In just one year, I had been pregnant three times, but I did not have a baby. It was something I could still barely register, no matter how many times I filled out the hospital intake forms. Three pregnancies, zero children — an error, a horror, a badly done sum.
That night, I allowed myself to howl out great gulping sobs as Manhattan glowed, oblivious, uncaring. I looked at the sky, the street, the wine I hadn't drunk for months, the cigarettes I hadn't smoked for years, and I said to everyone and no one, "I give up."
The first pregnancy had ended dramatically, gruesomely, on my bathroom floor. The second was lost in the scratchy black-and-white TV silence of the ultrasound room at my doctor's office, as I heard the muted thump of a heartbeat waft through the walls from the room next door, elusive music belonging to a woman luckier than me. The third, a whisper, was gone mere weeks after announcing itself via the twofold joy and terror of the test's double pink line.
I was 33, healthy, practicing yoga every day and eating a nutritious, balanced diet. How could this be happening?
All around me, friends and family members announced their pregnancies, a seemingly endless series of bump photos on Instagram or ultrasounds brandished over FaceTime. Seeing them resulted in a kind of feral envy that left me feeling as guilty as I was devastated. Meanwhile, my days revolved around crack-of-dawn blood draws at the fertility clinic, my desperate attempt to figure out why my babies kept passing through me like ghosts.
Though I was lucky enough to have a loving husband, family and group of friends, hardly anyone knew what to say to me. Many stumbled through "so sorry" and left it there. Much worse was the barrage of unsolicited advice, "suggestions" and inquiries into my eating and exercise habits. Even more terrible were the people who seemed to know what not to say but weren't sure what to say. This resulted in the worst possible outcome -- silence.
I, on the other hand, suddenly couldn't shut up. After my third miscarriage, something about the depth of my despair made me incapable of lying. I decided if I couldn't stay pregnant, then I could at least stay honest. So I told everyone -- my boss, my dentist, a stranger at a wedding after she asked me if I was "thinking of having kids."
And that was when something magical happened. I realized I wasn't alone.
My boss? He'd experienced it once before, and he was so sorry -- did I need time off? The dentist? She'd had four before having her baby. The lady at the wedding? Hers was one horrible Christmas Eve in 2003, and she has never forgotten it. She lights a candle every year with her three living daughters.
When I saw Chrissy Teigen's Instagram post
in which she shared photographs showing the heartbreaking loss of her son, I experienced the sensation of wanting to both wrap my arms around her and applaud her openness. She knew, even in the depths of her grief, the power of sharing her story. Only then can we try and find the right words in the face of such loss.
So, as we embark on Baby Loss Awareness Week
, here's what I ask you to say and not say, informed by my own experience and by those who so generously shared their stories with me. One caveat: Since no pregnancy or baby loss experience is universal, not all may be right for you to say (or hear). But I list them because perhaps you are that woman on the roof, or maybe you know someone who needs coaxing down from hers. You can try to help. Here's how.
DO say: "Miscarriage is as much a part of pregnancy and motherhood as having a baby."
Pregnancy loss is devastatingly common. You may not think you know anyone who has had a miscarriage, but trust me, you do. An estimated one in four women will experience miscarriage, according to Tommy's
, a UK charity focused on baby loss. However, many doctors I have met along the way have told me the true number, in their clinical experience, is much higher. My OB-GYN told me that about 50% of women she saw at their first ultrasound did not have a viable pregnancy. Yes, 50%!
Not all pregnancies end with birth and babies. They still matter.
DO NOT say: "Have you thought about ..."
I cannot emphasize the importance of eliminating this phrase from your vocabulary. Do you know what she's thinking about? Her loss. The grief sits, a fog on the