Essays

My Happy, Hopeful News

By posted at 6:00 am on July 11, 2013 20

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My friends and family were more likely to hear about Beyonce’s miscarriage than mine. After all, Beyonce’s sad news was broadcast to the world (albeit much later, after the successful birth of their daughter Blue Ivy) in a Jay-Z song. Sure, Beyonce is one of the most famous women in the world, but it was still extremely private information made public. My miscarriage was kept quiet, so quiet that many people will only hear of it now, a rare feat in the age of social media. And yet, the facts: I sold my first novel on a Monday. That Friday, I found out that I was pregnant. My husband and I had only been trying for a couple of months, and we were shocked. The timing was hilarious, as if our good fortune knew no bounds. I took it as a sign from the universe — that the sentimental sentient being knew how long it had taken for me to sell a novel (almost 10 years) and was making up for it by giving me a baby in a flash.

The feeling of giddy overabundance didn’t last. Early in the pregnancy, I did a reading and wore a beautiful dress I was sure wouldn’t fit me for much longer, and when it was over, I noticed that I had begun to bleed. Over the course of a few days, when the bleeding and cramping increased, I knew it was over. My husband went to a 24-hour drugstore to buy me a heating pad at 3 in the morning, and listened to me moan through the bathroom door. A trip to the doctor confirmed the loss, the OB/GYN so cavalier about it that I too tried to play it off like it wasn’t a big deal. She asked me why I hadn’t taken any pain medication, and it sounded so stupid to tell her that I hadn’t taken any Aleve because you’re not supposed to take blood thinners while pregnant. My husband cried, because he is a crier, which is a very good quality in a husband.

No one talks about the physical pain of miscarriage. Not that people talk much about miscarriages at all, and certainly not in public, but if there is any acknowledgment, it is of the psychic pain, the emotional toll. That I saw coming. What I didn’t anticipate (for who would anticipate such horrors) was the actual pain. I panted, I groaned. I clutched that heating pad to my abdomen and wept.

And then I put on a dress and some lipstick and went to have my photo taken for a fashion magazine. I introduced my favorite author at the bookstore where I worked, claiming to have had a virulent stomach flu, or maybe food poisoning, I can’t remember. (Food poisoning is a very reliable go-to replacement for more personal problems, because everyone knows how awful it is, and how little you want to get into the details.) My husband and I cancelled all the plans we could cancel, but there were still things to be done. Those days immediately following the loss are fuzzy to me now, the way one remembers life as seen through a feverish haze. I operated as normally as I could, because I felt like it was expected of me. Not that there was pressure from the outside world, mind you. There wasn’t even a hint of it — because the outside world didn’t know. On a very small scale, it was my job to be Emma Straub, Author, Happy Person. I shudder at the thought of what Beyonce had to do in those days and weeks — shoot music videos? Go on talk shows? It was hard enough being a writer in Brooklyn, going from bookstore to bookstore, from reading to book party.

I spent the next two years trying desperately to get pregnant again. It took me a year and a half to find a good doctor, to find someone who could diagnose the problem (a colony of monstrous fibroids living inside my uterus) and offer a solution (two surgeries — two because there were so many fibroids that my doctor couldn’t remove them all during the first four-hour surgery.)  During this time, the novel I’d sold was edited, copy-edited, jacketed, and published. There were parties galore, with champagne cocktails. I went on a nearly three-month long book tour, my husband at my side the entire time. He would have come anyway, I know, but with everything we’d been through, there was no way he would have let me go alone. Not knowing what’s going wrong inside your own body is powerless, frustrating feeling, and for most of those two years, I smiled and had my picture taken and answered questions and climbed into bed exhausted every night, anemic and spent. Grief and disappointment rose and fell in my chest even as I was satisfying my lifelong dreams. As easily as one dream is satisfied, another one appears. My gratitude for the publication of my book did not lessen the blow of another period, another month lost, another year gone by.

At the time, I didn’t want everyone to know what I was going through. It was my sadness, my medical problem, my heartbreak. There are those who share sad feelings continuously online, complaining about things large and small, but I am not one of them. I prefer to keep a stiff upper lip in public, because, as I’ve learned over the last number of years, being friends on the Internet is not the same as being friends in real life, though the former can certainly lead to the latter. This stiff upper lip has caused people to think of me as a smiley face, a “Like” button. Never has the division between my public persona and my personal life been so clear — I’d been working so hard on my book’s behalf that I sometimes lost sight of that, but there it was, clear as day. I had a personal life and a public one, and they were not the same. Nevertheless, it’s hard to have a sad secret when everyone expects you to be happy all the time, and so my husband got more than his fair share of my melancholy. In response, he sang me songs about our cats, kissed me day and night, and yes, cried. This year — arguably the most difficult in our 11 together — has also been the best.

