Surviving Miscarriage and Trusting the Process
Joe and I started trying to get pregnant in April.
But I did not expect to conceive so quickly. Having received chemotherapy to treat my multiple sclerosis, as well as radiation to manage a thyroid condition that developed in the midst of it all, I was anticipating a long journey of failed attempts before a new life would connect with my womb.
When a pregnancy test I took in July was positive, I was breathless with disbelief and got lightheaded on the front porch as I told my husband the news. I had to sit down to take it all in. Pregnant. Me. I felt blessed beyond belief and terrified at the same time.
I was leaving for New York City the next day to give a speech. And my head was filled with questions. Would flying be safe for the baby? Should I tell anyone else the news? What about the vodka and orange juice I had on the weekend before on a flight to Chicago? Would the baby be okay?
When I arrived at LaGuardia, I had preemptively talked myself through all of the worst-case scenarios. Since my mom passed away suddenly more than two years before, and a close friend died two short weeks later, I have learned to adapt the mantra that it is better to be prepared than surprised. But I don’t look at the view as a pessimistic one. Instead, I prefer to think of it as a realistic perspective designed to guard against unbearable and unexpected heartbreak.
Sharing the News
I waited for my car for more than 45 minutes in the New York City sun, certain that the oppressive heat would somehow damage the life that was forming inside of me. Then the phone rang.
The hotel concierge—a nurturing, maternal woman with a Long Island accent—was calling to update me on the car’s delay and offer options that involved waiting or walking in the heat for at least another half hour.
“I’m pregnant,” I told her over the phone. It was the second time I said those words together out loud.
She urged me to wait in the air conditioning until the car came.
I arrived at the hotel almost an hour later and collected my thoughts, got used to the idea that I could be confident in my pregnancy. Freshly showered and make-upped, I had a whole new mindset when I got in the car scheduled to drive me to Union Square.
My driver was a strong, silent type from Lebanon. He did not say much as we drove through the city. I tried to make conversation but eventually gave up, content to admire the streets and sidewalks as we drove in relative silence.
“Do you have any children?” he asked out of the blue.
“No, we’re not quite there yet,” I replied, surprised and relieved to have established a rhythm of conversation.
“Take your time,” he replied. “You have your whole life ahead of you.”
“I actually just found out that I am pregnant,” I confided. “It’s all very new. I haven’t really told anyone.”
He came to a stop at a traffic light and turned back to look at me with the kindest, dearest smile.
“What a blessing,” he said.
We spent the next 20 minutes discussing his family, his children and the adventures of being a parent. I listened and laughed and confessed my own fears about being a mother, specifically my apprehensions about maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
When we arrived at the restaurant where I was scheduled to speak, he turned back to me one more time from the front seat and asked if it would be okay to pray for me.
“Of course; thank you,” I replied. “That would be a wonderful a gift.”
A Journey of Fear and Faith
The next two weeks passed without much fanfare. My first ultrasound revealed the embryonic sac and yolk sac but no fetal pole and no heartbeat, which I was told was not unusual during the early stages of pregnancy. My blood work was strong, and I received multiple congratulations as I left my midwife’s office. It felt like everything was going to be fine, and I let myself be optimistic during the days that followed.
I went back a week later for another round of tests, excited to hear the heartbeat of our baby-to-be.
“Well, how does it look?” I asked the ultrasound technician as I tried to make sense of the images on the screen, holding my breath as I evaluated the look on her face. “Is everything okay?”
“Let me go get my colleague,” she said. “She may be able to see something I don’t.”
“Hi,” said the second blonde woman as she walked into the room. “Let’s have another look…”
Neither woman could find a heartbeat. The embryo appeared to be developing and growing, but something about it was a little behind schedule.
My husband and I waited in my midwife’s office after the ultrasound, anxious to hear her determination based on the latest data.
She walked in with a hesitant look on her face but did not delay before sharing her concern.
“I’m afraid you’re going to miscarry,” she said. “All we can do at this point is wait.”
Miscarry. Of course. Of course that would happen. How naïve of me to think that I could continue along with a healthy pregnancy like anyone else.
I began grieving almost immediately, mourning a loss that hadn’t yet happened. I was scheduled to go in for another ultrasound the next week to see if there were any changes, but in my heart I already felt a void.
I didn’t know what to do after the appointment, how to manage the anxiety, fear and grief I was feeling. I called my dad, a surgeon who always has all of the answers. But even he, in his tremendous compassion and sympathy, seemed to be accepting powerlessness in this situation.
I drove to my Church, per my sister’s recommendation, praying that my priest would be there during the midmorning on a weekday. I was grateful to find the door unlocked and my priest inside praying at the tomb of the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary whose Dormition we had celebrated days before.
“Father Stavros, I am seven weeks pregnant, and I don’t think it’s going well,” I said, sharing the news with him for the first time.
“Oh!” he replied with a look that was at once surprised and resolute. “We need to pray to Saint Irene. She is the saint of these things.”
He went to get a book from a room off of the altar and brought it to the tomb of the Virgin Mary to pray with me. He offered prayers to Christ, to the Theotokos and to Saint Irene that she might intercede on my behalf for the best possible outcome.
From my limited perspective, I clung to the idea that the best possible outcome would be for the pregnancy to continue no matter what. I was having trouble trusting the process, that God would guide my body to take the best care of itself and the pregnancy.
I went to Atlanta that weekend to attend a yoga training workshop for teachers with one of the most respected practitioners in the business, a man dedicated to the concept that the body moves with intelligence and has a desire to be healthy and well when supported by mindful practices.
I hesitated to mention my pregnancy during the first day of practice and instead tried to determine for myself which poses would be safe two months into a pregnancy. There was another practitioner and yoga teacher at the workshop from Chattanooga, and I had not shared the news with many people.
