What to expect when you have a miscarriage: Image of a cross stitch sampler that says, "A person's a person, no matter how small."

Miscarriage 101: Coping with Your Secret Grief

by Josy (Tarantini) Hu

Miscarriage is one of those words you don’t hear every day.

Miscarriage doesn’t come up in casual conversation, or on social media, or in songs on the radio. So whether it’s because miscarriage is a private issue or merely because society has made it taboo, couples experiencing miscarriages tend to find themselves wrestling with a lonely, isolated grief—lonely and isolated despite the fact that it is the end result of at least 10-20% of pregnancies.

It is my hope that sharing my story, as well as some tips, will help someone else feel a little less lonely as they process their pregnancy loss. If you’re not in a place to read this account, that’s okay! Skip to the bottom and glean what you can from the tips, written both for those who have experienced one or more miscarriages or for those supporting a loved one with their pregnancy loss(es).

My Miscarriage Story

It started with a timeline. My husband and I are planners. We make schedules for everything, from how long we wanted to be engaged, to when we wanted to start a family. To our surprise, everything was going according to our plan.

After our fifth anniversary, we got pregnant as soon as we started trying, intentionally timing things so we could have a summer baby when both of us were off from teaching.

           Fall of 2019 was a like a happy dream you don’t want to wake up from.

We oohed and ahhed over our positive pregnancy test, giggled over our happy secret, and took pictures of my not-yet-existent baby bump with size-appropriate objects: a poppyseed, a peppercorn, a blueberry…

We even designed a perfect scheme—Grandmother, Aunt, and Uncle name cards on the dining room table—to announce the pregnancy to all of our parents at once over Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone was overjoyed.

Less than a week later, grief shattered our strong yet fragile excitement.

At our first prenatal visit, our supposed to be nine-week-old baby was three weeks behind schedule. The doctor said something—made some attempt at an explanation—but it didn’t make sense. With a plastic smile, she told us to come back in two weeks, but deep down, we knew something was wrong.

The next two weeks were agonizing. I tried to analyze my symptoms. Was I fatigued and nauseated, or just worried?  Did I have real symptoms before, or was it all just “the placebo effect?”

We prayed. Looking at a calendar, we tried to figure out how we’d miscalculated the weeks. We talked to family members who were sure everything would be okay.

But at our next appointment, nothing had changed.

Our chocolate chip-sized baby had not been developing for at least the past month.

This was officially our first miscarriage, so the doctors explained our options.

How can you have a rational conversation about options when you just found out that your baby has died inside you? I just wanted to leave!

After eliminating a few options, we were down to two choices.

Both options terrified me. But with just five days until Christmas, we opted to go with the surgery. I couldn’t imagine a long and possibly painful miscarriage on Christmas Day or in the car on the way to visit my in-laws. Plus, we could always cancel the surgery if I had a change of heart.

Leading up to the surgery, I was a mess. Deep down, I wrestled with the thought of having someone remove the remains of my baby from my womb. That made it seem like the baby was unwanted. But:

With prayer, I found peace.

My baby was already gone. The doctor would be removing just a tent, a shell.

I’d never been admitted to the hospital, but everything went as expected. Lots of questions, an ugly hospital gown, an IV…

The worst part was the waiting.

As you might imagine, lots of people were trying to get same-day procedures done on December 23rd so they could enjoy the holidays at home.

We waited nearly two hours past the scheduled time for my surgery. That was brutal. But the surgery itself was fine. I don’t remember any of it, and I had no pain afterwards. At least, not on the outside.

The doctor told us this should never happen again.

Miscarriages are common, but most people go on to have a healthy baby with their next pregnancy.

The doctor wasn’t wrong. I guess we just aren’t “most people.”

After waiting the allotted time, we decided to try for a baby again. Yes, we were grieved over the loss of our first little one, but we could still have a baby in 2020.

In March, we celebrated another positive pregnancy test, another chance at a future family. Although there was caution in our joy, the excitement and hope we felt were strong, too, just as much as before.

And while my nerves in the waiting room for our first appointment were agonizing,

The little tadpole on the ultrasound with a thumping heart turned the whole world right again.

We’d made it. As Baby progressed from grape-sized to strawberry, I prepared to speak with my boss, and soon after, make an announcement to the world.

However, just past 11 weeks, on a Saturday night, I began to bleed. I hoped it was spotting. Spotting was normal…We phoned the doctor on call. Yes, spotting was normal. But it wasn’t spotting.

I bled heavily through the night to wake up on Mother’s Day no longer a mother.

That day, I thought I would die from heartbreak.

Although I had known another miscarriage could happen, I didn’t think it would. That wouldn’t be fair.

While others complained about having to stay home due to Covid, I was thankful I didn’t have to go to work during those weeks. Being at home with my husband allowed much needed time for grieving and for the unwanted but necessary doctor’s appointments.

While two miscarriages are still pretty common, we did some basic tests to rule out recurring problems. I got bloodwork done, plus an HSG to check out my uterus. According to the testing, everything was normal.

During that summer, I was okay. I started to heal from the heartache and found the hope to try yet again.

For so many, the trouble is getting pregnant. But for me, that’s not the problem at all.

My problem is staying pregnant.

We lost our third baby in July of 2020, at only six weeks. The only proof of that child’s existence is a pregnancy test and a blood test that said I did indeed have the pregnancy hormone.

Even so, it was classified as a “chemical pregnancy” with no ultrasound to prove he or she was really there. Although the grief wasn’t quite as severe after such a short time,

The question in my heart was becoming all encompassing: What is wrong with me?

