According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 15 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage — defined as the loss of pregnancy before 20 weeks. Yet, despite this frequency, miscarriages are still rarely discussed outside of fertility clinics and support groups. The Cut spoke to 15 women about their experiences.
Sue*, 61, Tennessee
I got pregnant very unexpectedly about six or seven years after my first two children were born. I wasn’t sure how to react. By that time I was in my 40s, and I wasn’t in terribly great condition or anything. My doctor had shown me a chart with the risk of maternal mortality, infant mortality, and birth defects for women my age. I was very troubled but still not sure what to do. Though I’m very pro-choice, I didn’t think I could really terminate a pregnancy. At 11 weeks, I was going ahead and expecting this birth, but at my doctor’s appointment they weren’t getting a heartbeat. He said I would have a miscarriage within a day or so of that. I was so flustered that I couldn’t find my parking ticket to get out of the parking lot, and then it started to rain. The parking attendant wouldn’t let me leave, and I just bawled at him, “But my baby’s dead.” The next day, I had extreme cramps. My doctor had asked me to bring in whatever my body had expelled, and so I remember thinking, Okay, how am I going to do this? It was just so sad. I remember going back to my doctor’s office and seeing all these pregnant women with their very rounded bellies, and I had this kitchen measuring cup covered in Saran wrap in a paper bag, with what I’d miscarried — and thinking, What could have been my baby is in this cup.
Annie, 36, Germany
I went in for an ultrasound at six and a half weeks, and they couldn’t find a heartbeat, but they told me to wait another week in case they were wrong about the date of conception. A few days later, I started bleeding, and the doctor said, “Yeah, you miscarried, but there’s two.” I kept going back, but there was still no heartbeat. So, then I just kind of waited for a few weeks for it to happen by itself. But it didn’t, so they gave me the abortion pill, which they use off label. They give you four pills and tell you to take them and get a hot-water bottle. It’s not really dangerous, but they don’t really prepare you for what’s going to happen. It’s a hard sensation to describe — a terrible feeling that’s not really painful, I guess. I had a fever and chills, and it also kind of knocks you out. I tried to fall asleep, and a few hours later I woke up — and it’s a lot of blood. I was pretty dazed, and in the moment you just think something’s terribly wrong. I always thought that when you miscarry you just kind of get your period and then it’s over, but I think I bled for four weeks. I spent a good three weeks just crying. I’ve never cried like that before. I’m not religious — I don’t think it was ever going to be a baby — but you’re just overcome by this physical grief.
Callista, 32, Ohio
My husband and I always wanted a big family. We’re Italian Catholic, and we already have three daughters. I was almost 20 weeks along with our fourth daughter when we went in for an ultrasound, and there was no heartbeat. I just remember being in shock. My husband and I drove to a drugstore and bought tissues because we were both a mess. We just kept saying over and over again, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do.” We had to go home and tell our children. Everyone in my life knew we were pregnant. The next morning we had to go to my daughter’s school to prepare her for a kindergarten screening, and all these people were like, “Oh, how are you feeling?” I had to step out and cry again.
Because I was so far along I had two choices: I could deliver her, or they could do a procedure they do for late-term abortions. There was no question that I was going to deliver her, because the other procedure sounded like it would take her to pieces and parts, and I just couldn’t do that. We wanted to see her and bury her. At the hospital, they put me on the same level as all the other people having babies, which was terrible, hearing the cries and everything. We got there at six, and I delivered her right before midnight. I was crying the whole time, and I remember my husband kept touching me and saying, “She’s out, she’s out, she’s out,” trying to calm me down. We stayed with her until the next afternoon, and we got a blessing from the chaplain there. That Sunday, we had a small Catholic funeral.
Gabrielle, 48, North Carolina
As two women, getting pregnant was a big ordeal. We had to go through the whole process of shots and drugs and harvesting eggs and deciding on embryos — all of that stuff. We were doing in vitro fertilization, so we were going in for ultrasounds immediately. Our first miscarriage was ten years ago, at six weeks. Because we hadn’t told anyone that we were pregnant, we were really alone with it. The second miscarriage was a twin. When we went in and there was only one heartbeat, we thought, Okay, at least there’s one good baby in there — as long as there’s one good one, we’ll be set. Then the pregnancy got complicated. Our daughter was born at 30 and a half weeks, and 19 and a half hours later she died. That really shattered everything for us. We were running out of time because my partner was older than I was. With our medical insurance, we were only allowed three tries at getting pregnant, so we really had to move quickly and didn’t really have time to do much grieving. I found it difficult to talk to people about it, and honestly, I think the language of the pro-choice movement (which I happen to be) has done a disservice. It makes people believe that it’s just tissue or just a fetus — like, it’s not real. You don’t get comforted because nobody takes it seriously. So many people throw out those stupid phrases, like, “It wasn’t meant to be,” which is almost like just saying, “Next.”
