I was warned, but how often do we heed warning signs?
After reviewing my hormone levels and ultrasound, the doctor said it could go either way—a baby or a loss. He projected seven weeks, but the ultrasound put me at five. When I asked what I could do, he smiled and said to “just wait in agony.”
Months before the positive pregnancy test, my partner and I had agreed to prepare. I took prenatals, exercised regularly and tracked my period and ovulation dates. When I missed my period, I was convinced that I had a hormone imbalance, which would affect my ability to get pregnant. I had already experienced hormonal issues, as well as a surgery to remove endometrial polyps. Even after the doctor told me the news, I asked if he was sure because I didn’t want to get myself excited. On the ride home from that first appointment, I felt everything: disbelief, joy, anxiety.
A few days later, still processing the pregnancy news, Politico leaked the potential overturn of Roe v. Wade. I was shocked but not appalled. I read through news articles and various social media posts. I thought about the people who would be impacted by this monumental decision. Then, I went about my day, checking emails, checking my underwear for unwanted blood, checking labels to confirm everything was pregnancy safe. Not for one second did I think this news impacted me directly.
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Ignoring My Body’s Cues, I Chose Cautious Optimism
The day after the story broke, I started spotting. Brown, according to the internet, meant nothing to worry about. The next day, the spotting increased, turning bright red. The nurse insisted I come in. My partner offered to miss his work meeting. When I said no, he offered to sit outside in the parking lot. He was stressed enough with work, and I figured it would be easier to handle alone. I assured him I would be fine. Hours later, I was in the office with a white sheet doing little to cover my naked thighs. The doctor checked my cervix, which was closed, then sent me down the hall for an ultrasound.
I had researched for hours and hours, desperate to know every sign and symptom, ingest every intimate, heart-wrenching story. Some women had bled throughout their pregnancies without complications. Some had been given bad news, only to show up weeks later with a healthy heartbeat. These rare, inspiring stories reassured me, kept me calm, right up until the moment the technician put the probe between my legs.
The imaging showed a sac, but no embryo.
“There’s nothing there,” I said aloud, but she wouldn’t confirm it. She called the doctor while I changed in the bathroom.
My partner and I had talked through the possibility of a miscarriage. When the levels were low and rising too slowly, we changed our language from “when” to “if,” knowing the chances weren’t in our favor. Still, I took prenatal vitamins, cut out caffeine, bought pregnancy-safe toiletries, subscribed to a prenatal fitness program, bought stretch mark cream and researched the best baby products. I refused to buy anything baby-specific, as if that would protect me from the potential heartache, but already, I had allowed myself to envision our life together.
When the doctor gave me the news, the words came out in choppy sentences, as if I were standing in a crowded bar listening to a drunken story. I heard “blighted ovum,” “can’t confirm yet,” “not official,” “you’ll probably pass it on your own.” I nodded, but I was devastated and terrified. “Keep your ultrasound appointment. If needed, we can start you on medication.” I nodded continuously, holding tight to the armor that surrounded my body.
Then, the technician interrupted him to say, “I’m so sorry.” In this moment of seriousness, this woman was choosing to acknowledge the emotions—my emotions—and just like that, I was disarmed, the armor stripped. Tears pooled in my eyes. “Don’t beat yourself up,” the doctor said as the technician handed me a tissue. “This is not your fault.”
Growing Up, I Couldn’t Fathom the Need for Abortion
I was born and raised Catholic. My parents had four priests on the altar at their wedding, all of whom were family members. We kept holy water next to the condiments in our fridge. Before every major road trip, we said a decade of the rosary. When it stormed, we imagined God was in the clouds bowling. Every night before bed, I prayed to my guardian angel. As a teenager, I wore a purity ring and wrote letters to my future husband.
Pregnancy before marriage was my mother’s greatest fear for me, her only daughter. I would begin to warn her of important news, only for her to jump to the conclusion that I was pregnant. No news could be as awful as that. Not once did she worry about sexual assault or cancer. Just pregnancy. I’d secretly wonder what would happen if I actually got pregnant, but I was too cautious, paranoid, guilt-ridden. I refused to have sex until my early 20s and only then because I met a guy I thought I would marry. Pregnancy terrified me. Even when I wasn’t having vaginal sex, a missed period made me anxious. If at any point I got pregnant, I would have the baby—no questions asked.
In a strict Catholic household, you don’t have to be told what to believe; you inherit beliefs like you would jewelry. We didn’t believe in feminism, always voted Republican and celebrated shotgun weddings. Abortion was unfathomable, inhumane. We didn’t even mention the word. It was far too dirty, like “Jesus Christ” out of context or “divorce.”
For many years, I lived naively, but the more I learned, the more I unlearned. The more people I met, the more I realized that my inherited beliefs didn’t account for every person, every experience. Imagine unraveling yourself from a roll of packing tape. You pull slowly, steadily yanking at stray hairs, tugging your skin, until you're bare, until there’s nothing left but your body in its natural, raw state. That’s what it felt like to pull myself away from the church and every belief that I’d been taught. The pain of that extraction is still there, but now, I can speak out against the church, argue with relatives and remind my parents that their beliefs contradict morality.
I came around to abortion because I understood it was a necessity. Not only could it save a woman’s life but some people had no other options—no money, support or community. Until our government could offer comprehensive support to every new mother, every newborn, then we needed abortion to be legal. And yet, deep inside, abortion still felt wrong to me. It felt like a last resort; an option when you’ve exhausted all other options. I didn’t yet believe, wholeheartedly, that everyone deserved the right to an abortion, no matter their situation.
