What I learned from my miscarriage
So many embryos, fetuses and babies never make it into this world – or leave it far too early, be it through stillbirth, sudden child death, miscarriage, or even failed conception (IVF or natural).
Even though it happens so frequently, it is a topic not often talked about – especially not in public – and as such you only become aware of it, when it happens to you or someone close to you. Unlike child birth, we usually don’t share about child loss on social media. Just like we don’t usually share when we lose our job or when our relationship is in trouble. The difference obviously is that giving birth is happy, while losing a baby or a pregnancy is sad. Moreover, the former feels like a success, while the latter somehow feels like a personal failure. And we all like to create a picture of us being happy and successful, as opposed to sad and miserable.
So we keep shut.
Somehow we seem to have forgotten the wisdom that sharing happiness makes it double, and sharing pain makes it half. While there’s many people who actually prefer to not look at the painful stuff, a whole lot of people, including myself, are craving for more “realness”. The only thing holding us back is the fear of making ourselves vulnerable. We can only change that by breaking the taboos and starting to share our experiences in an open way. This is why today I finally talk in public about the miscarriage we had to go through in summer 2017.
Before I do so, however, I want to make one thing very clear: I am not sharing this story to invoke pity. As painful as it has been, both physically and emotionally, and as little as I wish anyone to have to go through this, I still gained so many valuable new insights from it – insights that I am very, very grateful for – that condemning the whole experience just doesn’t feel right. It is my foundational belief that everything happens for a reason and is always in our best interest. Even the shitty stuff. I am sharing this story to show you how I dealt with it, and to inspire you to look at your own painful moments through the lens of “how did this experience serve me” and “how is this a blessing in disguise”. So instead of telling me how sorry you are, share with me how this article might have inspired a new insight, a change in perspective or even a complete reframing of your own “negative” stories.
The story of my miscarriage
We conceived our first baby while being on holidays on Menorca. It wasn’t really planned, nor were we consciously “trying”. Yes, we had been talking about starting a family for a long time, but as long as I was still experiencing painful periods, I didn’t feel ready, because painful periods indicate hormonal imbalance and thus non-ideal fertility. However, my last three cycles had been more or less pain-free, and so I just took the risk on the last of my fertile days. I didn’t really think it would work out immediately, however, 7-10 days later I could feel an unusual pinching in my uterus, and suspected, that this was “implantation” pain. My breasts started to hurt and I got some pimples as well. For another week I was waiting impatiently, before taking a pregnancy test, which confirmed what I already knew.
All this time I didn’t share with my partner, because his birthday was coming up, and I was planning a special surprise. And boy, what a surprise it turned out to be! We were so happy and excited, that we couldn’t wait to share the news with some friends immediately. We surprised our parents with “grandma” and “grandpa” mugs a bit later. We started a baby diary, in which we wrote to the baby every day. I had printed out a day-by-day pregnancy calendar to follow the changes going on inside of me. I was feeling well overall, maybe a bit more tired, but no real nausea, just a bit of aversion against some foods I usually eat. We wanted a low-intervention pregnancy, so I didn`t go to the gynecologist right away, but rather made a midwife appointment for a Tuesday, at 9.5 weeks.
The Saturday before that appointment I started to feel sick. On Sunday morning I felt like I could (and should) stay in bed. There was a light pressure in my belly, too. Instead we went for a long walk. When almost back home, I suddenly felt a wet discharge. Since it was transparent, I didn’t worry too much, but I went to lay down immediately and slept a few hours. When I woke up again, I was feeling better, but had another wet discharge. And another one the next morning. At noon, the cramping started again, more severe this time. Just in case I canceled a BBQ that we had planned for the evening. We still didn’t really think that we would lose the pregnancy though.
However, the cramping continued to get stronger, until the cramps came on in labor-like contractions every 3-4 minutes for 30-40 seconds. The discharge turned brownish in color. Eventually, I called the midwife (which I had not even met yet in person) and she advised to go to the hospital for a check-up. She wasn’t too optimistic though, because to her it sounded like my body was getting ready to eliminate, and once this point is reached, there is nothing one can do to stop it. I was getting scared and the first tears fell. My partner called a taxi, and we arrived at emergencies around 9pm. They took my blood, and guided us to a waiting room, where I could sit back in a comfortable chair to wait for the only gynecologist on duty, who was attending a birth. We had to wait for 3 long hours in this waiting room, left to alone to ourselves. It was during this wait, that I lost the baby.
