35 weeks. It seems almost impossible that this much time has gone by since I first saw that pink plus sign on a white plastic stick. Holiday decorations are already in store windows; by Christmas I could have a weeks-old infant cradled in my arms. Sometimes I look back and think “How did I get here? And how did it happen so fast?”
Along with my rapidly approaching due date, there’s another date permanently engraved on my mind. A day on the calendar that was supposed to mark the same kind of joy for one of my dearest friends that my own due date promises for me. But that date is empty now, a blank spot where there used to be a big red exclamation point. Because I am the lucky one, the one who gets to keep her miracle. And my friend—an amazing woman, a phenomenal mother—is grieving not one, but two pregnancies she’s lost in the same 35 weeks I’ve been happily, uneventfully pregnant.
It’s at her recommendation—and with her blessing—that I write this very difficult post. Miscarriage is a very common, very real part of many women’s journeys toward motherhood. I’m particularly inspired by Project Pregnancy blogger Lexi Walters Wright, whose beautifully written, brave posts remind me how incredibly fortunate I am—how fortunate every mom is—to have a healthy child growing up before my eyes, and even luckier to have rolled the dice and conceived a second time. But remembering how lucky I am is not enough to provide support to my friend, to help her through her grief without being a living, breathing reminder of her pain. What do you say when you desperately want to ease a friend’s pain—but can only make things worse?
We met when our babies were just a few months old, and it was instant friend karma. Our daughters are less than two weeks apart, and we’ve tackled every challenge of new motherhood together, from breastfeeding to pureeing broccoli to those first trips down the big kid slide. We made stay-at-home mommyhood into an adventure, with coffee playdates, music classes and field trips to the aquarium. She has parented my daughter almost as much as I have; she is one of the reasons my long months with J out of town have been bearable.
Around the same time, we decided it was time for #2. My friend had lost a pregnancy before her daughter C was born, and was considerably more cautious—and anxious—about the conception process than I was. Still, we bought ovulation sticks together, peed on pregnancy tests together, and looked at each other wide-eyed with shock and joy when we realized we’d both hit the jackpot—and were expecting our #2s just two days apart.
I had complications early in this pregnancy I hadn’t experienced with E. Bleeding started around 6 weeks, and I would sit in the bathroom, terrified and alone, wondering what was happening. She was my sounding board, my reassuring voice. When she also started first trimester bleeding, I blithely assured her everything would be fine. Wasn’t she just being overly neurotic because she’d had a miscarriage before C? If she was allowed to reassure me, I was allowed to poo-poo her fears too. Or so I thought.
Just before our 12-week milestones, my friend’s ultrasound showed no heartbeat. In an email more concerned with my feelings than her own, she broke the news, letting me know she and her husband were drowning their tears in sake and sushi, and were focused on being grateful for the gorgeous, smart toddler they had at home. They were optimistic about trying again. Typically brave, typically cheerful. Heartbreakingly honest.
I cried for hours. Why her? Why not me? Suddenly, irrevocably, my joy and her pain were inextricably woven. And there was nothing I could say, no help or soothing words I could offer her, that could excuse the fact that I was still pregnant and she was not. I desperately wanted to trade places. At least if it were my pain, I could deal with it, be in control of it. But to watch someone so close to me suffer and not be able to a single thing to help—it was intolerable.
Selfishly, I was grieving a little bit for me, too. I wanted to take this journey with one of my dearest friends. Everything was supposed to work out perfectly. I’d envisioned joint baby showers and shuffling down the hospital hallway with my IV pole to have the world’s first post-partum slumber party—just her, me, and our newborns. Our #2s should have had birthday parties together, gone to the DMV together to get their driver’s licenses. All those silly, selfish dreams were shattered. I wanted to be unequivocally elated and excited about the new life inside me. Instead I felt sad, lost, and so, so guilty.
My friend is one of the strongest and bravest people I know. But no amount of bravery can take away her pain, and I hate that my own healthy pregnancy is a constant reminder of what she should have had—twice, now, since I conceived #2. Our conversations have become an elaborate dance, with her asking me about the pregnancy to prove she’s OK with it, and me trying everything to avoid the topic entirely so as not to cause her any more sorrow. If I could make my growing belly disappear in her presence, I would. I do my best to pretend there’s nothing more important going on in my life than preschool and potty training, because those subjects are things we can still share. But despite our best efforts, the chasm between us grows ever wider. It‘s the exact distance between the baby that is, and the baby that is no longer.
Is there ever a right thing to say to a friend or loved one that has suffered this kind of loss? Can women who haven’t had fertility problems ever say the right thing to a woman who has? Even with the best of intentions, every word out of my mouth is potentially the most wrong thing I could say. I can’t understand what it feels like. I can’t make any of it better. And what I am doing—growing bigger and more pregnant by the minute—is, in some ways, the worst thing of all.
I know how genuinely happy my friend is for me, and how much she hates that I feel guilty when I should be celebrating this upcoming new life. I believe with my whole heart that she will have another child, one as healthy and precocious and absolutely perfect as her sweet daughter C. She is an incredible friend, a loving wife, an amazing mother. She doesn’t deserve the sorrow she’s been dealt (who does?) but she’ll triumph anyway, because that’s who she is. She inspires me every day.
And so do all the other women who have struggled with the pain and loss of infertility and miscarriage. To all of you out there who have suffered like my sweet friend: Is there anything us “lucky ones” can do, or say, to support you the way we so desperately want to? Or at the very least, minimize the damage our happily pregnant selves can inflict on still-raw wounds? Nothing can take away the pain of loss, and in many ways that chasm will always exist. But I’d love to hear advice on what to do, what not to say, and how to bridge the gap that inevitably grows between women whose paths have turned away from each other.
Visit Jenny’s personal blog at www.karmacontinued.com