This story was written by Amanda Allen-Herm and originally appeared on The Mighty.
The moment I realized I was pregnant, I tried to dial my emotions down. I used the term “cautiously optimistic” because I wanted to make sure that I was not overly attached to my pregnancy in case I would become one in four people who miscarry.
I only told a handful of friends and always made sure to include the sentence “We are excited, but I’m only telling people who could support me through a miscarriage right now.” Even knowing the statistics, and my increased likelihood because of my ongoing battle with PCOS and hypothyroidism, I was still excited.
Related: If news of pregnancy loss stirs up miscarriage grief, you aren’t alone
My husband and I talked to the little life growing inside of me every night. Every time we went grocery shopping we found ourselves in the baby aisle. We bought several onesies and hung them up in our bedroom so we could stare at them while we were falling asleep, hoping for dreams of our future child. While we celebrated my pregnancy, we also discussed safety plans for if I was to miscarry or get to our first ultrasound and find out that our little one had no heartbeat. We tried to be realistic about our chances of having a successful pregnancy with my first conception while also staying positive.
So when the spotting started, I wasn’t entirely surprised. I had researched miscarriage symptoms at each week and was already aware that this spotting could be normal, but could also be a sign of something worse to come. Within six hours, my husband and I were sitting in our bed, crying, holding each other and accepting that this first pregnancy would not bring us a baby in the next seven months.
As prepared as I tried to be for this journey, there were several things that I wish I had been ready to face. It is never my goal to scare another pregnant person, especially if they are suspicious that a miscarriage may be starting or is in their near future.
But in case you are one of the few like me that feel better knowing as much of the truth as possible, here are some things I wish I would have expected when I stopped expecting.
1. You may not have answers right away
I began spotting at noon on a Wednesday. By 8pm that night, I was passing dark red clots. I had been on the phone with my OB’s office and they had suggested an emergency ultrasound the following morning. I bled through the night, went to the doctor’s office, had the procedure done, and then was sent home to come back in the morning to discuss my “options” with my doctor. I had asked to speak to a nurse, to an ultrasound technician, and the practice manager for any word about if my pregnancy was viable, but was told that my doctor would have to look through the ultrasound photos.
I had been bleeding for 48 hours, thinking the absolute worst, dreading the next bathroom trip, before my doctor said the words “miscarriage” out loud. Even then, my doctor explained that at seven weeks in the pregnancy, it can be hard to see what is happening via ultrasound and so he would like to confirm it by testing my HCG levels over the course of several days although he was fairly certain my pregnancy was ending. Further, a D&C was not off the table yet. Depending on how much tissue I passed, how long I bled, and how quickly my HCG levels declined, I might have to have a surgical procedure to empty my womb.
It was a very long wait to find answers, and I took it minute by minute as best as I could.
I had my first blood draw that Friday, and my second the following Monday. On Tuesday I got a call that my HCG levels were decreasing, but not enough to confirm that my miscarriage was complete. I repeated blood work again that week. 13 days after I began bleeding, I was finally testing negative and was told that I should not need a D&C. My pregnancy was over.
2. This will not feel like a period
I had thought that a miscarriage at seven weeks would feel a lot like a late period. I now know better. Even if I hadn’t known I was pregnant, if I had thought this bleeding was a period I would have went to the hospital. The bleeding was severe, lasting several days and had several clots. Three days after I started bleeding I was brought to my knees in pain. I explained to my husband it felt like severe cramps, like a knife sawing back and forth in my stomach.
I later learned that that was my uterus contracting, similar to someone who is giving birth after a 40 week pregnancy. My body was doing more than what it would during a menstrual cycle, it was contracting my uterus to essentially give birth to my child. Just months too early. Some people may pass the fetus all at once, and others may pass pieces at a time. I fell into the latter category, and so it did not feel like I could just grieve one time. Every trip to the bathroom was excruciating both emotionally and physically.
3. You may have to advocate for time off work on your own
Not everyone will understand how devastating a miscarriage is. While my boss was very supportive, my agency’s policies and HR department did not reflect that support. I had to spend several hours on the phone facilitating conversations between my doctor’s office and my HR department to try and find out exactly what my options were for my time off. I was quickly reaching an apathetic state where I was conscious that if I did not have enough paid time off, I might lose my job along with my pregnancy, and in those few weeks I couldn’t bring myself to care.
