Culture

Dr Kiran Sethi on how she braved through two miscarriages

A miscarriage can be an isolating experience and having two can take the very ground from under you

The day you realise you are pregnant, you just feel a little different. A little spark lights up inside of you. I peed on a stick — and saw the two pink lines and didn’t believe it. After two years of trying to get pregnant, I just felt so lucky to finally be here. I spent the next six months planning my baby’s existence. I imagined decades of our family life in my head. I took my prenatal vitamins religiously, never missed my doctor’s appointments, subscribed to Baby Center’s emails, played classical music for the baby and carefully tracked its growth. I was obsessed. I couldn’t wait to meet my little joy growing inside of me.

Then the world tilted on its axis. My husband and I went to Greece and Belgium on a babymoon at the end of my sixth month. We walked everywhere in Greece, and shopped and ate. I felt tired, but I didn’t make much of it. Then, on the day we were leaving for Belgium, I woke up feeling weird. My face looked different, my back was hurting, and the baby seemed to be moving less. I called my gynaecologist in India from the airport, and she assured me there was nothing to worry about. We reached Belgium, and I couldn’t feel my baby move at all. I had gotten used to its turns, and kicks and all of a sudden, there was nothing. We went to a hospital to get an ultrasound just to put my mind at ease. Seconds went by that felt like hours. There was no sound. No heartbeat. The gynaecologist tried again. Silence. She went out to get someone else. Another doctor came in and checked. Still. She broke the news to us the baby was dead. I had just hit seven months, and I thought I was home free. But in that one yawning silence, I had lost my baby, and an entire life that I had lovingly planned.

Then came the experience of delivering a dead child. What should have been a labour of love became a labour of death. I still remember the doctor giving me an epidural and yelling at me 'Why can’t you stay still?!' I snapped back, 'It hurts! You try giving birth to a dead baby.' My mum was the only one with me in the room through the entire delivery, while everyone else waited anxiously in the hotel. We had nothing to say to each other. After I delivered, I couldn’t even bear to see my baby, the tiny little girl who I never had the chance to hug, kiss, scold or guide. It took me about six weeks just to physically recover. My breasts were full of milk that had nowhere to go. While I put ice packs to bring down the milk production, I could think of nothing else but my baby girl. My body was drained, and I had little energy. The world felt dim and cold, and after spending seven months with my baby, I felt deeply alone. Everyone asked me, 'Why did it happen?' as if that thought didn’t already consume my mind. Could I have done something to save my child? My doctors repeatedly told me I couldn’t. Medically, there was no reason for this miscarriage. It just happened. But that doesn’t stop you from hating yourself for it. My family didn’t talk much about the miscarriage, which was its own problem. ‘Don’t dwell or you will get lost’ was the theory. There was no forum to grieve. In retrospect, the newer ways of having funerals and other mourning rituals are healthier. They allow you to feel your emotions, which is the exact opposite of what I did. I simply shut them off.

When I felt better physically, I jumped right back into work. My husband encouraged me to open more clinics. I started losing the extra weight and decided to try for another baby — I was being super goal-oriented. In my head, I was taking control of my life, but in reality, I had become an anxious and emotional recluse. When you have a miscarriage, you don’t just lose tissue — you lose a companion. That emptiness of losing my first child began to shape and colour my entire existence. I started to push hard to get pregnant because I felt it was the only way I would ever feel right again. I tried and tried, and got pregnant again that same year. This time, I wasn’t stupid enough to get excited. I kept it to myself. I went to three different doctors, took whatever medications and injections they wanted me to, didn’t exercise, and lived in fear. Then I went for my routine ultrasound and my legs were kicked out from under me again. I was sent to someone else for an ultrasound to reconfirm. Then I went to a third specialist, and the diagnosis was confirmed. Another miscarriage was in progress. This time, I was only eight weeks in, but it felt like a deep failure as a woman. Losing another child made the world go dim again. A few months later, my husband suggested we go the surrogacy way. At first, I was very ambivalent about the whole process, but the doctors had told me that another miscarriage would be too traumatic to endure. But going through surrogacy turned out to be traumatic too; I lived in abject fear of losing the child. I didn’t tell anyone about it — even my mother got to know only 20 weeks into it. Not allowed to meet the surrogate mother, I was at a complete loss of control. In these times, I found it just slightly calming to meditate, visit the gurudwara, and read all the baby books to stay prepared.

I honestly didn’t feel whole again until Raina was born on February 23, 2017, almost a year and a half later. I cried hysterically for the first week. I couldn’t believe that I was finally holding my girl in my arms. Her birth changed everything in ways I can’t explain, it felt like the closure I needed to move ahead. While I will always miss and love my first two children, I’m finally beginning to process those emotions and learning to let go — and it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.