illustration of mom holding her rainbow baby with butterflies that represent her lost babiesShare on Pinterest
Illustration by Brittany England

You identify your fertile window. You time sex before ovulation. The sperm meets the egg. The embryo implants into the uterine lining, grows into a fetus, and thrives. Nine months later, you give birth. This is how babies are made — except when it doesn’t work out that way.

My first child was conceived during our first month of trying. We had sex one time the day before ovulation. Two weeks later, I took a pregnancy test and was elated to see two pink lines.

My journey set off with wild morning sickness, exhaustion, and all the aches and pains that I had expected. Besides having an irritable uterus, things went smoothly. Our daughter was born just before Thanksgiving.

When it came time to try for a sibling, I joked that there probably wouldn’t be much “trying” at all. If our previous experience making a baby was any indication, I was a bonafide Fertile Myrtle. We decided to pull the goalie – stop using birth control – in the month that would set the due date at the start of my husband’s summer break from teaching.

That month, we did not get a positive pregnancy test. We followed the plan the next month and — again — negative. In fact, the next 4 months after that were negative, too.

I had started to notice that my cycles were irregular. One month was short, the next long. I would spot for several days before my period. I thought the spotting might be implantation spotting, but I was wrong each and every month.

After 9 months of trying, I made an appointment with my doctor to check out my irregular cycle and see if any testing was warranted. My doctor told me that as a healthy, active 30-year-old, it can take up to a year to get the timing just right with conception.

When I explained that we had been timing things “just right” all along, my doctor offered to test my hormones to see if we could uncover anything.

We discovered that absolutely nothing was amiss with my hormones, ovarian function, or any other level in my infertility blood tests. He said to keep trying, and — 12 months after we started Operation: Baby Number Two — I was incredibly excited to pee on a stick and watch it turn positive.

I couldn’t contain myself. I told literally everyone I knew that we were expecting. I stocked up on supplies to help ease my morning sickness. I pulled out the baby name books and dusted off the crib and high chair.

It was finally happening! I remember pondering that maybe there was some mystical aspect to the process after all. I felt relieved that our wait was finally over.

I woke up bleeding just 1 week later. Surely it was the egg burrowing deeper into my uterine lining. Or maybe it was a subchorionic hematoma. I made an appointment with my doctor, who called for blood tests to check my levels of hCG (often called the pregnancy hormone). They came back abysmally low.

“It’s likely you’re miscarrying,” he said. “We will check your levels in a couple of days to look for change.”

I didn’t need my levels taken again because I started a full-blown heavy period the next day. The line grew fainter on my home pregnancy tests. Like nearly 1 in 4 of all people who get pregnant, I had miscarried.

I didn’t know anyone who had miscarried — or so I thought. I told some friends what happened, and the stories flooded in. Many told me that after they miscarried, they had gone on to have healthy pregnancies.

Others said this tragedy would be a thing of the past and I would soon move on. And one well-meaning friend told me that I would be especially fertile after miscarriage and that she had gotten pregnant with her son straight away after hers.

Well, I didn’t get pregnant the cycle after my first miscarriage. It took several months to see a positive test again.

This time, my doctor ordered an early ultrasound to give me peace of mind. I saw the yolk sac and fetal pole happily nestled inside my uterus. We couldn’t yet see the heartbeat, so they told us to come back in a week for that special appointment.

After we saw the heartbeat, I felt immense relief. However, I noticed that the beats per minute were somewhat slow for the baby’s gestation. I asked about it, and the ultrasonographer told me there’s a great range and that I could come back in a week to have it assessed.

My hCG numbers were great. I had even thrown up a few times. So, I felt pretty confident that this pregnancy was going to stick.

At my follow-up appointment, though, the baby’s heart rate was even slower. The baby hadn’t developed from that 6-week appointment, either. My doctor told me to come back again another week later. Those 7 days felt like an eternity.

The re-check at 8 weeks confirmed my fear that the baby hadn’t developed and the heartbeat had slowed to a full stop.

Meanwhile, my body didn’t give any signs that anything was wrong. Had I not had the imaging appointments, I would have had no idea. My doctor told me this type of loss is called a missed miscarriage. It felt like such an insult because my baby had died while I had been very sick (all day and night) with nausea and vomiting.

We waited another agonizing week for the pregnancy to pass on its own. When the all-day sickness continued and my mental health declined, I begged for dilation and curettage (D and C) to wipe the slate clean. After the procedure, my doctor told me to wait 3 months before trying again to give my uterine lining a chance to recover.

