On the morning after my miscarriage four summers ago, my then four-year-old daughter gave me the sweetest Get Well card, or as she wrote it, Get Mell. I was bedridden on a Tuesday morning, feeling horrible and having barely slept the night before, though she didn’t know why. I told her that Mommy wasn’t feeling well, and Daddy was going to have to make her breakfast.
Stomach pain subsiding, I managed another hour of sleep before I heard a gentle knock on my door. It was my daughter, clutching something in her hand. She extended what looked like a piece of paper to me.
“What’s this, Sweetie?” I asked groggily.
“I made you a card.”
“That’s so nice, honey!” I was truly touched, but feeling so physically awful that I had to force myself to sound chipper.
I opened the card. Written in her shaky four-year-old handwriting were the words "Get Mell." I was nearly moved to tears.
“Sweet Potato,” I said, “this is the nicest card I’ve ever gotten. I think Mommy is ready to get up now.”
I searched for my slippers. Mercifully, my husband had already arranged to stay home from work. I was in no condition to be the main caregiver that day. I’d spent most of the night in the bathroom, and when I wasn’t in there, attempting fitful bursts of sleep. The bulk of the stomach pain lasted from midnight to 5 a.m., so by the time my daughter was up, I was feeling a bit better—just so, so tired.
Before heading downstairs, I looked at my daughter’s card one more time. It was such a sweet gesture that made me smile, and it felt especially poignant since my daughter had no idea that it wasn’t just a stomach bug that kept me up all night.
Countless women know the pain, both physical and emotional, of miscarriage. While I have several friends who’ve had one, you can’t possibly know what it’s like until you’ve experienced it. I consider myself very lucky that mine happened early, around 10 weeks, before I could get overly excited about due dates and finding out the baby’s sex, much less telling friends and family the news. I was also mentally prepared for it to happen since my first OB appointment had been, shall we say, less than stellar.
I saw my OB when I was, according to my calculations, about 8 weeks pregnant. After seeing the familiar plus sign on the home pregnancy test, I alternated between excitement and a laid-back “let’s just see what happens” attitude, given my advanced maternal age of 42. My OB was excited and teased me for not telling her at my last check-up that my husband and I were trying to conceive. Ironically, she herself was pregnant and only about six weeks from her due date, so abundance seemed to be in the cards that day—until she brought out the ultrasound machine.
She moved the wand over my belly, but it wasn’t detecting anything, so she pulled out the vaginal one, saying, “You’ll feel a lot of pressure.” She inserted the wand and moved it around. She kept searching and then said, “Your periods are very regular, right? Every 28 days?” I said yes, except for my last period, which had come after only 21 days.
“And do you know when you ovulate?” she asked.
I started wondering why she was asking all these questions; it couldn’t be a good sign. I told her no, I’ve never been one of those lucky ladies who can “feel” when she’s ovulating.
“OK,”she replied. “The ultrasound is measuring the fetus at only four weeks and five days. So, I’m wondering if you’ve miscalculated your ovulation.”
I assured her that I hadn’t; I mean, come on, there’s an app for that.
She had me scoot back up on the table, and said that I’d either miscalculated my last period and therefore wasn’t as far along in the pregnancy as I’d thought, or that the fetus was no longer growing and I would inevitably have a miscarriage. Though this clearly wasn’t the news I’d been hoping for, I wasn’t completely devastated, knowing how common miscarriage is, especially at my age. She had me schedule a sonogram for the following week with an ultrasound technician—it would be more accurate, and we could check for growth again then.
I awaited the appointment with very little patience and more than a little dread. I didn’t have a good feeling about it, especially knowing there was no way I’d miscalculated the dates. Still, there was a glimmer of hope—there had to be, right?
After a stressful week of waiting, my husband and I went to my ultrasound appointment. The technician was chatty, but when we got down to doing the sonogram, she was all business. She moved the wand around for a few seconds before telling us, “You are most likely having a miscarriage.” Well, that settled that. She went on to say the fetus was measuring nearly six weeks, which was so confusing, because didn’t that indicate a week’s growth? But she was unequivocal. “This is probably a miscarriage. You should be measuring nine weeks now based on your last period.”
“OK,” I said. "What do I do now?” She told me to come back the next week to measure the fetus again, which seemed pointless, but we agreed. My husband asked why I hadn’t had a miscarriage yet if the pregnancy wasn’t looking viable, and she told us the actual having of the miscarriage could take up to two months. Seriously? I thought. But she also said it could happen sooner, so I should schedule the next ultrasound and wait to see what happens. I agreed that was a good plan, even though the last thing I felt like doing was waiting another week just to give her another glimpse of my non-viable fetus. It didn’t seem fair that my body was clinging onto this false hope of a pregnancy. I felt helpless, and like I had no definitive information—only the knowledge that no one could really tell me what was going to happen.
Luckily (if you can call it luck), four days later, the tell-tale spots of blood appeared in the crotch of my bathing suit, which I was changing out of after spending the afternoon at the town pool with my daughter. I had been attempting to keep going about my life like everything was normal, but here was a clear sign that it wasn’t. Was this the miscarriage? I wasn’t sure if I should be concerned or relieved. I grabbed a maxi pad and continued with our evening: making my daughter dinner, getting her ready for bed, the usual. I was feeling OK—maybe a little crampy—but well enough that I wasn’t overly concerned. I wasn’t bleeding much either, and started to wonder if this wasn’t going to be so bad. I can handle this, I thought. My husband and I ate leftovers, and I settled in to watch “Orange is the New Black.” If I’m going to have a miscarriage, at least I can do it watching an awesome show, I told myself.
And since nothing had really changed by the time I got into bed around 11, I actually told my husband, “Maybe having a miscarriage isn’t that bad.”
If only! By 2 a.m., I had been in and out of the bathroom more times than I could count, cramping, bleeding profusely, and generally feeling like I was going to die. There was an incredible amount of blood. I kept the lights off in the bathroom, partially so as not to interrupt my husband’s attempts at sleep, but also so I wouldn’t have to witness what was coming out of me.
After one of these episodes, I crawled back in bed and attempted to get comfortable, which was proving impossible. Lying on my side was awful, and lying on my back was even worse. The cramps felt like a milder version of being in labour. My vagina hurt—a lot. It’s not often that that happens, but I remember it all too well from giving birth to my daughter.
(Later, when I told a friend who’d had two miscarriages about this, she commented, “No one tells you this, but a miscarriage feels like labour.” Indeed.)
By five o'clock in the morning, things had improved slightly, though I struggled to get back to sleep. Then, once my daughter was up—the card. She had drawn a sun, a heart and a few stick figures, one of whom appeared to be standing in a doorway.
Having a miscarriage was awful, but my daughter’s card is the memory I choose to carry from that day. I still have it. "Get Mell,” it read. And I knew that even though it might take a little while, I would.