On August 9th, I found out I was pregnant.
On September 9th, I was lying in an operating room, legs in stirrups, steeling myself for a D&C.
It’s almost November 9th. I’m not over it.
I suspect I never will be.
For as common as miscarriages (and postpartum depression, and anxiety over keeping tiny humans alive) are, they’re rarely talked about. Women may talk about it in private, tissues in hand and in hushed voices, as they soldier on through their lives.
These women are warriors. They power through their full lives without skipping a beat, while deeply mourning the baby that never will be.
Reading other women’s stories of miscarriage helped me during my own. I’m hoping my own story can help you if you find yourself in this situation.
Sailing somewhere in the Mediterranean, between Malta and Greece, I took a pregnancy test.
The two lines appeared within seconds.
“Honey! I’m pregnant!” I screamed, waving the stick around.
My husband swept me up in a hug, careful to avoid the stick. “You should lie down! Do you need water? Ginger? How do you feel?”
I was exuberant. I was also a little tired, and my boobs were killing me.
We ordered room service that night. I got the grilled cheese and fries that I ate while pregnant with Rho (before I knew it, on this vacation), sipped sparkling water, and could not stop smiling.
Our parents were thrilled, and a little bit shocked. That or the poor connectivity caused our FaceTime to freeze.
There were only a few days left on our vacation. I made sure to rest a ton, drink plenty of water, and not overdo it. You don’t have to ask me twice to sip a virgin daiquiri and read a book.
We returned home elated and missing Rho terribly. My belly had already popped a bit. Whether that was from the pregnancy or from all the grilled cheese, I’ll never know.
I immediately jumped into pregnancy mode – stocking up on prenatal vitamins and folic acid, scheduling interviews with prospective OB-GYNs, getting my maternity clothes out. We talked about names, and if we’d find out the gender. We re-arranged our budget for pregnancy/post-natal expenses. I made sure to exercise in moderation. I continued to drink a ton of water.
From the beginning, this pregnancy felt different than mine with Rho. While I was bedridden with exhaustion and nausea with Rho, I felt good this time around. Sure, I was a bit tired and my breasts were constantly sore, but I felt good.
I did search my underwear for any signs of spotting or blood, thinking this was too good to be true. Nothing appeared, and I began to relax and enjoy the pregnancy.
I had fallen in love with the tiny baby growing inside of me, and for our soon-to-be family of four.
After several calls and appointments in uptown Manhattan, I found the right OB-GYN for me – high success rate with VBACs, a unique approach that combined the best of traditional and holistic medicine. On a Thursday afternoon, I walked across the park to my appointment, excited to see the baby for the first time.
I filled out the reams of paperwork, changed into the gown, and answered the many questions that the doctor and nurse had for me. I peed in the cup, had my blood drawn, and slid to the bottom of the examination chair, eager for my ultrasound.
She inserted the wand, moved it around, and remained quiet. There was a tiny bean floating around the screen that I couldn’t take my eyes off of.
The room, however, was silent.
I pulled my eyes from the screen and looked at the doctor. She looked straight in my eyes, with compassion and sadness. She removed the wand, asked me to sit up, and rubbed my arm.
“We can’t find a heartbeat.”
My heart shattered. My stomach dropped. Tears welled up in my eyes.
“Now, this could mean a couple of things. But the first thing we need to do is to take a closer look. I’m going to call the ultrasound clinic we work with to get you in there immediately. Do you feel up to going today?”
Wiping my eyes, I nodded yes. She handed me a tissue box, rubbed my back, and the nurse swiftly brought a small bottle of chilled water and a piece of chocolate.
“Take all the time you need. When you’re ready, come on out.”
I called Sri, in tears. He offered to leave work right away. I declined.
“We don’t know anything yet.”
I called my father on the way to the clinic, sobbing.
“Breathe, Pappu. Just breathe.”
The ultrasound clinic was ruthlessly efficient. After filling out my details in an iPad, I was taken back, told to use the restroom, and walked to the ultrasound room.
As the technician prepared the wand and told me to scoot down, I stared at the blank screen.
“Please let me hear a heartbeat. Please, please, please.”
The wand was thrust inside me (more action in one day than I had seen in…well, a while). A sea of black, white, and gray flooded the screen. I searched for the little bean again, wondering if this would be the last time I would see this baby.
The room stayed silent.
The technician removed the wand, threw away the cover, and asked me to sit up. “Someone will be right with you.”
I got dressed, wishing for a hot bath and a blissfully mindless book. I sat in one of the side chairs.
In walked in a woman with kind eyes and a soft voice. “Miss Palepu?”
She confirmed what my doctor’s eyes had all but told me. “It looks like you may have miscarried. There is also a small chance that we miscalculated the start of your pregnancy. We’d like you to come back in a week for another ultrasound, to see if anything changes.”
