Content Warning: The post below mentions miscarriage and pregnancy loss.
“I don’t know how to tell you this … I’m pregnant.” The fear and uncertainty in Angela’s eyes told me everything I needed to know.
In three seconds, it was no longer just another Friday afternoon. Whatever train of thought I was on crashed into the mountain of the life-altering conversation upon us. But Angela knows me well enough to tell me her news exactly how I’d want to be told.
I hugged her while saying, “I love you, it’s going to be okay, and we’re going to figure this out together.”
I had mentally rehearsed this moment and those words dozens of times throughout our 22-year relationship, but the moment had never come to pass. I hoped I would be the kind of partner who tells the mother of his future child that he loves her and will stick by her.
By the time I got to the word “together,” the dam broke.
“I don’t want this! What are we going to do?” She wailed into my shoulder.
“I know, love. We don’t have to do or need to do anything right now. We have time to figure out what’s right for us.”
Making Space for “Maybe”
Since the early days of our relationship, neither Angela nor I had been a “Hell Yes” to having kids. We both agreed that’s where we’d need to be if we were going to have kids.
But given Angela’s endometriosis and very sensitive system — and the fact that in two decades she’d never actually gotten pregnant despite us not using birth control — we assumed one or both of us were infertile. Most near-40 couples have to try hard to get pregnant, too. Odds and assumptions aside, she was nevertheless pregnant.
Along with the Hell Yes or No conversation, we had also agreed that, at any moment, we could change our minds and have a conversation about kids. We recognized many people do wake up one day and realize kids are important to them. We didn’t want to bar that possibility for ourselves. Now that this reality was upon us, I wanted to make sure we gave space for the possibility that either of us could now be a Yes.
Angela’s overwhelm wasn’t just because of a surprise pregnancy.
That particular Friday was about two weeks before the launch of the book. We’d spent the last decade building up to its publication, with the last year being especially intense. The most intense month of the last decade was upon us, only to have the pregnancy stacked on top of it. I planned to be on the road for the next month, and Socks’s health and pet care needs would keep Angela from joining me for most of it.
Angela had also suffered her second concussion of the summer the week prior. It was easy to see how it was all too much for her. Being pregnant, recovering from a second concussion, the book launch, and an elderly cat that required 2–3 hours of care a day was a lot.
We took it slow that weekend and had a lot of conversations about what we wanted for our lives.
During my meditation and prayer, I anchored on the possibility of how wonderful life with a child might be and how it could be really great for us. I also thought about Angela’s fear and overwhelm, both of which would make it harder for her to go into that space of “maybe” in the moment.
But I was in that vulnerable position that any man with a pregnant partner is in: ultimately, the choice was Angela’s. I could influence it and express what I wanted, but I would always back her choice and love her just the same.
Maybe It’s Not Up to Us
The first sign neither of us might have a choice came when Angela woke me up at midnight on Sunday. She was in extreme pain from her abdomen. The doctor advised that she go to the emergency room, so to the emergency room we went.
Three and a half hours later, we were sent home. The ER doctor couldn’t find anything urgently wrong. It appeared that the embryo was in her uterus as it should be. Her hormone levels were in the right range. He told her to schedule an appointment with her OBGYN in a few days for a follow-up to make sure everything was progressing as expected. Her OBGYN was out of town, so we made an appointment with one of her colleagues.
That Wednesday, our reality shifted again. We went from being pregnant to going through a miscarriage. Since Angela is so in touch with her body, the news at the doctor’s office was confirmation of what she already knew.
What surprised both of us was the heartbreak we felt upon receiving the news — especially Angela’s. If 0 was Hell No, and 100 was Hell Yes, Angela had never progressed much past 20. By contrast, there were days I had gotten to 40. (Yes, that is how we talked about it. A numerical range was helpful to discuss the shifts in our feelings.)
But the heartbreak was and is understandable. We didn’t get a chance to choose; so much of the whole thing was out of her control. Despite the fact that something like 20% of pregnancies result in a miscarriage, it’s still hard for women who lose their babies to not feel broken and barren. Given her chronic health conditions, the last thing Angela needed was something like this taken from her.
The doctor told us to come back Friday to make sure her hormone levels were dropping normally — an indicator of whether Angela was having a normal, safe miscarriage. When we returned Friday, they did an ultrasound and took blood samples. After, we went back home. Our appointment was later in the day, so we didn’t get a verdict about the state of the miscarriage then. We would have to wait for the office to call us with the results.
