The Devastation of Pregnancy Loss: A Profile of Courtney Cheng

All photos copyrighted by Bodega Bliss

On January 24, 2010, Courtney Cheng started a blog to document her pregnancy to friends and family members who lived across the country. The first post on the nascent blog, which she titled Bodega Bliss after the idyllic Northern California hamlet where she had met, married her husband and settled down in, was called “Just What the Internet Needs” and announced her new hobby: she would be a mommy blogger. The post was self-deprecating and full of the usual sentiments a mother-to-be would feel: hope, fear, excitement and joy.

“I’m feeling all kinds of emotions. A little scared for how much our life is going to change, excited to go on this journey only given to women, I’m even looking forward to watching my body change (I say this now still looking exactly the same way I did a month ago). And I’m hoping you’ll be there with me during the whole thing.”

Cheng, then 29, posted a photo of herself and her “bump” at 6 weeks, a positive pregnancy test and a list of her symptoms. (Tears after hearing Tegan and Sarah’s “Where Does the Good Go?” and feeling tired.) There were a few tussles with her insurance coverage: she was denied basic health services because of an abnormal pap smear she had received 6 years ago. Then her husband, Tim Cheng, posted his own whimsical take on the thrill both parents-to-be were experiencing on February 7, 2010:

“My gal is pregnant and loves random names like Sophielillla Jackson and such. No not really, my favorite name so far is Finn. We are stoked. We have a walk-in closet that Court thinks might do as a room for the kid. That’s great, we will stick the child in there with the jackets, it will be warm. I like how she’s always giving updates on what is developing inside. She’s doing yoga which is great, I’m proud of Mommy. We’ll keep you updated on when Sooophillilla or Napoleon is born. Or plain Jim.”

This innocent and carefree post was followed by an excruciating untitled one seven days later, on Valentine’s Day of all things. This haunting entry, untitled as if the subject matter was too awful to deserve to be named, describes in terrible and honest detail the physical and mental anguish Courtney felt as she miscarried her first child:

“When I had woke up that morning I had my hands on my belly and had mentioned to Tim that I could feel my pulse in my uterus. I thought it was just the blood going to my baby helping it grow, but I realize now that’s not why the blood was rushing there. Tim was here with me when I passed the tissue our baby. I can’t tell you what that felt like. In between my shaking and sobs, I wanted it all to be a nightmare. This wasn’t how I was supposed to be having our baby, this wasn’t supposed to be happening.”

The next few months of her blog, Courtney alternated between apologizing to her readers that she was so sad and promising them she would feel better and describing how the loss effected her in stark outlines:

Even when I’m covering up the sad like today, I still just want to be pregnant. I want to be having that baby that I’m not having any more and is buried beneath a tree. It’s just not fair.

Courtney had not expected her optimistically named blog to turn into something else altogether: a diary of what it was like to go through a miscarriage. There was a little good news sprinkled in those first six months of writing: Courtney had finally gotten full-fledged health benefits through her employer, a non-profit agency. She had been forced to go to a clinic populated mostly with meth addicts because of her lack of benefits before, so she was hopeful about seeing a real OB-GYN in a real practice.

On July 21, Courtney told her readers a shocking secret: she had been pregnant but hadn’t told anyone because she was afraid. Unfortunately, her fears were proved correct:

Without going into specifics, the baby most likely died somewhere around 6 1/2 weeks. I did see a heartbeat at one point, but it didn’t calm my fears of what ultimately turned out to be true. They did a D & C as soon as we found out; I was 9 weeks, 4 days.

If the first miscarriage had burst the bubble of Bodega Bliss Courtney the newlywed had felt, the second one was scary and disturbing on another level: something might be wrong with her body. She pressed her OB-GYN for testing and answers. The costs of the testing were not cheap and as a middle-class couple, those tests were an expense they were at a disadvantage to pay:

“One of the 12 vials of blood they’re testing has the description of “MTHFR” on the estimated price list for the tests. HA! And in case you were wondering what that MTHFR costs, it’s $390.00. Out of $2,721.75 for all of them. MTHFR!”

In addition, the D & C Courtney never wanted to have cost $15,628.16, and she was responsible for paying 25% of that fee.

The financial expense and personal tragedy were weighing heavily on Courtney at this point. She was constantly seeing pregnant women at the local grocery store. One small ray of hope: her OBGYN had found that the MTHFR test had come back positive, and while she was not a fertility expert and Courtney and her husband were without the funds to see a fertility expert, she said she would check with one and find out what this positive result meant.

