It was 7:30am on a Wednesday. My husband and I were at our fertility clinic for a routine seven-week pregnancy scan. After a year of bad news, we were finally hopeful. In a short time, we had weathered a breast cancer diagnosis, a double mastectomy, a surgery to remove scar tissue from my uterus and an intense round of IVF. We felt we were finally past the devastation and were optimistic for the future. Five days earlier, we heard the heartbeat of a growing fetus. That day, I remember feeling relaxed and joyful.
After my breast cancer diagnosis and through the IVF process, my fertility doctor discovered I had residual scar tissue in my uterus from my first pregnancy. Even after a hysteroscopy to remove the harmful tissue, my uterine lining never quite recovered. I was told my chances of the IVF embryo implanting were slim. However, by what seemed like a miracle, the implantation was successful and the pregnancy was thriving. Once the doctor detected the heartbeat, I thought my bad luck was finally behind me.
At that morning’s ultrasound, my husband and I were cracking jokes with our physician as she performed the scan. I remember her eyes saddening as she delicately turned toward us. “I’m so sorry. I don’t hear the heartbeat today.” Even with IVF screening and the most compassionate and thorough doctor, this pregnancy wasn’t to be in our future.
Boom. In one moment, I was hit again by life and hit hard. Before my miscarriage, I naively thought that nothing bad was ever going to happen to me ever again. Hadn’t I been through the ringer enough with breast cancer? What more did I have to sacrifice just to live like a normal 35-year-old and expand my family? How much more could I take? I was about to get my answer.
Life wasn’t through bringing me to my knees. Not only had I miscarried after endless shots and hormone pills, but, as my doctor explained, my odds of carrying another child on my own would be risky given the state of my uterus. For a second baby, a gestational surrogate may be our safest option, as in another woman being pregnant with our embryo. Bam. Knocked down again when I was already struggling to get up off the mat.
The grief and pain I felt during that time was all-encompassing. I was devastated and angry at the universe for not giving me this pregnancy and for giving me more suffering. I was finally beginning to see some light after have been trapped in the dark for so long. In one moment, it was all gone. I was aware that miscarriages were common and with my damaged uterus, I knew this pregnancy was risky. However, I truly believed, after everything I had just been through, that only good news was coming my way. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I had a choice. I could let all of this tragedy consume me, or I could find ways to cope. Here are some strategies that helped me through the unimaginable.
The Only Way Through It Is Through It
I realized I was masking the pain of breast cancer by diving straight into IVF. I started IVF only a few short months after my double mastectomy and reconstruction surgeries. I couldn’t face the trauma of breast cancer, and I needed a new focus to distract myself. When I miscarried, all the emotion and sorrow of the last year tumbled down upon me. The depression and grief I experienced were relentless. This time I couldn’t ignore my pain. I had to sit with it and endure the constant waves of sadness. Initially, there were days when I could barely make it out of the house, and a trip to Whole Foods was a victory. I had to honor that feeling and not push it away. I couldn’t skate over or under my grief. There was no way around it, only through it. I couldn’t continue to live in that mournful state, but it had to be released from inside of me. I held the key to unlocking my pain, and once I let it out, it briefly overtook me. Although I’m not cured from sorrow and still have moments of struggle, by facing my agony head-on, my heart and mind have begun to heal, and I feel like I am once again joining the land of the living.
Do the Opposite of What You Are Feeling
While I was in the deep process of handling my grief, I made it my goal to do something that I didn’t feel like doing every day. This one minor daily activity forced me to face the outside world and feel a tiny bit better. I would drag myself out of the house to a spin class, even if I cried during the commute. If a friend invited me to coffee, I would go, even though all I desired was to stay in my bed. When my phone would ring, I would force myself to answer when all I wanted was to avoid contact. Without question, I was full-on in “fake it ‘til you make it” mode. I didn’t waltz into these social situations pretending I was fine. Instead, I honored my sadness and stated that I was “ok” and “not great” when asked how I was holding up. However, the simple act of “doing” through my grief helped me make small steps back to recovery.
Find Gratitude in Heartbreak
I was never one who had a gratitude journal by my bedside. To me, it just felt like more work and I definitely didn’t want to add more to my plate. However, when life became unbearable, out of necessity, I had to find brightness in the darkness. Every morning I would wake up, stare out my window, and say one thing I was grateful for. After my miscarriage, when I really couldn’t find hope, I was thankful for my husband’s support and love. On the bleakest of days, I was simply thankful for my daughter’s laugh. If I could make it to an exercise class, I was grateful for just being healthy enough to be in that room.
I remember sobbing to my counselor one afternoon, asking, “How does a person cope with so much loss?” He said, “Some people who had what you have, breast cancer, don’t make it this far. They are not here. You are alive, and at this moment, healthy. You get to walk out of this office, go home, and hold your daughter and be with your husband. You are one of the lucky ones.” He was right. Although life knocked me down, I found my way back up off the floor. Life is not always fair; it is resilience and moving forward that matters.