The Losses We Share
Opinion| Megan Markle: The Duchess of Sussex
"Perhaps the path to healing begins with three simple words: Are you OK?"
"It was a July morning that began as ordinarily as any other day: Make breakfast. Feed the dogs. Take vitamins. Find that missing sock. Pick up the rogue crayon that rolled under the table. Throw my hair in a ponytail before getting my son from his crib.
After changing his diaper, I felt a sharp cramp. I dropped to the floor with him in my arms, humming a lullaby to keep us both calm, the cheerful tune a stark contrast to my sense that something was not right.
I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second.
Hours later, I lay in a hospital bed, holding my husband’s hand. I felt the clamminess of his palm and kissed his knuckles, wet from both our tears. Staring at the cold white walls, my eyes glazed over. I tried to imagine how we’d heal.
I recalled a moment last year when Harry and I were finishing up a long tour in South Africa. I was exhausted. I was breastfeeding our infant son, and I was trying to keep a brave face in the very public eye.
“Are you OK?” a journalist asked me. I answered him honestly, not knowing that what I said would resonate with so many — new moms and older ones, and anyone who had, in their own way, been silently suffering. My off-the-cuff reply seemed to give people permission to speak their truth. But it wasn’t responding honestly that helped me most, it was the question itself.
“Thank you for asking,” I said. “Not many people have asked if I’m OK.”
Sitting in a hospital bed, watching my husband’s heart break as he tried to hold the shattered pieces of mine, I realized that the only way to begin to heal is to first ask, “Are you OK?”
Are we? This year has brought so many of us to our breaking points. Loss and pain have plagued every one of us in 2020, in moments both fraught and debilitating. We’ve heard all the stories: A woman starts her day, as normal as any other, but then receives a call that she’s lost her elderly mother to Covid-19. A man wakes feeling fine, maybe a little sluggish, but nothing out of the ordinary. He tests positive for the coronavirus and within weeks, he — like hundreds of thousands of others — has died.
A young woman named Breonna Taylor goes to sleep, just as she’s done every night before, but she doesn’t live to see the morning because a police raid turns horribly wrong. George Floyd leaves a convenience store, not realizing he will take his last breath under the weight of someone’s knee, and in his final moments, calls out for his mom. Peaceful protests become violent. Health rapidly shifts to sickness. In places where there was once community, there is now division.
On top of all of this, it seems we no longer agree on what is true. We aren’t just fighting over our opinions of facts; we are polarized over whether the fact is, in fact, a fact. We are at odds over whether science is real. We are at odds over whether an election has been won or lost. We are at odds over the value of compromise.
That polarization, coupled with the social isolation required to fight this pandemic, has left us feeling more alone than ever.
When I was in my late teens, I sat in the back of a taxi zipping through the busyness and bustle of Manhattan. I looked out the window and saw a woman on her phone in a flood of tears. She was standing on the sidewalk, living out a private moment very publicly. At the time, the city was new to me, and I asked the driver if we should stop to see if the woman needed help.
He explained that New Yorkers live out their personal lives in public spaces. “We love in the city, we cry in the street, our emotions and stories there for anybody to see,” I remember him telling me. “Don’t worry, somebody on that corner will ask her if she’s OK.”
Now, all these years later, in isolation and lockdown, grieving the loss of a child, the loss of my country’s shared belief in what’s true, I think of that woman in New York. What if no one stopped? What if no one saw her suffering? What if no one helped?
I wish I could go back and ask my cabdriver to pull over. This, I realize, is the danger of siloed living — where moments sad, scary or sacrosanct are all lived out alone. There is no one stopping to ask, “Are you OK?”
Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few. In the pain of our loss, my husband and I discovered that in a room of 100 women, 10 to 20 of them will have suffered from miscarriage. Yet despite the staggering commonality of this pain, the conversation remains taboo, riddled with (unwarranted) shame, and perpetuating a cycle of solitary mourning."
"When my wife miscarried, I was alone in my mourning"
By Charles Feng| July 22, 2020
"Three years ago, my wife, daughter and I took a photo shivering on a beach amid the howling autumnal wind. Last year, for 11 glorious, anticipatory weeks, while my wife was pregnant, I planned to update the picture at the same location with a new baby in tow.
