As the COVID-19 crisis continues and health care practitioners attempt to divert non-essential traffic to local hospitals and clinics, U.S. residents are finding themselves up against increased hardship when it comes to accessing medical care; and women are learning just how detrimental this can be to their health and wellbeing. Christie, a mother of two, spoke with ELLE.com about the devastation, the medical challenges, and the unique isolation of experiencing a miscarriage during a pandemic.
“I think something’s wrong,” I told my friend over the phone. “I think I’m losing this baby.”
She was empathetic and kind and tried to keep me from assuming the worst. “Early pregnancy is so unpredictable,” she assured me. “You just don’t know!”
This pregnancy was brand new—it had been about two weeks since I’d gotten that first positive test—but something about it just hadn’t been sitting right with me. And that evening, when on a hunch I took a digital test that came back negative, I felt suspended somewhere between fear and a strange sort of validation. I sent my husband out to buy some more tests, and sure enough, as the next few days passed and that second pink line got progressively lighter with each attempt, it sunk in. This was ending. I was having a miscarriage.
My experience with conceiving and birthing hasn’t been complicated; aside from a chemical pregnancy (an early miscarriage that occurs before five weeks) that I had when my husband and I were first married, I’ve had an easy time getting and staying pregnant. Together we have two incredible children, and we were earnestly trying for and excited about the prospect of adding a third and final little person to our family. The world outside the confines of our home is tumultuous and uncertain, I know—but this pregnancy of mine was a gift. It was giving me something to be excited about. I was thrilled at the thought of giving my kids a new sibling and experiencing all those firsts again. The joy and hope it was giving me felt tangible—but out of nowhere, it was suddenly gone.
Had this miscarriage happened outside of a global pandemic, things would surely have been different. The emotional intricacies would be just as complex, but access to the people and services I need would be readily available. Because of COVID-19, however, they’re simply not. My feelings are raw, my body and mind are exhausted.
I’m also scared. Because my family and I are relatively new to the state we live in, I wasn’t yet an official patient of any local doctor, so I’m not able to receive any medical care while I go through this loss. I called the obstetrician I was scheduled to see, only to find out that they wouldn’t see me—nor would anyone else, they said. I’ve been instructed to wait a few weeks, then take another pregnancy test, and immediately go to the ER if there’s any hint of a positive result. My body will either do its job in expelling this unviable embryo or it will succumb to infection, where sepsis could set in and threaten my life. And all I can do is wait. I dread the day I have to take that test, and I fear what could happen in the hours after I do.
In the meantime, I am constantly overwhelmed by the way in which life carries on. My miscarriage doesn’t absolve me of my persistent work and family responsibilities. I’m participating in daily Zoom calls with my colleagues, acting as though nothing has happened to me, and I’m caring steadily for my children, whose needs will always come before my own. My husband is an incredible person, whose attentive nature allows me ample time to rest and be alone, to slip into the bath, perhaps, and to have a glass of wine while I connect with my closest friends through video chats, calls and texts—but even still, there’s nothing that quite takes the edge off when I know what’s waiting for me on the other side of that bathroom door. Because although he is sensitive to my needs, there’s just no denying that our task load as co-parents isn’t evenly weighted. The bulk of responsibility and of mental and emotional labor ends up falling onto me—and so, between my standard work-related and household tasks and my added responsibility of homeschooling my children for the foreseeable future as this pandemic rages on, I’m barely keeping it together.
As my feelings steadily increase, anxiety sets in. I feel dizzy, and I find jitters and mental fog taking over my mind. It’s mental chaos. I routinely feel as though I’m going to pass out, and every week or so I inevitably succumb to another panic attack. And all the while, as the laundry piles up, as meals wait to be planned, as groceries need to be purchased, snacks doled out, sibling squabbles mitigated, floors swept, and little bodies bathed, I beg the universe for an existence that does not so readily require me to be all the people I presently am.
When those feelings persist, I find guilt seeping in. I look at my family—and with a caring husband and two wonderful children, I berate myself for aching for the very thing that so many people cannot have. How is it that I can possibly feel so sad when I have so much? Do I even have the right? It isn’t until that next wave of darkness subsides that I begin to see that guilt as an insidious byproduct of my pain.
Pandemic notwithstanding, suffering a miscarriage is a deeply isolating experience. They are so personal, so empty, and so complex; but adding a shelter-in-place order to it only adds to the confusion and pain. I’m confined to my home, lost and lonely, with somehow not enough and altogether too much time to grieve what I’ve lost. So even though the waves of uterine contractions have subsided and my bleeding seems to be done, hormones swirl through me, causing my breasts and body to swell, and my heart aches for the little being who I’ll never get to hold.
As common as miscarriages are, there’s just no way to know how isolating it feels until it happens to you—but there’s an intimacy among those who’ve been through this even in more normal circumstances, with the presence of a medical care team and extended family and friends. I crave the solace and comfort that comes with access to that care and those trusted people in my life. I know I’m not alone, and that in time I’ll begin to heal, but until this storm passes, the reality is just that I am simply not okay.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
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