My pandemic pregnancy loss: ‘The silence told me everything I needed to know’

This is us. (Shauna Reiman Photography)

*The following story deals with miscarriage and touches on some specifics. Don’t read any further if you’re uncomfortable with the topic.

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Hey, I’m Michelle. For months now, I’ve been writing this series, “My pandemic pregnancy,” if the headline rings familiar to you. About a dozen women have trusted me to share their stories since mid-2020, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful. As that old saying goes, when you’re doing what you love, it doesn’t feel like work -- and writing this series has been one of my greatest joys, career-wise. I’m a mother of two, a birth doula working toward her certification, and I’ve been fascinated by childbirth, motherhood, parenting -- all of it! -- ever since my husband and I welcomed our firstborn, a baby girl, in December 2015. But today, I’m not sharing one of your stories, but rather, one of my own. I didn’t think this would ever be the case, but here we are. If you’d like to chat about your own experience, with childbirth, IVF, loss, or anything related, see the link at the bottom of this page.

Here goes ...

It was late last fall when my husband and I decided we’d try for baby No. 3.

I always had a suspicion we would want a third, which is perhaps what piqued my interest in pandemic pregnancies in the first place. You’ve told me about COVID tests up the nose in between contractions, dads who had to be left out of the NICU (based on one-parent-at-a-time rules), laboring in a mask and so much more. I thought, maybe I’ll be one of you someday. I’ll learn so much about what to expect. And in writing this series, I’ve really enjoyed hearing and documenting what’s been different for people, how you’ve been coping and adapting -- and I’ve thought about my own family’s timing and how we’ll manage it all.

I believe it was November when my birth control pills became a thing of the past and I started looking at my ovulation days in an app on my phone. And then in late January, I woke up feeling funny one morning with some telltale pregnancy symptoms. Sure enough, I popped open my app and realized I was supposed to start my period that very day, so I took a drugstore test right in my bathroom and got the results a few minutes later: PREGNANT.

I was so excited. And surprised! That felt fast. I called my mom first, which is a thing I hadn’t done in my previous pregnancies. I’ve always told her the news fairly early on, but I’d been careful about waiting, seeing as you hear things are so uncertain in those first few weeks.

This time, I threw caution to the wind. I’d had two healthy pregnancies, two healthy babies; why wait?

My mom is a teacher and just so happened to be with a few students at the time, but took my call anyway, and I just held up the test as we squealed. She made me promise to call my dad next so they could talk about it (which I did, later that day). In what was most definitely the more pressing priority, I called my husband, James, at work, and he was elated. “I knew it!” he said.

We laughed, like, “No you didn’t! How could you have known?” He said he just had a feeling.

We did hold off on telling our kids; they just turned 3 and 5, and for whatever reason, I wanted to wait on that front.

Please ignore the cluttery background, here they are! Analisa is 5 and Robby is 3. (Michelle Ganley/GMG photo)

I texted a few friends, but decided I’d largely hold off on the big reveal until that 12-week “safe” mark.

The next month was fairly uneventful. I was anxious to get in and see a new ob-gyn or midwife, considering we just moved to a new state about a year ago, and I didn’t have a doctor picked out yet for my prenatal care.

Then, the office I ended up choosing said they couldn’t start seeing pregnant people until at least 9 weeks gestation. I understood -- actually, my ob-gyn in Michigan was pretty popular, and when I was a new patient of his, I’m pretty sure I had to wait until the 12-week mark. That was brutal.

So, I couldn’t decide if the long wait time was pandemic-related or just practical for the office. But I marked the date of my first appointment in my planner and decided I’d grin and bear it. What else was there to do?

Some weeks moved slowly, others went by in a flash. I tested a few more times, too -- like, could this be a fluke? But every time, my drugstore pregnancy tests told me I was indeed positive, and of course, my period was still on hiatus. I felt healthy, for the most part. Sometimes my stomach felt a bit “off,” like, I just wasn’t hungry and nothing sounded appetizing (even my favorite foods). But I was happy to be pregnant. I hadn’t suffered nausea or anything with my first two, so I was feeling good. My husband and I were already discussing baby names and talking about when to reassemble our crib and tell our bosses.

Finally, I had about a week to go before my first appointment. And that’s when I started spotting.

A moment of clarity

At first, it was just the teeniest amount. I’d spotted a little when I was pregnant with my son, just for a few days, if that, so at first, I didn’t think much of it.

But it persisted, and I couldn’t help but notice: It was different.