“Okay,” I whispered.
Thus began one of the worst weeks of my life.
I called my husband and father again, relaying the news. My husband immediately left work. My father changed his flight to come back to New York early.
I called my mother, leaving her a voicemail on her Indian cell. It was her voice I needed to hear – the woman who always knew exactly what to say – or when to say nothing – my entire life.
I called my mother-in-law, who offered to drop everything and come over. “I may take you up on that.”
I couldn’t bear to walk home, through the park that I had all but skipped through earlier. I threw up my hand, hailed a cap within minutes, and sat in silence as tears fell through my face.
“Mommyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!” Squealed Rho, as I unlocked the door and let myself in. I dropped to my knees for one of his massive hugs.
Naleeni dropped down and wrapped her arms around me. “I love you, and I’m hear for you. Whatever you need. Whatever you need,” she whispered in my ears, as I cried into my son’s curly hair.
“I think I need to take a nap.”
Leaving my phone in the entryway, I walk to my room, throw on my softest pajamas, and climb into bed. I cry. I sleep. I cry some more. I ask the Alexa in our room to play Enya.
Sri walks in. “I love you, honey.”
“I love you, too.”
I am a high-maintenance person, in that I’m anal about who I want and what I need when I’m going through something tough.
This was a lesson my poor mother-in-law (who is truly incredible) learned the hard way (and the whole story is longer and more hurtful than what I’m writing, but let me just say that I was a total brat and she bore the brunt of it. I’m truly sorry, Amma. I’m so lucky to have you as my other mother, and Rho is so lucky to have you as his Paati. We love you.)
In my sadness, frustration, anger, and general exhaustion, I banned everyone but Rho, my husband, my father, and my nanny from my home.
“I don’t want anyone else. I can’t deal with anyone else.”
I hurt a lot of feelings, but in that moment I could only think about myself and the maybe-baby floating inside of me.
I struggled through that week, forcing myself to attend the events I needed to and canceling everything else. I stayed in my pajamas all day, only to shower and change into fresh ones every evening. I watched the latest seasons of Supergirl and Madame Secretary in a stupor.
I ordered Taco Bell. A LOT of Taco Bell.
Finally, it was Thursday.
I took Rho for his classroom visit at school. I ran home to collect my clothes, and headed downtown for my Career Contessa shoot. I smiled, posed, and changed into beautiful clothes.
But I could only think about the baby.
The shoot wrapped quickly (all due to Diana, who efficiently snapped and chatted with me throughout the shoot). I changed back into my comfortable clothes, ran home to drop them off, and picked up my father. We drove to the clinic in silence.
Just like before, the wait was short and I was brought to the dark room. A different technician, with a more gentle voice, searched for the little baby.
It was clear. The bean-shaped fetus had shrunk, not grown. The room was silent.
“I’ll bring the doctor. Feel free to get changed.”
We were brought into an office, where a sweet-faced doctor sat behind her desk.
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s….okay.” I said. And it felt like it was.
I had viscerally felt all the stages of grief during those 7 days – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance of whatever answer I heard. In my gut, I think I knew.
The less intense symptoms. That it had been so easy, just like before. How good our life was.
These things happen. They happened to my mother, to my mother-in-law, to my aunts, to my friends, to my cousins.
And it happened to me.
They survived – and thrived. So will I.
No one really tells you what a D&C is like.
I could wait a week or two and have it done in a hospital, or I could have it done at a clinic on Saturday.
I chose the clinic, and scheduled their earliest available appointment at 9 a.m.
“No drinking or eating that morning. Don’t brush your teeth, if you can. You’ll bleed for up to a week, and have cramps as strong or stronger than your menstrual cramps. Do you have someone to bring you home?”
“I do…but what do you mean I can’t brush my teeth?”
“Oh, just avoid ingesting any water the morning of your procedure.”
That morning, I slipped on my ugliest underwear, a soft t-shirt and jogger pants, and a cardigan that felt like a hug. I double checked for my insurance card, slipped a few Always Infinity pads in my purse (a lifesaver after childbirth), grabbed my Kindle, and made my way to the waiting Uber.
Sri sat next to me, holding my hand, giving it the occasional squeeze, as we made our way downtown.
We walk inside a nondescript office building in Midtown. I sign in with the security guard and head up to the waiting room.
“Oooooh,” I think.
The two waiting rooms are full, with women and their support. Husbands sat next to wives, mothers sat next to daughters, and friends sat together. Conversations hummed in low volumes, indecipherable from each other.
I walked up to the receptionist. “I’m Hitha Palepu, and I have a 9 a.m appointment.”
She handed me a clipboard, a thick pile of papers secured in it. “Fill these out and bring them back, please.”
I sat next to Sri, who had managed to find two seats together. As he flipped through The Economist, I answered every question and ticked every necessary box.
