Nature: WTF?


WARNING: the post ahead is EXTREMELY GRAPHIC. If you are squeamish about medical things, human excretions, lady-business or anything of that sort, don’t read it.

And, additionally, If you cannot be unconditionally supportive of me at this time in my life, and instead choose to insult me and my career choices, and add insult to my pain under the questionable guise of “valid criticism,” also please don’t read this, and don’t read anything I write ever again, and leave me alone forever. There is literally not a single bit of “valid criticism” a woman deserves on the day(s) the remains of a desperately wanted pregnancy are slipping out of her body.


To my immense relief and sight alarm, nature has finally taken its course, and I am well on my way to expelling the remains of this false-start pregnancy. This is going to be completely incoherent because I was up all night gushing blood and witnessing other ungodly things come out of my body (more, much more on that, below–so seriously if you are easily skeeved out, stop reading), and I’m still in considerable pain, but, just as with the embryo itself, I just want to get this out.

For the last 12 hours I have been watching as what appears to be 90 tons of calf’s liver comes slipping out of my body. It’s the lining of the uterus, which I honestly can’t believe got so big. Where did it all go? How could that much new tissue be grown in, and reside in, something so small? I have to tell you, I feel like I’ve lost like 5 lbs already, just through my lady-bits (don’t say I didn’t warn you).

The pattern is fairly consistent. First I get severe and intense cramping/contractions and back pain. That is the tissue making its way through the ol’ cervix, which I have to say has been put through it these past few days. The ultrasound tech at the hospital had a really heavy hand with the ol’ hoo-ha wand, and so there’s been undue pressure on the vagal nerve (which, if stimulated, conveniently makes you want to faint, throw up, and soil your drawers at the same time) all the damn day.

So, anyway, severe pain in the back and inside lady-parts from the cervix dilating enough to pass all the tissue, which is then followed by about ten minutes of peace and quiet, after which everything comes rushing out of me. I have had to keep careful track of how much I bleed, because there is a minor risk of hemorrhage.

So, this began in earnest around 10 p.m. last night, and thus continued all the fuck night long. My husband slept peacefully by my side–finally relieved that we are at the bottom of this hole, that it’s not a bottomless abyss, that it’s just a little indentation that we can walk out of by ourselves–and I lay awake, rushing to the bathroom every hour on the hour at midnight, 1, 2, 3 and 4. The bathroom looks like a crime scene; all of my PJs are probably stained beyond redemption. It’s really glamorous. If any of my students are reading this, well–I warned you!

Anyway, before all of the massive tissue clumps (I mean MASSIVE) started their exodus, the embryo came out. I saw it. It was about the size of a grain of rice, and pale grey. If a stranger had happened across me, he would have been like, “Why is that woman on her knees crying and talking to her toilet?” But I decided to say goodbye out loud, and this is what I said: “I never got to know you, but I love you anyway. Thank you for your brief presence in my life, and for allowing me just the tiniest glimpse of what it’s like to feel a mother’s love.” Then–well, what else was there to do but flush it down?

Now I have to say the vast majority of my pain is physical. The cycle is still going: cramp, peace, bloodbath. I hope it dies down soon and I can get some rest. I’ve taken the today off from work, and I’m just resting and doing the best I can to get through the discomfort.

This is massively incoherent, and I’m sorry about that. And it’s a massive overshare, but I’m not sorry about that. Almost nobody talks about miscarriage in the open, and when I found out I was having one, a few of my friends were kind enough to tell me what happened to them physically so I wouldn’t be so scared. It is my only hope that by being completely open about this I’ve demystified and normalized the process a little bit, and although every woman has a different experience, I hope this might help some women in the future to know what awaits, and that it’s really not too bad.

27 thoughts on “Nature: WTF?

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss, Rebecca. My wife lost her first pregnancy too on, day of all days, Valentine’s Day, about five months after we were married (she was less than three months pregnant at the time. She wasn’t showing yet). It was horrifying for her and deeply depressing. She was about 32 yrs. old at the time. I don’t know if this helps, but we now have three children: a boy and two girls. Whatever you are feeling and thinking now will not last forever. But, it won’t be easy for awhile. Give yourself time.