But that plan was abruptly upended when we had a miscarriage. Now that picture that sits on our mantel would still be just the three of us, squinting into the camera, buttressing one another against the cold.
The miscarriage itself lasted only a few hours. But the self-recrimination lingered long afterward because I wasn’t sure how to grieve when my wife’s emotional response seemed more important. When I searched online, women’s perspectives abounded on websites, in YouTube videos and in news articles, but men’s perspectives were scarce. Academic research was little better. A pattern emerged: Although there is a spotlight on Mom’s emotions and well-being during a miscarriage, Dad’s experiences are rarely discussed.
The pregnancy for our first daughter went smoothly. So, when my wife found out about our second pregnancy, we told family members and friends immediately after finding out, around the two-month mark. This meant that when the miscarriage occurred, we had to backtrack and explain to everyone what had happened, in painful conversations.
My wife’s friends, mostly women, showered her with messages and flowers. On the other hand, for the few friends, all men, I contacted, the comments ranged from the trite (“Sorry, that sucks”) to the callous (“Gotta try again!”) to, well, silence. My best friend, with the best of intentions, emailed my wife his condolences but excluded me.
Eventually, another friend who had recently experienced two miscarriages carved out some time to chat over dinner.
“How are you feeling, buddy?” he asked.
“Okay,” I said.
“Tough as it seems right now, it does get better with time.”
“Good to know.” I felt like a sullen teenager.
“You know, while discussing miscarriages is in general taboo, for men it seems especially so,” he said.
The entire arc of the miscarriage, from conception to loss, occurs within the female body. Aside from contributing sperm, I felt like a bystander. I was traveling when my wife watched the double pink lines appear on the pregnancy test. She occasionally saw the obstetrician on her own and started organizing the baby’s room without my input. I had an ancillary role in the pregnancy, so I wasn’t sure I even had a right to feel devastated.
The event itself is permanently etched in my psyche. Throughout the night, my wife had unremitting abdominal pain. I was asleep when she barged through the door from the bathroom.
“The baby’s gone,” she said through tears.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. I got up and hugged her. “What should we do now?”
“I don’t know.”
My wife went to the obstetrician, while I stayed home with our 2-year-old daughter.
After a sushi lunch — no longer pregnant, my wife could eat raw fish again — we dropped our daughter off at my parents’ house. To distract ourselves, we caught an animated movie. That evening, we drove to a deserted parking lot at the local elementary school. I shut off the car ignition and let the jazz radio buzz in the background. I held my wife’s hand as we stared into the darkness. We talked about the movie but little else.
The next day I was back at work.
The best thing I could do was to just be with her. I felt like I didn’t have a right to express my despair, so I actively suppressed my emotions. My wife needed to lean on me, so I became a stoic, unperturbable oak tree for her. According to a study published this year, after a miscarriage, men have described themselves, in supporting their wives, as “rocks, guards and repair men.” We adhere to traditional notions of masculinity, of being steady and capable, and never, ever succumbing to emotions."
"Surrogacy is an important family planning option, but be prepared for a lengthy, expensive and emotional process."
By David Dodge| April 17, 2020
"This guide was originally on October 11th 2019 in NYT Parenting."
"From the time they began dating as teenagers, Rita and Erikson Magsino, now 39 and 43, talked about the family they hoped to have together one day. Almost immediately after marrying in 2005, they tried to make that dream a reality.
But parenthood would have to wait — Magsino learned she had an aggressive form of endometriosis that made it difficult for her to become pregnant. For over a decade, the couple tried everything to conceive — including fertility drugs and advanced treatments like intrauterine insemination and in vitro fertilization. Twice, Magsino became pregnant, only to miscarry late in the second trimester. “After we lost twins at 20 weeks, we decided enough was enough,” she said. A generation ago, the couple’s attempts to have a biological child most likely would have ended there. Instead, thanks to improvements in reproductive medicine, they welcomed a baby boy into their home in May with the help of a gestational surrogate.
