My friends and family were more likely to hear about Beyonce’s miscarriage than mine. After all, Beyonce’s sad news was broadcast to the world (albeit much later, after the successful birth of their daughter Blue Ivy) in a Jay-Z song. Sure, Beyonce is one of the most famous women in the world, but it was still extremely private information made public. My miscarriage was kept quiet, so quiet that many people will only hear of it now, a rare feat in the age of social media. And yet, the facts: I sold my first novel on a Monday. That Friday, I found out that I was pregnant. My husband and I had only been trying for a couple of months, and we were shocked. The timing was hilarious, as if our good fortune knew no bounds. I took it as a sign from the universe — that the sentimental sentient being knew how long it had taken for me to sell a novel (almost 10 years) and was making up for it by giving me a baby in a flash.
The feeling of giddy overabundance didn’t last. Early in the pregnancy, I did a reading and wore a beautiful dress I was sure wouldn’t fit me for much longer, and when it was over, I noticed that I had begun to bleed. Over the course of a few days, when the bleeding and cramping increased, I knew it was over. My husband went to a 24-hour drugstore to buy me a heating pad at 3 in the morning, and listened to me moan through the bathroom door. A trip to the doctor confirmed the loss, the OB/GYN so cavalier about it that I too tried to play it off like it wasn’t a big deal. She asked me why I hadn’t taken any pain medication, and it sounded so stupid to tell her that I hadn’t taken any Aleve because you’re not supposed to take blood thinners while pregnant. My husband cried, because he is a crier, which is a very good quality in a husband.
No one talks about the physical pain of miscarriage. Not that people talk much about miscarriages at all, and certainly not in public, but if there is any acknowledgment, it is of the psychic pain, the emotional toll. That I saw coming. What I didn’t anticipate (for who would anticipate such horrors) was the actual pain. I panted, I groaned. I clutched that heating pad to my abdomen and wept.
And then I put on a dress and some lipstick and went to have my photo taken for a fashion magazine. I introduced my favorite author at the bookstore where I worked, claiming to have had a virulent stomach flu, or maybe food poisoning, I can’t remember. (Food poisoning is a very reliable go-to replacement for more personal problems, because everyone knows how awful it is, and how little you want to get into the details.) My husband and I cancelled all the plans we could cancel, but there were still things to be done. Those days immediately following the loss are fuzzy to me now, the way one remembers life as seen through a feverish haze. I operated as normally as I could, because I felt like it was expected of me. Not that there was pressure from the outside world, mind you. There wasn’t even a hint of it — because the outside world didn’t know. On a very small scale, it was my job to be Emma Straub, Author, Happy Person. I shudder at the thought of what Beyonce had to do in those days and weeks — shoot music videos? Go on talk shows? It was hard enough being a writer in Brooklyn, going from bookstore to bookstore, from reading to book party.
I spent the next two years trying desperately to get pregnant again. It took me a year and a half to find a good doctor, to find someone who could diagnose the problem (a colony of monstrous fibroids living inside my uterus) and offer a solution (two surgeries — two because there were so many fibroids that my doctor couldn’t remove them all during the first four-hour surgery.) During this time, the novel I’d sold was edited, copy-edited, jacketed, and published. There were parties galore, with champagne cocktails. I went on a nearly three-month long book tour, my husband at my side the entire time. He would have come anyway, I know, but with everything we’d been through, there was no way he would have let me go alone. Not knowing what’s going wrong inside your own body is powerless, frustrating feeling, and for most of those two years, I smiled and had my picture taken and answered questions and climbed into bed exhausted every night, anemic and spent. Grief and disappointment rose and fell in my chest even as I was satisfying my lifelong dreams. As easily as one dream is satisfied, another one appears. My gratitude for the publication of my book did not lessen the blow of another period, another month lost, another year gone by.
At the time, I didn’t want everyone to know what I was going through. It was my sadness, my medical problem, my heartbreak. There are those who share sad feelings continuously online, complaining about things large and small, but I am not one of them. I prefer to keep a stiff upper lip in public, because, as I’ve learned over the last number of years, being friends on the Internet is not the same as being friends in real life, though the former can certainly lead to the latter. This stiff upper lip has caused people to think of me as a smiley face, a “Like” button. Never has the division between my public persona and my personal life been so clear — I’d been working so hard on my book’s behalf that I sometimes lost sight of that, but there it was, clear as day. I had a personal life and a public one, and they were not the same. Nevertheless, it’s hard to have a sad secret when everyone expects you to be happy all the time, and so my husband got more than his fair share of my melancholy. In response, he sang me songs about our cats, kissed me day and night, and yes, cried. This year — arguably the most difficult in our 11 together — has also been the best.
I knew I would write about my miscarriage, and my struggle to get pregnant. I just didn’t want to do it in tiny little bites, spread over status updates and tweets. And most of all, I wanted to hold off until it was behind me. Unlike in fiction, I didn’t get to decide where to end the story. I had to wait and see what would happen next. Even once I did get pregnant again, I didn’t want to share the news until I felt safe that it would stick. Some of my friends post ultrasounds early on, so thrilled that they can’t wait to share it with the world. My news felt too precarious for that, for all those clicks and comments. I waited five months before I let a photo slip through onto the Internet, and longer still before I said the words.
Many women struggle far longer than I did, and require more medical interventions, in order to get pregnant. Some aren’t able to get pregnant at all. I still think of myself as lucky, lucky to experience what is happening inside my body, and lucky to have had the trouble getting here, because now I appreciate it all the more. Part of me still wants to keep all of this private until after the baby is born, but at this point, with my belly big enough that strangers offer me their seats on the subway, my secret is no longer a secret. As of this writing, I am 35 weeks pregnant, almost 9 months. I don’t take a single day of those weeks for granted, or a single kick of my baby, now so active inside me. He’s due to be born a month after my book’s paperback publication date, two and a half years after my first positive pregnancy test. It feels good to be able to share my happy, hopeful news. The fact that I’m going to be a mother is enormously exciting, as thrilling as selling my first novel, a fact that will change all the facts to come.
I always wondered why pregnant women counted their time in weeks instead of months, but it makes sense to me now. My husband and I are both counting the days, treating my body like it is made of a substance rarer than gold and more fragile than glass. Life changes both quickly and slowly, sometimes simultaneously, and one needs to keep track as precisely as possible. Maybe that should be the lesson to me — that keeping track requires a chronicling of the bad as well as the good, whether or not that information is shared. It’s always good to know that you’re not alone. When our companion of the last nine months finally makes his way into the world, we’ll be sure to tell him that.
Image Credit: Flickr/Kables