A major problem for Courtney is that so little is really known about the condition she was most likely suffering from: Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL). According to Reproductive Biology Associates, the definition of RPL “is two to three consecutive spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) before 20 weeks gestation. Sporadic Abortion: A single pregnancy loss is a common event occurring in 10-20% of all human pregnancies. Approximately 1-5% pregnant women have a diagnosis of RPL (40,000 – 200,000 U.S. couples/year).”

Another problem with RPL is what might happen next: “49% of women with two consecutive losses and no live-born children will have a loss in their next pregnancy, whereas 29% of women with two losses and at least one live-born child will have a loss in their next pregnancy.”

All was not hopeless, though: “Approximately 70% of couples experiencing RPL will have a liveborn child without medical therapy. Most of these patients will be under 35 years old.”

Courtney was only 30 years old. If she rolled the dice, she had a pretty good chance luck would be on her side. But the two losses in less than a year were weighing heavily on her.

“But some days are still really bad, the kind where all I want to do is curl up into a ball and let the tears fall. I want to cry for the unfairness of it all, for the social awkwardness and for being forced to give up my babies. I guess it could be the weather; this rain makes it easy to want to stay in bed and not face the world, to hide from anything or anyone out there that would remind me of what I lost. Maybe it’s why I don’t seem to want to go out any more. I’ve been perfectly content staying in every weekend for months now.”

Her blog was now what she would have never imagined it would be: a blog about recurrent miscarriage. But she was finding solace from the writing of others, like Kate Inglis from Sweet/Salty. And she met women in her area through blog exchanges. Her blog picked up a steady following of readers who were drawn to her excellent, spare writing and her story: her ordinary yet extraordinary experience with loss. Those readers were either going through ALI pain of their own or recovering from ALI trauma in the past. And she put into words what many of them couldn’t say or wouldn’t say.

She began Eastern medicine treatment, which was also expensive, but less expensive than the thousands of dollars she would have to pay for fertility treatments and consultations. She took folic acid, multivitamins, ate healthfully, exercised, didn’t drink.

Finally in May she found out she was pregnant for a fourth time. (She had also had a “chemical pregnancy” earlier.) She shared the news selectively and did not post about it. In fact, her readers didn’t find out about it until June 29th in a post chillingly called “Four”.

Four. I’ve lost four babies. That number is daunting. That number changes everything. At three, there was still a chance, my percentages were still pretty great. But four? At four they’re not so good. At four I have to start thinking that this might not happen for us. At four I have to start imagining alternatives – alternatives I never wanted to face.

To read Courtney’s blog from start to now is to understand, in words cherry-picked from a uniquely understanding heart, how the human spirit can endure so much in the quest for its heart’s desire. And how, sometimes, the heart just can’t take any more misery and tragedy. Sometimes, the orchestra music doesn’t swell, the happy ending we’ve grown to expect and want and desire, from Hollywood, from friends on Facebook, from classic literature thousands of years old don’t arrive. Our own endings get delayed somehow, or sometimes they arrive in a different form. Sometimes they don’t arrive at all. This period of suffering we in the ALI community go through changes us, probably forever. Loss is a tribal tattoo written secretly across the souls of those who undergo it. Most of us are quiet, but we will see in another’s eyes a signal of that tattoo we each carry.

The difference is, Courtney lays that tattoo bare for everyone to see, whether they are in the tribe or not.

Courtney’s story is in the middle: she’s in fact still paying the medical bills from her last D & C in June and more tests a reproductive endocrinologist did in August. The large community of bloggers who have rallied around her want more than anything for her Hollywood ending to arrive. But Courtney, with her unique voice and wisdom, says this:

If I really think about it, though, I do know one hope for 2012: find some freaking happiness. And not in the form of a baby. In the form of I’m-going-to-sleep-now-because-I-can’t-wait-to-wake-up-to-my-life kind of way….not the I-don’t-want-to-go-to-sleep-because-that-means-I-have-to-wake-up-again way of the past. Because that way is getting old. That way is so 2011.

And if Courtney’s words don’t reflect the triumph of the human soul, I don’t know what does.

UPDATE: I am thrilled to report that in October of 2012, Courtney Cheng gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby girl.

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60 Comments

Filed under Faces of ALI, Infertility

60 responses to “The Devastation of Pregnancy Loss: A Profile of Courtney Cheng

  1. Rachel @ Eggs In A Row

    I am sitting here at my desk, bawling and proud of you both.

