Saturday, April 19, 2008

At a Loss: What To Expect When You're No Longer Expecting

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At a Loss: What To Expect When You're No Longer ExpectingIt was May 2005, and I was quietly excited.

I believed I was 7 weeks pregnant. My doctor wasn't so sure. The embryo on the ultrasound wasn't big enough, and he didn't hear a heartbeat. I looked closer to 5 weeks along. This revised timing seemed unlikely -- I was sure of the exact date sperm met egg. But I wasn't going to let pesky details get in the way of my party. "Great!" I said. "When's the new due date?"

I'll say this for myself: The denial came from an honest place. I was 33. My husband, Scott, and I had been married for almost a year. We'd just bought our first house, in Los Angeles, with an extra bedroom (for a kid) and a sun-dappled backyard (also for a kid).

Our tangerine tree sagged with fruit. Hummingbirds sipped nectar from our flowers. So when the doctor said not to worry, I'd probably see a heartbeat at my next ultrasound in a couple of weeks, I didn't. I cheerfully filled my prenatal vitamin prescription. I began a list of baby names. I checked out pregnancy Web sites, including one that advised women who'd had ultrasounds like mine to "enjoy being with her pregnancy." I snickered, but put a hand on my belly and felt the presence of a baby. Tears filled my eyes, as crazy as that sounds.

Today, I'm grateful for my Hallmark moment. It was the only time I stepped away from fevered planning and enjoyed things as they were -- the finest minute and a half of my pregnancy. Two weeks later, the repeat ultrasound showed an empty gestational sac where a heartbeat should have been.

Surprise, Surprise
Every pregnancy is different. So is every miscarriage, though no one tells you this.

Books, Web sites, even physicians gloss over the subject. What to Expect When You're Expecting, which finds space for questions like "Is it necessary to shave your pubic hair before labor?", devotes only a few pages to miscarriage. These resources don't prepare you for the grief, guilt, and self-doubt that take the place of excitement.

And they don't fully describe the physical experience. They do mention that miscarriage can cause painful cramping and bleeding and sometimes requires intervention with drugs or a procedure called dilation and curettage (D&C), which involves dilating the cervix and removing the "products of conception." This sounds scary, but it's a piece of cake compared with what they don't warn about.

Rest of the story:

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