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Baby Steps

Wouldn’t this have been a great photo and title for Wordless Wednesday?  It was so tempting to post nothing but a photo today, but it turns out that I have way too many words in my head and I’m exhausted from working so hard to keep them in there.  Totally and completely exhausted.

So today I am going to write.  Not about my own recipes, because I haven’t felt much like cooking, much less developing recipes, in a really long time.  I’m not going to write about my recent travels or the awesome cookbooks and kitchen products that have been showing up at my door lately.  Not about our CSA box that has been supplying us with local organic produce and eggs week after week.  Not about our summer garden that exploded and filled our lives with cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, and chiles and is now almost completely gone.  And I’m certainly not going to write about the growing compost pile where many of those vegetables ended up because I have had no desire to cook or eat them.  I’m not even going to write about the beautiful fresh Alaskan salmon that was sent to me over the summer to experiment with and has instead been taking up most of my freezer for the last couple of months.  I wish I wanted to write about those things.  I really do know how lucky I am to have a job that allows me to be creative in the kitchen and travel and test new products.  But right now, none of it means that much to me and food blogging is going to have to wait.

Instead, I’m going to write about miscarriage.  It’s the thing that I’ve been trying not to write about for a year now, although the truth is that I have wanted to write about it.  Desperately.  The thing about miscarriage is that there’s a rule that we’ve all learned that it shouldn’t be talked about with acquaintances or strangers.  That’s why you’re not supposed to share news about a pregnancy until after the first trimester – if you talk openly about a pregnancy and it ends in miscarriage, it’s impossible to keep it a secret.  While I understand the initial discomfort in having to tell people about the loss, I have found that it’s much more uncomfortable to keep it a secret and try to carry on as if your life hasn’t been ripped apart and turned upside down.  Think about how many women go through this (it’s a surprisingly large percentage) and how many of them immediately go back to work, or to the grocery store, or out with friends, enduring small talk and forcing smiles, all while trying to pretend that their world hasn’t just been turned upside down.

Because of the way we deal (or don’t deal) with miscarriage in this society, I was totally unprepared for the reality of it.  Sure, I knew all the statistics and that there was a possibility that it would happen.  I’m in my late 30’s so I also knew of the slightly increased risk due to my age.  I followed the all-important rule and kept news about the pregnancy to a small circle of family and friends and even tried to keep myself from becoming too excited about it until after the first ultrasound – an impossible task, really.  But when we went in at 10 weeks for the first ultrasound and found out that I had a blighted ovum and would be going home to wait for a miscarriage rather than to show friends and family an ultrasound photo, I was in shock.

It was a weird sort of limbo.  I wasn’t actually growing a baby anymore but my body thought I was so I had to continue to endure the pregnancy symptoms until my body figured out what was going on.  Meanwhile, my main source of information about blighted ovum was the internet, where I promptly found story after story about misdiagnosed miscarriage, which only added to the fear and confusion.  Was I still pregnant or not?  Could the doctor have been wrong?  Was the baby just hiding?  And then came the actual miscarriage stories, some of which were absolutely terrifying.  The more real information I tried to find, the more confused and alone I felt.  Meanwhile, I put up as brave a front as I could for my friends and family but was a complete basket case around Phil, who was dealing with his own fear and confusion while being leaned on for support by a crazy woman and getting absolutely no support of his own.  And it was another two weeks before the actual miscarriage started.

I’ve been almost all the way through the first trimester of pregnancy three times in the past year and endured three miscarriages.  If you’ve heard of a pregnancy symptom, I’ve probably experienced it.  A lot.  With each pregnancy and each miscarriage I wanted to talk about my experiences and each time I kept quiet for fear of making other people uncomfortable.  The last two pregnancies were different than the first –  in fact we saw and heard heart beats both times.  But each time, the baby wasn’t growing on schedule and the heart beat eventually stopped.  And each time, we knew about the impending miscarriage before it happened and had to wait for it.  After the second one, my relationship with Phil was on the brink of collapse and I was so mired in depression I didn’t even know I was depressed.  I didn’t know anything.  Nothing felt good, nothing made sense, I couldn’t work, and I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone why.  I was convinced that everyone was judging me as a failure and/or a flake because I couldn’t keep up this blog, couldn’t keep up the house, couldn’t return emails or answer the phone, couldn’t complete freelance assignments.  It was an accomplishment to get out of bed at all.  I was so buried under feelings of shame and inadequacy for not being able to get anything done that I couldn’t even recognize that I had been through some serious trauma and needed and deserved a break and some compassion.  Luckily for me, things finally got so bad that a family member saw that I needed help and pushed me into therapy.  It saved my relationship and it slowly brought me back to life.