I suddenly felt a strong urge to go to the toilet and when I did, I could feel something of the size of table tennis balls coming out of me, accompanied by heavy red bleeding. It was a terrible moment, that I will never forget. I was screaming and glad when my partner came to hold me because I was close to fainting. I was in such a shock I couldn’t even cry. This happened twice more, before the doctor finally called us into her office at around midnight. With toilet paper between my legs (they didn’t have any sanitary pads outside the gyne’s office) I went to lay on her chair and she cleaned my cervix (a very uncomfortable procedure). She was very cold and had hardly any word of comfort. For her it was the most normal thing in the world. After she administered the Rhesus negative injection into my arm (a standard procedure for Rhesus negative women with a Rhesus positive partner), I was close to fainting again. I had hardly eaten throughout the entire day, and was exhausted from the physical pain, not to even speak of the emotional shock. When the doctor suggested that I was being extraordinarily sensitive, I would have liked to punch her face, if I had not been too weak to do so. She asked me to come back for a blood test a few days later (to check if the pregnancy hormone had gone down as it should) and to come see her again after one week to check if everything had been well eliminated. I didn’t really feel like going back to her, but my regular gynecologist was on holidays, so I succumbed.
I was still suffering strong contractions, when we came back home around 2am, but I was so exhausted, that I fell asleep nonetheless. When I woke up in the morning, everything felt surreal. I was overwhelmed by emotion and cried as hard as I rarely have. My belly was empty again – my baby flushed down the toilet. My world was shattered.
Luckily it was summer and my partner was at home on holidays, so we could spend the next few days together, grieving. He took so much care of me, making sure I was as comfortable as possible, in a garden bed under the parasol. I was still in cramps, and could hardly be on my feet for more than a few minutes. Definitely not one of those cases where you are back in the office immediately after the miscarriage…
When I had to go back to the hospital for the blood test two days later, I was still weak and emotionally fragile, and started to cry immediately, when I was confronted with a pregnant woman in the waiting room. When I saw the gynecologist a week after the miscarriage, I was told that there was still a lot of tissue and blood in my uterus, and that I would have to take vaginal abortion pills to eliminate it. I negotiated another week, in order to give my body a bit more time to do this on its own. Since for me the body always speaks the soul, I felt like I had some more conscious grieving to do, because it seemed that I didn’t want to let go of the baby completely. What I (we) needed was a symbolic funeral, to anchor our baby in space and time. So I took a little spring of a banana plant, that didn’t really thrive, put it into a small wooden box, wrapped it into a soft cloth and together we buried it in the garden. I also received some imagery support from a friend to help me say goodbye to the baby.
However, when I came back to the doctor again a week later, it was still the same. The bleeding had almost stopped, so I reluctantly agreed to insert those pills – two in the evening and two the next morning. At first I didn’t really feel much and was afraid that when I would go back to the gynecologist, she would order a curettage. I wanted to avoid that at all cost, so I spontaneously took an appointment with my regular gynecologist, to get a second opinion. When lying on her chair, she was able to pull out a huge tissue, stating that the cervix was in the process of opening again and that the body was about to start eliminating. I should come back after the weekend for another check. Relieved, I went home. As of the next day and for the next three days I got the most terrible cramps as the bleeding restarted. Those cramps were worse than during the actual miscarriage. Since by now it had been already 2.5 weeks since the miscarriage, I just wanted all of this to be over and to not suffer anymore. So I eventually took a low dose of painkillers, which made things a lot more bearable. My mother and my partner were there again to support me.
Finally, after this weekend the ultrasound showed a completely empty uterus. What a relieve. No curettage needed, and even a new ovulation already on its way. I could finally close that chapter and start the healing.