I knew I would write about my miscarriage, and my struggle to get pregnant. I just didn’t want to do it in tiny little bites, spread over status updates and tweets. And most of all, I wanted to hold off until it was behind me. Unlike in fiction, I didn’t get to decide where to end the story. I had to wait and see what would happen next. Even once I did get pregnant again, I didn’t want to share the news until I felt safe that it would stick. Some of my friends post ultrasounds early on, so thrilled that they can’t wait to share it with the world. My news felt too precarious for that, for all those clicks and comments. I waited five months before I let a photo slip through onto the Internet, and longer still before I said the words.

Many women struggle far longer than I did, and require more medical interventions, in order to get pregnant. Some aren’t able to get pregnant at all. I still think of myself as lucky, lucky to experience what is happening inside my body, and lucky to have had the trouble getting here, because now I appreciate it all the more. Part of me still wants to keep all of this private until after the baby is born, but at this point, with my belly big enough that strangers offer me their seats on the subway, my secret is no longer a secret. As of this writing, I am 35 weeks pregnant, almost 9 months. I don’t take a single day of those weeks for granted, or a single kick of my baby, now so active inside me. He’s due to be born a month after my book’s paperback publication date, two and a half years after my first positive pregnancy test. It feels good to be able to share my happy, hopeful news. The fact that I’m going to be a mother is enormously exciting, as thrilling as selling my first novel, a fact that will change all the facts to come.

I always wondered why pregnant women counted their time in weeks instead of months, but it makes sense to me now. My husband and I are both counting the days, treating my body like it is made of a substance rarer than gold and more fragile than glass. Life changes both quickly and slowly, sometimes simultaneously, and one needs to keep track as precisely as possible. Maybe that should be the lesson to me — that keeping track requires a chronicling of the bad as well as the good, whether or not that information is shared. It’s always good to know that you’re not alone. When our companion of the last nine months finally makes his way into the world, we’ll be sure to tell him that.

Image Credit: Flickr/Kables





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20 Responses to “My Happy, Hopeful News”

  1. Christine Tyler
    at 9:01 am on July 11, 2013

    Thank you for telling this story.

  2. Jennifer King
    at 9:13 am on July 11, 2013

    This is so beautifully told, Emma. I can relate, having suffered my own catastrophic and late miscarriage years ago. I thought the memory of the pain, physical and emotional, would fade with time, but it’s raw, still. Yes, this life is precious. I know for sure you will savor every minute with your new son. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Samantha hahn
    at 10:15 am on July 11, 2013

    So beautiful Emma. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Alison Percival
    at 10:46 am on July 11, 2013

    Beautifully expressed. Thank you for writing this.

  5. Edna
    at 11:22 am on July 11, 2013

    I lost my first pregnancy and for a long time the only thing that made me feel better was reading and hearing about other women’s experiences, feeling that solidarity. This will help a lot of people.
    Also, though, I would urge Emma not to judge people who express personal grief over social media. Sorrow is very lonely, so I wouldn’t want to judge anyone who reached out.

  6. sarah gilbert
    at 12:07 pm on July 11, 2013

    I’ve been reading pieces from the upcoming pregnancy and childbirth issue of the literary magazine I edit, and I am so glad you came to the place where you could tell your story. What I read over and over is that knowing that other people experienced this pain, too, is healing on its own.

    And I know too well how bittersweet the pregnancy after a devastating miscarriage can be. I wish you all the best, hope and dreams and a birth that surprises you with your strength and power. And I hope you’ll keep writing about these feelings.

    (My baby-after-miscarriage is eight now, and so much himself, such a wonderful weird unique kid. I’m never the sort who says, “this happened for a reason,” but I’m so happy that whatever irrational forces drive the universe gave me him.)

  7. Matt R.
    at 12:29 pm on July 11, 2013

    Emma,

    I’m so incredibly happy for you. What a brave, resilient, amazing person you are. I can’t imagine the pain you’ve had to go through, but glad to see you not only standing on the other side, but thriving.

    Congratulations; keep going!

    Matt

  8. Erin S.
    at 12:42 pm on July 11, 2013

    This was so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this.