Surrogacy has also created an avenue to biological parenthood for thousands of others who can’t conceive or carry children on their own, such as same-sex couples and single men. As a gay, H.I.V.-positive man, Brian Rosenberg, 54, figured biological fatherhood was forever out of reach. But thanks to surrogacy, and a technique known as “sperm washing,” which prevents H.I.V. transmission, he and his husband, Ferd van Gameren, 59, welcomed twins, biologically related to Rosenberg, in 2010. “It’s still hard to believe,” Rosenberg said. “I thought this was a door that was shut to me.”
Still, would-be parents need to be prepared for a process that is far longer, more expensive and emotional than many people expect — it’s called a “surrogacy journey” for a reason. For this guide, I interviewed the types of experts you can expect to encounter during a surrogacy journey, including two fertility specialists, a lawyer, a psychologist and an agency caseworker."
"Miscarriage happens in up to 15 percent of pregnancies. Why aren’t we talking about it?"
By Jyoti Madhusoodanan| April 16, 2020
Photo: Kit Agar
"Lizette Galvan’s home pregnancy test was positive a few days after her expected period. But at her first ultrasound, she heard the words: “This is where the heartbeat should be.” Just six weeks into her first pregnancy, Galvan — like approximately one in 10 pregnant women — had miscarried.
Most early pregnancy losses occur within the first 12 weeks. Although the risk drops with each passing week, a miscarriage can occur any time until the 20-week mark. (Later losses are considered stillbirths.) About 10 to 15 percent of all pregnancies end in such an early loss, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Miscarriage is the most common complication in pregnancy,” said Dr. Courtney Schreiber, M.D., an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania. “Many occur even before a woman has connected with a prenatal care provider.”
Thanks to improved home tests, women like then 38-year-old Galvan learn sooner than ever if they’re expecting. “In the past, women would not even have known about a lot of pregnancies that would’ve ended in a miscarriage,” said Dr. Pamela Geller, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology, ob-gyn and public health at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “They might have had a bit of pain and bleeding but would have just thought of it as a heavy menstrual cycle.”
This early knowledge also means more women grapple with the emotional consequences of early pregnancy loss — which are often no different than the grief of losing a loved one.
For this guide, I read through the science, and spoke with three practicing ob-gyns and a researcher who studies miscarriages to help you understand early pregnancy loss, treatment options and ways to optimize recovery."
By Jennie Agg| May 5, 2020
"After losing four pregnancies, Jennie Agg set out to unravel the science of miscarriage. Then, a few months in, she found out she was pregnant again – just as the coronavirus pandemic hit"
"I stepped out of Oxford Circus tube into mid-morning crowds and cold, bright sunshine. The consultant’s words were still ringing in my ears. “Nothing.” How could the answer be nothing? This was January 2018, six months since my third miscarriage, a symptomless, rather businesslike affair, diagnosed at an early scan. The previous November, I’d undergone a series of investigations into possible reasons why I’d lost this baby and the two before it.
That morning, we had gone to discuss the results at the specialist NHS clinic we’d been referred to after officially joining the one in 100 couples who lose three or more pregnancies. I had barely removed my coat before the doctor started rattling off the things I had tested negative for: antiphospholipid antibodies, lupus anticoagulant, Factor V Leiden, prothrombin gene mutation.
“I know it doesn’t feel like it, but this is good news,” he said, while the hopeful part of me crumpled. We were not going to get a magic wand, a cure, a different-coloured pill to try next time.
Now, my husband, Dan, was back at work and, for reasons I can’t really explain, I had decided to take myself shopping rather than go home after the appointment. I stood staring down the flat, grey frontages of Topshop and NikeTown and willed my feet to unstick themselves from the pavement.
I ended up wandering the beauty hall of one of London’s more famous department stores. I let myself be persuaded to try a new facial, which uses “medical-grade lasers” to evaporate pollution and dead skin cells from pores to “rejuvenate” and “transform” your complexion. Upstairs in the treatment room, the form I was handed asked if I’d had any surgery in the past year. I wrote in tight, cramped letters that six months ago I had an operation to remove the remains of a pregnancy, under general anaesthetic. When I handed the clipboard back to the beautician, she didn’t mention it. I wished that she would.
