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The Crazy Roller Coaster Ride That Is a Miscarriage

I was cruising around a suburban shopping mall, doing what all moms with little kids do at malls—buying frozen yogurts and greasy pretzels and shopping for clunky little Crocs at the Stride Rite.

But underneath my baggy jeans, I was on a slow drip—dumping the scary, tissue-y remains of a failed pregnancy into a maxi pad the size of a surfboard. I was actively miscarrying in a padded play area, surrounding by towering foam statues of pieces of fruit. And I'd never felt more serene.

I have two kids—a sweet 5-year-old son and a boisterous 2-year-old daughter. Both were very much "planned." Even fought for. It took my husband and I three frustrating years (and one heartbreaking miscarriage) to get pregnant with our son. That both kids turned out healthy, happy and quick-witted were gifts I didn't—and don't—take for granted.

Now that my daughter was exiting the baby years, things were easing up at home. Sleepless nights were rare. I could shower without fearing that one of them would drink Drano. After years of sterilized bottles and endless breastfeeding, a measure of autonomy—of some genuine girl power—was boomeranging back into my life.

The thought that I might be pregnant occurred to me in a coffee shop. It arrived as a nagging notion—originating, presumably, from some secret lockbox of womanly knowing buried deep inside my very femaleness (wherever that is). I might be pregnant. Probably not. But maybe.

Later that day, I peed on a white plastic test stick, and the faint pink second line confirmed that I was not, as my doctor had surmised mere months before, "probably past my childbearing years." That delicate twin line—the same one that (twice) set off ripples of joy through my body in my 30s—could have, at 40, doubled as a rope tightening around my windpipe. I can't handle a third.

This was not the plan. We were too old, too financially strapped. The prospect of rewinding to life with a newborn left my husband and I feeling utterly limited—like those lobsters in grocery stores with rubber bands around their claws.

We talked, inevitably, about how in love with our kids were are, about friends whose "oops" kids ended up healthy and beloved. Against all odds—including birth control—a swimmer had broken through. Should we be celebrating some measure of the miraculous here?

I didn't know. And we were too bowled over to bask in anything except our own anguish. Instead, we talked about the risk of birth defects in older women. And then about abortion. We're both staunchly pro-choice, but the prospect of terminating this pregnancy felt (right or wrong) selfish. We were employed adults living in a four-bedroom house in a leafy suburban neighborhood. We had loving family nearby. My job offered maternity leave, a crucial benefit millions of women in the U.S. don't have. Looking at each other we knew: We actually could handle it.

The next day, while waiting for an ultrasound, my still-heavy heart decided that if the fetus was healthy, I was going through with the pregnancy. By the time my feet were firmly in the stirrups at my obstetrician's office, I was teary but resigned. OK, let's see this little underdog, I thought, determined to put a sunnier face on the situation.

But on the grainy screen the roughly 6-week-old collection of cells sat utterly inert on the wall of my uterus. There was no heartbeat. No movement. I sobbed with relief on the paper-lined table. This is the best possible scenario, I thought. I didn't have to choose.

That hazy sense of relief lasted for a while. Even on the day of the surgery that scraped out any remnants of the pregnancy, I felt an odd emotional buoyancy.

But feeling happy about a failed pregnancy is a tricky thing. My serenity felt, somehow, like a betrayal of every woman who had ever struggled with infertility—though I had, at one time, been one of them. Is it OK to feel this good about a miscarriage? I knew, intellectually, that the answer was yes. But it didn't permeate.

Still, the most uncomfortable emotions set in weeks later. Longing. And loss. Consciously I was "fine," but my subconscious let me know that the loss was real, and sad. I turned away from the sight of chubby, wriggling infants in coffee shops. The flip-flop felt like madness.

Months later, that ache is nearly gone. Instead, I'm consumed by gratitude—for my little family, and for the opportunity to live a life that's been shaped, almost wholly, by decisions we made together, right or wrong.

I bitch a little less and laugh a little more. I revel in the proud looks on my kids' faces when they figure something out on their own. My daughter does yoga poses in the grocery store. My son, who's taken to ruminating on basic math equations, starts kindergarten next week, and he's ready.

Walking forward, into a future that promises to be vastly different, feels right.

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