Even though time has passed, I remember being newly pregnant, counting my blessings and marveling at the promise of motherhood. I also remember the six-week mark, when light spotting and cramping brought me in for a precautionary ultrasound. I avoided the monitor, its black and white shiftiness an unwanted extension of me.
“Do twins happen to run in your family?” the technician asked, looking at me and my husband, Chad.
“How exciting,” I thought. “Maybe, instead of something being wrong, something could actually be doubly right.”
“See here,” she said. “There’s a healthy heartbeat. Your baby’s seven weeks along.” The life on screen flickered before us like a happy little firefly.
“But here,” she said, “There’s an empty sac.”
The technician explained that Vanishing Twin Syndrome is a surprisingly common phenomenon. Our disappointment was brief; we were still thrilled to be pregnant.
Seven weeks later, stepping into the washroom at work, I was happy, hurrying and daydreaming about breaking the news to my boss. Then suddenly—blood—a bright red smear. I wanted to believe that nothing was seriously wrong but my intuition screamed otherwise. Too shaken to drive, I climbed into a taxi and nervously shuttled towards home.
I phoned the midwifery clinic the moment I got in. To my great relief and surprise, two midwives hastened over to be by my side. My mom also came over. As I lay on our tired velvet couch, the small circle of women who had gathered in our living room did their best to reassure me. There was no cramping, that was a good sign. There was no more bleeding and that was a good sign. And when the Doppler failed to pick up a heartbeat, well, it didn’t necessarily mean all hope was lost.
“You’ll probably know by the end of the weekend,” one of the midwives said. “One way or the other.” This pronouncement was delivered with optimism and kindness, but also with an experienced matter-of-factness.
“How will I know if I’m having a miscarriage?” I wondered. Would it be like meeting The One, or finding the perfect wedding dress? Would I somehow just know?
As time passed, however, I knew. Cramping was the first sign. Lying on the bathroom floor came later—sweating, shaking, moaning, sobbing and terrified. Until then, I’d oddly prided myself on having a high pain tolerance; a confidence that was ripped from me as our dead child wrenched and twisted its way into the world.
A hospital test would reveal that our baby had actually stopped growing just days after that seven-week ultrasound. I’d been carrying a dead child for nearly two months. I was devastated. The results would also show the absence of any chromosomal abnormalities; in other words, there was no obvious genetic reason why the pregnancy had failed.
Despite this heartbreak, I reminded myself that miscarriage is incredibly common. But I had been fantasizing pretty heavily about a year off on maternity leave, staring at the calendar and marking all the exciting firsts that would be sure to come.
Suddenly, all that happiness, that whole future Chad and I been so brightly living into, was gone.
Instead of telling my boss I was pregnant, I shared my loss instead. She was caring and kind, but it was far from the conversation I’d been hoping to have.
Three months later, we were blessed to conceive again. In my sixth week, though, when I experienced ever-so-light spotting and cramping, an immediate sense of familiarity filled me with dread. “This can’t be possible,” I reasoned, “This can’t be happening to me again!” The clinic requisitioned some blood work to help determine how my pregnancy was progressing. Though I was concerned, I was fairly confident that everything would be okay.
“Are you sitting down?” the midwife asked, phoning with our test results. As her bad news sank in, my heart sank along with it.
I could make peace with one miscarriage—but two in a row?
I don’t know if anything could have prepared me for how deeply I would mourn this second loss. While I may have continued to look attractive on the outside, inside I felt sick, flawed and even physically repulsive. Naturally outgoing and talkative, the first to work the room at a cocktail party, I lost interest in connecting with others. I felt alone.
Afraid of trying to conceive again without first seeking some medical answers, our midwives referred us to a recurrent pregnancy loss clinic, and we were grateful to be accepted. After several months of tests, including everything from an endometrial biopsy to a hysterosalpingogram, it was suggested that simply taking a daily low-dose aspirin during pregnancy might improve the odds of a positive outcome.
Then again, our two consecutive miscarriages could be chalked up to really, really bad luck.
Armed with some degree of medical certainty, a small bottle of baby aspirin, and equal doses of courage and determination, we finally felt ready. Luckily, we conceived in our very first month of trying. The recurrent pregnancy loss clinic followed our pregnancy for the first eight weeks, after which we returned to the care of our wonderful midwives. Chad and I had every reason to believe that things were progressing perfectly.
This time around, though, I found myself being much more cautious. I was never able to relax enough to truly enjoy being pregnant. Of course I didn’t want it to be that way. I even worried (without wanting to grant myself too much power) that my negative thoughts might somehow bring about another unfathomable loss.
I realized that I wasn’t only grieving our earlier miscarriages; I was also mourning the loss of my sense of sureness.
I wanted to believe in my body and trust in the universe, but I’d lost a great deal of confidence in my ability to successfully carry a pregnancy to term. On the one hand, I was still pregnant, and for that I was extremely grateful. On the other hand, I found myself envying other pregnant women and couples, who didn’t seem to question or doubt a happy ending.
But nearly two years after we had first conceived, our happy ending finally arrived. Jaxon Fenton Fryling was born on November 7, 2009, weighing 7 lbs, 7 oz. (Lucky 777!) His birth was a true celebration; we feasted on my mom’s homemade cupcakes and toasted with vintage champagne.
Today, my faith in my body’s strength and beauty has largely been restored. I’ve reclaimed most of my natural joie-de-vivre. In the wake of these experiences of life and loss, though, I’m sometimes thoughtful about the nature of luck.
Is fate fickle? Is life unfair? Or do things unfold exactly the way they’re meant to? Who knows?
Maybe all this heartbreak happened to make me more grateful for the good things in my life; like a marriage that’s strong enough to withstand the strain of loss, and the perfect three-year-old boy I now have the incredible joy and privilege of holding in my arms every day.