You are not alone

It’s important to remember that pregnancy loss is not your fault. Miscarriage and stillbirth can be very hard — physically, emotionally, and mentally — and it’s important to take care of yourself.

Here are resources to help if you’ve experienced fetal loss:

Talk with a healthcare professional or fertility specialist who can evaluate you, conduct diagnostic testing, assess your individual situation, and recommend next steps. Effective treatments are available.

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Two miscarriages. Nobody in my social circle had experienced that. Still, my friends offered many condolences and support. I had to tell people what I was going through. I couldn’t keep such dark feelings inside myself.

After the 3 months of waiting were up, I was ready to try again. This time, we did get “lucky,” and I was pregnant right away. Pregnant yet again.

Surely I couldn’t have another miscarriage. My doctor ordered blood tests to track my hCG and, sadly, that’s exactly what was happening. He prescribed progesterone suppositories to try and save the pregnancy. They didn’t work, and I started bleeding days later.

At the time, three miscarriages were what earned you membership into the recurrent pregnancy loss club. Now you need just two for this designation.

Whatever the case, my husband and friends didn’t know what to say after two miscarriages, and they were speechless after three. It’s not that they didn’t care, but three losses were heavy. I remember one family member saying that “maybe having another baby just isn’t in the plan for you.”

Comments like that hurt, but the weight of my situation was too heavy to carry on my own. I was gutted, confused, and I felt utterly alone. I talked to anyone who would listen and went back to my doctor for help.

Fortunately, my doctor had a plan.

He ordered more tests for both my husband and me. When nothing nefarious turned up (which, I’ll admit, was incredibly frustrating), he started me on a daily treatment plan.

We got pregnant right away that first month of trying with these new tools. My hCG levels were great, the baby implanted where she needed to, and for the first time in years, I passed week after week, milestone after milestone.

Our baby was growing. Our baby was alive.

It wasn’t easy, though. My pregnancy after three losses was rife with worry and fear. I felt guarded — on edge. I had trouble connecting with our little one. Any weird pain or off sensation would make me anxious.

I requested additional ultrasounds to physically see that things were OK with the baby. I bought a fetal doppler and would search for the baby’s heartbeat each night to ease my concerns.

As time went on, I began to feel more confident that things would ultimately work out. And they did. Our second daughter was born 2 weeks before her due date, just like her sister.

It has been nearly 8 years since this period of my life began. I now have three daughters. (I skipped right to the treatment protocol my doctor had prescribed when trying for our third, and it worked after 6 months of trying.)

My triple rainbow baby just started kindergarten. Life is busy and messy and fun with all these kids in the house.

There are times when it all feels like a nightmare. Even while writing this, I feel emotions welling up inside of me that I thought were long gone.

That’s the thing with early pregnancy loss — there was never anything tangible. I never held my babies. I never saw what they looked like. I was, instead, mourning for what I had so vividly imagined in my head. Still, the pain was searing.

What helped me most during my losses was talking about them. Even if people didn’t understand, I had to talk about what I was physically and emotionally going through. I needed to be seen and heard. My husband, my family, and my friends tried their best but — ultimately — the talking was more of a way for me to process my grief.

Only between 1% and 2% of women experience recurrent pregnancy loss. It can feel quite overwhelming and alienating when you’re going through it. Remember, it’s not your fault.

It may feel like everyone you know is announcing a new pregnancy or giving birth. All the while, you may feel like your own body is betraying you. You may question what you did to deserve such bad luck. I know that I did.

Make an appointment with your doctor to see if you can determine any causes for your loss or come up with a game plan for medical help. Even in unexplained cases like mine, there are many methods to try, including in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

There’s no easy way around the emotions. Loss is hard to cope with. Talking about how you feel can help, but there’s no right or wrong way to process your individual grief.

Reach out to your partner and to the other people in your life who make you feel good. Your journey may be different from mine, but just know that you are not alone in what you are experiencing.

Ashley Marcin is a freelance health writer and blogger based in upstate New York. Aside from her work with Healthline, her recipes and other tips have been featured on sites like Real Simple, Reader’s Digest, HuffPost, Apartment Therapy, Brit + Co., Gizmodo, The Kitchn, and more. Ashley is a work-at-home mom to three awesome daughters and also has a professional background in marketing communications and higher education.