Grieving the Loss of an Unplanned Child
I peed on the stick without expecting anything, really. It wasn’t like in the movies where minutes feel like hours as the anxious mother-to-be waits for results that would determine her future. No, for me, the stick showed pregnant almost instantly. I figured it had to be defective.
I showed my boyfriend the test. Shocked, he could barely find words. I was the calm one. “I’m OK with it,” I told him. “I’m 32 years old, so it’s better now than never.” I had come to terms with not having a child because I just didn’t see it happening. I was terrified of childbirth and didn’t know if I would ever love and respect someone enough to make a human being with them. Getting knocked up was never a concern for me; it was something I thought I’d never have to deal with. “This is OK,” I said aloud, shocked by my own calmness. I don’t really remember what my boyfriend said that day. I just remember that he started to drink more.
Still thinking that maybe it was a false positive, I went to see my doctor. She confirmed I was indeed pregnant. She hugged me and told me everything would be fine. The next six weeks were difficult. I wasn’t ready to tell our families. I was worried about telling my employer because I was an unwed mother working in a conservative, religious environment.
My boobs got bigger quickly and they ached. How long did I have before my boobs gave me away? I had to pee a lot. I craved lemonade and tomato sandwiches on sourdough bread. I thought about names.
Embracing the unexpected
While I wondered what room to turn into a nursery, my boyfriend went off the deep end. We had a few tender moments—he would place his hand on my stomach or kiss my belly, he assured me we would be fine—but those moments were muddied by his struggle with alcohol abuse. I quickly realized I’d very likely be a single mother. Being in an unstable place with my partner left me feeling angry and alone, but I resolved to have the baby.
Strangely, I was getting used to the idea of becoming a mother, though this entire experience was unexpected. My confidence grew in my ability to raise a baby on my own—I was financially secure, good with kids, and had a supportive family. Surely I could figure this whole motherhood thing out.
I declined my boyfriend’s marriage proposal, deciding to tackle motherhood on my own, rather than with a man I didn’t feel could be the father I wanted for my child. I chose to handle any judgment for being an unwed mother rather than jump into a marriage because “it’s the right thing to do.”
I went back to the doctor for my first ultrasound when I was nine weeks along, about a month after my pregnancy was confirmed. The ultrasound tech asked me if I was sure about my due date or if I was possibly not as far along as they initially thought. She moved the ultrasound wand around and my anxiety grew with every second of her silence.
“I’m sorry,” she finally said. “I can’t find a heartbeat.”
I somehow managed to remain calm as I got up from the table. My doctor assured me that nothing I did caused my baby to stop living. She gave me pills that would help my uterus contract and push out the remaining tissue, my baby. I went home in a daze and didn’t go to work that day.
My doctor warned me of the side effects of these pills—terrible cramping and heavy bleeding. She was horribly accurate, but the worst side effect was waiting for my dead baby to pass. It was absolutely brutal. Sometimes your body releases the tissue like a period, with blood and clots coming out at different times. Sometimes the whole embryonic sac expels intact. I don’t know which is worse and there was no way of telling how it would happen for me.
Burying my baby
The next day at work, I passed the whole sac unexpectedly as I went to the bathroom. It took a moment to realize what had happened after I felt a surge of liquid run through me and then a blob leave my body. Until that moment, I didn’t know if I had already passed it or not. I had to go back to work, acting like nothing had happened, because I had already taken a lot of time off.
I struggled with what to do with the sac. I Googled what other women did when they miscarried. Some people felt like they were just cells and flushed it down the toilet. Some women didn’t realize it was their baby until they’d already flushed. One woman had her baby cremated. Some women buried their babies in little boxes or placed it with a plant that would grow and remind them of their child. It was incredibly difficult to decide how I would handle my sac baby. I decided to bury it. For me, it was the right choice. In solitude, bewildered and heartbroken, I wrote a letter to my unborn baby—the one I had just come to terms with having. I buried the letter with the baby.
Finding support after miscarriage
The coming days were a roller coaster of emotions. I struggled with not blaming myself; I beat myself up. I felt like I had failed as a woman because I couldn’t carry the baby to term. I agonized over the loss, racking my brain trying to think of what I did that could have caused the baby to stop living. Could I have prevented this? I cried myself to sleep. I was angry. I resented pregnant women and then felt guilty and ashamed for doing so.
My doctor told me that it’s not uncommon to have a miscarriage and that I should not blame myself. It took me a while to believe that I didn’t somehow unknowingly contribute to my miscarriage but these statistics helped reassure me that it’s more common than I thought—and unlikely that I caused it.
- About 30 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage
- Over 80 percent of miscarriages occur in the first trimester
- Up to 70 percent of first trimester miscarriages and 20 percent of second trimester miscarriages occur due to chromosomal abnormalities
Though I’d never wish this experience on anyone, these numbers helped me process my grief. Losing a child I never planned for was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever been through, but I found comfort in knowing I was not alone and that my miscarriage was not my fault.
Grieving the loss of an unplanned child
Now having experienced a miscarriage, I realize it was only recently that women started becoming more vocal about their miscarriages. My mother told me that my aunt had several miscarriages before my cousin was born, yet no one spoke of her losses. This baffled me. How can someone keep that in? You carried a life and then it went away. That’s a deeply traumatic loss. I can’t imagine not speaking about it at all and I’m glad women are talking about it more openly and that the miscarriage stigma is fading.
My baby would have been three years old this March. I think about my child almost every single day, triggered by so many challenging and beautiful things— a baby around the age my child would be, a friend announcing her pregnancy, the occasional reminder that my biological clock is ticking, the anniversary of the day I found out I was pregnant, the anniversary of the date I found out I was no longer pregnant, the spot in my garden where I made a memorial for my child.
Lessons and hope
This brief period in my life taught me so much. I realized that, whether I give birth or adopt, I do want to be a mother. I learned that I could confidently raise a child on my own and that my mom was amazingly supportive of me and loved me no matter what. I realized I was stronger than I realized and could overcome great challenges and heartache, even if I had to do so alone. In some way, the loss made me a gentler person.
This is the first time I have ever written about my miscarriage. The majority of my friends and family still do not know I was pregnant or that I miscarried. I’ve become more vocal about it over time because I want other women to know they aren’t alone. I’ve learned to cope with my grief in my own way. Some days I’m fine, some days I’m sad, sometimes I cry. But every day for the rest of my life, I will carry with me this loss and the baby that wasn’t meant to be with me.