Recurrent miscarriage has taught me how to accept the unknown. But that hasn’t stopped me from also searching for answers.
After each of my five miscarriages, my first instinct was to immediately search for an answer. Why is this happening? What did I do? How can I do things differently next time?
As with a lot of fertility issues, though, most miscarriages will never have a concrete answer to the question “Why?” Arriving at a place of acceptance has not been easy, but it has ultimately served me well.
The Pause After Pregnancy Loss
Over time, after multiple losses, I have found it useful to override my need for answers and instead to pause afterward. I have learned to give myself grace and kindness. To gently remind myself that I am not responsible for the loss (nor is my husband or doctor or anyone else). To give myself time to cry and grieve. To be gentle with myself. Even if I might find an answer, it does not erase the pain and grief that is a miscarriage.
Eventually, I try to find out why—I do the lab tests, talk to the doctor, do research, and sometimes speculate, making up reasons in my head. To make the unknown less scary, I try to control whatever I can. I usually land on a cause that makes sense to me and use it as an explanation if anyone asks.
Ultimately, to myself, I accept the fact that I may never know why.
When Answers Aren’t Enough
It wasn’t easy to get to this calmer, reflective state after repeated excruciating losses. After my second miscarriage, I did a lot of testing into what might be causing my miscarriages. Going into these tests, I knew there was a good chance the tests would come back “normal.” When the test for antiphospholipid antibodies came back positive, a part of me was thrilled. I had a cause, something to blame, I had figured out my “why”! The best news was, a diagnosis of Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS) also comes with it a proven protocol to use for future pregnancies.
Armed with this information, I felt prepared for my next pregnancy. I had something I could do differently. I felt empowered and optimistic.
This third pregnancy started out perfectly. Armed with my new protocol of blood thinners to combat my APS, I started experiencing extreme morning/all-day sickness and just knew this was pregnancy would be successful.
Fast forward several weeks and a few ultrasounds. I experienced one of the most devastating days of my life. An ultrasound where I had no doubts about my pregnancy (I was still throwing up. Isn’t this the ultimate indication of an ordinary pregnancy?) quickly devolved into devastation and disbelief when the screen showed a fetus but no heartbeat.
Working through the aftermath of this miscarriage was the ultimate test in accepting I was ultimately not in control. Though I continued to ask questions, this time I came up empty handed. I had followed the protocol, so I couldn’t blame the APS. We tested the fetus and there were no genetic abnormalities. We were right back to where we started. Another loss, with no clear answer as to “why.”
At this point in my journey I took a break. I cried, I grieved. I stopped asking why and started to accept – accept that this was hard, accept that I couldn’t fully control or predict the outcome of a pregnancy, but also acknowledge that I had a choice in how I moved forward. My husband and I knew we wanted children, but, we also had to accept that growing our family was going to look different than I had originally imagined.
Acceptance as a Path to Adoption
Working on the art of acceptance has served me well throughout my fertility journey. In order to move forward with big, powerful, life-altering decisions, I’ve had to start with accepting the consequences of those decisions (both positive and negative). I like to be honest with myself that one decision often includes with it a cascade of other decisions, and often, sacrifices. If I can accept that up front, I am much more likely to move forward with peace and confidence in my decision.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of such a decision was the one to adopt. When I first began exploring this path, I went straight to my deepest fears: Was I giving up on trying for biological children? Was I giving up on experiencing a full- term pregnancy and birth? More importantly, did I care?
When I first explored the route of adoption, in addition to a lot of prayer, I also did a lot of future-self role play – fast forward to 90-year-old Allison. Would she regret this decision? It was through putting myself into my own future shoes that I began to find peace and acceptance.
I realized that I wanted children and while present-me cared (a lot) about it looking and happening a certain way, my future self was simply thrilled to have a family and children. My future self had no regrets that I had not experienced nine months of pregnancy. My future self felt fulfilled and loved.
At this point in my journey I took a break. I cried, I grieved. I stopped asking why and started to accept – accept that this was hard, accept that I couldn’t fully control or predict the outcome of a pregnancy, but also acknowledge that I had a choice in how I moved forward.
I saw myself looking back on my life with joy at all of the quality time I had spent raising my children and watching them grow into mature adults. In fact, those nine months of what my present-self felt were lost, were not even a consideration to my future self.
I was able to accept what was actually important to me and that was creating a family in an environment of love, joy, connection, and growth.
It was through this acceptance that I was able to find peace and confidence in moving forward with adoption, and to eventually experience the most magical, joyous day of my life – when I met my son.
Pushing for Answers
Here’s the kicker: While I got to this wonderful place of peace and acceptance, I did not give up on my quest for answers. I never completely lost that wondering of “why?” and “why me?”
I have found there is a difference between looking for answers out of desperation versus out of curiosity. When I was coming from a place of desperation I needed answers on a deep, visceral level. In desperation, answers felt necessary to my moving forward in life. But in reality, answers (if they came) also came with uncertainty and were not actually necessary to moving forward.
While I got to this wonderful place of peace and acceptance, I did not give up on my quest for answers. I never completely lost that wondering of “why?” and “why me?”
In contrast, after I found some acceptance of the uncertainty, I was able to seek answers from a place of curiosity and wonder. I was able to wonder why and not be so attached to the answer.
This doesn’t mean the information I discovered didn’t also unpack with it feelings of guilt and regret. It did. You will always have more information the further along you get on your journey. While I wish I could go back in time and know sooner what I know now, I can’t.
I also became motivated by wanting to help others. After finding peace with not fully understanding “why” I created my own answer to “why me?”
My personal journey with recurrent miscarriage inspired me to create resources to help others walking a similar path, to help them discover answers after two miscarriages not three (or five or seven). To give them the resources to bypass common mistakes and oversights. To give them the courage to switch doctors and advocate for themselves. To help others understand what is critically important to their present-day selves may ultimately not matter to their future selves. To help them feel that release of pressure, to feel self-love, grace, and acceptance.
The Unknown Can Include Beautiful Surprises
Through deciding to adopt, I accepted that I may never experience a full-term pregnancy or birth.
The beautiful thing, though, is that I got pregnant and had those experiences I had once given up on. I appreciated them on a much deeper level than I would have otherwise. While I didn’t take a single day of pregnancy for granted, I also knew that the best was yet to come.
I am confident that my future self will look back on each child of mine and know that how he or she arrived into my life was beautiful and perfect. For me, holding that baby in my arms and experiencing the years and years of motherhood, that is where the true beauty lies.
Allison Schaaf, MS, RDN, LDN, is the founder of Miscarriage Hope Desk, a resource dedicated to helping those going through recurrent pregnancy loss. She and her family live in the Texas Hill Country.
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