When my best friend in all the world miscarried at six months, she was huge, she'd seen the heartbeat, she knew the baby's sex, and she and her husband had picked out a name. I miscarried three times -- each time in the first trimester -- and I don't imagine that my pain can compare to my friend's. Of course, it's silly to talk of "comparing" pain, and whenever this comes up in conversation between us, she always says that she can't imagine my pain of having a miscarriage three times over. To which I always respond: Think of the women who have had six miscarriages, or eight. And who persist, trying and trying again.
Trying once again -- or again and again -- to conceive afterrepeated miscarriages is a leap of faith, an act of amazing persistence, pure will, and even, one might say, stubbornness. For one thing, after three miscarriages, you're dubbed a "habitual aborter" by the medical profession, which is enough to make anyone take a vow of celibacy.
I married late (at 37) and -- presto! -- became pregnant on my Italian honeymoon. No biological clock worries for me, I thought smugly. During that first pregnancy, which I now view as an Edenic, innocent time, I filled my blender with fruit (it was summer) and made one super-healthy yogurt shake after another. I bought, for the first time in my life, a huge bag of sunflower seeds and dutifully littered my salads with them. I swam long, slow, meditative laps in a pool.
Then, at 10 weeks, I went to have CVS (chorionic villus sampling), the test recommended for pregnant women over 35 that gives earlier results than amniocentesis. As a prelude to the test, a technician did a sonogram to determine the baby's position. My husband noticed before I did that her face betrayed something very wrong. We were not yet experienced readers of sonograms, had not yet trained our eyes to pick through the moonscape of the at-first-unintelligible picture on the monitor. The explanation was grim: No heartbeat. It took a moment or two before the corollary to "no heartbeat" sunk in: No baby.
During the ensuing painful days, I kept saying to myself: Baby. Not baby. Baby. Not baby. Like some insane version of "He loves me; he loves me not," my mind repeated this little chant as I brushed my teeth, as I reheated food in the microwave, as I sat at my office computer. It was so sudden, so stark, such an abrupt change. From being on the path to motherhood to...what? I had no guidelines for how to think about this.
Thankfully, I got pregnant again before too many months went by. But this time, I treated my pregnancy far differently. Perhaps in some sort of bizarre rebellion against my body and what "it" had done to "me," I was far less careful, drinking more than the occasional cup of coffee and giving absolutely no thought to those sunflower seeds, now stored in the uppermost reaches of my kitchen cabinet.
On a sad June night when, as bad luck would have it, my husband was out of town, I began to bleed. The next day, another of those sonograms that I was rapidly becoming skilled at deciphering, confirmed that, yet again, there was no heartbeat. The superstitious, guilty part of me worried that, somehow, I'd brought on this miscarriage with my less-healthy habits, but testing exonerated me: The fetus had had a trisomy (three of a particular chromosome, rather than the normal two) and had been doomed from the very start. I learned that such genetic abnormalities were common in "older" mothers. My usually optimistic outlook on life began to disintegrate.
We settled into a period of "trying" -- one of the most unfortunate locutions in the English language -- what an old boss of my husband's calls "the forced march." And -- yes! -- I became pregnant again fairly quickly. This time, my attitude did a wideswing in the other direction: I went back to more circumspect eating and drinking (though still not as abstinently as my more cautious husband would have liked). I was upbeat and happy. My doctor assured me that I had just had some bad luck and that everything would be fine. I believed her calming assurances -- after all, I couldn't possibly miscarry a third time.
This pregnancy progressed well -- we actually made it through our CVS appointment. And at that visit, we saw the by-now-familiar sonogram, with the black-and-white cartoon character that looked so very much like a baby. We saw it moving, dancing; we saw its blinking light of a heart. And then, a week or so after the test, at a routine doctor's visit, once again: No heartbeat. No baby. The doctor swore that the CVS didn't cause this miscarriage, but we certainly had our doubts (the procedure does pose risks). It was this third miscarriage that did me in, the third trip to the green-ceilinged operating room for a D&C that made me start to fray around the edges.