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In Her Words: Gemma Burgess on Miscarriages

6 months ago by

One in three pregnancies ends in miscarriage. That’s what I told myself when I had my first miscarriage, in early January 2017. I had two little boys, then aged five and almost three. It was my third pregnancy. C’est la statistical vie. A swift D&C operation and I woke up in the hospital, empty, and chatting with the nurses. I decided not to be sad, so I wasn’t. It’s fine! It won’t happen again.

So my second miscarriage, about five months later, was a shock. I’m not the kind of person to have two miscarriages in a row, I’d told my husband breezily. So not moi. And yet, since peeing on the stick, I’d had a sort of – not quite cramping, but an awareness of something. In bed, late at night, I’d focus on it, with a tiny zap of fear. But I calmly reassured myself, because calm reassurance is my thing. It’s even my mantra. Everything is going to be okay.

Then one early summer morning, the awareness turned to light cramps and then severe cramps and then light bleeding and then severe bleeding and then appalling bleeding, just the worst bleeding you can imagine. Bleeding that goes through a pad, knickers and sweatpants in 15 minutes, chunky bleeding, bleeding with intent. There was no need for an operation to remove it this time. It was removing itself. It took a long time. It hurt a lot. (If anyone ever gives you the option of a D&C or “letting nature run its course”, take the D&C. Nature is a bitch.)

After the second miscarriage, I felt lower than I’d ever felt before. I told myself it was hormones, and I had to wait it out. One morning I sat at my desk for an hour, staring into space, and then got back into bed and closed my eyes. This is not the end of the world, I told myself strictly. You have a family. You have deadlines. If you don’t write, you don’t have a career. Get up and keep going. (Tough self-love!)

I got up. I kept going. I won a WGA award for a comedy spec script. I Instagrammed things that made me smile. I went to LA and sold a new TV show. I came home to New York and wrote the pilot. I took phone calls and meetings and made jokes. (The other thing that I am quite good at, apart from reassurance, is compartmentalizing like a sociopath.) A specialist did a bunch of tests and said, nothing is wrong, this was just bad luck, go have some sex.

When I got pregnant a few months later, I was very nervous.

The doctor said my first scan looked fine. Great hCG levels. Too early for a heartbeat. Come back in seven days. I skipped home. My husband high-fived me every time I puked: a good sign. Everything is going to be okay. The next week, the doctor frowned at the screen. Come back next week. Seven days after that, it was over. No heartbeat. Just a black hole of nothingness on the ultrasound.

My husband was travelling for work. I walked out of Mt Sinai, stumbled along Fifth Avenue as the leaves fell from the trees in Central Park, and called him, weeping. I’m so sorry, I kept saying. I’m so sorry. He begged me to stop apologizing, but I couldn’t. I was too full of sorry. I texted my friends. Please don’t send flowers this time. I couldn’t bear it.

Another D&C. I lay on the operating table waiting to go under, hot itchy tears running out of my eyes and pooling in my ears. I tried to apologize – I can’t stop the damn things – and then I looked over at the anesthetist, and she had tears in her eyes, too. Afterwards, I didn’t wake up and chat happily to the nurses. I just woke up and then closed my eyes again.

November and December were very hard. A little voice in my head kept whispering Three! Three! Who has three miscarriages in one year? It was obscene. Ridiculous. Laughable. Tragic. I kept telling myself: You will feel better tomorrow, just hang on. But every day, I felt worse. The earth was jelly under my feet. I couldn’t catch my breath.

I compartmentalized hard. I didn’t want to do anything at all except cuddle my sons or escape into writing (deadlines: always a comfort). I avoided seeing anyone except a handful of my best girlfriends, who kept me laughing when I wanted to cry. But if they asked questions about the miscarriages, I deflected. I didn’t want to talk about it. I was just too sad.

Kind people offered advice. Get reflexology. Try acupuncture. Have your thyroid checked. Take Coenzyme Q10. And baby aspirin. Do yoga. Meditate. A friend gifted me a fertile eating program, and I obediently gulped down raw milk and bone broth. I didn’t know if it would improve my eggs. I couldn’t imagine ever trying again. But it was nice to be told what to do.

