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Infertility

Cautiously Optimistic: Bracing For and Living Through a Miscarriage

One in four pregnancies end in loss. One woman shares her story to encourage conversation and make others feel less alone.

By Sarah Bentley
Cautiously Optimistic: Bracing For and Living Through a Miscarriage

Sarah Bentley

When I saw the faint line, I didn’t trust it. We had barely tried. It can’t be this easy. I’m not ready yet. The idea of being pregnant suddenly became scary, and my practical brain kicked in. Will I be able to hit pause on my career and not have to start over again?

I’m so close to a promotion that I’m actually excited about. I’m finally happy with my body, and I feel strong. Do I need to say goodbye to that? I was making progress with my self-confidence and breaking old patterns. Is all that work going to disappear? Am I done working on me?

It all started to feel real

After the eighth test, I still needed someone to tell me I was pregnant. Hearing it from a person and not a stick would make it real. A few days later, it sunk in after I went to the doctor and he confirmed it.

Excitement started to creep in. Albeit cautious excitement because I knew more people who had miscarriages than those who hadn’t. It was so common. I’d later learn from the emergency doctor that one in four pregnancies ended in miscarriages. My husband, Michael, and I coined it “cautiously optimistic.”

Pregnancy quickly gave me a new perspective and validated a lot of my feelings. Everything felt heavy but warranted. My biggest worries were literally matters of life and death, but I had every reason to feel the way I did. Suddenly, the most important thing in my life was to give life to this little being. It was scary but Michael reminded me to take it one day at a time.

A woman looking at a faint line on a pregnancy test

Trying not to get too excited

I told myself not to get ahead of myself. Not to let my imagination wander into the future. But the more days that passed, the more I let up. I started picturing the layout of the nursery. I kept adding baby names to the notes on my phone.

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I thought of how many more holidays we’d have on our own. How we’d manage my best friend’s wedding with a newborn. I even considered the idea of a baby shower and I hate baby showers. But the idea of celebrating our baby with close friends and family overshadowed my disdain for the antiquated tradition.

The due date looked to be in early May which held special meaning to us. It was around the same day as the Gotcha Day of our dog, Chilli, who had recently passed. Chilli had brought us together when we picked her up on our third date so we loved the idea of our baby carrying some of her with them.

As much as I held myself back from having these pleasant thoughts, I didn’t always. And I’m so grateful for the times I failed. For the times I let myself dream. Because there was so much good, so much happiness and so much hope that came from those experiences. I learned I really do want to be a mom and I can actually see it now.

Around the six-week mark, there was a moment on my drive home from the gym when I passed a garden with the most magnificent pink flower. It was delicate but huge. I slowed down to get a better look and started crying. It was so breathtaking. I looked for it again a couple of days later but it was gone. I guess I’d been lucky to experience it because it didn’t bloom for very long.

Knowing something was wrong

When I started spotting, I reacted with the same disbelief as when I took the test. I started rationalizing it. It was just a little bit, it was a brown colour so it’s old blood. I don’t have any cramping, so it’s probably just my body getting used to being pregnant. I brushed it off. A day passed, and it seemed to get a bit better.

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The following night I went to the bathroom and there was more blood. It was bright red and there were clots. I still managed to convince myself that it was okay. And if it wasn’t there was nothing I could do. Going to the hospital at 3 AM wasn’t going to turn back time. It could be better by the morning anyway. Again, denial slipped in.

But it was the same in the morning. I gathered myself and we made our way to the hospital. I still wasn’t cramping so I told myself there was a chance this wasn’t a miscarriage.

A couple of hours passed sitting in the emergency waiting room and without warning, I felt lightheaded. At first I thought it was a panic attack. My temperature rose and my skin got clammy. I was wearing a hoodie and needed to swap it for the t-shirt Michael was wearing because I felt claustrophobic.