My appointment came during the first week of March, and I mentioned the spotting to my new midwife, who said the same thing I’d heard previously: Some spotting in early pregnancy just happens. I could be suffering a loss, or everything could be perfectly fine. It was hard to determine. She scheduled me for an ultrasound the very next day. My husband wasn’t permitted at that first appointment, by the way, in an effort to keep extra bodies out of the office. I had a good feeling that would be the case, so the news didn’t come as a surprise. I’d learned this after talking to all the other featured moms in our series.

It would have been nice to have James by my side as the midwife and I were discussing some of my concerns. But that’s part of a pandemic pregnancy, I suppose.

That same day, and then overnight and into the next day, the spotting really picked up.

At some point, I texted my friend something like, “Everyone keeps saying some spotting might be normal. But we’re past that point.”

The morning of my ultrasound, the blood loss was undeniable. Chrissy Teigen, who suffered a loss herself fairly recently and wrote about it publicly, mentioned having this realization -- a time when she just knew: The baby was gone. There was no surviving this.

I had a similar moment of clarity.

Of course, Chrissy was a lot further along in her pregnancy than I was, so I don’t mean to compare the two situations so closely. But still -- I had a gut feeling that something was really wrong, and while I would have loved it if a doctor could have proven me wrong, that moment never arrived. My body kept doing what it was doing, and I had a strong intuition about it all.

Our instincts are there for a reason, it seems. And mine helped me cope. The news didn’t come as such a blow, when I finally received some confirmation. I knew, deep down: The baby was gone.

The ultrasound

I went to my ultrasound with a heavy heart, still losing a lot of fluid. And still wishing my husband could come.

While a nurse was taking my weight and blood pressure, she leaned in and half-whispered, “Are you OK? You’re bleeding -- a lot.”

I wasn’t even embarrassed.

I was defeated. I mean, I was at a doctor’s office -- and I really didn’t have space for embarrassment. There were too many other emotions in my way. I was just shocked and hurt and sad. It all felt surreal. I changed into some hospital scrubs the nice nurse provided and waited for the ultrasound to begin. Alone.

Once again, my husband wasn’t permitted in. My midwife had offered for him to come sit in the main waiting room/lobby, but as an immuno-compromised person still actively avoiding COVID-19, he opted to stay in the car outside. I didn’t blame him for that -- in fact, we agreed it was probably for the best.

The ultrasound technician came in and looked at my uterus both ways. She stayed pretty quiet, so again, it was more confirmation in my head that something wasn’t right. In the past, it’s been like, bubbly conversation, “Look at that little bean! He’s moving all around the screen! See his head?”

Now, just: Silence. It was deafening. I didn’t bother to ask any questions. The quiet seemed to confirm my suspicions. It was like, the silence told me everything I needed to know.

The whole process didn’t take long: Maybe 5 to 10 minutes? Finally, a doctor came in to discuss my results. He was gentle, kind, and he confirmed it all. The baby was gone. And it wasn’t even visible on the ultrasounds: I had passed it already, it seemed. I had been almost 10 weeks along. It felt strange to text my husband the news, so I waited to speak with him face to face.

I was numb, but fine, all things considered. I am a crier in life, but sometimes not in the big moments. Not at my wedding. Not for the births of either of my kids. Not at my grandpa’s funeral, until the very end, when we were walking to the car. Yet I’ll cry over something silly in a “Modern Family” re-run. Go figure.

It might sound cold to say, but I just wanted to get out of that room and go collapse into my husband’s arms in the car. I told the doctor I was sorry, and that I’m sure this is the worst part of his job. He stifled a laugh and told me I shouldn’t be apologizing for anything. These things happen, more than I realize. I grabbed my paperwork and left.

Getting that squeeze from my husband in the car was exactly what I needed. We both just sat there in silence, the car not even in park ... a little shocked, a little sad, not quite sure what to say or what would come next.

I was just happy to have my mask off. I’m not an anti-masker by any stretch, but the whole appointment just made me feel claustrophobic. Having to receive the news solo, stressing out beforehand, holding my breath (a thing I do when I’m anxious) -- and then having a tiny piece of cloth over my face that afternoon, had been bothering me. I don’t think twice about it when I’m at the grocery store or out running errands, but that day, I was hyper-aware. It bugged me. I just needed a deep breath. I had for awhile, actually. It wasn’t till I was in the car, that I finally got it.

Squeezing the kids a little tighter

It did feel good to have an answer, in a way. There would be no more wondering.

I arrived home, pulled my work computer onto my lap and tried to distract myself the rest of the day. I called my mom and it was basically the exact opposite of our phone call in late January. I’m pretty sure I just mumbled, “lost the baby/don’t really want to talk about it,” and she respected that. She’s lost babies too, and if anyone gets it, it’s her.