Jen, 36, California
The weekend before my 16-week checkup, I was up in Joshua Tree with all my friends. I was in a strange mood — I was a little crampy, and I started to spot lightly. I went to the doctor that Monday, and there was no heartbeat. We had an emergency D and C that afternoon, and I was back at work two days later. It was a pretty traumatic experience, but it was at a time when work was really busy, and I couldn’t really take the time off, so we just kind of threw ourselves right back into our lives. By Friday I was on a plane to New York for work. It’s kind of a mind-fuck because you’re like, Okay, great, we’re pregnant. So, what is this going to look like for our lives going forward? And then all of a sudden, you’re not. You never know what happened. I went to SoulCycle the week before and had a really intense class, and then a friend of mine was like, “You shouldn’t be going to SoulCycle when you’re pregnant.” So, for the first month I was like, This is my fault, this happened in SoulCycle — which is crazy. But you look for a reason, and the doctors don’t have one, so then you’re like, What is it that I did?
Susanna, 42, New York
I was 37 or 38 when I finally got pregnant, and it was a long time coming. I had known for probably a week and a half that I was pregnant, and then I miscarried around week seven. It was really horrible. I’m a photographer, and I was on location when it happened. I was in the motor-home bathroom, and I started to bleed in the middle of the day. I just had to pretend it wasn’t happening because no one even knew I was pregnant. My doctor said not to worry, that there were plenty of reasons to bleed, but I think I already kind of knew. The next afternoon it all happened. It was really painful, like a birth of sorts. Now that I’ve been through labor I can say without a doubt that it was as bad a feeling as that, but without any of the good parts of it. You know it’s just something bad happening.
Lisa, 39, New Jersey
I had gone through a lot of infertility treatments for my first daughter, so we were shocked when I got pregnant naturally six months after she was born. I’m a pessimist, so I kept thinking, This just isn’t going to work out. At 10 weeks we went for a follow-up ultrasound, and the technician was listening and listening and couldn’t find anything — I could tell she felt awful. They had music on, and the song was “I Will Survive,” and I was like, You have to be f-ing kidding me. It was a morning appointment, so I had to go to work, and my husband had to go to work. We hugged good-bye, and I think he said, “Do you want to go get a doughnut or something?” I said no — what are you going to do? And I went to work, and I cried for a little bit at work and tried not to let anybody see or hear me, and that was it. The weeks that followed were hard, but I wasn’t devastated. I think I was most frustrated that I wasted so much time. My mother hit menopause early, and her mother hit menopause early, and my husband and I started trying when I was 35. I’m a very realistic person, so when I thought about it rationally, I thought, Yeah, it sucks, but gotta move on.
Christina, 37, Colorado
A few days after I passed the 12-week mark I had a dream I’d gone into labor. It was a full-size baby, but it just started getting darker and darker, turning completely black. Later that morning, I can’t explain it, but I just didn’t feel pregnant anymore. I felt this huge disconnect. The next day I started having some cramping, and then the day after that I started bleeding. The midwife came over that evening, and she said, “You’re going through the process of a miscarriage.” It was really hard to hear. We had a little ceremony in our backyard and buried everything by our plum tree. After that I went into a really deep depression. There were a lot of people who felt like it was a really taboo topic and didn’t want to talk about it. Even some of my family — I remember my cousin saying, “I’ll make sure to tell my father so he knows not to bring it up.” Some of the first people that I told I was pregnant never even reached out to me to say, “I’m sorry about your loss.” I think they just didn’t know how to handle it.
Kate, 31, North Carolina
When we got pregnant with my second daughter, we told everybody. We really didn’t think of any other outcome other than “We’re going to have a baby in nine months.” At eight weeks we went in for an ultrasound, and I remember watching the ultrasound tech’s face as she was watching the screen. That’s got to be one of the hardest jobs, to say to women, “I’m sorry, your baby isn’t alive.” I asked my husband to take our 2-and-a-half-year-old-daughter out of the room, and I just wept into the ultrasound tech’s arm. I was numb for the first week or two. I didn’t really believe it. I remember looking up on the internet, like, “Could the ultrasound be wrong, and could this baby be alive?” I remember my neighbor was like, “Oh, you were so early, it’s not like you lost a baby.” Most people, if they said something, it was like, “Well, get back on the horse and try again.” I think there’s some level of like, “It’s not a big deal,” especially for women who go on to have healthy babies. It makes your grief feel really illegitimate.
Rebecca, 33, New York
The first time I miscarried pretty quickly, like six weeks. Basically, they said my uterine lining hadn’t been thickening enough. The doctor said to let it take care of itself, and I waited a week. Every single day I was going to the bathroom, like, 15 times a day waiting for something to happen. I was scared walking on the street — it was driving me mad. So, the doctors did a D and C in their office, and it was the most painful experience I’ve ever had in my life. I wasn’t put under or anything like that. After that, I started going to fertility specialists, and then I miscarried again. I think it becomes a little harder to talk to people about it when you’re like, “I just miscarried again.” I didn’t know how to reach out to people about it. The whole thing is really hard to put into words. You really have this feeling that so many people go through this, and nobody talks about it.
