I found out I was pregnant a week before heading out to Japan for a 3-week vacation.
It was a first and somewhat unplanned pregnancy. I had been on oral contraceptives for eternity. I had forgotten what a real menstrual period felt like. Then I decided to get pregnant (for reasons I may decide to write in another post on its own), so in May, I stopped taking my pills.
I had planned the July Japan trip half a year earlier, so the reason I stopped in May was, well, I figured I wouldn't be pregnant so fast, and I was going to be gone in July so no chance there either. Might as well let my body "recover" to its natural ovulating state for a few months before I try for real. Plus that means I won't have to remember taking my pills while traveling, and I like being lazy.
That of course, did not mean I wasn't going to have sex. Or google "ovulation date" based on my last (pill-induced fake) period and have sex during that time. Nor did it stop me from taking a pregnancy test when I missed my (supposedly first true) period for a few days. The test was negative, so at that time I shrugged and thought "Probably my body needs time to get back on the natural cycle."
Then it was a week before my trip to Japan, and I suddenly realized I am 3 weeks passed the supposed MC date. I knew that pregnancy tests tend to be less accurate when taken too early (right after missing your period would be week 2-3, so chances of detecting sufficient hCG levels is not high). Out of curiosity, on the morning of 6/26, I took it again. Boom. Positive.
I was shocked. I went to wake up my sleepy husband. His response: "OK...that's good, right? Why did you wake me up?" And went back to sleep. Later he was more awake, thought about it and, being an always very skeptical Jew, pointed out that it could be "false positive".
So I took the test the next day again, and it was positive. Two independent tests for positive! I am now statistically confident.
I called UCSF to set up an appointment. Somehow I got a somewhat cold nurse who said "We don't see patients until week 10" (this sounded a lot less cold when I called the second time I was pregnant, as I can now see why), so she made an appointment with me after my supposed return date from Japan.
I called my mom, who was meeting me in Japan for two of the three weeks. She said: "Didn't you say you were going to start trying after Japan?" She of course had iterated to me many times before that first trimester is most unstable and second trimester is better for travelling.
"Uh, I had no idea it was going to work the first time." I said.
So I packed my things and flew to Osaka. I planned the entire trip around the Kansai (western Japan) area, and instead of relying on mass transportation to go between cities, we would be driving. My mom drove (on what many times I had to remind myself was NOT the wrong side of the road) while I constantly screamed directions, i.e., translating what the GPS in the car was saying.
There was a reason for this strange itinerary. I had scheduled my H1B visa interview at the Osaka Consulate, which I could only get on 7/8. I had not gotten a HIB visa stamp on my passport since my H1B visa got approved. You cannot get the stamp inside the US. You have to go to another country (typically your home country), get an appointment at the US Consulate there, get stamped, and then you will be allowed to return to the US. It is generally recommended that you go to your home country for stamping because in the rare event that you get rejected or is forced to wait, you would not be stuck in a foreign place.
I didn't have time to go back to Taiwan to get stamped, so I had to make sure this H1B interview succeeds. Otherwise I'd be stuck (somewhat blissfully?) in Japan or would have to (somewhat blissfully?) fly back to Taiwan. I had all my documents prepared to show how important I was to the US economy. And as a backup plan, I got married in May (no wedding, just a trip to the city hall) and was planning to show my marriage certificate for how important I was to one US citizen in the event the interviewer was not persuaded.
On the day of 7/7 (in Japan time), I woke up in my hotel in Kobe, went to the bathroom, and found light spotting. The blood was dark brown in color, which, as most wanna-be-preggies would have fervently read about, is generally "less worrisome" than fresh colored blood, as it may simply indicate some leftover lining that's peeling off.
"I'm bleeding a little." I told my mom, "We should make a trip to 7-11 to get some pads just in case."
"Yeah, but it's probably OK, right?" I said.
"No kind of bleeding during pregnancy is OK." My mom said, "Your cervix is supposed to be closed."
I still wasn't too worried. I bought some pads and we went off sightseeing in Kobe. It was an absolutely beautiful day and we visited many places.
While walking on Rokkosan, my mom asked me if I continued to bleed. I said "Yeah, but still very little though."
"We should be careful." She said.
But I felt great. I had been walking a lot. A WHOLE LOT. I had been eating great food. I had been full of energy with not the slightest feeling of discomfort.
We finished our sightseeing and went back to the hotel. The only discomfort I felt, actually, after dinner, was a slightly stuffed stomach (like I need to go to number 2 but couldn't), which I was somewhat used to when I eat like a fiend. I typically have a strong stomach and if I have stomach aches, it usually immediately goes away after a swift trip to the bathroom. I uploaded the pictures I took, wrote my blog, and went to sleep.
Then slightly before 4AM in the morning, I got woken up by a sudden sharp cramping in the lower abdomen.