Over the course of the next few days, my body started to feel better, physically. I decided to be open about what had happened. I texted some people, even ones who I hadn’t told previously, and that helped, for whatever reason. I didn’t get into details with everyone; I just shared as much as I felt like sharing in that moment. I squeezed my kids a little tighter, and never realized what a miracle it was, that they came into this world healthy and without drama. Having them by my side in the heavy moments felt really comforting. I’m glad we never told them about Baby No. 3, because it would have broken my heart, having to say it wouldn’t be happening after all.

My heart hurts, still, thinking about moms who have lost babies before they’ve even had the chance to become moms, if that makes any sense. If that’s you, I’m so sorry. I hope your day comes.

And from here, at least for my family, we wait. My midwife called me when she heard the news and told me about some steps to take, moving forward. There’s no reason to believe this will happen again, she said, adding that spontaneous miscarriages are pretty common. One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, so I’m not alone -- and I’m sure we’ll try again.

I’ve had good days in which I don’t think about it much, and days when, seemingly out of nowhere, I’m overwhelmed with sadness and the loss of what could have been. I saw a “We’re expecting. Baby en route in late September!” Instagram post last night, and thought, that would have been us. In just a few weeks, we could have been telling the world; planning out a cute announcement or having Analisa and Robby hold up the ultrasound photo for my Facebook post.

I’m sure I’ll never forget that due date in early October.

You’re not alone.

A friend (who lost her baby) once told me that people tend to struggle with responses to this sort of thing. Of course, most of them are well-intentioned, but that doesn’t change anything. I’ve been reluctant to share with some people, because I don’t want to hear: “Well, you have a boy and a girl already. Why add another?” or “At least you can try again!” or anything about my age or how I should hurry (even though I’m only 34), or any comparisons to lost grandparents or pets or anything like that. A simple “I’m so sorry” is a perfectly acceptable response, and I don’t want to feel like I have to manage any uncomfortable conversations or expectations. Yes, we can try for another baby again. Yes, that’s lucky. But I still want to grieve this. I’m allowed to have days that are just sad, and sit in that feeling before moving on. Rushing the process or obsessively “looking at the bright side” doesn’t feel productive.

If we get pregnant again, it will likely still be considered a pandemic pregnancy. After all, who knows how long this thing will last?

I can’t say I’m any more of an expert on these situations than I was before. But I’d been curious about how moms are navigating losses right now. I never suspected I’d be writing about my own, but I hope it helps others to feel less alone.

Having to wear a mask in a stressful moment and then not having my husband along for two appointments -- it felt not ideal. But they were manageable experiences; not great, but tolerable.

Read more My Pandemic Pregnancy stories:

My pandemic pregnancy: ‘We were sitting there with a happy, healthy newborn, and then suddenly, it switched’ Read full story.

My (hopeful) pandemic pregnancy: Inside the world of IVF and COVID-19 -- ‘It’s terrifying' Read full story.

My pandemic pregnancy: ‘If we make it through this, we’re really meant to be’ Read full story.

My pandemic pregnancy: From infertility to cancer to IVF to a 20-week scare: ‘It happened exactly how it was supposed to’ Read full story.

My pandemic pregnancy: 'We’re 18 years old ... We had to jump in’ Read full story.

My pandemic pregnancy, positive for COVID-19: 'This is definitely different’ Read full story.

My pandemic pregnancy: 'I wanted to celebrate my rainbow' Read full story.

My pandemic pregnancy: 'I was lucky I acted fast' Read full story.

My pandemic pregnancy: 'Sure enough, I have (a brain aneurysm)' Read full story.

My pandemic pregnancy, turned pandemic homebirth: 'It was a very intimate setting' Read full story.

My pandemic pregnancy: 'I wanted to be ready at any point. I didn’t know it’d be the next day.' Read full story.

For now, we’re taking things one day a time. Today, I felt good enough to write this. We’ll see if tomorrow is better or worse.

But for anyone else who has found themselves in this position, pandemic or no pandemic, just know that I’m with you. Sometimes those numbers and statistics do help, in a weird way. We’re not alone. This is a thing that happens.

Living in 2021, at least there’s conversation about it. I felt empowered by Chrissy Teigen and other women on social media and in my own friends group who have come forward with their own experiences.

I don’t have an ending to my story, but I suppose it’s still getting written. And my inbox is always open if you’d like to share. 💛

Were you, or are you, pregnant during the pandemic? (Or TTC?) If you're open to sharing your story -- as a guest contributor or just in speaking with a journalist -- click or tap here to see what we're looking for and to fill out our form. Thank you for considering!

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