My Miscarriage Cured My Fear of Childbirth

My iPhone’s Face ID function stopped recognizing me the day after my miscarriage, a hilariously modern alert that I’d never be the same person again.

My cruel phone was home to three apps that informed me of every aspect of my pregnancy: The fetus was the size of a strawberry, recently graduated from raspberry status, which felt significant, fruit-wise. It was developing eyes and, more important, elbows. I knew everything there was to know about my growing baby, and I knew I was 10 weeks and six days pregnant when it came to an end.

We had named it Mario at our first doctor’s appointment because it looked like a few pixels of Nintendo’s blinking eight-bit flatness. My mother worried we had come to love our joke name and would make it the actual name. She was probably right.

But what came out of my body on a Thursday night was no strawberry or raspberry or Mario Brother. It had no dimensions or familiarity, only a more intense pain than I had ever experienced and more blood than I knew a body contained.

I was pregnant. And then I wasn’t. The first thing I said after the miscarriage, as I buried my face into my husband’s chest, was: “We told so many people.” I didn’t think of him or me or the fetus, but the pain of a lovely story no longer true.

I had shared the happy news with our parents, siblings, close friends, my closest co-workers so they’d understand why I was weepy (or weepier) than usual, my boss, three Lyft drivers, one Vons grocery bagger and the owner of the liquor store around the corner. The news felt so satisfying: the shriek, the hug, the tears. There’s nothing more exhilarating than having news to share.

Immediately upon arriving home from the fateful doctor visit, I emailed those we had told. I wanted to quickly correct the record, to wipe away people’s happy feelings, which now felt shameful. And though we don’t admit it, even bad news is exhilarating to share.

I now look back on that quickly composed note, alerting them that “we lost the baby,” and wonder if we’ll ever find our misplaced child again. Our news wasn’t completely surprising. When I began to tell close friends about seven weeks into my pregnancy, I would always include a verbal asterisk: “But it’s early and I know the statistics, so really I’m just pregnant with possibility.

When they heard this, my dear loved ones would crinkle up their faces and admonish what I considered to be a reasonable outlook on my present situation:

“Don’t say that!”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“Don’t put that energy out in the world.”

Thirty to 40 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. I was 35, meaning I had crested the tipping point for “advanced maternal age” and was now the beneficiary of extra scrutiny from my OB/GYN and a slightly less rosy statistical outlook. At 34, I begged my gynecologist to grandfather me in to unadvanced maternal age if I could manage to get pregnant before turning 35, even if my baby was coming after the “geriatric” milestone. She didn’t understand why I cared so much, and I changed doctors.

If I’m honest, I was pretty confident a miscarriage wasn’t in my future, either. But I was taking part in a lifelong ritual of saying, out loud, the most frightening things in an effort to keep them at bay. As a deeply anxious child, I would often yell “don’t die!” at my parents as they left the house because I theorized the world wasn’t ironic enough to do the things you said it wouldn’t do.

[On NYT Parenting: How to recognize the signs of miscarriage and cope with the aftermath.]

When the miscarriage began to take full effect, I wondered if I had brought this on myself. If the control I exerted was unraveling. If I’d finally whispered my fear into reality. I didn’t just mean my fear of a miscarriage, but my even bigger fear of delivering a baby.

After a steady diet of film and TV births through the 1990s and 2000s, where two pushes produced a clean and swaddled 2-month-old, I had been initiated into the coven of knowledge about actual birth by a small army of friends and one sister who pulled me aside to give me the “real real.”

At this point, my reality around motherhood was primordial, wallpapered with daydreaming and Instagram announcements. I hadn’t wrapped my head around what was coming yet, and my pregnancy felt like a countdown clock to something I couldn’t comprehend.

You know when the Mario Bros. music sped up when you had only a minute left? That should be the soundtrack of first pregnancies.

Questions raced through my mind: Will I have a panic attack in labor? Will my heart explode from the exertion? Will I do something disgusting and become the first person in history to die from embarrassment? Will I die from the actual rising maternal mortality rate plaguing the United States? (Though being white helps me statistically in this regard, and that is insane.)

I had no answers, but I figured the second trimester is for babymoons and maternal transfiguration, and the third trimester is for baby showers and preparing for the corporeal battlefield of delivery. Right?

Then I found the surprising antidote to all this noise in the physical mess of a miscarriage.

I had never considered what a miscarriage actually is or where this prologue to a child actually goes when it suddenly stops growing. I felt the power of my body taking complete control, my uterus contracting and pulsating with ruthless pain. I twisted myself into unfamiliar shapes on the bed, calling out to make it stop even though I thought that was just another movie trope.

I endured it for a few hours, and when the blood loss became worrisome, we headed to the hospital. I was certain I was dying.

When we arrived at the emergency room, the front desk attendant said to me, “I know this feels so scary and unfamiliar, but this is very normal for us and we have everything we need to take care of you.” It was an act of grace so simple yet powerful, I felt like wind swept through the room.

While I continued to lose blood and tissue, my vital signs appeared to be enjoying a relaxing walk in the park. Heart rate good. Hemoglobin normal. Blood pressure, breezy. I was gobsmacked by just how fine I was, especially once the painkillers kicked in. (After being given choices, from morphine to Tylenol, I chose the one my husband recalled “hockey players like.”)

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The scary thing I’d spoken came true, and my heart didn’t explode. I didn’t die of embarrassment. I lost control while my body did what it was built to do, and then it was over.

My miscarriage was a heartbreaking yet galvanizing preview of what I can endure — physically, emotionally and spiritually. My anxious, fear-making heart got a movie trailer preview into childbirth, and I learned I can take it. And I am ready.

I know birth has many more challenges in store for me. But that night, from the comfortable certainty of two pink lines to the thousand little absurdities of actual life making (isn’t it wild that a nurse is just, like, at work and you are having the worst day of your life, in the same room?!), I realized I was no longer afraid. In losing this baby, I was no longer afraid of bringing one into the world.

The morning after, we went to a nearby diner to get breakfast and to not be alone. I looked down at my eggs, bacon and short stack, and told my husband that we should think of this pregnancy as “the first pancake.” It just wasn’t quite right, but it was an inevitable step before we got what we were looking for. After his face crinkled up like our friends’ before had, he began to laugh and we both allowed for some hope to re-emerge into our hearts. I was afraid. And then I wasn’t.

Kristin Smith Sauchak, a writer and communications executive, lives in Los Angeles with her husband and hundreds of expired ovulation test strips. She is expecting a baby in the fall.

Rites of Passage is a weekly-ish column from Styles and The Times Gender Initiative. For information on how to submit an essay, click here. ​To read past essays, check out this page.

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