I went to the bathroom and peed. I got up, turned around, and saw the entire bowl was full of fresh blood.
I went to wake up my mom: "I am bleeding heavily. I think I may be having a miscarriage."
The second time I went to the bathroom, I stayed for the longest time. Actually it was because the impending miscarriage did block my intestine and I did have to go to number 2. When that was gone, the sharp pain went down from...let's say 10 to 9.5.
I crawled back into bed and sat upright. My mom asked my how I felt.
"The pain comes and goes. Sharp pain." I said. I had never felt that kind of rhythmic pain before.
"It sounds like you're have contractions." My mom observed, "That's not good."
For the next hour or so, I went to the bathroom every 10 minutes. Each time I dumped chunks of blood clots into the bowl. It wasn't the worse pain I had every experienced (in fact later when I had my first true menstural period, I'd say this was only twice as painful), but what hurt wasn't physical.
We discussed what our plan should be.
"There is no way I am not making the visa interview." I said. That much was certain.
As a precautionary measure, I looked up hospitals in both Kobe and Osaka. As both were large modern cities, and this was Japan, I wasn't really too concerned about getting to medical care if necessary.
My mom went to the 7-11 downstairs to get me some breakfast food. I got on gtalk and found my husband, told him about the news, and of course, had a good bout of crying.
I still had a little hope that all was not lost at this point. My mom, who for some reason thought I was way further into my pregnancy at the time, also thought I only had a threatened miscarriage.
The only consolation during this time, and often what I think is the funny part of the experience, is the TOILET. The JAPANESE TOILET. The kind of magical, heavenly, wonderful toilet that washes your butt with warm water and plays music when you pee.
It was SO GOOD to have warm water rinse away all the blood and gore each time I visited the bathroom. It made the experience more tolerable. I would have hated to have to step into the shower every time.
If there is one thing I would not hesitate to spend money on when I one day can do so, it's getting a Japanese toilet. I don't care how much it would cost. I want my Japanese toilet.
Morning came, we packed up, and drove back to Osaka. Traffic on a Monday morning was quite bad, and the GPS failed us for a bit in the beginning, but at last we got to our Osaka hotel, put down the luggage, and headed for the consulate.
Inside Osaka, driving is not feasible and we had to take the subway. From the subway station out, it was another 15 minute walk to the consulate. What I remembered most about the trip to the consulate was how painful it was. That I was walking under the July sun in Osaka (it was hot and humid) and the persistent cramping and bleeding. The best way to describe it is like, in the movies, where you see the main guy getting shot once in the stomach and manages to get away from the bad guys before they finish him off, tumbles down a grassy hill, hides in the tall grass while he moans in pain. Then the shot may fade out to indicate a small amount of time has passed (and the bad guys have gone elsewhere because they think he's dead) while the protagonist somehow manages to stand up and walk to a nearby gas station or something. Kind of like that. Being wounded and walking to survival (in this case, a stamp to get back to US). I remember thinking "geez I can't believe I can still walk...but I guess I have to".
The interview itself was a breeze. Five minutes in and out. I was still bleeding, but we decided there was no need to go to hospital.
I even wrote a blog post that day. I did not want to appear to have a sudden break from my happy vacationing.
We made several decisions later that day. That one, I was to fly out at the end of two weeks (when my mom flies back to Taiwan) instead of staying alone in Osaka for another week. This meant spending an extra $1000 on a one-way plane ticket. Second, since it was still not clear whether I had lost it and I could need medical help, we canceled our plan to go into Shikoku island, where our original plan was to drive into the remote mountains and enjoy hot spring. That meant canceling the hotels, paying for the penalties, and booking new hotels in Osaka for our remaining stay. We set base in Osaka, going only on day trips outside the city (ex: Nara, Ise-Toba, Kyoto).
I continued to bleed for the next few days, though in reducing severity. At some point I figured out how to know I had lost it without going to a hospital in Japan. I went to a pharmacy and bought pregnancy test sticks. The first time I tested, it was faintly positive (I think this was day 3 after miscarriage). The next time I tried (day 7), it was negative.
I knew it was completely gone. Another piece of evidence was I actually had very, very mild cramping (almost unnoticeable if I don't pay attention in the mornings) starting week 4. Now that I stopped bleeding, I felt nothing.
I wasn't very sad while I was in Japan. Because after all, I was in Japan, the land of awesome food and beautful scenery. The pain wasn't great after the initial day. It also helped that my mom was there. My mom, being my mom, basically asked me every morning: "So, where are we going today?" Which leads me to go on the internet for an hour before rushing out to fulfill another day of walking, subway/train riding, eating, and picture-taking. I was a little bummed I couldn't go to the hot springs, though.
At the end of two weeks, I flew back to US. My boss was accommodating and let me work from home for that week, pretending that I was still in Japan. I was physically OK but mentally not OK.
