My experience

I may have had a miscarriage. I say “may” because it was way too early to be detected by a pregnancy test, had I even used one. I’ll never know for sure what was going on inside my body at the time, but I can certainly guess.

My husband and I were on the 3rd day of a family ski trip in Vermont. We began trying to conceive a few months earlier. I woke up that morning to pee, and noticed some very light bleeding, or spotting. I thought it was weird since my period wasn’t due for another week, so I started googling and instantly discovered something called “implantation bleeding.” When a fertilized egg implants into the uterine wall, it’s believed that a few tiny blood vessels may break to make the new connection. This can last for a few hours or a couple of days, but is very light. It happens to about a third of women who conceive

Thinking that this could be the moment that I became pregnant, I immediately started crying with tears of joy. After a few disappointing months of trying, could this really be it? My husband was certainly supportive, but also reminded me that there was no way of knowing, and we’d just have to wait a few more days until I could reliably take a pregnancy test.

The next thing I googled was “skiing in early pregnancy,” or physical activity in general. All sources said that it’s perfectly safe. If you were active before pregnancy, stay at the same level. Don’t do anything that feels uncomfortable, stop if you don’t feel well, but you’re not a China doll. Plus, the uterus at that stage is still tucked way inside, between your pelvic bones and very well protected. I was a beginner skier and knew I’d only stay on the easy green slopes, so I realized everything would be fine.

Skiing went fine. I had 2 very soft falls, I didn’t overexert myself, I felt good. We went home the next day, and the day after that, I awoke to find some more light spotting. I read that implantation bleeding could last a couple days, but I thought it was weird that it stopped for a day and then started again. Could this be the embryo detaching from my uterus?

My suspicions were confirmed a couple of days later when I got a negative pregnancy test and then got my period. Perhaps it was nothing, just my uterus being wonky. There’s no way of knowing. I didn’t grieve, although it certainly was a little more disappointing than the prior failed months. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I conceived the very next month and am now 23 weeks along with a so-far healthy boy.

Am I a murderer?

For the sake of argument, let’s say implantation had occurred and then rejected that month on the ski trip. Would the same have happened had I just laid in bed all day? Am I responsible for that loss? If that microscopic sac of stem cells really was a baby deserving of life, did my actions cause its untimely death?

Understanding the delicacy of this entire process and the “perfect storm” of factors that have to combine to be just right to conceive, made me realize how insane those questions are. No, it was not a baby, I did nothing to endanger a child, and these kind of early terminations are so common that it was probably just due to chromosomal abnormalities. “Baby killing” is outlandish pro-life rhetoric and should only refer to actual infanticide. To imply that skiing while knowing I was barely pregnant is in any way comparable to drowning an infant in the bathtub is just downright insane, inflammatory, and completely unproductive.

Further along

At my 20 week ultrasound, I found out that there may be some issues. One was that my placenta is a little low, a whole entire 0.1 cm lower than is “safe.” When the placenta partially or completely covers the cervix, this is called previa, and mine was marginal. C-sections can easily and safely work around this problem, but back in the day, a placenta that was too low could block the baby’s exit and eventually cause mom and baby to bleed out and die. Usually, as the uterus expands as the pregnancy progresses, it will pull the placenta up to a safe distance. This is what happens in the vast majority of cases, and I’m told not to worry, everything will be fine. I just have to watch out for any bleeding, and no sex until I get the all clear (which doesn’t exactly help with the whole relaxation thing).

Another issue is that the umbilical cord is attached a little to the side of the placenta, instead of smack in the middle. Concerns about the baby getting enough nutrients (imagine a garden hose being squeezed) and his growth are another reason why I’ll need to have regular ultrasounds for the rest of my pregnancy to check in on his progress. So far, he seems to be growing at an above average rate, which for now greatly helps put my mind at ease.

Obviously one of the first things I did after learning this news (after completely overreacting and crying thinking I was killing my baby) was to research more. I wanted to know the worse case scenario, which is really not bad, but also how this happened in the first place. Basically, no one knows. It’s common enough but really no way of knowing why it happens to some women and not others. Certain women have a slightly higher risk, such as those over 35, those who’ve had a c-section before, or women carrying twins, but none of those are applicable to me.

All the things I’ve done

I started to wonder if anything I did could have caused this. Maybe some of the yoga poses I do are bad. Maybe sleeping a certain way twisted things. Maybe too much sex agitated it, or not enough sex (oh, the irony!). Again, these are all clearly overreactions for wanting to understand something that was out of my hands and possibly inevitable, but it’s sad that the first instinct is to blame oneself. Given all the blame that’s put on pregnant women for pretty much everything that we do, it’s no surprise.