    There are so many things I want to say, but thank you is all I can verbalize.

  2. kate

    How great of you to profile the reality, not the journalistic dramatic spin. Bravo!

  3. Bravo! This was so eloquently written!!

  4. Esperanza

    Oh J, I really don’t know what to write here. This post touched me so much, and not just because it’s about a friend and written by a friend (a truly inspiring combination) or because of Court’s devastating story but because of how honestly and poetically it was portrayed here. I wish with all my heart that these were the stories people were reading in big newspapers, that this kind of coverage were getting out there. Because this is what it means to be infertile, to suffer from loss. This is what it does to you – this shows how it turns your world upside down and inside out and leaves you unsure of who you are or where you belong. IF/RPL affects every aspect of one’s being and you so brilliantly capture that here. That is the aspect of IF/RPL that is lost when the sensationalized stories are told, that is the part that is swept neatly under the rug by the well-spoken 1%.

    Thank you for writing this. Thank you so, so much.

  5. I’ve already said this a few times already, but I can’t thank you enough for this. I know it wasn’t your intention for it to have such a profound impact on me, but I’m so glad it did. Who knew I should’ve been giving you the ridiculous amount of money that I give to my therapist every month instead! 😉 This is the real side of this, the side that the majority of women (and men) can relate to…I just wish the NYTimes knew that as well.

    Thank you. A billion times, thank you.

    (And, um, just as a funny side note — any of you that are seeing that first picture and noticing how ridiculously messy my bathroom is, please note that I had just moved into that house! Hahaha. Now I have bins for the toilet paper and my towels are neatly folded. hehehe.)

  6. Nobabiesyet

    Amazing! You brought me to tear for Courtney for myself and everyone who has experienced this kind of loss. Thank you for sharing

  7. Rachel @ Eggs In A Row

    Ok, I just re-read this and I am in SHOCK over the cost of a D/C.

    Horrified. Like, might show up at the President’s House and throw a fit. (Sorry, FCC, I don’t mean that).

    But wow.

  8. Heartbreaking.
    My best friend went through 4 miscarriages, too (with one, she lost her tube… it was ectopic).
    You’re doing the right thing, posting the real stories for the world to see. With real emotions. And, as sad as it sounds – real bills…
    You’re doing a very important thing.

  9. This is such a beautiful post. This is a REAL story and more people should really know what it is like for infertiles in the world. Bravo to both of you!

  10. Thank you for writing this post. What Courtney has had to endure is unthinkable and you put it perfectly, she really shows the triumph of one human soul. That is what the NYT should be writing about, we need the world to see what it takes to fight RPL and IF, to celebrate the Courtneys of the world!

  11. Thanks for writing this. It is so beautiful and so heartbreaking…crying for Courtney…
    Love that you’re doing stories about “real” women…

  12. Truly moving. I don’t know what else to say other than “beautiful and thank you”.

  13. Now THAT’s journalism!! Well done! (And I second Rachel’s comments — I can’t believe what you get charged for a D&C… yikes. Talk about adding insult to injury.)

  14. Having lost 4 babies myself, I understand what a daunting number it is. Not to mention the recurring shock that it actually happened to my husband and me. I truly appreciate each of you writing about miscarriage so honestly, with the raw emotion that coincides with such great loss. We are most definitely changed forever, but for me, I’m at least comforted by the knowledge that there are others in the ALI community who understand and are there to support and rally when we need it most. And hopefully with so many bloggers sharing their stories, the world-at-large may start to understand as well.

  15. It really is heartbreaking what Courtney has endured but touching that you’ve done such a wonderful job of putting it out there. I hope that this gains a wide audience.

  16. Mel

    What an incredible post. Bodega is amazing for giving the gift of her story to others so there can be real understanding, but you are equally amazing for bringing it together. I love the idea for this series. It is so damn important with the general public receiving only a tiny sliver of what it really means to be infertile or experiencing loss.

  17. Oh, my! I’m trying unsuccessfully to stem the tears streaming down my face. This is such a powerful, moving article! I think this project is the most amazing thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. I can hardly wait to read the next one! Thank you so much!