T-Minus 8 Days Until (Book) Launch
In between these doctor’s appointments, I was slammed with book interviews, client meetings, writing, and strategizing for the launch. I’d either get back home 10 minutes before an interview, or I’d leave the interview and have to rush to drive Angela back and forth.
News and updates came while I was in meetings or had my head down figuring out the launch, so some days I would get out of one meeting, process some incoming news, and get on the mic for an interview. Angela had asked that I be at all the doctor’s appointments if I didn’t have another meeting. She didn’t want to be alone and didn’t want to make decisions without me — the concussion and exhaustion taking their toll — but she also was insistent that I not cancel everything “just in case” things got worse.
While it was hard enough to be going through all of this behind the scenes, it was equally hard to figure out whom to tell and when. We told our close friends and family what was going on so they’d be in the know, but outside of that, we kept everything pretty close to our chests. It’s not something you want to lead a podcast conversation with or that you want to email or text people about. In any case, given how compressed everything was with the book launch eight days out, I didn’t have time to call everyone who I might want to tell.
But I also didn’t want to be full public about it at the moment. I just didn’t have the capacity to deal with the inevitable nitwits who’d question whether we were using what we were going through as a marketing scheme. I’m usually able to ignore the nitwits and naysayers, but the vulnerability of launching a book, combined with the work it was taking to maintain my composure … All it would take to kneecap me would be a petty comment or two.
Speaking publicly about the pregnancy and miscarriage was tricky, too, because we were 10 days away from a lot of public events. Given how I process things, it’s often more emotional labor for me to hold space for other people’s grief, sadness, and worry about my stuff, than for me to process it myself. I was carrying enough already. Frankly, I needed my conversations to stick to their core themes of hope, personal responsibility, and resiliency. That was the magic I was working and ensouling conversations with.
But staying centered was hard, especially after that last doctor’s appointment. I was rolling right into speaking at the Everything Conference here in Portland. Answering the “How are things going?” question so many people ask, with, “Well, Angela’s going through a miscarriage right now, which is why she isn’t here, and it’s been a really hard week,” isn’t the way to go. More upsetting, Angela had wanted to be at the conference to support my workshop on Saturday.
But 30 minutes before said workshop, the doctor called with news that needed discussion. We called back to learn that Angela’s miscarriage was not progressing normally. Her hormones had spiked back up. The doctor talked about several procedural options we’d have to consider doing Monday, unsure if we were facing an ectopic pregnancy or incomplete miscarriage.
Fifteen minutes later, I was on stage giving that workshop. There was no mention to anyone that Angela was not only having a miscarriage but also might need a surgical intervention in a few days.
The Monday That Didn’t Let Up
The following Monday was one of the hardest days of my life, not because it was scary, but because of how compressed and disorienting it was. I had an eye appointment in the morning. While I was there, Angela called and asked if I could meet her at the doctor’s office. Her OBGYN had returned to town and determined Angela needed to have a procedure THAT DAY.
I got there in time to get that news but not the space to process it — I had a hard-to-get interview in 50 minutes. The doctor didn’t release Angela in time for me to drive back across Portland with her, but she shooed me home so I could do the interview. I made it home three minutes before I was on the mic again, not knowing when Angela would be having surgery that day.
By the time I finished the interview, the medical team had coordinated two(!) procedures for Angela. She needed to go back to the hospital. We scrambled there just in time for me to call in — from the backseat of my car — for a launch meeting with Steve and Jo. (This was the Monday a week before the launch and we had some coordination to do to get the book out the door.)
After the meeting, I gave myself 5-10 minutes to center and breathe before joining Angela in the cancer ward. We were in the cancer ward because one of the procedures involved giving her a substance that had a low dose of chemotherapy. She finished in the cancer ward in time for her to make her operating schedule in another part of the hospital. We hung out for 10 minutes before she was called back for the normal gamut of pre-op preparations.
As soon as they took her to the operating room, I left to drive across town to take care of Socks. She was having a hard time getting to the litter box on her own and also needed her fluids and evening meds. About the time I finished with Socks, I got the call that Angela was out of surgery and would be ready to go home soon, so I made my third 25-minute trip of the day back to the hospital to be there as she was waking up. Thirty minutes later, we were homebound.
All of the medical procedures were smooth. There was a chance the doctor would need to do a more invasive procedure, but she couldn’t tell until she was in there. Luckily, the procedure wasn’t needed, so Angela wouldn’t spend the next few months recovering. The worst of the physical journey and emotional uncertainty was over.
