At first, I thought it was cancer.
We all looked up at the glowing screen trying to make sense of the sonogram with all of its tricks and shadow— my husband, my wiggling toddler, the ultrasound tech, and I. There were four black, ominous circles staring back at us through the grey. They looked like fossils etched into a cave wall.
“What kind of fertility treatments have you been receiving?” the tech ventured nervously.
“None,” we replied.
Just as our confusion lifted, she vanished. Sneaky.
I was pregnant. With spontaneous fraternal quadruplets. I had discovered the pregnancy three weeks earlier after nearly vomiting on a pygmy goat at a petting zoo. I took the test huddled in the bathroom with my son who made a remarkably stylish chapeau out of the EPT box. It was glaringly positive, and we were thrilled. All three of us. My son waddled around the house for weeks calling all of the lamps “baby.” Now, it seemed, I was going to have to teach him the plural.
In the waiting room, amid the shushed muffle of magazine pages turning and throats clearing, I could hear all of my ex-boyfriends breathing a collective sigh of relief. Four babies. I was carrying four babies. I looked over at my white-faced husband who, presumably, was calculating the cost of five Ivy League tuitions.
The following weeks were a hazy circus, and my uterus was the main attraction.
Everyone was excited—frantic even—the doctors, the nurses, the perinatologist, our families, the woman responsible for fulfilling my artisanal ice cream craving whom I just HAD to tell.
“How extraordinary!” they shouted.
“You must feel like quite the stud,” people chided my husband (which he kind of loved).
“NO family history?! Bizarre!”
And my personal favorite, “Congratulations! That is really…unusual.”
Our doctor cautioned us. We knew it was a dangerous pregnancy, and we tried not to get excited, but as the weeks grew on, my belly began to swell, and the blood-work remained positive. We found ourselves preparing for life as a family of seven (!!!!!!!)
At 11 weeks and 3 days, we went back in for an additional ultrasound. This would be the one we would stick under our Andy Warhol magnet on the fridge, the one that would travel around the world, shocking the hell out of our friends. When we looked at the same ghostly screen we had marveled at only three weeks earlier, they were gone. We had lost all four babies—none developing past the eighth week.
The tech’s voice dropped to a whisper. “I’ll give you some time.”
“It happens to 1 in 5 women, you know,” they told me after they ushered us into an exam room equipped with so many Kleenex boxes, I could only assume it was designated especially for delivering bad news. “Miscarriage is perfectly normal.”
We didn’t cry right then. We just listened.
They kept using the word “normal.” Rattling it off, over and over again. Reassurance upon reassurance: I was normal, the miscarriage was normal, and one day I was going to have another normal pregnancy. As the doctors explained our options, I couldn’t even look at my husband. His shock was palpable, washing over the entire room. In a moment, they sent us out through the back door and into our world—which was changed once again.
When we left, I started using the word “normal” too. I insisted upon it; and for a brief spell, I actually believed it. That afternoon we shared the bad news with family and friends. I told everyone it was perfectly fine and that miscarriage happens all the time. Miscarriage is normal. I said we were prepared for the loss on some level, that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. Four babies would have been too much for anyone. The good news I told them, chuckling, “At least I know I can get pregnant again.”
I was positively crumbling inside.
I scoured the internet, sopping up every statistic I could, proving to myself over and over again that pregnancy loss is just one of those regular girl things. There was no need to be upset. I clung ferociously to the commonality of it all. Normal became my mantra. I knew it would never mend what was broken, but it saved me from staring at the fragments by my feet.
When I woke up from the D&C and the doctor told me they had gotten “it all,” I told myself it was normal. When my body was curled around the toilet, still ravaged by morning sickness a week later, I told myself it was normal. When I watched my rounded torso shrink bit by bit in the mirror each day for an entire month, begging for its return, I told myself it was normal. When I looked at my son’s dimpled cheek blushing in the sun and ached to imagine what his siblings would have been like, I told myself it was normal.
I had spent nearly three months pregnant—anxiety ridden but joyous, nurturing my children, dreaming of them, and now, they were gone—voided by forces I will never, ever understand. My chest left heavy and weighted by a grief that was viscous and bonding to what felt like every pulse. But unlike my “unusual” pregnancy, THIS process, this loss I was told was “normal.”
There is nothing normal about it. 1 in 5 women experience pregnancy loss, and I can promise you that the singular woman does not feel normal—whether she loses one child or four, whether she is already a mother or struggling to conceive. Pregnancy is normal. Motherhood is normal. The excitement of bringing a child into the world is normal. The loss is not. The loss is staggering.
It took me months to dispose of the notion that my miscarriage was nothing more than a routine health incident and accept the grief I was starving for. The idea that being normal—feeling normal—is somehow intrinsically better than the alternative is pervasive in this world. We like to think that we outsmart it when we grow up and buy houses and have babies and lose the ones we love, but we don’t. It is still here, sitting in the back of our minds ready to offer questions. I know that my healthcare providers (whom I adore) would never have wanted to minimize the trauma of losing a baby, that the friends who rationalized along with me wanted nothing more than to believe that I was at peace with what had happened, and I know the information available to women and men who have suffered through miscarriage is meant to provide comfort—even though, sometimes, it does quite the opposite.
While pregnancy loss might be widespread, I can assure you the experience is not normal. On a personal level, it is earth shattering, it is terrifying, and it causes your faith to tremble—unsettling even the most steadfast heart. However, it is not without redemption. I’m learning this as I continue to accept the loss of the babies, embrace the fact that something bad happened to me—something that wasn’t normal, something that weakened me and still wakes me up at night, hand cradling my tummy. I had a miscarriage. It traumatized the heck out of me, and I am dealing with that. I find comfort in letting myself grieve deeply, or laugh, or—on occasion—drink the extra glass of wine. I find comfort in knowing that I, along with anybody else who has wondered if they are feeling the right things, deserve to define their own hardships, to determine their own “normal,” and to find their own way to cope with the endless surprises this life delivers.
To anybody dealing with pregnancy loss, know that my hand is outstretched to yours. I’m sure there are other hands too, and I urge you to take them and not deny yourself the love and support you deserve.