After months of pushing the “clean out Isabelle’s sock drawer” task down on my to-do list, I cleaned it out last week. It was something I hadn’t done in about three years! Sorting through the tiny socks was a walk down memory lane. The little Eiffel Tower socks matched her first day of preschool outfit. The socks with blue piping coordinated with one of her outfits I wished I could have had in my size. The black and white panda bear socks reminded me of an early conversation she had with the bears on her ankles. Of course, there were oodles of white ones — nondescript and representing all of the regular days of our lives — but the printed ones brought back special memories.
As I sorted and saved the pristine-looking socks in a plastic bin, I wondered, “Will I have another girl* who will wear these some day?” Tears welled-up in my eyes at that thought. Even the smallest of things, like packing away baby socks, can make you sad after you have a miscarriage.
We were expecting our second child. And perhaps that’s what made the news about a too-slow heartbeat and not-enough growth excruciating to hear. It wasn’t just a fetus that wasn’t developing. It was our child — the one we already had hopes and dreams for — who we learned was not going to make it.
We took a lot of care with the decision to expand our family. We waited until Isabelle made significant progress with her speech. We started calculating our next child’s due date, what the nursery might look like, and how we’d share the news with our family as soon as we found out we were pregnant.
I was cautiously optimistic even though we were giddy with excitement. I knew the reality of being 38 and pregnant. One’s eggs are considered old when you’re 38. They could have problems. Our child could have a genetic syndrome or some horrible disease because of my “old eggs.” But I choose not to focus on that. Instead, I was filled with joy and anticipation for the next two-and-a-half weeks.
The thing about being a reproductive endocrinology patient is that you’re followed closely during the first weeks of your pregnancy. There are blood tests and early sonograms, which is reassuring when things are going well. But when they’re not, as I found out this past summer, those early appointments are excruciating.
I heard my baby’s heartbeat at my seven-week appointment in mid-July. I smiled and silently said the Shehecheyanu as I lay in the darkened room. When I finished my silent prayer, the doctor’s grim expression registered in my brain.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“The heartbeat is 69 beats per minute,” he replied.
“Is that too slow?”
“We’ll talk about it across the hall. Get dressed.”
My heart began to race. What could be wrong? There was a heartbeat. It was early in my pregnancy, but there was a heartbeat. That was a good thing, right?
Five minutes later, I was dressed and talking with my doctor. He told me that at my point in the pregnancy the fetal heart rate should be about 100 beats per minute. While he had seen a couple of live births with a heart rate as slow as my child’s, he said it was unlikely. He offered me progesterone and the opportunity to come back in a few days. But he told me that in five days time there would most likely be no heartbeat.
My cautious optimism was traded for extreme sadness. Even though my family and close friends prayed for me, I found it hard to offer up prayers to G-d once I checked Isabelle’s baby book for her fetal heart rate at seven weeks gestation. (It was 142 beats per minute.) I wanted to pray, asking G-d to intervene, to perform a miracle and help my unborn child live, but I found it hard to ask for what seemed impossible.
The next five days were the most excruciating of my life. I sobbed by myself, to my husband, and even on my Isabelle’s shoulder. (Isabelle never knew I was pregnant and didn’t know why mommy was so sad, but offered me hugs regardless.) I was convinced my child had died inside me the day before I went back for a sonogram.
But I was wrong. I returned to reproductive endocrinology to learn the heart rate had increased to 110 beats per minute, but there was no growth. The doctor told me the prognosis for my pregnancy was poor. He gave me the choice: stop taking the progesterone or keep taking it to see what happened. My husband and I talked through the options with my doctor. I decided to keep taking the progesterone just in case there could be a miracle.
In the week that followed, I found words to pray to G-d. I thought that perhaps the prayers of my friends were being answered and that it was time for me to pray too. Maybe there was a chance this pregnancy could materialize.
But a week later, when I was out of town for a conference, I sought a second opinion. And there, in a strange doctor’s office, a heartbeat was no longer heard. I laid there, in yet another darkened room, watching a motionless fetus inside my womb feeling an emptiness I had never felt before. Where there had once been life, there was now nothing.
I kept taking progesterone supplements until I returned home a week later. The drug that felt like a curse — leaving me with cramping and acne — was also a blessing. It held the pregnancy inside my body until I could go home to have a D&C in mid-August. Being able to have a D&C gave me a shred of control in a situation that felt out of my control.
The body is supposed to heal faster than the heart after a miscarriage. Unfortunately, neither my body nor my heart have fully healed yet. I’ve had worsening abdominal pain for the past eight weeks, which concerns my doctor and me. On Wednesday, I’ll have surgery to determine the cause of the pain so it can be fixed. Afterwards, I have been told I am to do virtually nothing (e.g., no lifting more than five pounds, no exercising, no cooking, no doing laundry) for two weeks. I’m frustrated about this, but I know I have to listen to my doctor if I want my body to be restored.
The slow heartbeat was detected about a week before Mark Zuckerberg made his announcement that his wife was expecting a baby after three miscarriages. Even before Zuckerberg made it less taboo to talk about miscarriage, I knew I would share my story. But I kept waiting for a good ending. You know, one where I was feeling like myself again. Or better yet, one where I could announce I was expecting another child. Even though that happy ending hasn’t happened yet, I felt it was time to put this slice of my life into the world. You never know who might be going through the agony of losing an unborn child… It is my hope that if someone is going through a similar experience, they will find comfort in knowing they are not alone.
I’ve talked to several women who’ve had miscarriages. One woman had more miscarriages than I could count on one hand! Even though she has healthy, living children, she told me she’s never gotten over her miscarriages. To this day, she still feels sad about those little lives she had so much hope for, but that weren’t meant to be.
Over the summer, I read an article by Rabbi Aron Moss where he seeks to explain what happens when one loses an unborn child. He posits:
“But some souls are never ready to leave. They are too sublime, too pure, too sensitive to be thrust into the harsh realities of worldly existence. It would be simply too cruel to plunge such a gentle soul into a body, to enter a world polluted by evil and selfishness. So instead of descending further, these souls float back to where they came from the higher and holier realms where they feel at home. Perhaps they will come down some other time. Or perhaps their mission is fulfilled, having come down far enough.”
I’ve thought about Rabbi Moss’s words for the past two months. They helped me realize the child I was carrying was not ready for life on Earth. I will never know why. I like to think that the soul of the child I was carrying is in a better place now. That notion has given me comfort and has allowed me to have a return to joy and laughter in my life, despite the longing.
*= Even though my thought was about a girl, I will happily take a healthy boy or girl if we are lucky enough to have another child.