October is pregnancy loss awareness month

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When I was 24 I lost a pregnancy that I didn’t know I had, and I was suddenly inducted to the hidden world of pregnancy loss. One day I had abdominal cramps, a few days later I was on an operating table being prepped for an emergency surgery, and a few days after that I started hearing similar stories from friends, coworkers and family. At first I was surprised by the number of women who had lost pregnancies. Sometimes they were near strangers, other times they were close friends that I could not believe hadn’t told me before. They confided in me about unplanned pregnancies, miscarriages, abortions and even a few ectopic pregnancies, like mine. Ectopic pregnancy, sometimes referred to as a tubular pregnancy, happens when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus. These pregnancies are rare, nonviable and, if left untreated, nearly always fatal. They can also be excruciatingly painful. While lying on a hospital bed I suggesting to my future husband that my internal organs might possibly have been replaced by barbed wire and razor blades. The medical team talked me through what to expect from surgery. I would leave the hospital with three more surgical scars and one fewer fallopian tube. They didn’t prepare me for what would come after. Being a few weeks pregnant was only noticeable in hindsight. Being suddenly not pregnant hit me like a great white shark taking a test bite out of a surfboard. After the sudden hormone shift my mind became a broken car radio that constantly cycled through the same few thoughts for days at a time. I couldn’t pick the station, I couldn’t turn it off and all I heard between was static. I would lay in bed at night, completely awake, staring at the ceiling for hours as my mind raced. I went to the supplements aisle of the grocery store, looking for anything that would make my body normal again. Scanning the shelves, I suddenly felt so alone. Rationally I knew that other people had gone through this before me, but staring at a row of pills and teas claiming to help with everything from conception to lactation, with nothing in between for loss, I felt isolated. If other women had felt like I did in that moment–sick of bleeding, unable to sleep, unable to concentrate, uninterested in eating–why wasn’t there something there for us? Before women had access to reliable contraceptives and prenatal care, miscarriages were more common. As medical science advanced, preventing unwanted pregnancy and nurturing intended pregnancies became easier. The narrative changed. Pregnancies were no longer frequent health events with low maternal survival rates. They became, in the collective mind, dependably controllable and safe.  That comforting thought was followed by a dangerous one: If keeping a pregnancy was so easy, losing one must be rare. Pregnancy loss is still common. Even today, it is estimated that one in five pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. The American Pregnancy Association estimates that out of the 6 million pregnancies in the United States every year, around 2 million are not carried to term. That side of the statistics gets loss when women are too afraid, embarrassed or devastated to discuss their experiences with loss. There can also be a deep sense of shame wrapped up with pregnancy loss. Medical science is supposed to make keeping a pregnancy so easy, so many women turn the blame on themselves. There isn’t a uniform emotional narrative to pregnancy loss. Some women are devastated, and rightfully mourn their angel babies. Other women feel furious. Some, like myself, feel varying levels of relief.  One woman, who had suffered and ectopic pregnancy herself at 19, suggested to me that it was a kind of “blessing in disguise.” As I wrote and rewrote this column over the past weeks I found myself slipping in all of the ways that what happened was beyond my control. I had never told this story without feeling the need to explain my actions and emotions. People would ask me what I had done wrong, and I felt compelled to defend myself. But what happened to me happens to millions of women every year. Pregnancy loss isn’t a shameful secret, it’s a fairly common health event. I will continue to talk about my pregnancy. Those of us who can be vocal need to be for the sake of women who are too devastated, ashamed or frightened to speak up. They need to know that they are normal they aren’t alone.  ]]>

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