Renee, 47, North Carolina
I had five pregnancies before I had my girls. Four of them I miscarried at eight weeks. I’m an incredibly pragmatic person, and I know that at eight weeks, that’s a pretty interesting collection of cells, but it’s not a baby. But it is potential and hope, so you get heartbroken every time. My fourth pregnancy, I miscarried at 13 weeks. At 13 weeks you kind of have a baby. I’m not going to pull any punches — that one was really fucking terrible. I was devastated. You feel like you’re in a tunnel and your entire world is crashing, and you’re like, I can’t fucking believe this is happening again. The doctor scheduled me for a D and C the next week and said, “This may resolve over the weekend.” That was a nightmare. I’m not a crier — I’d rather stick a pencil through my hand than cry in public — but I broke down at the doctor’s office, and I cried all the way home on the subway. When I got home I took a nap, and I woke up an hour later covered in blood. I was inconsolable. It was this weird fugue state where I was outside of myself, watching myself walking around from the bedroom to my bathroom, with nothing on below my waist and trying to strip my bed, because there’s blood all over it, and trying to capture every cramp in a plastic baggie that I can then freeze and give to my doctor for analysis. And my poor husband is watching me, and he doesn’t know how to help me, and I don’t want him to touch me — I don’t want him anywhere near me. It’s an isolating, awful, awful thing. It calls into question your whole identity — like, I’m not a proper woman, I can’t keep a pregnancy, what kind of shitty human being am I?
Shawna, 49, Ottowa
I was 38, and I didn’t have a partner, but the clock was ticking, so I took it upon myself and started going to a fertility clinic to have in vitro. I was a nurse at the time and had been for 18 years. When I came up on 15 weeks, the baby’s heartbeat had stopped. I had to wait until my body went into labor, and I miscarried several weeks later. I ended up bleeding for about two and a half months. I was told I could never carry children, so it was like a double whammy. I became very depressed, and within a year I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. They took me off the ward and told me I couldn’t come back to work. That was nine years ago, and I’m still on disability leave. People always say, “Oh, you can try for another one, there will be another one,” but that’s not necessarily the case. My hometown is very small, so there wasn’t really any support available. My parents are very closed-off emotionally — I don’t think I even got a hug from them.
Kelli, 38, New York
During my first pregnancy, they did a CVS scan and discovered a trisomy. It was something where the fetus would have been born with a severe deformation or may not have survived at all. The doctors were telling me there was no point continuing with the pregnancy. I really had no choice. I had already terminated a pregnancy once before in my life, and I felt a measure of guilt — and like somehow I was being punished for having made that decision at a young age. The next pregnancy was more like a traditional miscarriage. I had to take a pill that dilated my cervix and lie around until my body passed it. It was really a feeling of failure — it’s a real loss. I had to clean up whatever it was that came out of me, and I put it in a paper towel and in a bag, and then I put it on the sidewalk. And I thought, What the fuck? There’s a part of me out on the sidewalk that I’m just throwing away. I hadn’t felt grief before that felt unresolvable. Now we want to have another kid, but I feel scared to try again. If I have struggles again with my pregnancy, or if I have losses again, I just don’t know if I’ll have the emotional wherewithal to hold it all together.
Trisha, 28, Colorado
I had my first miscarriage when I was 19 and a half. I went to the doctor expecting to hear my baby’s heartbeat, and he was just like, “There’s nothing there, sorry, you’re not pregnant,” and walked out of the room. After that I learned I had PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome], so every time I would have a positive pregnancy test, by my next cycle I would have already miscarried. I had five miscarriages between the time I was 19 and 24. I found a doctor who said he could help me, but he’s like $20,000, so that hasn’t happened. I just kind of gave up for now. It’s obvious that I can’t carry — and I would just feel like a murderer, trying to get pregnant knowing that the odds of me carrying without help is like 1 percent. I’ve paid thousands of dollars just to find out what was wrong, and insurance doesn’t cover that, so I need to pay it off and save up, and then I’ll see where I’m at, as far as age and how I feel about things.
Monica, 43, Ontario
I’ve lost more than one child. The first time, I ran into problems during the second trimester. At around 29 weeks I went to take a shower and I noticed I was bleeding. When we got to the hospital, they couldn’t find a heartbeat. I was induced, and I was in labor for 11 hours. I gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. A year later, I got pregnant with a baby boy. At around 30 weeks we had to have a C-section, but when they took him out, he wasn’t breathing. It took 16 minutes to get him to breathe again, so he was brain-dead with a 5 percent chance of survival. We named him Ryan and kept him on life support for four days so people could come and see him and we could spend a little time with him. He passed away about six hours after we took him off life support. I got pregnant again a year after that, and I was ten weeks along when I had a miscarriage. I was pissed off. I felt like I was robbed — like, How could this happen to me again? I kept thinking, What the hell am I doing wrong? I took it really hard. I took about nine months off of work. It took me a while to get over that because I really had thought that things would be okay.
*Some names have been changed.