As quickly as it was given to me, it was taken away

Then the cramping kicked in. Intense pressure pushed against my abdomen. Michael tried to soothe me. He was scared and didn’t know how to help. I asked him to put my hair up using the scrunchie from my bag but he struggled to tie it. I decided then that I needed a bathroom. I needed to expel everything inside of me. I grabbed a pad from my bag and managed to find my way to the toilet. It was in that hospital bathroom stall that I released it all.

The doctor didn’t say much during the ultrasound but when he finished he gave a thoughtful speech that felt like it was preparing me for a miscarriage. He couldn’t provide a definitive answer but was concerned for an ectopic pregnancy so referred me for a transvaginal ultrasound.

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Michael had to leave to check up on our dog, so I spent the next couple of hours on my own curled up in a hospital bed feeling numb. I cried a bit, but not a lot. I got used to the idea that I was no longer pregnant.

It started to feel like it could have all been a dream. It happened so fast. In the same month I learned I was pregnant and then I wasn’t. As quickly as it was given to me it was taken away.

The transvaginal ultrasound was quick but uncomfortable. About as enjoyable as having a probe inserted into your bleeding cervix can be. But the technician was kind and professional. When she left me to clean up I noticed a blood stain on the sheet. I felt embarrassed but at the same time I didn’t care.

They moved me to another room to wait for my final ultrasound results. I ended up getting them through an email notification on my phone. It was a lengthy report but these words stood out, “Hemorrhagic contents in endometrial and endocervical canal. No intrauterine or ectopic pregnancy.” It confirmed what I already knew.

The doctor pulled me aside shortly after and I told him I already knew to save him from having to share the news. He was very kind and empathetic. Him and his wife had also experienced a miscarriage. He let me know how common it was and wished people talked about it more.

field of purple aster flowers iStock

Finding a little bit of beauty in the pain

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When I was leaving the hospital we had to walk through a path to get to our car. The path was filled with purple Asters. Flowers hold special meaning to me and I associate different flowers with those who have passed. Asters are Chilli’s flower. She was letting me know she was there with me.

It took me a couple of days after to realize that the beautiful pink flower I saw that day represented a baby. Maybe it was her (or his) way of telling me she was with me. And when the seasons change she’ll find me again. But for now I needed to be patient. She’ll find me when the time is right and I’ll be there to watch her bloom again.

In the days that followed my miscarriage, it felt like a breakup. I’m not mourning the loss of a person. I didn’t know them. But I’m mourning the idea of a person and a life imagined with them.

I was also mourning the feeling of being pregnant. It was the most myself I had felt in a while. I was doing something important. I was growing a human being and doing all the normal everyday things at the same time. I was proud of myself and felt like I had meaning. Every day.

This miscarriage has been a lesson of impermanence. Life, emotions, and moments are fleeting. You can be happy and pregnant one day and the next you’re not. But the good and the bad don’t last forever. They never do. And life moves faster than we think.

author sarah's bathroom painted avocado green Sarah Bentley

Your strength and resilience will surprise you

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As I write this it’s been two full weeks since our miscarriage. In that time I’ve laughed, I’ve celebrated, I’ve cried, I’ve loved, I’ve sweat, I’ve grown. Hell, I’ve even painted our bathroom avocado green. I’m reminded constantly that the only thing we know for certain is nothing ever stays the same.

If I could whisper in the ear of my past self curled up in that hospital bed I’d tell her it will get better sooner than you think. Your strength and resilience will surprise you. Some days will feel heavy, others will feel normal, but it won’t be long until the good days return. You’ll also only need to wear a pad for three days and your follow-up ultrasound will provide a lot of closure.

Finally, there is nothing more powerful than a woman who has felt life enter and leave her. You’ll feel this. You’ll recognize that you have lived more than most and the love you were filled with the day you found out you were pregnant still remains. It’s time to turn that love inward and be gentle with yourself.

This article was originally published on Oct 12, 2023

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