Life’s milestones like graduation, getting a new job, or buying a home can bring straightforward gifts, but sometimes when you’re least expecting it, gifts can arrive on the doorstep of loss.
I had a beautiful son at an early age who was a grown man at the time I decided to begin the journey again with my husband. Our journey was cut short by pregnancy loss. I was stunned and devastated by the experience of two miscarriages. It was my son and his journey of starting a family that reminded me that the shape of a family can come in infinite, beautiful varieties.
When I was ready to get married, my son was 18. At my wedding, he looked so grown up in his suit. He was a year older than I was when he was born.
I had chosen to have him on my own as a young mom, and from the moment he came into the world at a birth center in the woods on Whidbey Island I felt the power of yielding to the wisdom of my body. Giving birth to him, gave birth to a strength deep inside that would carry me through many struggles as a single mom. It was not until my son was 16 that I had locked eyes with my future husband at a costume party. I came to find out that he had always wanted children, yet I was at a stage where starting again seemed impossible.
It was not until my son was 16 that I had locked eyes with my future husband at a costume party. I came to find out that he had always wanted children, yet I was at a stage where starting again seemed impossible. I agreed to work toward considering having another child. He agreed to work toward considering a life without his own.
When my son was 22, my husband and I began traveling the world together. I thought a lot about all the hard years I had spent trying to be both mother and father. Traveling with my husband and time for introspection helped me let go of the past and heal.
Then, in the lush green hills of Kandy, Sri Lanka, I had an epiphany. When I became a mom the first time, I hadn’t let fear stop me, even in the face of obstacles that seemed insurmountable. I was afraid to begin again, but I decided to trust myself and take the leap.
Weeks later, I shared my thoughts with my husband at a rooftop bar watching the sun setting on the low, colorful buildings of Tirana, Albania. We were near the end of our travels, I was 40, and we agreed to try to get pregnant when we returned home.
I was naïve going into the process of conceiving as an older mom. I knew that it could be difficult to get pregnant at an older age as it’s often presented in the media. But I wasn’t aware of the increased risk of miscarriage for women over 40, which can be up to 50% as compared to 10-25% for younger women.
I had my IUD removed and we got pregnant on the first cycle. After years spent making the decision to try, we were caught off guard. We were shocked, excited, and unprepared to share our news with friends and family. We took a short holiday to Winthrop, Washington and sat by the river together with our secret, allowing our joy to bloom.
We invited my son for a visit and told him the news in person. We were about to make our unusual family even more unusual. He was delighted.
We returned to the midwife at the birth center in the woods who had assisted me so many years before. It was a beautiful reunion and my bloodwork had good results. I struggled with nausea and emotion. My husband and I worked together to adjust my habits so I ate breakfast earlier and added snacks during the day to steady my blood sugar.
At our first ultrasound appointment, it seemed odd that the technician didn’t say much. We tried to shake it off. While on the ferry ride home an hour or so later, the midwife called. She said the diagnosis based on the results was a “missed miscarriage.” I didn’t know what that meant. She said we would do a follow up in a week to confirm and I asked, “Should we have hope?” And she said, “No, I’m sorry.”
We were heartbroken. My hormones were still at full throttle, adding nausea and heightened sensitivity to an already devastating moment. I learned that the term meant that there was no viable embryo, and that miscarriage was very common. Along with the physical loss, I felt the death of my hopes and dreams of a baby, the imagined life inside of me, and the imagined future for our family.
I had to wait a week to confirm the pregnancy loss, and then pursue an OB/GYN to find out about the options to empty my womb of the lost pregnancy. After a rushed appointment with a doctor I had just met, which my husband could not attend due to COVID restrictions, I selected the medically induced abortion option. I cringed at the word abortion with its connotation of choice. I hadn’t chosen this.
The doctor had used the word, “cramping” to describe what I would experience using the medication. He was a male doctor and he said, “In my experience, the biggest risk is ending up in the emergency room due to concern about the amount of blood.” He implied that my fear would be the worst outcome, or perhaps, my weakness.
In fact, the administration of this medication resulted in six hours of hard labor. I was on my hands and knees vomiting for hours in the bathroom, giving birth…to nothing.