Another thing that has kept me going is the joy of being around the new babies in our family.  I was there for the birth of my baby cousin Ava a couple of months after my first miscarriage.  Being there was a life-changing experience and watching her grow from an infant to the active 10-month-old she is today really has been magical.  We lost my Uncle Jim, Ava’s grandpa, a few years ago and when Ava was born with Jim’s bright red curly hair, we were all in tears for more reasons than one.  My other adorable baby cousin Reagan just turned one and is running all over the place smiling, while the newest kid on the block is 4-month-old Vivian, with big eyes and the cutest chubby cheeks and dimples.  Being here to watch my cousins start and grow their families and getting to see these little ones grow up makes me so grateful that I chose to move back home.

Our first miscarriage started exactly one year ago today and I am currently recovering from the third, which happened last month.  By recovering, I mean I’m waiting for the last of the pregnancy hormones to disappear and for the cycling of mood swings, exhaustion, and depression to let up.  I’m mostly there.  My energy has returned and I’m waiting to hear the results from my last blood test (which I’ve had to do weekly since the miscarriage) to find out if the pregnancy hormones are finally completely gone.  If so, that means I should start feeling somewhat back to “normal” in a few weeks.  I’m not going to say that it gets easier, because this last pregnancy was probably the most stressful of the three and when it ended, we felt the loss as intensely as we did the first two times.  But having been through this twice before, I now have confidence that my body knows what it’s doing and the fear is lessened.  With the help of therapy, Phil and I are now armed with the knowledge of how and why we grieve differently and we have learned how to support each other and most importantly how to support ourselves through the healing process.  Now it feels like our relationship is strengthened by loss rather than strained.

At this point, the doctors don’t know why I keep miscarrying.  I’ve had more blood drawn than I even knew was possible and we’ve been through genetic counseling.  We each have to go through one more test before we’re given the green light to try again.  As crazy as it seems, it’s not completely unusual to have 3 or 4 unexplained miscarriages in a row and then go on to have a healthy pregnancy.  So, we haven’t given up hope – not even close.  We are both healthy and obviously have no problem getting pregnant, and that alone is reason to be hopeful.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned through all of this, it’s that I am strong enough to get through it.  Whatever happens, we’ll get through it.

For now, we’ve decided to give ourselves a little break from trying to start a family and focus on planning a wedding.  We have been engaged for almost two years now and though it might seem as if we’re doing things backwards, we have our reasons for this crazy timeline.  We were actually never planning on throwing a big wedding at all, but something about going through this last loss together changed the way we felt about having a big celebration.  We’re going for it!  I even bought a dress.

So why am I telling you all of this?  For one thing, I do plan on talking about my next pregnancy from the beginning – on here, on social media, in real life.  Early pregnancy is a crazy, exhausting, horrible, exhilarating time and any pregnancies for me in the future will also be stressful and terrifying due to the previous miscarriages.  I need an outlet to vent and I need support.  Also, I obviously love talking about food and when pregnancy happens, it changes my relationship to food so profoundly that if I can’t write about it here, then I’ll probably end up neglecting the blog again completely.  I’d love to be able to talk about what it’s like to be a food blogger when I can’t go near the kitchen because I can smell an unopened head of garlic all the way in the living room and sometimes the only thing that sounds remotely good is a basket of fried pickles, which I then discover I don’t even want after eating three of them.

Writing this post frees me up to talk about what’s really going on in my life, which is essential if I’m going to continue writing here.  And I’d really like to continue writing here.

I also hope that reading about my experiences will help other women who are dealing with pregnancy loss.  No pregnancy and no miscarriage is the same, but knowing that someone has been through a similar situation and survived is a powerful thing.  I have spent countless hours on miscarriage support boards reading through stories and drawing strength from women who have been through this.  But even though miscarriage support boards exist and flourish online, there is still very little information given to women leaving doctor’s offices, hospitals, and ER rooms about how their bodies will react to miscarriage, much less what the grieving process will be like.  There is very little information about what men go through after a pregnancy loss and even less information about how miscarriage affects relationships.  We need to talk about this more.

My hope is that someday couples going through miscarriage will be met with a large support network and real information about what to expect and how to cope.  I also wish for people to feel empowered to ask for time and space to grieve as necessary.  Miscarriage is a real loss and needs to be treated as such in order for couples to truly heal.  If anyone out there needs to vent, please feel free to email me.  I can’t guarantee that I’ll respond to every message – I still have trouble staying on top of things like email, I’m still going through this.  But I will read them and I will understand.  Just know that you will get through this.  Show yourself kindness and compassion.  Take small steps.  Baby steps.