  18. Hope

    Wow. This is so beautifully written. I know that beautiful is not the right word for the topic, it is a heavy, painful, ugly topic, and yet your writing about it is so real, so vivid so poignant. The writing is what is beautiful. The story made me just stop. Even though I read Bodega Bliss, seeing the whole story here, in a nutshell, was arresting. Powerful. You should really be syndicated. Like Esperanza said, this is the kind of story that needs to be getting press and attention in the media.

  19. This is an amazing, heart wrenching story. Thank you for telling it so beautifully.

  20. Courtney

    This part, “This period of suffering we in the ALI community go through changes us, probably forever” rings so true. Even with a happy ending, my struggle with IF still weighs on me at least once a day. I don’t know why I can’t get past it, but I can’t. Maybe it’s the knowing that I have to go through it all again if I want to give my child a sibling. Maybe it’s the knowing that so many people are still struggling and I know that pain and hopelessness first hand. Maybe it’s the knowing that my family thinks it’s all behind me because I have my son. I don’t know. What I do know is that it has changed me forever. I like to believe that it changed me for the better!

    Nicely written. I remember worrying about RPL after my first (and only) loss after my FET. I can’t imagine going through that 4 times. And thank you for noting the cost of a D&C. I had no idea – even after having one myself. That should be an eye-opener for people.

    It’s stories like these that should be highlighted as awareness columns – not the “success” stories. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that they just knew it was going to work out for me, I’d have been able to fund another IVF cycle by now. I like to be hopeful for the gals whose blog I follow, but I know that sometimes it just doesn’t work out the way we want it to. It’s a harsh reality and you’re bringing awareness to that point. BUT – I still do hope and pray for Bodega. I love, love, LOVE her blog and am so impressed by her will to keep trying. Strong gal – stronger than I think I could be in the same situation.

  21. This is a brilliant piece of writing and heartbreaking to read. I honestly think this should be sent in somewhere to be published. This is the reality, a real story and I’m sure people would read it, nod and shed a tear in recognition and/or empathy. Well done!

    Oh, and if this isn’t your new project, I wonder what’s next.. great writing going on here.

  22. Ana

    Thank you both for your courage—Courtney for sharing her story and you for telling it so poignantly. I really do hope this gets widely circulated, the world needs to see this.

  23. Sarah

    What an beautiful and heart-wrenching story. You tell it so well. There should definitely be more of THESE stories being shared instead of the trash that we find in the mainstream media.

  24. Mo

    Love love love that you’re doing this. Awesome.

  25. Thank you J for writing such an important piece… I wish the NYT would pay attention. Bodega’s words are so heartbreaking and your narration of her story so powerful. I’m sitting in the airport crying and reliving my own losses (which began the day after valentine’s day almost two years ago). The happy naivitee of her first posts is so hard to read … I mourn the loss of that in my own life as much as I mourn the lost pregnancies. Thank you both for sharing!

  26. What a brilliant idea to tell REAL stories, unspun.

    Courtney’s story makes me cry, someone who was never even able to conceive. I’m sure everyone who has ever lost a baby or a dream, or even loved a baby will be equally touched.

    Bravo to both of you. And I do wish for Courtney a whole boatload of freaking happiness in 2012, whatever form that comes in.

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  28. this is such a gorgeous profile. it moves and enlightens, it informs and raises awareness, and it instills compassion for its subject and the issue. really wonderful. well done!

    bodega’s story is truly heartbreaking. like everyone reading this, I hope 2012 brings her closer to her dream.

  29. You did an amazing job telling her story. Absolutely beautiful! Thank you so much for writing this.

  30. Wordgirl

    *standing up and applauding*

    This was fantastic — as your posts always are –and I have been reading and nodding and telling myself I must come back here to tell you…how I relate to one post, and then another — and how I agree with your take on the NYT — and how I still want to write in response to a post you wrote quite a while ago about how your life changed with IF — and now this — just amazing. I wrote on Esperanza’s blog how deeply I felt a pang when you all cross-posted on your birthday event — and that great picture of you guys with the mustaches…I laughed and then immediately felt morose because I didn’t live near you guys.

    I suspect we’d be great friends.

    But all of that aside this is a fantastically written piece — and we need more journalism about the real face of infertility — have you thought about pitching a non-fiction piece to a magazine?

    You absolutely should.

    XO

    Pam

  31. Gail K

    I love this profile and the rawness of the emotions that are displayed while telling the story of another ALI blogger. I hope that there will be more profiles and look forward to following you to read them.
    Here from Mel’s weekly round-up.