During day two of the classes, the teacher opened up the floor for questions from the yoga instructors attending the workshop, and many of them were asking about safely guiding students through certain medical conditions. I hesitated but found myself inquiring about poses that are truly safe or dangerous where pregnancy is concerned.
“Whom are we talking about here?” he said.
“I’m two months pregnant,” I said.
“I’m glad you told me that, because you should not do the breathing exercise we are about to do,” he responded. “But congratulations.”
Later that afternoon he pointed to me when discussing the development of life. “Like the heartbeat that is beginning inside of you,” he said.
Was that a sign? Maybe things would be okay after all. But then he autographed a book for me when the workshop was complete.
“Keep the space,” he wrote, illustrating his comment with a drawing of a pregnant stick figure and an arrow pointing to the belly.
What did it mean? Was the pregnancy doomed to fail? I was desperately looking for signs in every form. And I was terrified for the appointment I had coming up on Monday morning.
When I went back for my third ultrasound, I was devastated to discover that there was still no heartbeat. The embryo was developing slowly, but based on all of the available data, it was unlikely that the pregnancy would sustain itself. My anxiety was proving to exist with good cause. But I tried to maintain my faith in spite of the information I had received.
I told my midwife about Saint Irene, and she mentioned that sometimes miracles do happen. Again, our best hope was patience and faith and to come back for a fourth ultrasound the next week, an option my husband questioned.
“It is causing you more anxiety than it should,” Joe said. “What if we just wait and see? What is supposed to be will be.”
I pitched the idea to my dad.
“In medical school, we learned to only order tests if you are planning to change the course of treatment,” Dad said. “I agree with Joe.”
My midwife agreed with the men, as well, saying that it was too early to recommend a D&C no matter what the next ultrasound looked like.
So I decided to wait. I prayed and had the audacity to anticipate that the pregnancy would continue.
A few days later, the bleeding began.
It continued for more than a week, and my midwife kept preparing me for the worst, a huge loss of blood, intense pain. But the process continued slowly without much physical distress.
I grappled with anger and acceptance and sadness and detachment—I didn’t know what to feel exactly. But I gave myself permission to honor every emotion as it occurred.
“Katy, this is when you have to live the lessons you share with your students in yoga,” said my dad’s girlfriend. “Have faith.”
In my mind I was thinking that I was simply a fraud struggling to take my own advice.
When I arrived to teach a yoga class at the end of a mentally exhausting weekend, I saw two mats rolled out already. And I learned that one of them belonged to a woman named Beth who had lost her father the week before.
As a new student entered the room, I welcomed her and gave her the rundown of what to expect from the evening’s practice.
“Beth just lost her father, and I am experiencing a miscarriage,” I said. “Tonight will be restorative and nurturing.”
“I understand,” she said.
And I know that she did.
During the next 60 minutes, we practiced together, my students moving through a slow sequence of postures as I guided them through. I encouraged us all to trust the process, giving ourselves space and time to heal.
Our work was to accept loss and abundance with unwavering awareness and contentment and to embrace challenges as opportunities to become more compassionate and resilient.
I played a piece of music at the end of class that included Sanskrit lyrics. The translation of the words was simply, “Thy will be done,” a beautiful, simple encapsulation of what I was seeking to communicate.
I felt more peaceful at the end of class, more confident in the message I shared with my students but still a little skeptical that I could apply the lesson to my own life.
The class filed out, and I was left in the room alone, lost in my own thoughts as I rolled up my mat and turned off the music. In the silence, I looked up and saw the new student at the door with tears in her eyes and a startled look on her face.
“You’re going to think I’m crazy,” she said.
“No, of course not,” I said. “Please, come on in. What’s going on?”
“For the first time in my life, I was being quiet and still, listening,” she said. “And I could hear God ask me to do something.”
She proceeded with her words cautiously and still looked surprised.
“Could I pray with you?” she said.
I have heard those words many times before and always accept them, knowing they are rooted in good intentions.
But something about her question was different. I could see that she felt called to deliver a message that was not her own.
“Of course,” I replied. “Let’s pray.”
“I have never done this before, and I have no idea what I’m supposed to say,” she continued nervously. But I could see her mindset shift in an instant.
“It’s okay, though,” she continued with confidence. “God’s going to tell me.”
She clasped my hands warmly and looked me squarely in the eye.
“God, thank you for bringing Katy and me together this evening,” she began. “Katy, He wants me to tell you that you are on the right path and to please listen to your own words, the words that you shared with your students. He wants you to know that everything will be fine, and He has not left you. Trust that His will will be done, and He will heal the cracks in your broken heart.”
As she spoke, I felt an immense, sense of calm surround me, a consuming, ethereal sense of peace as she completed the prayer.
“Okay,” she said resolutely as we both wiped tears from our eyes. “I will see you next week.”
And I knew that everything really was going to be okay.
I went to my dad’s house after class was over to tell him the story.
“If I had never experienced the miscarriage, I never would have experienced this,” I realized out loud.
“What a blessing,” he said.
That night, I was reminded that the Feast of the Precious Cross was on the calendar this week, a celebration of Glory that could never have been realized without pain. How blessed I was to have received a very tangible reminder of that truth. Life may not always look and feel comforting. And it is in those moments of pain when we are called to remember that we are never alone.
On Tuesday, I attended Vespers in anticipation of the Feast Day. And I was still reflecting on the student’s words, awestruck and grateful to have received such a clear message at a moment when my faith was faltering. I was reminded that we are in constant communion with our Creator, the wisdom in our core that calls us to trust the process and accept all things with awareness and joy.
What a blessing.
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