What I learned from my miscarriage
When I say that I kept quiet about my miscarriage, it is only partially true. Of course I have shared about it with people, with quiet a lot in fact. In our enthusiasm we had told many of our friends, acquaintances and family members about us being expecting, before having reached the “critical” 3 months mark. So I had to inform even some not so close friends about what happened. Surprisingly, the outcome was overall very positive in the sense that very intimate and real connections were created. Because once I opened up about my loss, so many started sharing about their own similar losses. I got so much love and support, even from relative strangers, which was very touching. But I didn’t make a Facebook post nor share about it in a newsletter until now. Which of course is a valid choice because we are not required to share each and every detail of our private lives. However, I am a very transparent person in general, and I know I would have shared about my pregnancy eventually, so the double standard that I myself applied was an interesting observation.
It made me realize the enormous shame and feeling of failure I was experiencing. Personal failure, but also professional failure. It is no secret that preconception and fertility is the focus of my work as a Holistic Nutrition and Eating Psychology Coach, and that personally I have been preparing for pregnancy a very long time with nutrition, lifestyle, mindset, imagery, energy work, acupuncture, embracing and integrating my feminine side… I esteem myself lucky to have awareness about and access to a lot of “non-mainstream” information and wonderful tools, and if you know me, I think you would agree that there are very few people going to the lengths that I do in following through on them. And yet here I was, suffering a miscarriage. For a few days, this completely destabilized me, it literally felt like the ground was being pulled away under my feet and with it all that I ever believed in and stood for. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to continue this work, because apparently, it didn’t work.
Once the emotional turmoil had calmed down a bit, I realized of course that this wasn’t true. After all, we had conceived immediately, at the first shot. No months of trying, no hormone stimulation, no artificial insemination, no IVF. Something that’s far from normal nowadays and a big success. Especially given where I come from: About a decade of counting and restricting my calorie, fat and protein intake (especially from animal sources), combined with an intense endurance exercise schedule and long work-study hours, had left me with very messed up hormones, deregulated cortisol and low progesterone to be precise. I didn’t have a period for five whole years in my late teens / early twenties, and when I finally got it back, it used to be very painful and even made me faint a few times (twice I broke something in the process). Ever since I learned about hormones during my Metabolic Typing training, my period has been my barometer for my hormonal health. This is why I waited to have three relatively pain-free cycles in a row, indicating that the problem had finally been resolved, before I took the chance (unresolved hormonal imbalance is not good for the long-term health of the baby nor the mother imo).
However, fertility is not just about being able to get pregnant. It is also about being able to maintain a pregnancy, to give birth to a healthy and strong child, and to maintain one’s own health in the process. This is why I personally am not only very concerned about the ever rising statistics of couples being unable to conceive (or only being able to do so with support), but also about the stunning frequency of miscarriages, the increasing rates of allergic or asthmatic children and last but not least, the silent epidemic of extremely fatigued mothers. Because for me, these are all about infertility (or better said, subfertility), just to different degrees. As I had to learn the hard way, one phase doesn’t necessarily inform about the next. The fact that we conceived so smoothly was the very reason why it didn’t even occur to me that something could go wrong at a later stage. Honestly, the thought never even crossed my mind. Not even when I noticed the first slight cramps. And still that’s what happened.
It seems that all of my preparation had stabilized my progesterone enough to allow me to get pregnant quickly, however, it wasn’t yet enough to also maintain the pregnancy. At around 9-10 weeks the follicle stops producing progesterone, and the placenta has to take over. I lost my baby at 9.5 weeks, and I am pretty sure it was related to a problem with that “taking over” process. There’s no point in knowing for sure though, because they only start investigating the cause after three miscarriages… but when I got into the hospital, with the embryo still inside of me, the blood test showed low progesterone, and even though the doctor was quick to state that this is the consequence and not the cause for miscarriage, I am convinced that more often than not that’s simply not true (especially in the cases of serial miscarriage) and that it was definitely not true in my case. I know my body and my particular hormonal struggles. I also know how progesterone is negatively affected by stress (physical, but also emotional). I realized, how I had not followed through on my own advice as thoroughly as I personally would have needed to, especially when it came to stress management, limiting physical effort and taking enough rest. After all, I was still in the phase of shutting down my shop…
Of course, there are many reasons for a miscarriage, and they are not always related to what one does or doesn’t do. Sometimes it’s indeed just bad luck. Or simply not meant to be. However, I think that trying to make us feel better by simply attributing the miscarriage to “a natural selection” and telling us that we shouldn’t worry and simply try again, isn’t necessarily the most useful advice. I know it wasn’t useful to me personally at all. The whole process had been so painful, that I wouldn’t want to experience it ever again.
