When Personal Loss Meets National Tragedy: A Miscarriage Story


On Monday, September 10, 2001, I was just a statistic. Mine was just one of the 25% of pregnancies that end in a miscarriage.

I had called my doctor’s office and insisted that they see me because, at 11 weeks, my symptoms had suddenly vanished over the weekend. And on Sunday evening, I had begun spotting. While the nurse assured me that this was normal and I needn’t worry, I knew. They worked me into the first spot on Monday morning and 30 minutes later a very sweet and kind doctor who wasn’t my usual OB/GYN, sat me down and told me my baby had stopped growing at eight weeks. He felt like my body wasn’t co-operating with ending the pregnancy, however, and decided that I needed to have a D&C or risk complications. I spent the rest of the day in a lab at the hospital having 17 vials of blood drawn. I must have called my office to say I wouldn’t be in. I know I told my husband, somehow. But I don’t really remember much else about that day other than walking, zombie-like, through the rest of the day in my heartbreak trance.

By contrast, the details of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 stand out in vivid detail, like a relief map of a broken world.

Like the rest of America that day, I awoke to my own worries and concerns with no idea of the horrors that were to come in a few short hours. Letting my dog outside, I noted the air felt unseasonably cool and crisp. A detail that would normally thrill me was reduced to a mere fact. I threw on my husband’s grey Oxford sweatshirt and some black leggings and headed to the CVS on the corner to restock on Advil and maxi pads, two items I was told I would need to have on hand following the D&C scheduled for later that morning. As I was driving to the drugstore, the local talk radio host I listened to at the time interrupted his bashing of our local house rep to say that there was a report of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. A pilot himself, he surmised that it was probably a small sight-seeing plane. I came back out of the store, to hear them switch the broadcast over to a reporter who was saying that it seemed to be a commercial jet that had flown into the WTC’s North Tower. I got home, turned on the Today Show just in time to see footage of the second plane.

Suddenly, it felt as if someone reached down into the dark depths of pain I was drowning in and pulled me up to the surface where the dull ache of losing my baby was transformed into the searing pain of a world being ripped apart.

I remember sitting beside my husband in his car as we drove to the hospital and, as if for the first time, realizing that the main road out of our neighborhood seemed to run straight into the Bank of America tower, one of the tallest buildings on the Atlanta skyline. The morning sun cast the coppery tower in a spectacular golden-orange glow and instantly I imagined the worst. The conversation two first-time expectant parents who just lost their baby might have been having was replaced with one of fear, speculation, and sheer shock that our nation seemed to be under attack. Midway through our drive to the hospital we heard that the Pentagon had been attacked and reporters were speculating that the Twin Towers might collapse but noted that evacuation efforts continued.

We walked into the eerie stillness of a waiting room void of the usual chatter and noise from a TV tuned to a talk show or soap opera to see a hundred or so people glued to CNN’s coverage of the attacks. No one spoke.

To this day, I’ve never seen anything else like it. People sat with tears streaming down their faces and we all audibly gasped when CNN reported that the South Tower collapsed, then again – just as a nurse called my name to come back – that Flight 93 had crashed in Pennsylvania, also seemingly a part of the attack on America.

I went into surgery not knowing what I would awake to in a couple of hours.

I remember being given Versed to calm me and feeling really relaxed. I remember the anesthesiologist counting me down from 10. When I awoke, some time after the procedure was over, I started crying almost the moment my eyes opened and reality filled up all the dreamy spaces in my brain. My first thought was, “I want my baby.” Personal grief overwhelmed any instinct for empathy in that moment. A nurse squeezed my hand and said what were meant to be words of comfort and optimism that I know must have been a struggle to summon in a moment of such universal uncertainty as she wheeled me into the recovery room. My husband was waiting there with Chick-fil-A and new Gillian Welch and Bob Dylan CDs he had bought at Turtle’s, a local record store across the street from the hospital. He filled me in on any developments that had occurred while I was in surgery and soon we were on our way home.

My best friend Courtney came over that night with a Stouffer’s lasagna, salad, rolls, chocolate pie, and love. We all sat huddled on the sofa eating and watching the wall-to-wall coverage and crying silently for those killed in the attacks and for the people still holding out hope of finding their loved ones. Simultaneously, my brain and my heart were trying to process my individual loss, wondering what I had done wrong or if I was being punished or if I would ever be able to have a baby and finally, if this were a world I could even bring a baby into.

I spent the next week in bed, crying, feeling broken and hopeless. When I think of those few days, I see the color grey.

People offered the strangest condolences, like reminding me that miscarriage is common and there was something wrong with the baby anyway. I know they meant well, but still…The only words that gave me comfort then came from my husband’s friend Dan. He told my husband that he was a rainbow baby, although he didn’t use that term. What he said was that his mother had a miscarriage several months before she became pregnant with him and that if his mother had carried that baby to term, he would never have been conceived. I had heard so many wonderful stories about Dan, I couldn’t imagine my husband’s world without him. Dan’s words gave me hope for the child that might be and opened the window for color to return to my world.

So, today, as we mark the 16th year since our world changed forever, I still grieve the loss of the daughter who wasn’t meant to be. I’ve wondered if this pain would resurface every year or the memory of my loss would be as vivid if these two unrelated events had not become interwoven in my heart and mind.

Of course, I will never know that and so I remain grateful for my rainbow boy and his sweet brother and remind myself that but for the loss of their sister, I would not have them and I hope that someday we will find some goodness in our world borne out of the global losses of 9/11.

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Dawn Downes
Hey, y’all! I’m Dawn – a native Tennessean who could not wait to escape the small town for the big city. After attending a women’s college in Atlanta, I took root there and stayed. One marriage, two homes, two kids, and 25 years later, here I am, back in Tennessee. My husband moved here in January of 2016 to start a new job while our two boys, Brendan (born 2003) and Beckett (born 2006), and I stayed behind to finish the school year and sell our house. We arrived in July 2016 and have been working to make a happy new home here since then. We love living on the North Shore and I am enjoying finding unexpected beauty and little joys throughout our new city. I am also mama to fur babies, Josie the Rhodesian Ridgeback/Lab mix, and Miller, a sweet orange and white tabby cat. I'm into art, movies, music, TV, pop culture, nerdy stuff like Doctor Who and Game of Thrones and I know more than my share about the DC Universe, Pokemon, Minecraft, Battlefield, and all things LEGO thanks to having two boys.


    • Thank you, Natalie. Hoping my experience can let others know they’re not alone and that it’s not wrong to have strong feelings for years afterward.

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