Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan are finally pregnant with a healthy baby after three miscarriages, and the way they announced their joy — by acknowledging the pain it took to get there — gave hope to me and millions of other women who have experienced pregnancy loss. It also helped me decide once and for all to go public about my own miscarriage and to look back at notes I had written to myself back in April when the loss was still fresh.
Back then, I was writing an article in which the researcher, a miscarriage scientist named Dr. Zev Williams, explained how damaging myths around miscarriages can be. Most notable was the assumption that losing a pregnancy was somehow somebody’s fault. This idea of culpability, in turn, is a huge part of why women are advised not to announce their pregnancies before 12 weeks.
“Implicit in keeping an early pregnancy secret,” he’d written to me, “is the notion that if there is a miscarriage, you wouldn’t want anyone to know.”
When I interviewed him, I had just miscarried at around eight weeks. After a joyous day seeing the heartbeat flicker on the ultrasound in early April, we returned for a check-up to find our little one still shrimp-like, slumped against the wall of its placenta.
“Because your embryo made it to the heart beat stage, we know it tried really, really hard to live,” my doctor said. My chest swelled and I felt like a proud mother. I squeezed my husband’s hand and saved my tears for the elevator.
On the drive home I started shooting off emails immediately: to my editor, the handful of co-workers I had told, a circle of close girlfriends. We called our parents and told them the sad news. Siblings got text messages. And so it went throughout the days that followed; I’d be sitting in a daze on the couch and suddenly remember that more people needed telling. “You told John! Now you have to tell him about the miscarriage,” or “Justin knew!”
“God-fucking-dammit,” my husband would say, gritting his teeth as he tapped out more emails. Simon, who is naturally an anxious and cautious person, had fretted every time I told someone new about the pregnancy. And now that our worst fears had come true, he was more than a little resentful of the burden of telling so many people about the miscarriage. I felt ashamed. I didn’t think I could have prevented the loss, but I knew I had broken the rules and made things worse for us.
“This is why you don’t tell people,” I repeated to myself in my prim, self-punishing way. “Next time, you’ll know better.”
I never set out to tell so many people in the first half of my first trimester. I really and truly did try to be that “good” pregnant woman who kept her happy secret with her husband for 12 weeks.
But I couldn’t keep my trap shut because I was so unbelievably happy. After 14 months of trying, we had, with the help of our fertility doctor, finally gotten pregnant. And all the love and hope I had been building up during that time exploded into intense, overwhelming euphoria for my embryo. Pregnancy made me feel drunk with joy. It put a stupid smile on my face the whole day. It made me excited about drinking my vegetable smoothies and taking my vitamins. And it made me tell and tell and tell.
I told more than 30 members of our family, friends and co-workers the happy news. I had even blurted it out at a birthday brunch, half-filled with people I didn’t know.
So now I had to tell them about the miscarriage. Only now I didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
At the office, I wrapped myself in a blanket and worked in silence. My email announcing the miscarriage had also forbidden my co-workers from approaching me about it when I returned the next Monday. I cut off conversation with friends by telling them I felt “resilient” and ready to try again as soon as possible.
It was better this way, I thought at first. Most of the people I had to tell about the loss were appropriately sad and sympathetic upon hearing the news. But some were disappointingly callous about how to treat a grieving person, and some were so distraught that I ended up comforting them about the miscarriage, assuring them everything would work out in the end.
I brushed every cruel comment (or worse, inexplicable radio silence) off my shoulders and felt sorry for my friends and family — that I had ever burdened them with this information in the first place, that I had made them think about blood and vaginas, or put them in an awkward social situation that, I felt with grim pity, had let their absolute carelessness and stupidity shine through.
Disappointing reactions, I figured, were the wages of my sin. Heck, even I was pissing myself off. Every morning I would wake up and triumphantly shout-sing, “I’M OV-ER IT!” Then my husband, grieving and sweet, would gather me up in an embrace and whisper tenderly: “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Still, as weeks passed, something interesting began to happen. I started finding out — as so many women new to miscarriage do — that I actually knew several women who had personally experienced a pregnancy loss. I just didn’t know it yet.
An old school friend, who had also seen some shit as an active duty military member, said that her miscarriage was “the worst pain she had ever experienced.” A loving older family member who has three grown children said that she “never thought” about her several miscarriages, and assured me that I wouldn’t either, in time.
An ex-boyfriend’s mom, who had an early miscarriage in between her two children 30 years ago, quietly shared that she thought of herself as a “mother of three.” A good traveling buddy and self-admitted lapsed Catholic said she hoped she would one day meet her baby in heaven.
What amazed and humbled me about these healing words is that the one type of conversation that succeeded in lifting my spirits after the pregnancy loss would not have been possible if I hadn’t been such a Chatty Cathy and broken all the rules about discretion during early pregnancy and remained silent after a miscarriage.
These women were pretty much the only people I could talk to without feeling misunderstood or overlooked or diminished. No matter what they said or how they said it, or even if I disagreed with them, their words were like cool water pouring over my head, washing away my tears and giving me back my strength.
And yet, when I first finished this blog post back in May, I turned it into my editor and then decided not to publish it anymore. “I don’t feel that way anymore!” I told my therapist, who had gently encouraged me to share my experience in an essay. More honestly, the reason might have been something more like, “I don’t like being publicly associated with failure!”