One morning I forced myself to go to Pilates, sure that I’d feel better if I just exercised, and then had to leave, because I kept dropping big fat tears on the reformer machine. I stood on the corner of Prince and Broadway in Soho and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I called my husband and told him I was drowning in sadness. I could hear the fear in his voice as he tried to comfort me. Everything will be okay.

But it wasn’t. The thing I’d always relied on – my delusional, reassuring optimism – was powerless against a heart full of tears. Three! I told myself I was lucky to have so much I loved: my family, my career, my friends, my city. And I told myself to ditch the stupid mantra. Everything will be okay? Who was I kidding? For millions – billions! – of people every day, things are not okay. For refugees and abused children and people whose loved ones are killed and women who have stillbirths and people who can never have babies at all, okay might feel impossible. Three miscarriages, in comparison, was nothing. What kind of insane privilege made me think I deserve to get what I want? And a third child, at that? The indulgence of it! How dare I ask the universe for more?

I went through the holidays on a sort of numb autopilot. We got home to freezing New York City in January 2018. I spent a couple of days settling the boys back into our normal routine, with that familiar heaviness in my chest. Then one morning I sat at my desk and thought: Enough.

I went for a walk in the crisp winter air and looked up at the beautiful buildings and the flat blue sky and the people around me and said goodbye to my three losses. I didn’t cry. I didn’t name them or have a ceremony or anything dramatic. I just said, I’m sorry I couldn’t give you what you needed to become a baby.

Then I went back to my desk and sat down and wrote. And I felt better. Lighter and clearer. I played Guess Who and baked cakes with my sons while it snowed outside. I read books about The Beatles. I worked out. I ate boiled eggs with butter and sea salt. I put on lipstick. My ABC show wasn’t picked up, so I wrote a movie spec, a romantic comedy about grief, and sold two more pilots. I went out for dinner with my husband. I saw my friends. I remembered how to laugh and forgot how to cry.

And I got pregnant again. Unexpectedly quickly. I wasn’t ovulating (at least, according to calculations). It just happened. Maybe it was all that raw milk.

I was very sick and very, very anxious. I was mute with tension before every appointment. I didn’t tell anyone at all as long as possible, and I hid the bump for as long as I could. I didn’t want people to congratulate me, or check in with me, in case I had to give them bad news later. If someone talked about ‘when the baby comes’, I would change the subject. I assumed something would go wrong. With apologies to Obama, I couldn’t risk the audacity of hope.

But there was a heartbeat, every single scan. Then arms and legs and a little nose. I ordered a baby Doppler, and listened to the heartbeat myself, day after day. Then he – another boy! – started kicking and didn’t stop. He kicked all the time, and he kicked hard. I’m here, he was saying to me, I’m here and I’m strong and healthy and I’m not going anywhere. I love you, I would say back. I love you I love you I love you I love you. I didn’t exhale the entire pregnancy.

And then on September 27, 2018, he was born.

He is perfect.

Arthur Noel Barry. He is sleeping on my chest as I write this. I am so lucky and so grateful.

I wasn’t sure whether to ever talk about this. I’m private when it comes to the big stuff, and I’m also aware that so many people struggle to even get pregnant once, and that miscarriage is a verboten subject. But over the last two years, every time that I read something about someone else surviving multiple miscarriages, it gave me huge comfort. So if this can comfort someone who is, right now, drowning in tears, the earth jelly under her feet, then I am telling my story for her.

_____________

Gemma Burgess is an author and screenwriter. You can read more about her and follow her blog and follow her on Instagram.

39 comments

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  • What a beautiful thought provoking piece of writing, straight from the heart of every Mum who has ever lost a baby/babies. Thank you and God Bless you and your family xx

  • Grief like a hole in the heart. Thank you for sharing, and every blessing to your family.

  • Beautifully written. I also had a miscarriage, when I finally attempted to get pregnant at age 42. I was sure it meant I’d never have a child, that I had missed my chance, but it worked out later, surprisingly. At the time, though, all the bleeding, calling my doctor (we were traveling when it happened), trying to find the hospital in the dark, in a strange city, driving around roundabouts over and over again….like a bad nightmare movie. When I got pregnant again, I was so scared to jinx it that I kept it a secret until it was really obvious, and I didn’t take any photos. But my baby is now grown up and doing well.

  • Thank you for this brave and beautiful piece.