Related: What to say when your friend has a miscarriage
My doctor did not offer FMLA at my initial appointment, although I think he should have. Similarly, my HR director did not suggest applying for FMLA when she had heard about my miscarriage. A nurse had even told me that the office could not write me off work for a miscarriage since I can “work through it.” I was not in a place mentally to even think about my job, my hours or my pay while losing my pregnancy, and I wish someone would have reached out to me to walk me through my options. Eventually I worked out a solution with my boss to take time off, but it was not without a fight with both my agency and my doctor’s office.
4. Your next period will be different than normal
The day before I started my first period since my miscarriage I couldn’t stop crying. I had several intense crying episodes that left me puffy faced and having trouble breathing. I told my husband that I felt crazy and like I could not grasp any true emotions. I was cycling through several feelings and thoughts, ups and downs, and even thoughts that led me to worry if I would act on harming myself. The next day when I noticed I was starting to spot, I realized that this might be a side effect from my cycle trying to regulate.
I called my doctor’s office and was told that there can be large hormonal changes during your first cycle that can even mimic and feel like postpartum depression. I was also told to expect a heavy and more painful period and they were correct. The first day I started I was reminded of the uterus contractions I had had during my miscarriage. I spent a lot of time crying on the floor trying to stretch and relieve the pain. I also lost close to 200ml of fluid/blood in the first 48 hours.
Menstrual cups have always been my preferred choice for menstruation products, and this was very helpful for noting how much fluid I was losing during this period. Losing this large amount of blood every day had me exhausted and battling mind fog no matter how much caffeine I drank or how many naps I took. Again, I had wished I had more options for taking time off work during this time.
5. Some people will say thoughtless things
Like many times in life, people will say some thoughtless things in an attempt to support you. I tried to be very understanding of this. They may not know what to say, and they may be triggered about their own experiences when hearing about yours. My biggest piece of advice is to set boundaries early. I let several people know I was not OK with hearing stories of others pregnancy losses, and I also did not want to discuss how far along I was, as if that made the loss less valid.
I simultaneously thanked people on their apologies while educating them on how things they said were hurtful to me. I even made a post on my social media including things to say when you’re not sure what to say. While it is not your responsibility to correct them, it is your responsibility to take care of yourself and your mental health the best you can during a time where you are likely already struggling. Preparing a statement on your boundaries when you announce your miscarriage may save you, and your loved ones, a hard conversation later.
6. Your baby and your pregnancy are still important no matter the circumstances
Going back to the previous point, it felt as if a lot of people did not feel that this pregnancy was valid or that my baby’s life (of lack thereof) was something to grieve. Ultimately, I had decided that their opinion was not relevant to me, and I would grieve how I needed to. It didn’t matter to me that I was seven weeks pregnant and that there was a chance the fetus inside of me may have never had a heartbeat or had too many genetic abnormalities to survive outside of my womb. What mattered to me that I was still grieving a loss, regardless of how you may feel about spirituality. I was losing a future I had envisioned and was entirely ready for. That alone was enough suffering for me to feel justified in my grief.
I made a little memento box for my pregnancy and the life that I lost. I included the pregnancy test, and a beautiful glass blueberry that represented how big they had grown. My husband and I decided on a name that honored this pregnancy and was meaningful to us, which helped us when referring to our little one without saying dismissive things like “the fetus” or “it.” I also bought a necklace to remind me of the life I carried for seven weeks and I have not taken it off since then. For me, these ways of grieving me helped remind me that while I never got to hold or see the life I had created, they were real and they would be a part of me for the rest of my life.
It also didn’t matter that I could get pregnant again, although people tended to focus on the future with a hopeful outlook instead of validating my painful present. My doctor did discuss trying to conceive after our loss with me. I had learned that many people experience a rise in fertility following a miscarriage and my doctor was confident that I would be able to be pregnant again in just a few months, if I had wanted to.
I take that decision cycle by cycle and discuss how I’m feeling about all options with my husband when we make those decisions. We are excited for our rainbow baby and for another pregnancy, but we can be excited for that while also grieving the loss of our first. I have learned that my grief and my hope can both live together in harmony, leaning on each other in the unlikeliest of ways.
If you are experiencing a miscarriage, know you are not alone. There are many other people who have gone through this and are more than ready to support you in the ways you need. These people should be able to validate what you’re going through while also giving you some strength to pull through. There may be a support group local to your area, but there are also many virtual communities through Facebook, the Mighty, and What to Expect that I found very helpful for me.
I also reached out several times to the suicide prevention lifeline to speak through some of the intense emotions I was feeling. You may have a different supportive crisis line you prefer, but in case you don’t the number to reach them is 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7.
Thank you for reading my story, and I hope it helps with your own.
This story was written by Amanda Allen-Herm and originally appeared on The Mighty.