The grief and shock of this process was compounded by feeling betrayed by both my body and the system. Why had the doctor not simply used the word, labor, to describe the experience? I regretted not choosing the Dilation and Curettage procedure, which now sounded like the choice to avoid needless suffering. I still recalled the transcendent experience of the birth of my son, but I felt lost in my pain, distant from the strength that had defined my life.
After what felt like a slow recovery, I discovered to my surprise that I was pregnant again less than two months later. On Thanksgiving morning, fighting low-grade nausea, we Facetimed with my 24-year-old son to tell him I was pregnant again.
He congratulated us with enthusiasm, and then five minutes later called back. “I was waiting for the right moment to tell you, but we are also pregnant!”
I was spinning with the news but still managed to keep our secrets at the holiday dinner. Over the coming weeks, I bonded with my daughter-in-love over our pregnancies. According to due-date predictors online, we had the same date.
The perfect weirdness of this generational synchronization felt like a natural fit with my life story. I dared to hope that my 50/50 shot this time would result in the rare occurrence of an aunt or uncle and niece or nephew that would be the same age, and perhaps even share a birthday.
We reached the point of the first ultrasound at 10 weeks this time. As I laid on the same table in the same clinic, I cried with anxiety the whole time.
The result was the same — a missed miscarriage: No viable embryo. Our grief was different the second time. My husband faced more fully the reality of never having a child of his own. I closed off, not wanting to connect with others, feeling at the mercy of a hormonal nightmare that shook me to my foundation and left me questioning and lost.
Our grief was different the second time. My husband faced more fully the reality of never having a child of his own. I closed off, not wanting to connect with others, feeling at the mercy of a hormonal nightmare that shook me to my foundation and left me questioning and lost. I opted for the D&C procedure and was mercifully unconscious when it happened. I was able to recover more quickly physically, but mentally the process was slow.
Across the country, the pregnancy of the young couple was progressing well. I kept quiet about my fears, so fresh after loss.
Soon I began to enjoy following along with her pregnancy week by week, as I had looked forward to doing with my own. My husband was slower to adjust, but when we went to visit them, we were able to enjoy the excitement of our growing family together.
The weeks added up to that original shared due date and day by day my thoughts of loss began to be eclipsed. When they called to share with me that I would be having a granddaughter, I was filled with joy. I was gaining my strength back as well, my confidence in myself and my body replenishing. When they called to share with me that I would be having a granddaughter, I was filled with joy. I was gaining my strength back as well, my confidence in myself and my body replenishing.
My husband emerged from the darkest part of his grief. As we moved through the woods on our regular walk-and-talks we felt the increasing ease of letting go. Instead of focusing on whether to try again, we focused on sharing the new news. Friends and family were cautious about using the word “grandma” because I was just 42. Some of the most thoughtful ones asked how we felt about the baby due to our losses.
When we visited for the baby shower and met the other side of our granddaughter’s family, I felt more seen in my life than I ever had. I was proud that I had raised a son who was a good partner and would be a good father.
My experience of pregnancy loss had made me feel old in a way that I never had before, yet suddenly being called “Grandma” made me feel young again.
I was a vibrant, dynamic woman who had raised a child on my own to adulthood, who was now starting a family.
The clarity that settled on me as I anticipated the birth of my granddaughter brought me back to the big picture vision of life I’d had in Sri Lanka. Perhaps it was her and my daughter-in-love that were to be the next journey for our family, and that was enough. I was so filled with happiness and vitality by my young grandma status, that I began to consider trying one last time.
My granddaughter, Aurora Jean, was born utterly perfect on July 25. I had forgotten how small and infinitely precious a newborn could feel in my arms. It was thrilling to watch her mother and my son, healthy and strong, working together like a pit crew to get the pajamas onto her tiny limbs before she cried.
I don’t know what will happen with our decision to try once more, but I know that our family of five will support each other. I know that if I face the same results again, I will turn to the community I’ve connected with of women and support providers who share this experience. I know my husband and I can get through it together.
I have thought throughout my life that the experience of birth 25 years ago have me the gift of strength, and now I know that the experience of pregnancy loss has also given me a gift: The gift of a deeper gratitude for the sacredness of life with its unpredictable twists and turns.
Lisa Hanson is a writer and entrepreneur living in the Pacific Northwest. She works as a consultant and trainer to mission-driven entrepreneurs around the world with an emphasis on women-led businesses. She is launching Afloat, a pregnancy loss support community.
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