  • I was lucky to never go through a miscarriage…but I think your essay will help those who have. Wonderfully written.

  • I had a miscarriage three months ago. I wrote, I cried, and I broke down many, many times. We named her and I still mourn her, a lot. And now that the time has come and we’ve started trying again, the fear is the most debilitating thing I have felt since the loss of our first child broke me in ways I never thought possible. Like you, stories of people who survived miscarriages and then went on to have healthy, happy babies were my jam, my mantra, my prayer. And so this will join the happy words and thoughts and bring some hope into our life. Thank you for opening up about this.

  • Those are the right words to me : What a beautiful piece of writing!! but besides your
    ability to put into words your feelings, pains and sadness, I could completely understand your horror when 3rd miscarriage was taking place. As you said, maybe it is not the end
    of the world, many other worst things happen every minute in the world, but that was your experience, your life and your non- understanding of the situation. It touched me because I tried for 10 years to become a mother., It was difficult, full of doubts about everything, very very sad and suuuper expensive (which is not less important, especially because those treatments were not part of the medical plans) but I didn’t give up and now I have a son of 26 !!! so happy to be his mother !! he is Total !

    Hugs to all mothers and to those who are trying to be, but especially to those who will never be…. life is full of other wonderful possibilities and I really mean it.

  • So beautiful. Reading from a cafe in Berlin. I’m 27, newly single, yet to embark on any baby adventures but I am truly excited and scared for what is to come, good and bad. Thank you very much for sharing, much love xxx

  • Thank you for sharing, Gemma. I’m so happy for you and your family <3

  • Thank you for this <3

  • lovely writing! i too had (two) miscarriages after a perfectly healthy pregnancy and birth with my first. after my first miscarriage, i was sad but moved passed it fairly easily. it was after my second that my world started to fall apart a bit. i also had the thought “i’m not someone who has two miscarriages!”
    when i got pregnant the third time, i was so scared and apprehensive. but she made it! she’s here and amazing.

  • Thank you for sharing. This is beautiful writing. I had a miscarriage last year. I am now pregnant again (very early) and I am terrified.

  • Gemma, your writing is so beautiful. I am thrilled for you and your family. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • If I had read this back in 2012, I would have probably bawled my eyes out, but I have come to terms with it. I had a miscarriage age 40, which was an unplanned pregnancy, but I had just experienced one pregnancy before, even if I had twins, and I was overjoyed this miracle happened, even if my ex-husband wasn’t too happy about it.
    I looked 5-months pregnant at 3 months and I had already told my family and my daughters, because it was so obvious I couldn’t hide it, then just we went to the 3-month ultrasound, something felt off in the waiting room, but I could say what. I started freaking out, but never ever thought this would happen to me.
    10 minutes later, at the same place I had watched my twin girls kicking each other’s feet 3 years before and felt overjoyed, the same thing happened to me. The doctor said, “Oh dear”.
    “No heartbeat. Just a black hole of nothingness on the ultrasound.”
    I was devastated and it took me 2 years to get over it, especially because my ex-husband didn’t support me and decided he didn’t want another child.
    I would have called him Leo and I was lucky the French twin mum community was here to help me because they were the only people who were really supportive on the forum, because so many of them had experienced several miscarriages in a row… Late multiple pregnancies left them scarred for life and even the dads posted heartbreaking messages on the forum years after losing their babies.
    In hindsight, I tell myself I would have ended a single mum with 3 kids, but the twin mums told me there was an angel looking after me somewhere and he would make sure I was okay. When I look at the Orion constellation each night, I still think about him, the 3 L’: Leo, Lily and Louise.
    I’m glad nature found a way to soothe your broken heart and that you had a son.
    My boyfriend’s son is the same age as my girls and now I have ‘triplets’ and I guess this was a way for the universe to mend my broken heart.
    Your article is beautiful and it takes courage to write about mortinatalities. I translated an app about it and I cried when I realised how many women, parents go through this ordeal.
    Yes, it does happen very often and there are much worse things happening in the world, but when it happens to you, it’s the end of a dream and the end of the world…