“Here you go.”
“Okay. We’ll call you up when we’re ready for you.”
I took out my Kindle and attempted to focus on my current book, The Rise And Fall Of D.O.D.O. I couldn’t focus, and quickly flipped to the Caro biography I was reading.
No luck. Finally, I searched and clicked on the book I always go back to – Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches.
“Hiiiii-tha? Heeee-tha? Puuuuuuuu?”
“Just you, please, No one but patients are allowed back.”
My husband looks at me, silently asking “are you okay?” I nod at him and walk back into a small room.
“Lift your sleeve, please.”
My temperature and blood pressure were taken, and my blood was drawn.
“You are here for a D&C. Do you know what that procedure entails?”
“Um, removing the products of conception?”
“Yes. Do you consent to this?”
Did I have a choice?
I was brought to another room, with an examination table and an ultrasound machine. “Please remove all your clothes from the waist down. Sit on the table. Cover yourself with the paper drape.”
I did as she asked as she prepared the wand. She inserted it, and I saw the little flickering bean one last time.
Tears welled up – of sadness of the baby I would never meet, of the sibling Rho would never know, but of relief of knowing that this baby was never meant to be.
She removed the wand. “You’re bleeding,” she said, as she handed me a maxi pad.
I hadn’t bled since my last period. Whether this was my body’s way of catching up with the diagnosis, or the final probe of the ultrasound wand, or both…it was happening. I gratefully accepted the pad (my purse was in the lobby, with my husband), pasted it on my underwear, and got dressed.
Back to the waiting room. I couldn’t even focus on my favorite book, and just rested my head against Sri’s shoulder.
“How much more waiting?” he asked. I wished I had an answer.
I waited another 40 minutes until they called me back. I was brought into an office with another nurse, who went through the paperwork.
“You understand the procedure you’re about to have?”
Yes. For the entire Hindu pantheon, yes.
“Would you like anesthesia?”
“Local means you’re awake. You’ll be aware of the whole procedure, but administering it will be painful. If you choose general, you’ll be put under and won’t feel a thing.”
No contest. I opted for general.
I signed a few forms, and was brought back to the waiting room. I was sick of waiting. I was starving.
And damn, I was thirsty.
It felt like an eternity (more like 10 minutes) before I was brought back, for the final time. I slung my purse over my shoulder and walked through the door, steeling myself for what was to come.
I was brought into a small waiting room and handed a large tote. “Place your belongings in here, and wear the gown and socks. No underwear.”
“Ooooh…well, I just started to bleed.”
“Okay. Leave them on.”
I changed quickly, put my cozy clothes and shoes in the nondescript bag, and walked back out. A random infomercial channel was blaring on the television, and another woman was seated in one of the chairs.
We glanced at each other, and looked away. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t look at my phone. I could barely think.
This was it.
After waiting for another 20 minutes, I was finally brought into the operating room.
“Sit on the table and place your legs in the stirrups. The doctors will be right in.”
I did as they asked, a million emotions swirling inside of me. The surgeon and anesthesiologist walked in and immediately started to prepare.
A rubber band was tied around my arm.
“This may feel like burning,” she briskly said, injecting the anesthetic through the line.
It did. It felt like my arm was on fire, and then my chest. And then I felt nothing.
I woke up in the recovery room, slightly drowsy. I felt the blood continue to seep onto the bed (well, the pee-pee pad), the dull ache in my lower abdomen, and feeling empty.
It was over. But it felt like it was about to begin.
One of the nurses brought me gently to the chair, a fresh pad placed on the seat. She carefully covered me with a blanket and brought me the ginger ale I requested.
Sweet, sweet soda. You had never tasted so good.
After sipping my drink and inhaling two small bags of Doritos, I was ready to get up and go home. I slowly made my way to the bathroom, changed into my own clothing and adhered a fresh pad (one that didn’t feel like a diaper), and walked back out. I signed the necessary papers, and made my way to the lobby.
“Ready to go?”
Yes, yes I was.
I was told to take it easy for the next week – no picking up Rho or lifting heavy things, no baths, no sex. Basically, no fun.
Not that I was up for it. I spent the weekend curled up on the couch with a heating pad, a pile of books, and my husband and father bringing me water and snacks.
By Monday, I was back on my feet and helping cook again. The following week, I was slowly walking through Central Park and getting through the mountain of e-mail that had piled up.
Physically, I’m back to normal.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget about the baby that would have been. Neither will my husband, or my parents or in-laws. August and September 9th will always be days unlike others, just as Rho’s birthday or the day Neela died.
It never gets easier. But I will get stronger.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. But this has made me tougher to face whatever comes next.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading. If you’ve suffered a miscarriage, survived it, or going through one right now, please know that you’re not alone.