My husband and I waited seven years to get married.
In those months after we became engaged, before I even picked my dress or wedding colors, I had already started planning for the family that occupied our daydreams. We’d have three kids, I was sure of it—two boys and one girl—just like the family I came from. Of course, our girl would be the youngest so she would have two older, protective brothers. They would come on cue two years apart.
Instead, I picked my dress, we settled on crimson red and ivory, we got married, and I had six miscarriages.
I would get pregnant, and just as we would allow ourselves that hopeful glimpse of the first trimester final stretch, I would miscarry. It was devastating, but it became a cycle that I became all too familiar with. My emotions became a pattern of predictability: excitement, anxiety, devastation. By my third miscarriage, I felt relief when the ending began. The emotional strain of losing each baby I had lovingly carried and whispered my aspirations to brought me to the point of an exhausted relief when I would start to miscarry. Relief that I wouldn't have to wake up another morning with anxiety—how is my baby today? Is my baby's heart still beating? Then the day would inevitably come that I would come to realize there was no longer a heartbeat. I would let my anxiety wash away, replaced by a heaviness in my heart, and almost a strange sense of peace. It was a dark place to be, but a familiar dark place. A place that I could control.
In the midst of uncertainty, I developed a miscarriage routine. Routine was something I could do. And something I could do well, on my terms. It was a way to say, “I got this.” Even if I didn’t.
I would realize I was miscarrying, and continue through my day. Continue to care for other people, to smile and joke, when inside I was breaking. I was thinking, "I know you are hurting, patient-in-my-emergency-department, and please be assured I will do my best to take care of you, but you see, what I can't tell you is that my baby is dying and I am hurting, too. My baby is dying right now as I stitch up this cut on your finger. My baby is dying while I try to figure out why you are having abdominal pain. My baby is dying while I tell your loved ones you are having a heart attack. My baby is dying and I can't take care of her the way I can take care of you. My baby is dying and no one knows it but me."
After work, I would call my husband, then stop to get the sushi I had craved since learning I was pregnant. I would go home and focus on the pain of my cramps, because that was exponentially easier than acknowledging my broken heart. When everything passed, I would mentally brush my hands off and ready myself for the next time. That was my routine. My miscarriage routine.
I was riddled with guilt over everything about it.
During this two-year period, I felt like a failure. I felt like a weak woman. I felt I was doing something wrong. I felt it was my fault. I felt guilty. I felt inadequate. I felt out of control. I felt ashamed. I had never felt so vulnerable and nothing had ever felt that personal.
A year into the process, I went to an infertility specialist and received the million-dollar work-up. Nothing was wrong. How could nothing be wrong? But test after test confirmed that, "Congratulations! Nothing is wrong!" Translation: there is nothing we can fix. I was prescribed this medication and that medication, because "It's worth trying." I was hopeful, but hopeless, exhausted from this constant testing of my emotional strength.
And then it was our seventh pregnancy, and this time—twins!!!! Twins!!! My excitement was quickly followed by a flood of anxiety. My husband and I kept our news to ourselves. We held our breaths. We had been through this. We tiptoed around our fears, whispering to one another, stifling the excitement we held in our glances towards one another, and we waited. And waited. And my belly grew. And I had no cramps. And I had no bleeding. And I saw their heartbeats. Time and time again.
The infertility specialist said we didn't need him anymore. I sat still in his clean, minimalistic office, in the same blue upholstered chair with its thin wooden arm rests, the same chair I had sat in for two years, and weighed the heaviness of his words. Then I broke down in wave after wave of tears. We didn't need our infertility specialist anymore.
We passed three months. And four months. And five, and six, and seven, and eight!!!!! And two healthy beautiful babies were born.
They are beautiful to this day. I stare at them sometimes, and marvel at how they came to be.
Sometimes when I am tucking my five-year-old daughter into bed at night, I tell her, "Do you know that you are more beautiful than I could have ever imagined?". What I mean to say is, everything about her existence is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.
When we decided to have a third, I was ready for the journey. Admittedly nervous, I knew the process was more than worth it after the birth of our twins. The day we decided we wanted to try again, I put up my defenses against my own emotions.
Five weeks later, just like that, we found out we were pregnant. I braced myself. I was so fearful this would become another pregnancy that would fall victim to my routine. I went in for ultrasounds every week. Week after week, there was a heartbeat—I couldn’t believe my ears. And then our beautiful baby girl came into our lives seemingly seamlessly.
It was too good to be true, but it is true.
I realize now after eight pregnancies and three babies and innumerable dreams for our family, there is nothing to be ashamed of. There never was. I failed at nothing.
These days, when I see the chief complaint of "possible miscarriage" show up in my emergency department, I want to see that patient. Not because I can provide better care than my colleagues, but because I want to share my story. Mother to mother. I want to give them hope and I want them to know they are not alone. I am unashamed of the tears that fall from my face when I share in their grief and acknowledge my own. I want them to know it is okay to grieve and natural to feel defeated, and that it is okay to hope again when you are ready.
Sushi has once again become my favorite food. When I eat it now, it doesn’t taste the way it once did. I don’t feel like I am swallowing heartache, loss, and failure. These days, when I stop for sushi at the end of a long day, I bring it home to share with my three children and husband. We talk about what was good about our days, what could have been better about our days, what we look forward to tomorrow. No words could express what these days that end with sushi mean to me now.
I am thankful for everything I have been through. It has given me what I have, it has given me who I am, and it has given me what I have to share. And most of all, it has given me and my husband our beautiful, healthy children.
Written by Cindy Winebrenner. Cindy is the mother of three, a wife to a talented attorney and committed father, and an emergency department physician. She spends most of her days moving at cheetah speed (cheetah speed is relative, people) and daydreaming about sleep. She has resumed writing after a 15 year hiatus while pursuing her career, and has fallen in love with the power of words all over again. You can find her scattered and sporadic thoughts at http://momwifedoctorthoughts.com
Photo by N'tima Preusser.