By Lara Freidenfelds
When I miscarried my first pregnancy at 11 weeks, I was shocked, and very sad. I had no idea that first-trimester miscarriages were common, and I was healthy and young, so I figured I was guaranteed a smooth pregnancy.
I went to my midwife with some bleeding, and when she couldn’t find a heartbeat with the Doppler, she asked an obstetrics colleague to take an ultrasound. He pointed to an empty embryonic sac, and told me that the pregnancy actually ended at about 6 weeks, and my body reabsorbed the embryo.
At that point, I didn’t know how to feel, or what to think about this unexpected loss. I went online and to my pregnancy guides, and they all told me that women grieve an early loss as much as the loss of a born child, and that I needed to take time to grieve. I wasn’t convinced that this was the only possible way to feel. I am a women’s historian, so I also went to my history books. They reminded me that before ultrasounds and home pregnancy tests, a woman in my situation would probably have concluded that she was never really pregnant in the first place: it would have been seen as a very late period, or pregnancy materials that started to mix together, but never took the form of a child.
I decided that for me, the best thing would be to try to get pregnant again right away. I didn’t want to dwell on the pregnancy that had failed; I wanted to do what I could to have a baby. I stayed away from the hype on pregnancy websites, though, because I realized that while I would take good care of my body and spirit, I did not want to be emotionally “expecting” until I was pretty sure that my pregnancy was meant to be.
I got pregnant again in a few months, and had my first child. A few years later, my third pregnancy worked out as well. Now I have two teenagers.
I am open about my experience, because about 20% of confirmed pregnancies miscarry, mostly in the first trimester. I want my friends to understand how pregnancy works before they get pregnant themselves, so that they can start with realistic expectations, and not be as shocked as I was if a pregnancy miscarries.
While my miscarriage was not, in retrospect, a huge event in my life, it became central to my work for over a decade. As a historian, I wanted to investigate why Americans came to have unrealistic expectations about early pregnancy, and how early pregnancy losses went from being an accepted part of reproductive life to a devastating loss for many people. I wrote a book, The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy: A History of Miscarriage in America, to explain why experiences of pregnancy changed so dramatically over the past 250 years, and how we might want to think about early pregnancy and miscarriage in the future.