When we found out I was pregnant, we were overjoyed. We couldn’t wait to share the news. In line with my type-A, plan-ahead personality, I wrote out a schedule of exactly who we could tell and when over the next three months, starting with immediate family. Thankfully, we were about to visit them in the US for the chagim.
One by one, the reveals took place. I peppered every conversation I had with all sorts of hypothetical plans about our future baby. I reveled in every twinge of discomfort I felt as my belly stretched and I smelled scents no one else did. When I went shopping, I stuffed a sweater under each dress I tried on, romantically picturing my pending baby bump. My body was already starting to change even though I was only six weeks along, and while I feigned frustration that my regular clothes made me look pregnant, I truthfully felt proud. Here was physical evidence that my pregnancy was real.
I knew there was technically a chance that the pregnancy wouldn’t continue all the way to birth. I’d Googled miscarriage statistics and learned that one in four pregnancies ends that way. I figured that being only twenty-four years old without health complications, that didn’t really apply to me.
During Chol Hamoed Sukkot, we flew to Chicago to visit my sister. I needed to use the bathroom as soon as we got off the plane. Another precious pregnancy symptom! But then, in the stall of the ladies’ room at O’Hare International, I realized that I was bleeding. A lot.
I’d read a miscarriage story in a magazine once. The terrifying image of discovering blood while pregnant occasionally crossed my mind, but I’d always dismissed the thought easily. Now that it was actually happening to me, my brain would not permit me to believe that my story could really end like the one in the magazine, because that was too awful to process. I searched for any other explanation to hang onto.
In a daze, I found my sister outside. I told her what I saw. She put on the calm voice that she only uses for emergencies. I calculated the time difference and called my Israeli doctor on his cell even though it was eleven o’clock at night for him. He told me that it might be implantation bleeding, but could be a miscarriage, and to go to the emergency room. Implantation bleeding, I thought. That sounds more like the kind of thing that could happen to me. I’m sure that’s all it is.
As I continued to rack my brain for what could be happening to me, I wondered out loud, “What if this is just a period? What if I got it wrong, I was never really pregnant at all?” I knew it was illogical, but I felt like maybe I’d been naïve this whole time. I didn’t really get to be pregnant yet. I hadn’t earned it. Conceiving had been too easy. I felt embarrassed, like a stupid girl who wanted to be pregnant so bad that she convinced herself it was true and went around telling parents and trying on maternity clothes.
When we got to the hospital, the doctors and nurses were impressively kind. They did not use the M word. They mercifully told me about possible non-miscarriage explanations for the bleeding, and I hungrily ate up every alternative. My sister and husband and I joked with each other and the nurses. The nurse gave me disposable underwear and told us it was from the “Fall Collection.” We told ourselves it was just a scary incident that we’d forget about and only think back to after the birth, and say wow, thank G-d it was just implantation bleeding. You gave us a scare there, little one! Mommy even had to get a blood test, and she can’t stand blood tests!
After hours of tests and waiting, a doctor came into our room. He told me that while they couldn’t be certain until doing a comparative blood test forty-eight hours later to see if my HCG levels were dropping, it was highly likely that I had miscarried.
I burst into tears the second the word came out of his mouth. I bawled through the entire cervical exam that followed. I do not normally cry in front of anyone but my husband. At this moment, holding in my emotions for a more convenient time was not an option. My cervix and my anguish were out there for anyone to see. I’ve never felt so vulnerable.
The doctor made a point of telling me, “This is not your fault. If it’s a miscarriage, there was nothing you could have done to prevent it.” I’d not even processed long enough for that thought to cross my mind. Because the doctor wisely said this right away, I never blamed myself for what happened.
I began to register the pain my body was experiencing. When you miscarry, your body goes through labor and delivery. I was having contractions without knowing that’s what they were. Eventually, I passed a large clot. My mind was torn between the thought that this was my baby and maintaining belief in the one percent chance that remained that I was still pregnant. I felt pathetic, but I wanted to keep this clot. The nurse put it into a jar, and I couldn’t stop looking at it, wondering who or what it was until a pathologist took it to analyze the cells. I ached to ask him if it would have been a boy or a girl.
We went home from the hospital without a definitive answer. I ate a tray of cookies for dinner. We went shopping the next day to distract me. I didn’t stuff sweaters under dresses this time. I vacillated between feeling totally blank and obsessively trying to listen to my body for evidence of pregnancy. I hung onto every sensation in my belly, telling my sister and husband that I was sure I was still pregnant. I davened Ma’ariv that night, and when I came to Shema Koleinu, the opportunity for personal prayer, I wept. I prayed that Hashem would hear my tears, would reverse his decision, would see that I wanted this baby so badly and have rachmanut, mercy, on me.
