I see you: the woman at the grocery store, the couple alone at the movies, the young teacher trying to wrangle a classroom of youngsters, the middle-aged childless duo traveling the world. With an estimated 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage, it is rampant. While not spoken of freely, when one suffers such a loss, the multitude of others who share similar grief-stricken stories becomes astounding clear. After my own losses, it felt as though everyone I knew either had a similar story or knew someone who did. My entire life circle (family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, my mother’s hairdresser, and even internet strangers) appeared to be connected to such a bitter reality, and I had no idea.
Infertility is often thought of as the inability to become pregnant. And it is. It is also defined as the inability to stay pregnant. In my case, one loss turned into two, which culminated in a third miscarriage. Along with 1 in 100 others, we begrudgingly joined the despicable club of “unexplained recurrent pregnancy loss”. Each pregnancy ended differently. Each time we were told was unrelated to the last. Each baby that died shattered our weary souls. Undergoing countless tests on both the babies and myself, we have been left with normal results and no answers. We may never know why our ill-fated pregnancies ended in such tragedy time and again, and quite frankly, it probably does not matter.
Sophia was our first pregnancy. Born at 20 weeks gestation, we found out she had severe physical abnormalities at our 18 week anatomy ultrasound. As her delicate limbs bent in unnatural ways, her lack of fetal movement was alarming. Watching her white outline on the monitor, my mind desperately willed her to flip so the technician could get the angles she needed. Sophia refused to budge. Turning myself on the table, taking a walk, and sitting up all were actions done in vain. Seemingly stuck in a her tucked position, we learned her joint contractures were a consequence of this immobility. As the list of her anomalies grew–small chin, possible heart defect, low-set ears, clubbed feet–the doctor made one resolute conclusion: this pregnancy was not viable. Her body was not compatible with life, with survival. Despite her live birth, she never made it home from the hospital. We carried her tiny heart-shaped urn to our bedroom, and from there she takes part in our lives. I talk to her each day, whispering “good morning” as I dress for work. I wish her a good night before warming myself in bed. I watch my rainbow baby blow kisses toward her as she earnestly points to the top of the dresser, begging to see what is up there. With each mention of her name, each writing that I share, and each birthday we celebrate, Sophia lives on.
Our second and third miscarriages were more “typical”: first trimester losses with an unexpected stopping of the baby’s heartbeat. Each loss ripped open the scar of Sophia’s passing and sprinkled salt into the gory wound. We struggled to carry on. We fought anxieties of future pregnancies. We battled demons of depression and hopelessness for our family. Through it all, I shared my story. Never afraid of judgement, I opened my story to all who asked and all who would listen. This propelled me forward, taking some of my self-pity and ego-centric tendencies and repurposed it in my growing compassion for others.
The journey of infertility is lonely, yet we are never alone. Every story is unique, however we all share core similarities. It is through this means that I have connected with so many who have shared with me their own stories. While I may not fully understand what it is like to go through infertility treatments, to lose precious embryos, to use a surrogate to no avail, to lose a baby (or more) of a multiples pregnancy, to have an ectopic or molar pregnancy, to lose a baby due to preeclampsia or HELLP syndrome, or have a baby suffocate in-utero from the umbilical cord, I do know the feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, profound grief, and at times sheer hatred toward the Universe that arise after such tragedy. I understand how lonely the journey can be as it feels like the world carries on while the weight of this greatest loss rests on one’s shoulders and infiltrates one’s every thought. I understand how the nightmares cause many sleepless nights, the thoughts of how one’s baby will never have a first birthday forges an endless river of tears, and the dream of holding a happy child in one’s arms drifts away with each day that passes. I understand how not all childless couples choose that life, and how we must be sensitive to not make such assumptions. I understand that infertility touches nearly all of us, and that connection makes us uniquely human.
So, yes, I see you. I hear you. I feel the grief of infertility with you. And while we are all destined to walk this path as individuals–and heal from the grief in our own ways–we are all in it together. And together, we are survivors.