In the latest episode of the “Sex and the City” reboot “And Just Like That,” the topic of working motherhood and a failed round of IVF brought to light a reaction to miscarriage that is rarely discussed privately, let alone publicly: relief.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
After quitting her job to pursue a master’s degree in human rights, and navigating more than a few awkward conversations with her Columbia Law professor, Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman), Miranda Hobbs (Cynthia Nixon) was finally able to connect with her revered professor.
“I’m having dinner with my law professor,” Hobbs excitedly tells friends Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) over lunch. “I killed it in class today arguing a point about motherhood and inequality in the workplace and she wants to talk about it more over dinner.”
It was during that dinner conversation that Wallace revealed she was on hormones and a second round of IVF — her first “didn’t take.” Wallace asks Hobbs if motherhood is worth it, saying she doesn’t need a hard sell because she’s “getting it from society, her friends, her family” and even her house cleaner.
“OK, here’s the thing. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, probably the hormones, but um… when my last round of IVF didn’t go through, um…I felt a huge wave of relief,” Wallace confessed. “And listen, my husband and I, we love our life. Nobody’s life is perfect, but my life? It’s really f*cking close, right? But I’m also afraid that if I don’t have a child I’m going to regret it one day.”
The candid conversation brought me back to the moment I realized I was miscarrying for the second time, nearly two years after I had given birth to my first son.
My partner and I had been planning to have a second child — something he was, admittedly, looking forward to far more than me. A complicated twin pregnancy that resulted in the loss of one fetus at 19-weeks gestation, a difficult birth that required me to deliver my living son and the remains of the other, and a deep postpartum depression left me hesitant to expand our family.
But I also wanted my son to have a sibling — the connection I have with my own brother serving as a catalyst for the desire to make sure our son would never navigate the world alone.
So when I started experiencing painful cramps and spotting, I felt both a profound sadness and, yes, an overwhelming sense of relief. Did I want to have another child? Yes. But at that exact time in my life? Not exactly.
If I would have carried that pregnancy to term I would have been more than happy to welcome another baby into the fold. But when I didn’t, I was not entirely grief-stricken. Instead, my emotional reaction was a mix of sorrow and reprieve, fear and assurance. I both worried I had lost my chance — that, like Wallace, I would one day regret this loss — and simultaneously steadfast in the belief that I had more time; that I’d find myself pregnant again and when I felt more mentally, emotionally and physically prepared.
I could breathe a sigh of relief, knowing I could return to what I knew — being a working mom of one — and postpone both the excitement and fear of starting something new.
I’m not alone in this reaction, either. A 2010 study of women who experienced miscarriage after conceiving through medical intervention means found that some women felt relieved after receiving a negative pregnancy test, “because then they would not have to experience the constant uncertainty that would accompany up to nine months of pregnancy.”
Another 2003 study that involved in-depth interviews with 13 women who had experienced miscarriage found that, along with grief, some women also felt relieved — something the study’s authors termed “resolution.”
Yet it’s often assumed that the only reaction to miscarriage is that of sadness and grief. Women are “supposed” to be distraught, even if we’re simultaneously told we should keep our grief to ourselves.
This assumption certainly made me feel as if my sense of relief was proof I was not the “right” type of woman — the one who constantly desires to have children and wants every pregnancy test to end with the birth of a baby.
Of course, I have the benefit of hindsight — after two additional losses, I did have a healthy pregnancy that resulted in the birth of my second child, another baby boy. And the relief I felt after that second miscarriage was not duplicated in the third or the fourth. Instead, grief dominated my emotions, each loss bringing me closer to the fear that I would not be able to give my son a sibling. Would I regret feeling relieved after that first miscarriage? Had I been so smug, believing another healthy pregnancy was inevitable?
But as Hobbs told Wallace, having a child — or in my case, another child — does not mean you’ll live a life free of regret.
“There are always gonna be these roads not taken, right?” Hobbs says. “There are so many nights when I would love to be a judge and go home to an empty house. And then I see my son and I’m glad. And then I see his dirty underwear on his kitchen floor and I’m mad.”
“So you can’t have it all?” Wallace responds.
“No, you can,” Hobbs replies. “It’s just really f*cking hard.”
Danielle Campoamor is a reporter for TODAY Parents. Previously, she was a contributing editor at Hearst and freelance writer with bylines in The New York Times, Washington Post, NBC News THINK, Vogue, Vanity Fair, and more. Born and raised in Eagle River, Alaska, she lives in Brooklyn, NY with her partner and two sons.