I called UCSF to cancel my appointment. Somehow I got unlucky again and the nurse (don't know if it was the same person) explained that I would go to the lab to "get blood test" and they will have someone call me later "for another appointment" to make sure the miscarriage was clean. She sounded very cold and said "If you need emotional consultation we have blah blah and blah that you can call." Nothing she said was out of the ordinary, but given this was my first pregnancy and failed attempt at it, she sounded pretty inhuman to me. I never went back for the blood test (in fact I saw the request for blood test in my records when I recently went back for my first trimester blood screening).
The following month, my first true menstrual period came. It was fucking painful. I now remembered what it felt like to be an ovulating human again.
After the miscarriage
I realize the further away I am from the experience, the less I remember about it. So despite still being in the beginning of my second pregnancy (end of week 11), and who knows what will come of it, I think it's good for myself to write it down. Folks with family joked to me that you get amnesia from all the sleeplessness you get from the first few years of raising a child, and that's why you go for another kid and re-enter childcare hell. I think the same happens for miscarriages and pregnancy discomfort. Except for miscarriages, all you remember is not so much the pain, but a sense of defeat.
It is easy to feel like there's nothing you can't achieve (within reason) if you put your mind to it. Want to get a handstand? Practice! Want to do more pull ups? Practice! Want to be healthier? Eat better. Want to achieve success at work? Work harder. Plus, what is at stake if you don't achieve it or fail? Nothing that bad, really. Life has many twists and turns and if you fail at one thing, you may succeed at another.
My mom, being my mom (who I seriously think is blessed with lack of certain sensitive emotions, and this is a compliment), was like: "Why are you being so upset with the miscarriage? It's not like you can't have babies. PLUS I TOLD YOU SO. I TOLD YOU to wait until you get back from Japan. It's not like this is a setback." Ahhhh. The "I-told-you-so" mom sermon!!
My explanation to her was: it's like you set out to have a goal (have a baby). Then you think you achieved it (is pregnant). Then you realized the prize got taken away (miscarriage). It sucks. Nobody likes to fail.
And then, after the miscarriage, every time I find out I am not pregnant this month, I wonder if I have forever lost the chance. That I am just damaged.
And now that I am pregnant, I worry all day long that I will lose it again. There was a scare at week 6 (yup, same time again) when I had persistent cramping all day long. Then I went to the bathroom and saw -- not blood clots, but something semi-transparent with a tinge of red -- slip out. I thought that was the embryo. I called my mom and told her I thought it was over again. Then that night I went home where my cramping accumulated to....an epic journey to the toilet. I was having the same kind of intestinal(pe-ooh-ooh-pe) blockage that caused the same kind of discomfort/cramping that I experienced on the day of my miscarriage (if you think there are too many toilet puns in this blog...you're wrong, there isn't enough; it's part of my life at this point, so I gotta enjoy some part of it). Turns out the white stuff was vaginal discharge.
I called my mom again and she's like "Why would you scare me like that?" Well, that's what having failed at being pregnant once does to you. You're traumatized. You're always worried the next time you wipe there will be blood.
In this current pregnancy, I had very bad cramping from week 6-8. This was before the nausea/vomiting/hunger cycle took over. It was bad enough that I couldn't sleep at night. Every night I thought I was going to have a miscarriage or worse, something as severe as ecotopic pregnancy. But my scheduled appointment was at the end of week 9, so there was nothing at the time I could do besides trying to sleep and hope there's no bleeding.
Another reason I think miscarriages are traumatic is because you can't talk about them much. Most pregnancies are kept hidden until second trimester for a reason, because the natural miscarriage rate in the first trimester is estimated to be 20% or higher. Some miscarriages happen so close to the supposed menstrual cycle period that people don't know they had a miscarriage. If I didn't test for it at week 5, I would've thought that was one hell of an initiation back to the menstruating world.
When I had the miscarriage, I did not want to be consoled. I want what I lost (time, joy, and the fetus) back. I think about what I have done that could have caused it, and the few people I let in on the secret may insist that something I did caused it to happen (my mom insists it was circus and the handstand I did the day before, uhm, I completely disagree, I think it was the hot spring I dipped in in Koyasan because I forgot pregnant women are not supposed to go into hot springs). But really, the cause is likely just natural. But since I've flushed all the DNA down the toilet, it will forever remain an unsolved mystery.
At week 6, I had no emotional attachment to the fetus I lost. I just felt defeated. As I am appraoching week 12 now, I can assure you that if I lose it tomorrow, I will feel angry. Angry that I had to suffer so many weeks of vomiting and sleeplessness and end up with nothing. All that defeat and anger, is projected at nothing. For Nature does not offer redemption. To accept the fact that a miscarriage is the fault of no one but simply a biological result of inviability, and to be at peace with it, I think, is the only way out. I hope I can do it. And I hope others will too.