Yet seeing the Zuckerberg-Chan pregnancy/loss announcement on Friday jolted me back to my original thought: “Miscarriages aren’t shameful secrets, and neither was mine!”
Yes, losing my pregnancy was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. But it was also a universal experience, and one that now connected me to a cloud of mothers like Priscilla who gave me hope for myself and the future of my family.
In Williams’ survey, 28 percent of women who had experienced a miscarriage reported that learning about a celebrity’s pregnancy loss helped them feel less isolated, but that number jumped to 46 percent when it was a friend sharing about their own miscarriage. I hope no woman I love goes through a pregnancy loss in the future, but the odds are that about one in five will.
That’s why I’m publishing this blog now. And, I suspect, why the Zuckerberg-Chans felt compelled to share their experience. So that anybody I know (or don’t know, for that matter) who experiences a pregnancy loss in the future doesn’t have to grope around in the dark for weeks before feeling understood. Come to me, tell me your story, and I’ll tell you mine.
Also on The Huffington Post:
While not everyone is as open to talking about their feelings as I am, I think everyone loves to receive a bright bouquet of flowers –- it’s a nice way to say that you’re there for her, and you care, without forcing her to talk about her feelings.
If you’ve gone through a similar experience, share your story with your grieving friend. While it’s unfortunate that miscarriage is so common, your friend can take comfort in not being alone. Knowing that others in their own network of friends have experienced the same thing makes it easier to work through the grieving process.
There’s no better time for your friend to focus on taking care of themselves. A restful body will help to heal the mind. Gift your friend with a massage or a pedicure so she is forced to take time out to enjoy a little pampering. And if you can, join her!
Unfortunately, there isn’t really anything you can do to reassure your friend that they’ll feel better in a few weeks or months. It’s a grieving process –- one that affects everyone differently. All that you can do is lend an ear, hold a hand and wait it out with them.
While you may be wondering what the doctors discovered or if your friend is going to try again — wait for your friend to share those details with you. Don’t try to pry it out of her. She might not be ready to discuss the details with you yet, but if you let her know that you’re there for her and available if she wants to talk, then she will come to you when she’s ready.
10 Fertility Facts You May Not Know
1. Your fertility is mostly determined by genetics, which influences how many eggs you are born with.
Doctors believe that the number of eggs you have at birth determines the length of time you will remain fertile. At birth, women have about two million eggs in their ovaries. For every egg ovulated during your reproductive life, about 1,000 eggs undergo programmed cell death. Other things, such as smoking cigarettes and certain types of chemotherapy, can accelerate egg cell death and promote an earlier menopause.
2. Regular menstrual cycles are a sign of regular ovulation.
Most women have regular cycles lasting between 24 and 35 days. This is usually a sign of regular, predictable ovulation. Women who do not ovulate regularly have irregular menstrual cycles. Those who do not ovulate at all may have a genetic condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
3. Basal temperature charting does not predict ovulation.
An older method of tracking ovulation involves taking your oral body temperature each morning before getting out of bed. This is called basal body temperature. This method is used to spot a rise in basal temperature, which is a sign that progesterone is being produced.
The main problem with using this method is that your temperature rises after ovulation has already occurred. This makes it more difficult to time intercourse at an optimal time for conception.
A better method is to use over-the-counter urine ovulation predictor test kits such as Clearblue Easy. These kits test for the hormone that prompts ovulation, which is called luteinizing hormone (LH).
4. Most women with blocked fallopian tubes are completely unaware they may have had a prior pelvic infection.
About 10 percent of infertility cases are due to tubal disease, either complete blockage or pelvic scarring causing tubal malfunction. One major cause of tubal disease is a prior pelvic infection from a sexually transmitted disease such as chlamydia. These infections can cause so few symptoms that you may be completely unaware your tubes are affected.
This is why fertility physicians will order a dye test of the tubes, called a hysterosalpingogram (HSG), if you have been trying and failing to conceive for 6 months or longer.
5. In most cases, stress does not cause infertility.
Except in rare cases of extreme physical or emotional distress, women will keep ovulating regularly. Conceiving while on vacation is likely less about relaxation than about coincidence and good timing of sex.
6. By age 44, most women are infertile, even if they are still ovulating regularly.
Even with significant fertility treatment, rates of conception are very low after age 43. Most women who conceive in their mid-40’s with fertility treatment are using donated eggs from younger women.
7. Having fathered a pregnancy in the past does not guarantee fertility.
Sperm counts can change quite a bit with time, so never assume that a prior pregnancy guarantees fertile sperm. Obtaining a semen analysis is the only way to be sure the sperm are still healthy!
8. For the most part, diet has little or nothing to do with fertility.
Despite popular press, there is little scientific data showing that a particular diet or food promotes fertility. One limited study did suggest a Mediterranean diet with olive oil, fish and legumes may help promote fertility.
9. Vitamin D may improve results of fertility treatments.
A recent study from the University of Southern California suggested that women who were undergoing fertility treatments, but had low vitamin D levels, might have lower rates of conception. This vitamin is also essential during pregnancy. At Pacific Fertility Center, we recommend our patients take 2,000-4,000 IU per day.
10. Being either underweight or overweight is clearly linked with lowered levels of fertility.
The evidence in recent years is that obesity is clearly linked with a longer time to conception. Having a body mass index less than 18 or over 32 is associated with problems ovulating and conceiving, as well as problems during pregnancy.