  32. Wow. This is so well written. It’s a true and haunting window into what it is like when you are pursuing fertility treatments and you are not newsworthy. Thanks for writing this. Love, hugs, comfort and peace to Courtney. Oh, girl, I can completely relate to you.

    This post just rocked my socks off.

  33. This is such a beautiful tribute to your friend and a powerful, heartbreaking description of one woman’s experience of miscarriage and infertility. Thank you so much for writing it. I’m a longtime reader of Bodega Bliss and am moved beyond tears reading this! Such a brilliant counter-action to mainstream journalistic tripe.

  34. I read this on my iPhone right after you posted it but haven’t had a chance to comment. I LOVE the idea for a series, and I love, love, love this first post. You’ve done something I had begun to believe was impossible: provide a genuine, honest, heartbreaking look into what IF is really like. Thank you. Oh, and if you’d like to do a surrogacy profile (since the NYT LOVES those), I’d love to participate. I don’t have a nanny or a barefoot surrogate, but we had huge bills.

  35. Hooray to you for counteracting the sensational media coverage with stories of regular people.

    One of the take home messages for me about Courtney’s story is that it illustrates so much of what is wrong with health care in this country.

    Hoping that 2012 brings Courtney all sorts of happiness.

    And you too!

  36. Wonderful post! Thank you for eloquently spreading the word about RPL. As a regular reader of Courtney’s blog and fellow RPL-er it is still heartbreaking to read another’s story. It is also really depressing to read the statistics you included which don’t reflect well on our chances. Another great place you might consider posting the story is Faces of Loss- http://facesofloss.com/. They include stories of ordinary people who have gone through miscarriage, still birth and infant loss.

  37. Oh god, just beautiful. I am in tears. She (and no one else) should ever have to experience this.

  38. Linda

    AS Court’s mother I am so moved to read your story about our daughter. She is truely a wonderful, beautiful woman and we are blessed to have her. You may not know but I can relate to a lot of this heartbreak because I too experienced a miscarrage before we had our beautiful Courtney. So you see she is truely our miracle and we cherish everyday we have her and her sisiter. Thank you for writting such a beautiful article and keep up the wonderful work. I agree with all of you that this story needs to be told because it angers me that only the rich are given the very best of care when EVERYONE deserves the same oppertunities. Thank you again.

  39. What a stunning piece of writing – what Wordgirl said, but also, let’s everybody tweet it, link it on Facebook, on our blogs – put it out there. Social media time!

  40. This brought back memories for me having suffered 3 losses and having gone through a D&C. Fortunately for me, I had insurance coverage so my “spontaneous abortion” was covered with a co-pay.

    It’s sad and comforting at the same time to read Courtney’s story. A sadness that is so deep to so many and a comfort to know there are others like “us” going through the same struggles. If only the mainstream media (yes YOU, New York Times) would put the focus on real people.

    Thank you to you and to Courtney.

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  42. 12weeks

    I feel like I could have written this myself, a year ago, around the time I had my 4th miscarriage. I had 8 of them all together, unfortunately, before finding a doctor who was willing to treat me and go outside the box to help me find answers. I am now 12 weeks pregnant, the most pregnant I’ve ever been.

    There are answers for those who look for them and doctors out there who can help, people do not need to keep losing their babies. Treatments like steroids, IVIG, G-CSF work beautifully if you can find a doctor willing to prescribe them. Cost is a huge concern because these treatments are not approved for RPL.

  43. Such a beautiful post, you brought me to tears. Thank you for writing a sharing such a powerful piece.

  44. This is a very well written piece of heartbreaking reality and, it needs to be shared with as many as possible. The costs involved are ludicrous to me. There is enough suffering here anyway without the health care system adding financial punishment as well.

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  47. mtrothlpc

    I’m stunned at what a beautiful post this is…..how fantastic. I’m absolutely putting it on FB during NIAW.

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  49. Many believe it is taboo to talk of pregnancy loss, whether it be stillborn or miscarriage. What most don’t realize, for a parent that has lost an unborn baby, s/he will never get to experience the joys of another pregnancy as the fear of loss never goes away.
    It is great to see the support that the blogger has given Courtney Cheng. No one is alone in pregnancy loss….

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  53. This is a wonderful post. I look forward to reading the rest.

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  55. Thank you for posting such a beautiful and heartbreaking post. My heart breaks for Courtney. Infertility is such a tough topic, I wish it could be addressed more opening.

  56. Pingback: Faces of ALI- A Must Read | parenthoodforme blog

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