  9. philomela
    at 1:56 pm on July 11, 2013

    Thanks for this piece. I really believe that those of us who had a longer journey to parenthood see so much of it differently. After three miscarriages, the idea that anyone could look at a positive peestick and be confident there will be a baby at the other end of 40 weeks is a mystery to me. I think you really only get one shot — the first one — to bask in such simple hope and expectation.

    After one miscarriage, that innocence is just gone, nevermind after other complications on the road to conception. That being said, I think when the baby does come — and after witnessing the grief the women in my infertility support group express month after month, still believing a baby can come, albeit not always the way expected or first wanted — I do think a child’s arrival is far more poignant and more sweet than it is for others who have a smoother ride.

  10. Marcela Landres
    at 6:16 pm on July 11, 2013

    You have no idea how many people will find comfort in your words. Sometimes the best way to heal is to share stories like this. Know that you are not alone.

  11. Tara Fitz
    at 9:30 am on July 12, 2013

    Thanks for sharing the Behind the Music of the physical side of miscarriage. I have never heard anyone speak of it. I am still haunted by that experience. Nowhere was it in the “What (not) to Expect When You’re Expecting” or any of the other plethora of books for the expectant. For me, the experience was like a scene from of a Hitchcock movie, scary music, 50’s bathroom, heroine alone and frightened….with Hitchcock’s cameo as the distant doctor. Thanks a million Emma!

  12. Amy
    at 2:58 pm on July 12, 2013

    My experience was very similar, although I had tried for 2 years before getting pregnant and then losing that baby. Luckily it only took 2 months to get pregnant again and I now have a gorgeous 3 month old girl. I didn’t tell hardly anyone about my miscarriage, and I agree..I don’t know how anyone could have to live in the public spotlight and deal with something so traumatic. All I had to do was come to work and put in earbuds and that was hard enough. I didn’t even tell my mother until I was pregnant again. Actually my conversation with her was “I’m expecting, but I have to tell you this isn’t my first pregnancy so don’t get your hopes up too high.” The joy of announcing my pregnancy was robbed. No cute announcements for me…just in case….

    Luckily everything worked out. I know some women continue to have loss after loss and I can’t imagine going through that over and over.

  13. Dawn.
    at 10:18 pm on July 12, 2013

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and heartfelt essay. Congratulations on your fast-approaching due date and your paperback publication! I have the hardback but the paperback cover is so lovely I’m often tempted to buy that too.

  14. Tammy White
    at 6:20 pm on July 13, 2013

    So beautiful, Emma. You should know how meaningful it is that you put this is such perfect words. And the best to you.
    Hugs, through cyberspace, through internet friends and REAL friends,
    -Tammy, a real person who is happy to have learned your story

  15. HTK
    at 3:43 pm on July 15, 2013

    Emotionally powerful story! The most painful time bring out precious treasures! God bless your baby and family!

  16. Angela
    at 5:38 pm on July 16, 2013

    Thanking you Emma for sharing with us such a private part of yourself. Sending to you and hubby all positive thoughts and wish you both all the best. Enjoy now and enjoy the happiness the future holds for you!

  17. kateanon
    at 3:20 pm on July 27, 2013

    My last miscarriage was a number of years ago. I’ve had three, and I haven’t recovered from them at all. I used to hope that once I had a child, that the pain would lessen. But, now I’m childless with no promise of children, and there’s still a sting I feel, reading about your experience.

    I wish you all the best, thank you for sharing your story.

  18. iris de mallemarok
    at 6:37 pm on August 1, 2013

    Beautifully said, and thanks for it. This story couldn’t have been told any differently, or any better. Bravo.

    Many many congratulations to you and your body and all the things it does. You’ll be a terrific mother.

  19. Susan
    at 7:56 pm on October 31, 2013

    Thank you for sharing. I lost all of my several pregnancies. There was never a successful delivery. It still haunts me, all these years later. I don’t talk about it, because people are unnerved by it. There is no happy ending to offer. My children are all dead. I pretend to be stable, a survivor. For what, I am not sure.

  20. Sandra
    at 3:32 am on November 26, 2013

    I have a son, but I had a miscarriage when I tried for a second baby. It is not less painful when you already had a successful pregnancy. However I find myself holding on tighter to my boy now. I will try again, but I do admit to be a bit hesitant of the results. Thank you for sharing your story. A miscarriage will stay forever in our hearts and minds…

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