No One Can Prepare You for the Loneliness of Miscarriage
According to the doctor, I would bleed heavily for four to five hours and experience some period-like cramping, and then I would have light spotting. If the heavy bleeding continued beyond that point, then I would need to go to the emergency room.
After work, I closed my computer, ordered Thai food and watched Top Chef from the beginning. I had large menstrual pads from a previous surgery but no Tylenol. Surely, I’d be fine without.
With period cramps, you feel a fullness and dull, achy pain. This was sharp, sudden. It felt like someone implanted metal springs into my uterus and was pressing and releasing, repeatedly and without warning. I couldn’t find a comfortable position and couldn’t relieve the pain, so I stood, walked, stretched, lowered myself to the yoga mat, pressed my upper body against a table. My partner watched helplessly.
I bled and contracted for the next 12 hours. I watched holiday baking shows, and listened to a podcast on miscarriage. One woman bled for countless days before going to the emergency room, only to be told it wasn’t over and they couldn’t do anything for her. I feared that I would hemorrhage, go to sleep and never wake up again. I called the obstetrics department of the hospital at 1 a.m. just to make sure I wasn’t dying. The woman couldn’t give me medical advice but assured me that I would be OK.
Throughout the night, I slashed the sheets in anger, kicked my legs in frustration, propped myself in child’s pose and set an alarm every two hours to check and change my pad. The grief settled into my body as I writhed in pain. In the morning, I attempted to brush my teeth but couldn’t stand without keeling over. Crouching on the bathroom floor, I begged for it to be over. I told my partner if this ever happened again, I wanted a D&C.
I got into my car that morning and waddled into CVS to buy a pain reliever. On the way, I passed an elementary school during the morning rush. Mothers, young and old, held their children’s hands, pulling them toward the school. How many, I wondered, had endured this? I swallowed the pills in my car and went back home to work. I sat through meetings with a blanket wrapped around my waist and took breaks to lie down, cry and recompose myself.
The pain subsided, but I didn’t pass the sac or placenta until the next day, the Saturday before Mother’s Day. I stared, dumbfounded, before taking a photo and then wrapping up the placenta in the pad and putting it gently into a Ziploc bag before throwing it away. Showing up to my parents’ house the next day, with period underwear and a large overnight pad under my sweater dress, I listened to my sister-in-law complain about her pregnancy discomfort and dutifully agreed to help my brother with dishes so the mothers could chat on the couch.
To the world, I was still unmarried and childless. It didn’t matter that I was in my 30s, in a happy relationship and planning for the future. It didn’t matter that I was silently miscarrying. “If you want kids, you should probably get married soon,” my mother reminds me constantly. “Even if you want kids, you may not be able to have them,” I want to scream.
If only people knew what others were suffering through—but we refuse to talk about the realities of pregnancy, loss and raising a baby in a country that fails to properly support new mothers and babies with minimal paid leave, expensive child care and inaccessible, expensive medical care.
All around this country, people are waiting for the bleeding to stop or the bleeding to start, miscarrying at home without a partner or support system, avoiding the doctor’s office because of transportation, work, the inability to pay or fear of judgment, having unprotected sex because they can’t access or afford contraception, hemorrhaging without a hospital nearby, dreading having a baby but unable to abort, driving cross-country to get medical attention. What are we doing to protect them and their bodies? We’re trying to take away their rights.
It Took a Miscarriage to Solidify My Belief in Abortion
I passed it beautifully, according to the doctor. Beautifully. No tissue had been left. There was nothing left to do but wait for my hCG levels to drop, my cycle to return. I already knew I was lucky. My experience paled in comparison to so many others. I had no complications or emergencies. Still, I felt wrecked. Even with a dedicated partner who willingly checked the blood levels on my pad and listened to my complaints, miscarrying was one of the loneliest experiences I have ever had.
My doctor told me I could try again at any time. The thought made me want to curl into a ball and disappear. I simply nodded, reminding myself that he did this for a living. After handing me the final paperwork, he said, “I’ll see you when you’re pregnant again.”
I got into my car, feeling as if I’d just worked a double shift on a Saturday night. I had everything I needed to get through this—a loving partner, a large team of medical experts, insurance and the extra money needed to pay for out-of-pocket expenses. I didn’t need medication, surgery. I felt—and still feel—so much pain, so much grief, but I had no additional burdens, no barriers to care. I am still paying for the miscarriage, but I can afford it. Being able to focus on nothing but the miscarriage is a privilege that few are afforded.
Returning to the news with the blood still dripping from my vagina, I felt enraged. I read article after article. I shared them online. The trauma I was experiencing made me realize how much women endure, on their own, with or without support. How could I have, at any time, believed that the government had any right whatsoever to decide how a woman treated her body? How could I have been so ignorant to believe that abortions were only necessary during medical emergencies? How could I have ignored the larger implications? Roe v. Wade goes far beyond abortion. Every one of us, regardless of our situation, deserve the right to autonomy.
Writing this now, I feel ashamed. How did it take me so long to understand? How could I have called myself a feminist if I wasn’t willing to defend every single girl, woman or nonbinary person from having the right to choose what happens with their body? I’m embarrassed and heartbroken. It shouldn’t have taken a miscarriage for me to stand behind abortion, but here we are.
To all of you out there, pregnant, alone, in need of support—I see you. I’m sorry. I didn’t understand before; I didn’t listen. But I’m here now, I’m with you and I will advocate for your rights.