So personally, if there’s anything I can do differently to possibly change the outcome next time, THAT’s what I want to learn about. I know that they mean well, and just don’t want us to blame ourselves. But honestly, dismissing the whole event as bad luck is as detrimental as dismissing any symptom, disease or even accident as bad luck. It actually deprives us of the opportunity of deriving important insights from the whole experience, and ultimately of growing as a person. Sometimes we simply have to critically examine our behaviors, emotions, thoughts and beliefs, and the undesirable consequences those may have. This shouldn’t result in blaming anyone or beating ourselves up, but simply in accepting reality for what it is, assuming responsibility and learning from what happened, in order to avoid repeating similar mistakes, or to course-correct while we still can.
Treasures to be found in a miscarriage
Of course I have been doing many things “right” and it would be easy for me to feel like a victim and be angry about Life being so mean and punishing me in such a way, when I’ve really tried my best. It would also be easy for me to conclude that doing everything “right” is not going to make a difference, so I can just as well go back to eating junk food, drinking alcohol and staying up late. But honestly, both attitudes would be like throwing the baby out with the water and only make me more miserable. They would definitely prevent me from finding the treasures, that are contained in this experience. As already said, I believe that whatever happens is in our best interest. So I have to get curious in what sense this seemingly bad event actually served me. I have to be very honest with myself and take a long hard look at my behaviors, emotions, thoughts and beliefs.
I might find one or several of the following:
- My body is not in an ideal state to support a pregnancy, give birth to a healthy baby and/or maintain its own balance: losing the pregnancy actually saved me from major troubles related to the health of my baby or my own (typical examples: a baby with lots of health problems or the mother developing a thyroid condition during pregnancy).
- We have in fact not been doing everything “right”, but rather what we THOUGHT was “right” (typical example: following a low fat or vegan diet).
- We have been cherry picking the parts that we are doing “right” (usually the ones that are easy for us) while neglecting others (the more difficult ones).
- Deep down inside we do not want children.
- The outer circumstances of our Life are not right yet to have a child: there is no time or no space or no money, or we are not with the right partner or not in the right place (this one turned out to be highly relevant later on, since the relationship with my partner actually ended in June 2018).
- There is a huge internal conflict (often unconscious) about how having a child will change our identity as a woman or affect our career.
- We are afraid of the process of pregnancy and birth (the pain or how our body will change).
- The child loss will lead us to an unexpected place, a place that we need to get to, but would probably not without the experience. We can only realize that looking back (this one, too, turned out to be highly relevant in my case – I have written more about this in my post “One year ago”)
In my personal case, this miscarriage taught me several things.
- It made me research about progesterone and miscarriage. I ended up diving much deeper into the topic of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and ATO (adrenal-thyroid-ovarian)-axis deregulation than I had ever before. I found some excellent resources and took my understanding and knowledge about hormones to a whole new level. This new information allowed me to see that, while I had been working on all three: nutrition, lifestyle and mindset, I had been cherry-picking on the stuff that was easiest for me, while neglecting the areas that were a bit more difficult. For example, it’s a fact that my sleep is rather crappy, that I spend far too much time inside, sitting and in front of mobile devices, and that I do have more financial insecurity than before. Sure, I do eat very well, I do fulfilling work, I can work from home, self-determine my days and working hours and wake up without an alarm. However, stress still is a major issue in my life, just in a different form. So the miscarriage taught me that, while I have come a very long way of rebalancing my body and hormones, I am still in the process of recovering physically from my earlier excesses and replenishing my physical reserves. It made me aware that in fact I have still been recovering from Adrenal Fatigue.
- It put the light on some of my own blind spots and showed me what areas I still need to change in my life to allow my body to complete healing, be in balance and be able to give birth to a strong and healthy baby. I would even go as far as saying that it prevented me from further declining on the Adrenal Fatigue curve. It is not unusual for a pregnancy to do that, especially if the mother enters it in an already depleted state (= doesn’t take time to replenish batteries before), which I would say applies to most modern women. This could actually explain the permanent change in well-being many women experience after pregnancy and even post-partum depression.
