Pregnancy is like an airplane.
This has been the running metaphor in my mind lately. Partially from my own recent trip to Colorado, and partially from my daily visits to multiple recurrent loss groups, this simile has become hard to shake. Or perhaps, to be more accurate, I should say pregnancy seems like an airplane flight.
Plane crashes are exceedingly rare. The “fear of flying” is hardly uncommon, however, though statistics show it’s often safer to fly in a plane than drive a car. I have always had some thoughts on that argument, but in this case, it relates to pregnancy right off the bat: pregnancy is, well, common. Miscarriage is, as well, but “having a baby” is more common than “losing a baby” in the grand scheme of maternity statistics.
But using statistics further, I’ve been mulling over the similar time frame of error that flying and gestating seem to have.
When plane crashes do happen, they tend to happen the most during departure and arrival — so essentially take off and landing. The bulk of the flight, up in the air, is quite safe in comparison.
That brings us to pregnancy: the three trimesters.
The majority of loss happens in the first trimester — close to 98% of miscarriages happen before 12 weeks. Which isn’t to say things can’t go wrong during the second trimester; they do. Just so much more rarely.
And as anyone with the immense heartbreak of stillbirth will tell you, the third trimester brings its devastating dangers, as well — to both mother and/or baby.
But the fact remains: the first trimester is often make or break for a pregnancy. There’s the various huge developmental hurtles to get through.
- Make sure the egg and sperm both have the right amount of chromosomes.
- Make sure they join up correctly when they’re fertilizing.
- Make sure the zygote begins dividing properly until it’s an embryo (and beyond).
- Make sure the embryo implants in the right place (the uterus).
- Get an egg sac to develop.
- Get a stem to develop.
- Get the heartbeat.
- Hope there’s enough folate to insure the brain stem forms and closes properly.
- Make sure the placenta properly grows.
And this is all before 10 weeks.
I’ve seen many women with recurrent pregnancy loss malign certain points during this process. “It’s always 9 weeks, 3 days,” one woman said of her two losses. “Why can’t I ever make it past 7 weeks?” I’ve seen another woman ask of her own 10.
We get these mile markers. “Come on, come on, just get past 8 weeks…” I’ve thought myself. The “threshold” of our losses, until — sometimes — they’re surpassed by another loss.
But I can’t shake the comparison to ascent in a plane. When everyone is silent as the pilot quietly manoeuvres a piece of metal into the sky. Acting unbothered by the stomach flip as we angle the other way; letting a sigh of relief escape the moment the “safety belt” sign finally turns off.
If I can just make it to the second trimester again, I’ll reach safe air space. Just get through the ascent. I’ve carried to term — I’ve had a live birth. First try, no issues. But this plane has been crashing over and over again ever since.
But it’s not an inept analogy. Pregnancy, more or less, is supposed to just happen. Once the major development occurs in the first 12 weeks or so, there’s more development, sure, but it’s supposed to be smooth sailing until you need to worry about kick counts in those last few uncomfortable weeks.
“The plane wants to stay in the air,” is the standard statement to calm someone afraid of flying. Similarly, the pregnancy wants to develop — we have ectopic pregnancies, it’s why recurrent loss (especially if hyperfertility is involved) seems to exist. Even when the chromosomes aren’t perfect, even when something grows in the wrong place — we still have women sitting stricken as doctors break unfathomable news to them after the “safe period.” Because the pregnancy was still developing.
A final comparison
Often considered the fathers of flight, Orville and Wilbur Wright were American engineers who famously made the first successful aircraft. For those unfamiliar with their story, they taught themselves engineering and made gliders over a period of years until they could get one of their aircrafts carry a person in the air successfully for several seconds. Like most inventions, there’s included a lot of trial and error. American kids (and I imagine others in the world) grow up learning about the Wright brothers in some capacity, and the core takeaway is usually, “Look at how many times they failed — and they never gave up!”
Which again brings me to pregnancy. When faced with such insurmountable loss — with obstacle after obstacle — how does one not give up? Airplanes might not have existed, or at least, not in the same way or timeframe that they did, if we hadn’t had the Wright brothers persisting. I see women share their “miraculous rainbow” after 11 losses — and how he/she wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t tried one more time.
I’ve written about this elsewhere. Pregnancy loss is brutal. Recurrent pregnancy loss is a living hell. I often refer to it as a Sisphyean tragedy — rolling the rock up a hill over and over, only for it to come rolling back down every time.
But unlike Sisyphus, the Wright brothers did succeed. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” the old adage goes.
In my case, I was fortunate enough to succeed the very first time, and find myself in the more unusual circumstance of failing over and over after an unthinking success.
But as many doctors have told me, and I imagine various other historical figures who have faced other soulcrushing hurtles might relay, “If you can do it once, you can do it again.”
So try, try again.