    • Been there. It can be really quick and uneventful, sort of like a slightly heavy period (my first) or as you described (my second)–it all depends on how far along things are and where exactly the embryo implanted. As your friends have probably told you, what’s going on is taking a toll on your body. Even when you’re feeling better, be careful about returning immediately to your full roster of daily activities–be very gentle with yourself (particularly if you’re the sort of person who deals with sadness by trying to Get Stuff Done Like Laundry and Shopping and Errands–go easy on that stuff and pay attention to how your body responds).

      Every so often some Republican asshole proposes legislation to require women to show that a miscarriage was natural and not self-induced and I think to myself, “oh yeah, having someone follow me around with a bucket that one week back in 2001 would have been a GREAT use of taxpayer money, but at least an officer would have been on hand when I passed out in the bathroom…” Honesty about what a miscarriage is really like is important–thank you for writing this post. Because, yes, it is like that.

      (Also FWIW, a miscarriage preceded each of my two successful pregnancies–the other reason why these things need to be more widely known–it happens to a lot of people who go on to have babies!)


  2. Oh, Rebecca. I do not understand why medical teams don’t directly enlist women who have experienced this to prepare others who have. I am glad you had friends who prepared you for it.

    If I am being out of line by asking ,tell me, but did they make you take anything to expedite this process or they were simply working on a “this will happen in the next x hours” timeline?

    I respect you so much for demystifying the graphic process–all the while discussing how profound and painful, physical and emotionally, it all is.

    Real stuff here, real feminism if I may say. Not your average bougie women’s studies “occluded” stuff. Thanks for making the world a more honest one, in many respects.


  3. Dear Rebecca,

    As a newish father of an adopted child, and one who couldn’t imagine my life anymore without him (and who now gets emotional at everything child-related), you story really moves me, esp. your final and only words of address. I’m sorry for your loss…

    If you decide to have another go at it, remember that the best part of having a child is trying to have a child… 😉

    Keep raising hell otherwise! Your impish and in-your-face truth-telling has inspired me to quit academia for good…



  4. Again, so sorry, Rebecca. And thank you for writing about this in such an emotionally wrenching, HONEST way. This is the kind of discourse academia would never ever contemplate–and yet it is precisely these kinds of very real, very material things that must be said. Keep using your voice, Rebecca. You speak for and to so many of us.


  5. This brings back memories, maybe not in a good way, but thanks all the same, I recognise much of this. The most painful part for me was that at the end of it all I was actually elated, I guess it was a delivery of sorts (4th month) and the happy hormones kick in, but nature is dumb, there is nothing to be happy about…


  6. I am glad you took the time to give your love and say goodbye to your embryo, your child. No matter how small, that child in the making was very loved, and that is an amazing gift from you.
    When you are up for it, you might find the journey my friend made interesting in her book Ghostbelly –
    She, like you, was brave enough to talk openly about the realness of love for a child that she lost.
    I am sorry. And hope that you and your husband receive the support to grieve and feel relieved and whatever other emotions you come across. Your body, your feelings, your rules… wishing you strength through whatever feelings decide to visit you.


  7. Thank you. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry you are going through this, but we do need more people to be open and honest about these things so they can be demystified and therefore less scary for those who don’t have friends that will tell them what will happen. Big hugs from across the internet!


  8. Ohhhh. This piece is so beautiful and heart-wrenching and graphic and real all at the same time. Tough and funny through the pain and tears. I so admire your truth-telling about what having a female body can be like.


  9. I am not sure when you won me over. I admit, I was a little flabbergasted by some of the tone of last year’s posts. But along the way, something changed.

    It was somewhere between the self-effacing and elegant (despite its literally visceral) honesty of your miscarriage posts and the revelation that Mark Bauerlein sends you hate mail. You are doing great work and represent a light for so many people lost in academia. Thank you.