The next morning, we flew back to Teaneck with my sister. We went with my mother-in-law to the hospital for the comparative blood test. I told myself with all the confidence I could that it was going to be fine, they’d tell me I was still pregnant.
After hours of waiting for blood test results, a nurse took me for an ultrasound. They wouldn’t let my husband in despite my begging. I saw the technician pull up my information on her screen. There it was. HCG count. I knew that I needed at least a certain number to show that my hormones were increasing properly for a pregnancy. The number on the screen was half the count I had forty-eight hours before.
I deflated. “You don’t have to do the test,” I told the technician. “I’m not pregnant anymore.”
“What do you mean, how do you know?” she said. I don’t think she even knew that I was supposed to be pregnant in the first place. I filled her in on the story in a slow, bewildered voice. She insisted that I still needed the test.
I tried to stay calm, but thirty seconds into the exam, tears began to flow. I wailed through the whole thing, feeling sorry for this poor unsuspecting technician.
I found my husband waiting for me outside the room. He saw my wet, red eyes. “I saw the blood test results,” I told him. Later that day, we found out that the clot they’d analyzed was, in fact, the embryo.
We went home to my in-laws house. I changed into some really cozy pajamas that my sister had wisely insisted on buying for me the day before. I attended most of the chag meals in those pajamas, not in my brand-new bump-friendly dresses. Sukkot is known as zman simchateinu, the time of our happiness, which felt cruelly ironic. When guests came for meals, they inevitably asked, “So, how are you? What’s going on in your lives?” My husband and I used all the energy we had to remember our normal answers for these questions, what we would’ve said before we’d lost a baby.
We told my husband’s brother, who was close in age to us and had a gift for listening to others’ struggles. “I was pregnant, and now I’m not.” It was the hardest sentence to get out.
When we returned home, I didn’t want the miscarriage to be a secret. On the other hand, we were so looking forward to surprising friends, and we didn’t need that to be robbed of us like it was with my brother-in-law. I worried about how one friend would feel if I told another and not them, but ultimately accepted that this was my and my husband’s grieving process and no one had a right to it but us.
That time period was hard. Normal life continued while nothing felt normal yet, and no one knew any differently. We never told anyone that we were trying to have a baby, and prior to deciding that, we were quite open about not being ready to have kids. People thought they knew where we were at when it came to having babies; they wouldn’t have thought of us as people to be sensitive toward on the topic. This experience taught me that you really never know what others are going through, even if they told you themselves. Things change, and people lie when they aren’t comfortable talking about what’s really going on. No one should ever take that personally; this type of information is not anyone else’s to know.
The custodian at my office asked me one day if I had kids. “No, not yet.” He asked me if I was married. “Yes, I’m married.” In classic Israeli fashion, he responded, “So you’re pregnant?” I couldn’t believe it. “No, I’m not pregnant.” He actually asked me why not.
Most people we interacted with were not insensitive like he was, but even so, innocent questions of “how are you” and topics of pregnancy and babies struck cords. I don’t blame them; I couldn’t have expected anyone not to talk about babies, and I certainly couldn’t have expected them not to say, “How are you.” The hardest part was being expected to act like normal people who go to work, study, and host Shabbat meals, instead of being treated like people who were grieving.
During that time, I didn’t feel anger towards G-d, I didn’t resent others who had babies, and I didn’t feel a sense of “if only.” It felt clear to me that G-d did this not as a punishment, but because ultimately, He knows when everyone should be born and should die. The timing of life is too important for human beings like myself to control, and in a way, it’s a comfort when making huge decisions that it’s ultimately in Hashem’s hands.
Even though my outlook was positive, losing a baby was devastating, and there was no way around it. The sadness would not lift from our shoulders until I became pregnant again.
And thank G-d, I did become pregnant again. You might think that the second time around I was more careful about waiting to tell people, that I waited to buy any maternity or baby items until I really needed them, or that I held back from daydreaming about plans for after the birth. Much the opposite, I was much more comfortable doing all those things than the first time around. My miscarriage was not hard because I got my hopes up; my miscarriage was hard because it was a miscarriage. No caution can protect me from that possibility, so I choose to be optimistic.
I’m sure plenty of people have interpreted my behavior as naivete, assuming that a twenty-five-year-old who regularly posts pictures of her baby bump on Instagram must know nothing of what could go wrong. But the bottom line of sensitivity is not making assumptions.
As I near my new due date and step forward into a new era of excitement and risk, I carry with me the lesson that ultimately, Hashem gives us what He gives us in life. I cannot control the hardships Hashem hands me, but I can choose to treasure every blessing.