My Turn: A Sisterhood of Suffering

The little panel flashed the word "pregnant" at me, and my hand jerked in surprise. The damning wand fell right into the toilet. This was not part of the plan. I am 28 and teach high school for a living; "planning" and "control" are the two words that hold my world together. Don't get me wrong; I love kids. About 150 pass through my classroom every year, and I love each of them in a poignant, singular way. But the idea of a child of my own was an abstraction that I kept in the firm future. The present now held fear.

My husband was excited; he is already a father to a precocious 9-year-old boy, so his plan was different from mine from the start. Though I understand teenagers, 9 is an age that thoroughly confuses me. The word "infant" isn't even fathomable. But as the days passed, I started seeing women with ripe bellies everywhere I went, women I'd never noticed before. I started seeing myself.

So I did what's required. I took my vitamins, avoided fast food, napped whenever possible. I drove to the bookstore and filled myself with information. But I didn't tell anyone. I had heard the old wisdom of waiting three months "just in case."

Then "just in case" happened. Only days after the shock of the little digital screen, hope and wonder had set into my life. I was a part of something bigger; I was going to be great at it. But sometimes aspiration isn't enough. I woke up one morning, and I felt empty. A totally different fear took hold of me. I did not want to lose this piece of life we had started. I made an appointment for a blood test.

The call came on my cell phone in between classes. The doctor said the test had indicated an "unviable pregnancy" and yet again my hand jerked. I thanked the apathetic messenger, trying to hold on to my reaction as my students filtered through the door of my classroom. I ignored the pointed questions about my thinly veiled despair. A sluggish 90 minutes later, they drifted out, looking at me with worry. It was a Friday. I sat at my desk behind the safety of a locked door, and I cried. And cried. There was no control to this crying. Logically, I knew the miscarriage was not my fault, but logic doesn't always rule. My body had failed me.

I spent the weekend in a haze of plummeting hormones and Kleenex, and I remembered a friend of a friend who had mentioned her miscarriage at a baby shower. I called this person I barely knew to talk to her about something I did not want to share. Her understanding was seamless. She never said "things happen for a reason." She did tell me how long the crying would last, and everything that follows a miscarriage. The crying slowed.

At the spa that next week, waiting for much-needed pampering, I started talking to the pregnant women who seemed to surround me. I mentioned needing a facial due to dropping hormones, and all of them started speaking up. Seven of the women in that room had had a miscarriage in the recent past. I was surrounded by understanding strangers. I learned what no one tells you until devastation has set in: up to 25 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. It made me feel better, but it also made me need to talk.

I got on the phone and told all my friends. I got a lot of pity. Some people were uncomfortable; many of my friends who had recently become mothers seemed smug, but I talked anyway. I wasn't seeking their help; I just wanted to put the word out. Hell, I wanted to write it on my forehead.

Two months later, my phone rang. It was an old friend I rarely talk to. She is a private person, seldom sharing her personal woes. I picked up the phone, and she attempted a few sentences. By fragment number three, I knew. I talked to her. I cried with her. I told her how long the crying would last, and then everything else that follows. Her crying slowed, and helping her helped me.

People keep too mum about private tragedies such as this. True, miscarriages are not catastrophic, especially in terms of sheer commonality, but it can tear away a piece of you that you didn't know was there. We need to talk to each other rather than suffer, surrounded by silent sisters. Sure, there are chat rooms for support, and the doctors will always offer the facts in a flowery condolence pamphlet, but we need to know about the other wounded.

Now my husband and I are ready to become parents. Readiness works better for me, and we are keeping the plan casual. At least now I know that it doesn't always work, and that's OK. I have people to talk to about it.