  • cecile meric February, 8 2019, 3:35 / Reply

    Moi aussi j’ai fait 3 fausse-couches après mon premier bébé- un petit garçon et j’ai eu 2 autres petits garçons après : ils ont maintenant 29, 25 et 23 ans
    Un médecin m’a dit il y a quelques années que ces fausse-couches étaient certainement des petites filles et que avec mon mari, la nature faisait que nous ne pouvions pas avoir de filles…
    Il faut toujours espérer mais je le sais c’est très très dur à vivre
    bon courage à toutes celles qui vivent cette épreuve

  • Whitney Olson February, 8 2019, 5:14 / Reply

    The day Gemma wrote about her 3 miscarriages on Cup of Jo I was in the middle of my third miscarriage in a year. It brought me such comfort knowing I wasn’t alone. We have since lost a fourth and here I sit growing our fifth little babe, with the same fears Gemma shares, waiting for the other shoe to drop, telling absolutely no one, hiding it as long as possible. Because of this one similarity between Gemma and myself, I will never forget her. Her experience let me believe that, even though I was trying to be rational and say it was smart to be done and happy with the three little girls I watched fall asleep every night, that it was okay to be vunerable and try again at what mine and my husband’s heart truly wanted.

  • Marjorie February, 8 2019, 6:42 / Reply

    Thank you for writing this.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this.

    http://www.areweadultsyet.com

  • THANK YOU for writing this. We all – women and men – need to talk about this.

  • Katherine February, 9 2019, 1:04 / Reply

    Thank you for your courageous story to us! I have one son and have had three miscarriages. I’ve had two DNCs and one awful episode where I was prescribed a drug that had 16 weeks of consequences. We are fine though! We love our family of three even though we thought we’d have two or more. The miscarriages were awful, and it has taken a long time to recover. The last one was a year ago and I still feel like my poor body is recovering. I relate so wholeheartedly to Gemma’s optimism. Gemma: our stories are so similar! Last year, during the last unsuccessful pregnancy, I told my doctor that I was feeling a general ‘malaise’. It turned out that the weirdness I was feeling was founded. Number three was enough for us: no more trying, just healing; physically, emotionally, mentally. It’s so hard still, but we are working through it. I think that the more we talk about it as women together, the more we can be together through it. Gemma – a thousand thanks for having the courage to tell your story. I am with you and with every family who has gone through this as well.

  • im so so so so grateful for this piece. i recently found out that i might struggle in the fertility department. im relatively young (26) and although i always thought i would want children eventually, i didn’t think about it much and was sure i was not ready for it now. after all the testing it has moved to the forefront of my mind, and im grateful whenever i read pieces or talk to people that are honest and open about the struggles and the sadness that can come in this area of life. its so important.

  • Oh Gemma, thank you thank you thank you for writing this. I just found out yesterday I’m having a second missed miscarriage (back to back in the last six months). I thought for sure this one would be ok based on statistics, not that I would be in that unfortunate 1%. I am drowning in tears, the earth jelly under my feet. Can’t thank you enough for writing this. xx

  • Thank you for sharing.
    I’m writing this through an ocean of tears. I had a miscarriage 3 months ago and was so surprised by the conflicting emotions and all that my body went through in early pregnancy and recovering from the miscarriage, and shocked by now brutal it was to have my body reject it naturally. I was also so surprised by how little people talk about it, how often it happens, and how scary googling can be when you’re only looking for stories like this for solace and to not feel so terribly alone. Thank you.
    As a private person, I can only image how many times you probably must have gone back and forth on whether you would actually share, and be brave enough to hit publish. Thank you.
    I feel you on thoughts of tough love, on fear, secrecy and compartmentalizing, I feel you on thoughts of privilege and how hard others have it in comparison, I feel you on all of this – I feel more in the past months than I ever have.
    These days are mostly back to normal, except when they aren’t and I’m surprised by emotion. Never having been a very sentimental person, I now cry easily at touching stories and films and feel deeply for friends and strangers.
    When I was younger I never would have imagined what a wild ride growing up would be, and how strong women can be.
    Thanks again and congratulations on the sweet new edition to the family. xo

  • Shreya Shankar February, 9 2019, 10:19 / Reply

    What a beautiful essay. Thank you for writing this – Wishing you and your boys the best.

