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.