In 10 incredibly long days, Angela had gone from discovering she was pregnant, to the emergency room worried that she was losing the baby and in danger herself, to having a miscarriage, to having a miscarriage that needed medical intervention, to not knowing whether that medical intervention was going to be (relatively) minor or much more invasive, to receiving two operations.
We could finally breathe and regroup.
Taking It Easy Ain’t So Easy
Angela spent the next few days in recovery, which meant I spent the next few days stealing her computer and phone so she couldn’t catch up on the book launch, as well as talking her out of running errands and doing chores. I had to do all that in between meetings and interviews, which was a little more challenging than usual with the book launch and how Angela was feeling. She felt behind with the concussion and the pregnancy journey. She also had some particularly powerful head trash and shame stories pushing her over-compensation urges toward overdrive.
Fortunately, her medical team and I had figured out what we needed to say to prevent her from negotiating and liberally interpreting medical guidance. Rather than saying, “Take it easy for a few days,” we got our wording to “Sitting on a chair, with your feet up, no yoga or exercise except for light walking, and no picking up more than 20 pounds.” (I downgraded those instructions to “nothing heavier than Petie,” our younger, nine-pound cat, because I knew she’d pick up the laundry basket otherwise.)
It wasn’t just Angela’s head trash compensation that made us so strict — we had to override her “get back to work” mode at the same time that she was still recovering from a concussion. She’d be into something before realizing it was too much for her. In many ways, it was reminiscent of the reset period back in 2011.
Additionally, she’s incredibly empathic and syncs to my energy, meaning she had my “five days ‘til launch” energy and action going on. I usually work at the coffee shop or elsewhere when we’re so energetically out of sync, but that wouldn’t work with meetings, book interviews, and needing to be Angela’s post-op caretaker for a few days.
On the physical front, the rest of the week was uneventful. We continued to talk about what we had been through and started feeling like the worst of the emotionally heavy stuff had passed.
We were wrong, but it would take a week for us to see that. (I’ll tell you more about that in a week or two…)
PS: In case you’re curious — yes, I asked Angela to proofread this and see if she was comfortable with me sharing it. She’s the photographer of our relationship; I’m the scribe.
PPS: Times like these remind me how important it is to live by Ian McLaren’s saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Melody, A Scout says
I am so very sorry for your loss. I know words rarely express the comfort and strength that is required to endure such a loss, but please know my heart goes out to you. After a recent book launch of my own, followed on the heels by several life-altering events that involved a lot of loss, I can relate to so much of what you have written here. Big Hugs to your both and thank you so much for sharing your story.
Charlie Gilkey says
Thanks, Melody. Big love to you, too.
Charlie and Angela, I am so sorry to hear about this. I went through a miscarriage of my first pregnancy. What no one told me was how long I would be sad, how months later seeing a toddler’s glove on a tree branch would bring tears to my eyes. Even if you were ambivalent about the pregnancy, there’s still a profound feeling of loss. Sending love and healing to you both.
Charlie Gilkey says
Thanks, Rebecca. And we’ve already had some of those moments and suspect we will for a while. Big hugs for your loss, too.
Wow, my heart goes out to you both! You are both very brave and strong in sharing this. And yes, the emotional echoes will be with you for quite a while. Be extra gentle to yourselves. The book is but one wonderful accomplishment in the journey of your lives. Celebrate it, and stay balanced.
Charlie Gilkey says
Thanks, Lyra. Big love.
Thank you for being so open and vulnerable about this. I’m so sorry for your loss and for everything Angela and yourself went through, especially at such a busy and important time! Reading things like this is a good reminder of what’s important in life and it sounds like you managed it all the best way you possibly could. I suffer with stage 4 endometriosis and it’s a very painful and emotionally draining disease so I really feel for Angela, please let her know she is in my thoughts x
Charlie Gilkey says
Thanks, Suz! I’ll pass this along in case she doesn’t see it.
Ah, the choice being removed from you – I understand that feeling of despair and relief and sadness so well. I’m sorry you were juggling so much during the book launch, though it was absolutely smooth “from the outside.” Love and strength to you both.
I’m just catching up on the podcast. I want to tell you both how influential you have been in my life the past few years and I’m sorry you are going through health and emotional issues. I’m finding some insight in the journey as we’re going through a cancer diagnosis for my husband at the moment.