As I lay back and felt the hot ping of the laser dotting across my forehead, I thought how ridiculous this all was; that this laser-facial is something humans have figured out how to do. How has someone, somewhere, in a lab or the boardroom of a cosmetics conglomerate, conceived of this – a solution to a problem that barely exists – and yet no one can tell me why I can’t carry a baby?
There is no doctor who can reverse a miscarriage. Generally, according to medical literature, once one starts, it cannot be prevented. When I read these words for the first time, three years ago, after Googling “bleeding in early pregnancy”, a few days before what should have been our 12-week scan, I felt cheated. Cheated, because when you’re pregnant you are bombarded with instructions that are supposed to prevent this very thing. No soft cheese for you. No drinking, either. Don’t smoke, limit your caffeine intake, no cleaning out the cat’s litter tray. I had assumed, naively, that this meant we knew how to prevent miscarriage these days, that we understood why it happened and what caused it; that it could be avoided if you followed the rules.
You learn very quickly that the truth is more complicated. After a miscarriage, no medic asks you how much coffee you drank or if you accidentally ate any under-cooked meat. Instead you find that miscarriage is judged to be largely unavoidable. An estimated one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, with the majority occurring before the 12-week mark. Seventy-one per cent of people who lose a pregnancy aren’t given a reason, according to a 2019 survey by the baby charity Tommy’s. You are told – repeatedly – that it’s “just bad luck”, “just one of those things”, “just nature’s way”.
Just, just, just. A fatalistic shrug of a word. But this is not the whole story. “There is this myth out there that every miscarriage that occurs is because there’s some profound problem with the pregnancy, that there’s nothing that can be done,” says Arri Coomarasamy, a professor of gynaecology and reproductive medicine, and director of the UK’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research, which was set up by Tommy’s in 2016. “Science is trying to unpick that myth.”
Unfortunately, the roots of this myth run deep. It’s an idea reinforced by the social convention that you shouldn’t reveal a pregnancy until after 12 weeks, once the highest risk of miscarriage has passed. It goes unchallenged thanks to age-old squeamishness and shame around women’s bodies, and our collective ineloquence on matters of grief. The bloody, untimely end of a pregnancy sits at the centre of a perfect Venn diagram of things that make us uncomfortable: sex, death and periods.
An impression persists that, while unfortunate, miscarriages are soon forgotten once another baby arrives – that you’ll get there eventually. It’s true that the majority of people who have a miscarriage will go on to have a successful pregnancy when they next conceive (about 80%, one study carried out in the 1980s found). Even among couples who have had three miscarriages in a row, for more than half, the next pregnancy will be successful. Accordingly, the prevailing logic seems to be that not only is miscarriage something that cannot be fixed – it doesn’t need to be fixed. There is little research or funding for trials, and only glancing attention from the healthcare system. What is not being heard, in all this, is that miscarriage matters."
How women find the strength to endure multiple pregnancy losses
February 9, 2020| By Meghan Holohan
"Soon after getting married, Jenn and Phil Tompkins learned they were expecting a baby. Tompkins had always dreamed of being a mother and wanted to start her family as soon as possible. At six weeks pregnant, she excitedly announced it on Facebook.
"It's not a fantastic thing to do on multiple levels because once you announce it, not everyone gets the un-announcement," Tompkins, 43, of Freeport, Pennsylvania, told TODAY Parents.
When Tompkins went to her eight week ultrasound, she worried when the technician kept asking her questions.
"She asked if we were sure on our date, which I thought was a weird question, and she turned the screen away and said she had to come back," Tompkins explained.
The tech returned with the doctor and they shared the news.
"The baby stopped developing and did not have a heartbeat," Tompkins said. "That day our world changed."
The doctor advised the couple wait for Tompkins body to heal before trying again. Soon after, Tompkins got pregnant again and miscarried. A third time, Tompkins became pregnant and lost the baby. After her third miscarriage, her doctor recommended she visit a maternal-fetal specialist who could test the couple to try to understand why the miscarriage kept happening. Before they even tried any treatments, Tompkins became pregnanct again."