  • Thank you for this beautiful piece. My daughter had one miscarriage and it was hell; luckily she had two healthy boys within a couple of years. Women go through so much between our first period and then the end of menopause (before and after them, also). Life is strange, sometimes there are simply no reasons for what happens to us, but we carry on. Your story has really resonated with me, thank you again and I am very happy to know that you did have another baby.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. After years and years experiencing heartbreak like this – miscarriages, D&Cs, premature births and deaths – the worst – I finally managed to have two healthy children. I understand completely how scared you were every moment of your pregnancy, I felt exactly the same and could never be one of those women who talked about when the baby would come – I was always way too scared it would never happen. Each appointment was the most scary moment of my life waiting to hear the heartbeat – to feel relieved to hear it, and then go back to worrying as soon as I left the office. Worst, I felt – no one else knows what this feels like- even my lovely husband who was so supportive. If I could have read your story 10 years ago it would have changed my life! Even today I am still so grateful that you acknowledged what happened to you, the fear, the guilt, the months of sadness, the sublime joy.
    Thank you so much for this.

  • Thank you for this. I had three miscarriages last year. I unexpectedly got pregnant two months ago. So far so good. But , based on experience, it’s hard to have hope. It’s hard not to wait for something to go wrong. I pray my September baby will make it, too.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. It was beautiful and healing. I had a miscarriage this past summer in my second trimester. It was a very difficult and hurtful process. Thankfully, I got pregnant again a month after a D&E. I am now 21 weeks pregnant expecting a little boy. I am inhaling and exhaling because I know if it is meant for him to be here, he will.

  • Beautifully written indeed. My eyes wet in the last paragraphs.
    Thank you for sharing this amazing story..
    I wish all the good things in this world for you and your family. ?

  • Thank you for sharing. I have been through several miscarriages in 2017 and I wish I had read your essay at the time. I now have a wonderful baby boy. Ambroise is 3 months and he fills my heart with joy. Such precious joy.

  • It is hard to know what to say when your darling daughter in law has been through two miscarriages and is now pregnant and we are holding our collective breaths, hoping that this baby will be here this summer. Your essay is a gift, and I’m sure our mother to be has been thinking and feeling every emotion you described. Our son makes us so proud, and he is a wonderful father to their 5year old daughter who will be thrilled about a new baby, but when can they talk about it? Reading your story helps me to remember what an amazing privilege it is to bear and birth a child. Thank you.

  • So it’s for me that you’re telling your story, I just had my 3rd in 6 months… and no other child before…. it’s so hard. thank you. I hope I’ll follow your path.
    Thank you.

  • Quel bel article, émouvant, plein de sincérité et d’humanité…

    J’en ai eu des frissons.

    Merci

  • Je suis de celles qui aujourd’hui se noient dans leurs larmes suite à une 3ème fausse couche et 4 années d’attente. Merci pour ce très beau témoignage si réconfortant. #nevergiveup

  • My baby was born on September 25th, a girl we named Oletta Emilia. I had two miscarriages the year before. It took me a long time, even after she was born at home extremely healthy, so get over the feeling that something would go wrong and I would lose her. Sometimes it still finds me, when I am particularly sleep deprived or when the chaos of life with young children gets my anxiety going.

  • Women who have Recurrent Pregnancy Loss should check the possibility of
    Thrombophilia.
    i’ts treatable!

  • Hi, just to say thanks for sharing. I can’t let go my unborn baby. He came between my first girl and my second boy but he/she still there, every day. He and salty tears. This morning my girl has explained to her little brother that they were in mummy’s tummy before. I wanted to cry. She doesn’t know they were three in mummy’s tummy. It’s nature. It’s cruel. We are star dust.

  • This was heartbreaking and gorgeous at the same time. thank you for sharing and congratulations on your son. xxx – M

  • So raw. Thank you for such a brave and deeply personal piece. I had a dream first pregnancy and birth but we had a miscarriage the second time. It was such a shock. That black screen is something that will stay with me forever. I’d gone in for a scan after some spotting and the doctor kept searching for the heartbeat until I finally told him to turn it off. A few months later and we fell pregnant again. So many emotions and I felt the same way as you: nervous, anxious, and then relief every time the heartbeat was there. I don’t think I truly relaxed until I was holding my healthy baby boy. I know how lucky we are but I said sorry to my lost baby too. There was so much guilt that I couldn’t help our lost baby.

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