I was on a customer call with a colleague yesterday morning, and right after, my colleague asked if she could video call me to share an update. I wasn’t really expecting anything specific to be shared, but when she told me she was leaving after only six months with us, I was shocked. I was even more shocked when she told me that the time off she took in August was because of a medical condition she had. When she was telling me how happy she was to learn that I was pregnant, she said she was fighting back tears because she was also pregnant, too… but had a miscarriage at around 22 weeks.
“My baby was due in December, too,” she said with a somber face. She had to have a procedure to remove the fetus in early August, and subsequently took some time to physically heal, but she’s still emotionally and mentally broken from the experience. And for various other reasons, she’s decided to resign, take some time off, and take on another role at another organization. The abortion she had damaged her uterus to the point where she was warned that she could not get pregnant for another six months to allow her body to fully heal, otherwise it could potentially be life-threatening.
What most people don’t seem to know or realize is that when a pregnant woman has a miscarriage after 12 weeks, the fetus cannot actually be naturally expelled on its own as it would be with the embryo before 12 weeks. Before the 12-week mark, depending on the embryo size, it could be expelled by the uterus through the vagina. But after that point, a woman’s body actually has to go into labor to release the unviable fetus. So, she will literally need to labor and “deliver” her dead baby. This can be a very scary and potentially life threatening process, and so most doctors will recommend a D&C (dilation and curettage) procedure, or an abortion, for the safety of the mother.
I felt broken when she told me this. As soon as she said that she was pregnant and her baby was originally due in December, the same month mine is due, I started tearing up. I told her I really felt for her, that the whole fertility journey unfortunately is not easy, and it’s unfortunate so many people don’t recognize that. I didn’t tell her my story because it wasn’t really the time or place for it, as this talk was about her, but I did tell her that my road to get here was not simple or easy.
“It’s okay,” she insisted, smiling. “I have a great care team, I’m seeing an amazing therapist, and I’m getting through this. I have hope that one day, I will be in your shoes and preparing for my baby’s arrival when the stars are aligned.”
The struggles and pains of fertility, infertility are real. I only wish I never had to deal with a fertility clinic and IVF, but in some ways, maybe it’s made me a better, more empathetic person. While I’ve always believed women should be in total control of what happens to their bodies, I’ve never before realized exactly how horrible this struggle can be, how lonely it can be, until I went on this road myself. Not all women can relate; just because you’re talking with another woman doesn’t mean they can empathize or will even care. There are plenty of women out there who have never had any trouble getting pregnant, remaining pregnant, or birthing babies. A lot of these women have no idea how terrifying and agonizing all of this can be. But fortunately and unfortunately, I do know what it’s like. And I can empathize with my colleague and be her support for as much as she needs it.