- It made me a better professional, because it made me see how epidemic the syndrome of Adrenal Fatigue (or HPA-axis-deregulation) is. I am not exaggerating if I state that almost all of the women who come to me – and even most of the women I know (! ) – suffer from it in varying stages. Understanding it as I do now, allows me to help many of my clients more effectively. I realized how some of the advice I had given in the past had actually been counterproductive.
- It confirmed that we both really want a baby and that we want to have it together. We were both so happy when we learned about the pregnancy and about the idea of raising a child together. It somehow put things in perspective and changed priorities. We had some extremely beautiful moments together and when telling our parents. When we had to face the loss, it brought us even closer together and I could once again feel how much I can count on my partner to support me through everything.
- It made me become aware of a huge emotional conflict: While on the one hand, we both really want a baby, and agreed that we shouldn’t wait for circumstances to be absolutely “perfect” (especially since we are both not getting any younger), I knew that in truth I didn’t want to be pregnant in Brussels. For quite a long time now I have harbored the wish to leave the city, to start a new life in a quieter, healthier, sunnier and more natural environment. This year we had initiated the process of exploring different areas. When I got pregnant, this process was stopped, since one of my principles is that I am not going to travel by plane when pregnant. It was kind of clear, that for the term of the pregnancy and also the first year or two after, we would stay where we were. This thought made me really desperate. Even if I tried to accept that things were just the way they were, and that we would be fine also in the city, I had this huge internal resistance to the idea. Especially the extremely bad air quality in Brussels caused me tremendous stress. Every time I had to leave the house, I felt like I was intoxicating my unborn baby. I wouldn’t want to breathe, but of course I had to, and even if I tried to keep it as shallow as possible, I felt so much guilt and anger, that I almost started to cry. So when I lost the baby, it was also a relief. This sounds extremely hard, and some of you might judge me for even having that kind of feeling. But denying it or pushing it away doesn’t make it less true and again prevents learning. I realized just how big my inner conflict was and that I really needed to resolve it before trying again for a baby. There are only three ways to resolve any conflict: change it, walk away from it or accept it. I cannot change the city and its air quality, and as we saw, I have difficulty accepting it, even if I try. So all that’s left is walking away and thus the “finding a new place” project has again top priority now. Some options are already unfolding, that we would probably not have been able to discover and pursue, had the pregnancy gone through.
- I also believe that this first pregnancy, even if I lost it, helped me to even further rebalance my hormones and “clean” or “prepare” my uterus for the next baby. Even if my last three periods before the conception had already been relatively symptom-free, ever since the pregnancy there is even less pain (meaning it is almost inexistent) and the flow is much better as well, both of which indicate an improved hormonal balance.
- Later on I should learn that in fact it saved me from staying in a relationship that was not meant to last and also allowed me to have other, invaluable life and love experiences, that I would have otherwise never had. More about that in my post “One year ago”.
All of this is invaluable to me – and I owe it all to the little soul that chose to inhabit me and leave again after such a short time!
Just in case you might be thinking now, that I am too obsessed with wanting everything to be “perfect” and that one day I will wake up and it will be too late… Maybe. But as I said before, it is not about “perfection” for me. I am not stressing out about each and every detail. I am just listening to the signs my body and Life is sending me through symptoms and happenings, such as this miscarriage. This is in fact the hidden language of my soul, and what I hear is that the right moment has indeed not come for us yet. In fact, I am convinced that a major learning in the whole fertility journey is to stop forcing things when it is clear, that the body or the outer circumstances are not ready yet. To accept and to trust that if we are meant to have a baby, we will have it, even if we will be one more year older. So putting things on hold feels the right thing for me to do right now.
It is an experience that has marked me a lot and that I will never forget. For me personally writing it all down has helped me tremendously to reflect about the experience, to process it and to even derive important insights from it. As strange as it sounds, I have come to see it as another great gift of Life, even if it came in a very unpleasant packaging.
So thank you dear Baby for everything, the joy of finding out about you and all the insights that I have gained through losing you again! I have loved you for every second of your life, and will always love you!
In the meantime I have had to go through another miscarriage, which – as weird as it may sound – healed this first one in a very profound way. I processed my feelings of this second loss in a poem, which you can find here.