn’t have been a healthy baby. The ultrasound is clear — my uterus is completely empty. It’s over. Physically, at least.
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