Ten years ago I was just 12 weeks pregnant with my first child. While working at New York University medical clinic I felt a rush of blood down my leg and immediately thought my deepest fear was coming true. I ran to the ER and when my sweet husband arrived to meet me, I blurted out “I am so sorry, I lost him. I was the vessel – I was the ship that was to bring him to safe harbor – it was on me and I failed.” I was absolutely distraught with failure, profound loss and sadness.
As it turns out, I had not experienced a miscarriage. I had a ruptured blood vessel in my uterus, which resolved on its own and my now ten-year-old son is happy and healthy. But I tell this story often to patients. To represent the initial reaction and feelings shared with so many women who experience miscarriage, recurrent miscarriage or infertility. Feelings of defeat, powerlessness, guilt and shame.
Since then I’ve had two more children. Between babies two and three, I suffered the painful experience of seeing two heartbeats on an ultrasound only to lose the pregnancy.
I grieved in solitude. Those feelings of shame and sadness I felt with the hospital visit during my first pregnancy came rushing back. I dealt with this inner turmoil without any support because I mistakenly believed I was alone among my friends. I thought that I was the only one that had experienced this pain. But of course, this wasn’t the case. I realized my friends and I never discussed what so many of us had endured. Years later, when I finally opened up, I understood that so many women encounter miscarriages. In fact, 1 in every 4 pregnant women. We’ve just always kept it to ourselves.
Even I wasn’t spared the strong emotional reaction to my loss, despite knowing the statistics and being a physician. The thing is, knowing and experiencing are two very different things.
I’m committed to moving miscarriage and fertility struggles into the light, from a place of shame and guilt. So we can share openly and honestly and receive support from one another early and often. Postpartum depression used to be a topic that was off-limits, but thankfully it is increasingly being recognized and discussed openly. Let’s do the same with infertility and miscarriage.