Sometimes I forget that I have been pregnant. I think about my fertility experience in terms of my losses, not my pregnancies. But I have been pregnant for a combined total of 45 weeks – that’s more than full term. I’ve had nausea and night-sweats and sore boobs and exhaustion. I’ve seen two heartbeats. I have been pregnant. Six times. But I’ve never made it through a first trimester.
For a time, the process of trying to get and stay pregnant stole my identity. It affected my job performance and impacted my personal relationships. It invaded my body and my mind. It was a single note played so loudly and consistently that it muted all the other chords of my life.
My memory too, is littered with otherwise wonderful events remembered through the lens of my losses. The moments themselves weren’t bad; I was with friends, or family, or on vacation, or at fun events. But it’s as if there’s a scratch on the lens blocking certain shapes and distorting certain angles. They are all slightly marred.
It has been 18 months since my last miscarriage, and while the pain is not fresh, there are plenty of days I still grieve. Anniversaries of losses can be hard, so can intended due dates, so can places or activities associated with the losses. Mothers’ Day can be particularly challenging. Receiving birth announcements and baby shower invitations can trigger sadness. These are normal feelings, yet I suffer most of them in solitude and silence. That’s why I appreciate the many stories shared during October Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month; they remind me that I’m not alone.
My experience, the repeated cycle of conceiving and losing pregnancies, is called “recurrent pregnancy loss.” It is a condition that impacts 1-2% of couples (10-15% of the infertility community), and while there is much known about it, still roughly half the cases remain medically “unexplained.”
I am one of these women. The unlucky amongst the unlucky. I don’t know why I can’t carry a pregnancy to term. I’m not sure I will ever know.
It has taken me a long time to accept this truth. For years, I was desperate for a reason. I wanted a game plan – something I could do differently in future to ensure a different outcome, because lacking a medical explanation for my losses, I often blamed myself.
After every pregnancy I meticulously retraced my actions, mentally flogging myself for misbehaviors: I should have ordered decaf; I shouldn’t have taken that hike; I should have switched to glass water bottles instead of plastic. I felt responsible for the outcome of my pregnancies. Childbearing was something my body was built to do, and my inability to procreate made me feel like something essential was amiss. I felt broken and I felt culpable.
Time, intense therapy, and the knowledge that I tried everything helped lessen my guilt. On my journey to motherhood, I saw multiple reproductive specialists, had several surgeries, took hormones, steroids, blood thinners, vitamins, and supplements. I prescreened embryos and did two rounds of IVF. I tried acupuncture and experimental medications. I scoured the internet for information about healthy pregnancies and modified my diet and lifestyle accordingly – intermittently cutting out dairy, gluten, coffee, and sugar. I did yoga and tried meditation. I prayed desperately. But nothing worked. At this point, even my doctor supports me pursuing alternative paths to parenthood.
I have the utmost respect for every healthcare professional I’ve seen these past years. They have been intelligent and compassionate and have employed every tool at their disposal to try and keep me pregnant, but medicine has no more answers for me. The facts are that:
∙ 30% of infertility cases are unexplained
∙ 50% of recurrent pregnancy loss cases are unexplained
∙ 60% of stillbirths are unexplained
This is why my husband and I decided to start Recurrent Pregnancy Loss Association (RPLA) – a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding research into the causes of and treatments for recurrent miscarriage.
This year, more than ever, we have witnessed how quickly the scientific and medical communities can become galvanized to find solutions to challenging health problems. It’s not a question of capability, it’s an issue of funding and focus. Through RPLA our hope is that by convening the patient and scientific communities we can help other couples accelerate their journey to parenthood. My husband and I may not get the answers we hope for, but perhaps we can prevent others from walking this path behind us.
So this October, if you’re ready, if you’re able, in addition to celebrating stories of strength and healing, in addition to remembering our losses and honoring our pain, let’s also come together with the purpose to find solutions and advocate for answers.