This made me think of all the other bad things that I’ve done in my pregnancy, either because I recognized the risk and said “fuck it,” or because others told me that I was clearly doing it wrong:

  1. I carried boxes. I was only 11 weeks along and I helped a friend carry some of her wedding shower gifts. A group of older women snickered, loudly, that I shouldn’t be carrying things against my non-protruding belly. They did not offer to help, mind you, just judge.
  2. I drink a cup of coffee every day. As discussed in my last piece, evidence against caffeine is as weak as McDonald’s coffee, and most doctors agree that up to 2 small cups a day is totally fine.
  3. I’ve had a couple of drinks. I had not even a full glass of wine or beer at my 1 year wedding anniversary and a couple of friends’ weddings. 
  4. I eat sushi, and I mean the raw fish kind. I stick to fish with lower mercury and higher omega-3’s and DHA. The risk of eating contaminated raw fish is the same for everyone and no elevated harm to a fetus, so I continue to only order from reputable, high quality sushi restaurants.
  5. I went to a family wedding in a heavily wooded area where copperhead snakes had been spotted. It was a fantastic wedding, and the bride herself was pregnant, so I never for a second thought of using it as an excuse to not go. I did research copperheads, and realized to simply be aware and not disturb piles of brush that they may be hiding in, and that worst case, the bites are incredibly treatable in hospitals.
  6. Despite Times Square being a prime terrorist target, I walk through it every day to get to work anyways instead of taking the subway. Walking is great exercise for me and baby, and it feels silly to spend $2.50 to go 2 stops.
  7. I generally walk, and jaywalk, through NYC and Jersey City all day every day. I’m constantly in danger of all the toxins from the air, crazy drivers, and stray bullets

Despite these evils that have clearly permanently damaged my future son (or will if i continue to do them with reckless abandon), here are the things I’ve done that are generally agreed to be good:

  1. I eat healthily. Lots of protein, fresh fruits and veggies from the farmer’s market, no fast or junk food. (Ice cream doesn’t count because it has calcium, right? Baby likes ice cream.)
  2. I take prenatal vitamins every day.
  3. I exercise. Lots of walking around the city, but I also regularly go to yoga.
  4. I gave up drinking. I’d hardly consider a couple of drinks over a few months to be on par with what I drank before, and I didn’t have any during my first trimester. I’ll bring O’Douls to BBQs because it’s nice to pretend, but it’s just not the same.
  5. Except for the couple of pounds I initially lost because I stopped drinking, I’ve gained exactly the right amount of weight for how far along I am.
  6. I gave up risky foods like raw oysters and unpasteurized cheese. Unlike sushi, contamination of these foods even from reputable sources can actually affect a fetus very negatively. I do miss oysters.
  7. I go to all my regular ultrasound and midwife appointments to make sure everything is healthy with me and baby.
  8. I’ve been reading up on all the baby care books and plan to attend classes with my husband on basic care and CPR.
  9. I plan to breastfeed to give my son the best nutrition and bonding experience and have been reading up on that as well.

It seems like the really big things are completely out of our control, such as other potentially dangerous conditions like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and breech birth.  One train of thought is, “Because there are so many things I can’t control, why wouldn’t I do everything I can to control the things that are in my power?” Except, the logic doesn’t quite work like that. Of course we do everything we can to try and be as healthy and prepared as possible, but those recommendations are often contradicting and/or ignore the fact that we’re still human beings, too, with needs of our own. Like staying awake at work so I don’t get fired and can have a job that provides for my child. Or just generally wanting to live a stress free life with minimal restrictions like any other human being. Stress of the mother does negatively impact the fetus, but no one seems to care about that when they stress pregnant women out by criticizing them.

Because there are so many things that we’re told we can, nay, MUST control during our pregnancies, it’s not easy to be told there’s a serious issue and then think, “Well at least that one wasn’t my fault.” What if I was over 35, or had a previous c-section? Would it be my fault then? How many mothers feel guilty for every single bad thing that happens to their child, regardless of fault? Guilt is not an easy feeling to just turn off with logic, especially when your entire experience thus far has been nothing but judgement and condemnation from others. If I could be a murderer for skiing, god only knows what I am for having half a beer and a screwed up placenta.