    Thank you.


    • Well, to be fair, I have changed. It’s now been a year since I decided to leave academia, and I am simply not as wounded about it as I was. So much has happened in my life that is wonderful–I got to move back in with my partner, then I got to marry him, I got pregnant (granted, it didn’t work out, but still, what a joyous occasion it was!), and then I got promoted (twice) at Slate and my professional life fell into place, and I decided to focus my rage-writing entirely on behalf of other people who are still stuck in it, because to be totally honest, I don’t have any rage left anymore. I am completely at peace with the direction my life has taken, and couldn’t be more delighted with how everything turned out. I just wish someone had told me how things would end up like two years ago–would have saved me a lot of angst!


      • As much as I personally would love to see the email, if you make it public I am sure he will get quasi-legal and nasty. This seems like a trap.

        But you could post and anonymous hate mail (wink, wink) as an example of the irrational and insitutionalized response you get…


  10. Ooooh, Bek. Thank you for writing this. It’s incredible that something so small can so profoundly change you physically, emotionally. I’m so happy you had a chance to talk to that little grain. I’ve read damn near every book on pregnancy and birth and NOT ONE, not even the hippie ones, described what it’s like to have a miscarriage. I couldn’t even find it on the internet. All they said was, over and over, “20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage”. Awesome. So 20% of the pregnant women out there will have no clue what’s about to happen to their bodies and emotions. Honest writing, honest stories enrich all of our lives, even in the face of loss. Thank you for this. I’m going to pass it on to my midwives, if you don’t mind.

    Also, everyone keeps saying take it easy and you should. You have a huge wound in your uterus, if not your heart. Let it heal.


    • Love you, Gretch! Wish we lived nearer by (if not only because then we’d live somewhere scenic!). Yes, please please share it with your midwives. Here in MO it is (in most places) illegal to have a midwife deliver, so I have been talking only to my doctors. They are all great, but as MDs they are also seeing a bajillion patients and often forget who I am. In all honesty I wish I’d hired a doula the second I knew I was pregnant so she could have helped me through the miscarriage too! And I very much wish i could have called my midwife the second I started bleeding so she could tell me exactly what was ahead. It is preposterous, though, how even medical books are squeamish when it comes to lady-parts excretions. WTF indeed.


  11. Rebecca, thank you, thank you, thank you. I don’t know how you manage to be raw, poetic and funny at the same time. (Did this skill only come out in the last two years or did you always write like this? I remember enjoying your Vienna stories, but not as much). There is something strangely uplifting and life affirming about this post. Our lady parts are amazing and meaningful things. I hope yours heal soon and that lots of good things are in store for the future both both of you.

    And many congratulations on the book too!


    • Thanks Anna. I just had to venture out into a St. Louis ice-apocalypse for another round of maxi pads and Tylenol, so the Walgreens lady probably assumes I have a teenage daughter who just got her first period and is too shy to go to the store herself ;).


  12. Rebecca
    You go through life with such strength, grace and acceptance and it is so inspiring It takes such strength to be vulnerable and present in the face of fear and sadness. So glad you said goodbye. I think about you all the time and send lots of love your way.


  13. I miscarried at 18, two weeks after the woman at the storefront “crisis pregnancy center” took my pee-stick into a back room, made me watch Blair from The Facts of Life cry about murdered fetuses for 20 minutes, and then came back smiling to tell me the test was negative. I really wish I had been able to find something like this post back then, or even in the weeks afterward when I was losing my mind while everyone I talked to—my then-husband, my friends, my doctor—blithely assumed that what had happend was a welcome spot of great luck (“It saved us $500, anyway!”). In the years since, I’ve talked about it to anyone who would listen, and heard *so many* lost pregnancy in return, and nearly all the women who’ve shared these with me have said they wished like hell they had heard someone talk about the experience BEFORE they had to go through it themselves. So thank you for putting this out there; it is going to do a great deal of good for a very long time.


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