Having three miscarriages in a row is not normal. In fact, one doctor referred to me as a “recurrent aborter,” an insensitive term that seriously needs to be replaced. I now fit into the mere 1% of women who have experienced three or more miscarriages. Surely, there must be some explanation as to why this keeps happening.

My husband and I spent fall of 2020 trying to answer that question. To see a specialist, we drove an hour away. Both of us went to a lab for DNA testing. Still, no answers. Although I felt relief that we didn’t have some kind of incurable genetic mutation, I was disappointed to be back to square one.

“Try again,” the doctors said as they crossed the last possible “cause” off the list.  

Soon after, we greeted Baby #4, a poppyseed-sized blob of cells, indicated only by a blue cross on a pregnancy test. And now—18 weeks later (as of 2-25-21)—with great hope and great terror, we wait.

What does this story mean for you?

Well, that depends! If you have lost a baby, I am so very sorry and hope that the tips below will help you walk through this difficult season.

If you’ve never had a miscarriage, the second set of tips can help you support a friend or loved one who experiences pregnancy loss. It’s hard to know how to help or what to say, but a few small things can make a big difference to your friend!

8 tips if you have one or more miscarriages:

  • Find a special way to honor your baby. For me, this was creating a scrapbook-like display with photos from the pregnancy, ultrasounds, and pregnancy tests. One day, I hope to plant a tree for each baby we lost. There are many other ways to honor your baby. Write a song, make a piece of art, celebrate their due date, buy a Christmas ornament, etc..
  • Accept the mystery. If you have multiple miscarriages, do what you need to do medically (testing, etc.), but do this while recognizing you may never figure out what went wrong.
  • Ask financial questions at doctor’s appointments. It’s no fun getting bloodwork done after a miscarriage and later finding out it cost way more than expected. Chances are, you will still choose to have the testing or procedure, but asking questions can prevent another unwanted surprise during an already tough time.

Cherish each pregnancy.

  • Continue to cherish each pregnancy, even if you’ve had multiple miscarriages. After losing three babies, part of me wanted to basically ignore my pregnancy until I’d made it through the first trimester. Although this may lead to less heartache later, I’ve chosen to see through a different lens. Being aware that the child inside me might only live a few weeks, I endeavored to make those weeks count. That baby needs to be loved, treasured, talked to. I want to keep taking pictures every week of each pregnancy because later on, those might be the only pictures I have to remember that child.
  • Make plans loosely. Don’t quit your job, redecorate, or move to a bigger house the instant you become pregnant. As you plan, have hope but also awareness that some things are out of your control. My husband and I often speak of the future in the conditional, “If everything works out, then next year…”

Share your miscarriage story.

  • Share your story. No, you don’t need to go around announcing that you had a miscarriage, but confiding in those close to you can provide so much support. You might be shocked at how many in your circle have had similar experiences. I know I was.
  • Find someone you can be truly honest with. For me, that’s my husband, but it could be a friend that’s experienced a miscarriage, a mentor, or a parent. You need someone you can tell everything to: your fear of finding blood every time you use the restroom, how much you miss the little one that used to live in your womb, or the sense of guilt you’re wrestling with.
  • Hope. If you are a person of faith, set your hope on the day when all things will be right, when there will be no more death or crying or pain.

8 tips if a loved one experiences one or more miscarriages:

  • Buy them flowers, send a card, make them dinner. Do the things you would normally do if a friend lost a loved one. Your friend is grieving, and all these things show you care.
  • Don’t immediately start talking about “next time.”  Your friend is probably not ready to think about their next pregnancy. Right now, they are just sad about the baby they lost.
  • Be sensitive. It’s probably not a great time to show pictures of acquaintances’ babies, complain about your own infant or toddler, or highlight pregnancy announcements you saw on social media.

Be sensitive.

  • Provide space to talk. Sometimes your friend will want to talk about what happened. Sometimes they won’t. And their desire to talk or not talk about it might change from day to day. A simple text such as, “I’m thinking about you. Let me know if you want to talk” shows that you are available to listen but also okay with giving them space to grieve alone. This is a good alternative to acting like nothing happened, which can feel hurtful in its own way.
  • Keep checking in. Just because a week or a month has passed and your friend is acting “normal” again doesn’t mean they’re okay. Follow up with another open door to talk as suggested above.
  • Put yourself in their shoes. Think about how your friend would feel in different situations, and try to respond accordingly. If they get stuck planning a baby shower, try to take some of the responsibility off their plate. If they find out they’re pregnant again, ask them how they feel about it instead of assuming excited squeals are the right response.
  • Don’t neglect the baby’s father. For each mother experiencing loss, there is a father, and many of those fathers are hurting and heartbroken, too. Make sure someone’s checking in on your friend’s husband.
  • Pray. If you are a person of faith, pray for your friend regularly, and let them know that you are doing so.

I hope this post helps you process the loss of the beloved child(ren) you never got to meet!  Miscarriage is lonely, but you are not alone. Many have walked this path, and I hope you are encouraged to share your story and reach out for the support you need.  I pray you find peace and healing in this journey, and I wish you a future full of as many Rainbow Babies as you desire. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at josyjoyhu@gmail.com.

Miscarriage 101: photo of young woman with mountains in the background

Josy Tarantini Hu grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia. She now teaches 5th grade in Harrisonburg,Virginia. She loves hiking, traveling, crafting, and making music.

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