My best friend Sophie and I each got married within months of each other. We bonded in college over our shared propensity to laugh at things no one else found funny and the experience of being daughters to Irish mothers (if you have one, you will understand). We were inseparable. We were both only children, so it was somewhat inevitable that we became like sisters.
Adulthood hit us both differently. We were both very career oriented—Soph, a journalist; me, an executive at a tech company—but I got pregnant within a few months of getting married and she set off on a new adventure, temporarily moving to a different country for a job. The months passed, my son Fin arrived, and we saw each other a little less than usual while she was working away. When she returned home, we slipped right into a new normal: her adoring Fin, Fin in awe of his aunty Sophie, me back at work and glad my sister was home.
It was around this time that she started to open up about the fact that she and her husband had been trying to conceive. She wasn’t sure why it wasn’t happening.
At first we both lived in false platitudes. “It will happen.” “Of course it will!” But as the months rolled into years, it became increasingly apparent that actually it might not “just happen” for my best friend.
I watched as Sophie and her husband avoided events where babies might be, flinch as a pregnant woman walked into the room, and have their hearts broken into millions of pieces over and over again when rounds of IVF were not successful. We watched our friends decline a glass of wine and smile apologetically as they popped to the bathroom to administer another dose of hormones for their latest attempt to conceive.
As she embarked on more treatment, I was launching Peanut, a social network for moms. I winced when she offered to test my app, to share it with colleagues who were mothers, when she couldn’t use it as a mother herself. “Not yet,” I’d correct her, and she would give me a soft smile. She sat with me while I obsessed over data, fund-raising with investors, bug fixes. I sat nervously by the phone while she took another pregnancy test, waiting for that line, and looked in horror at the plethora of fertility drugs she was on. She joked I should make Peanut for women like her, who were trying to conceive, “I could do with someone else to talk to about this, to be honest,” she said.
Last year I got pregnant again—totally unplanned. As I sat in the bathroom, looking at the test, the only person I could think of was Soph. How would I tell her? How could I do that to her? How could I become someone she needed to avoid for a year or so for self-preservation? How could we survive that? So for the first time in my adult life, I did something I’ve never done before: I kept a secret from my best friend.
Over the next few weeks, I bumbled through the idea of becoming a parent again. My breasts grew tender, my stomach started to bloat, I shared secret smiles with my barista as I ordered decaf. Then one morning, when I pulled back the bedcovers, I saw a dark crimson stain on the sheets. It was over. I’d had a miscarriage.
My husband and I stood staring at what might have been, devastated. But it’s strange how fast self-preservation kicks in—I stripped the bed, dressed Fin for school, made his breakfast, got ready for work, and grabbed my Starbucks (relishing the caffeine) on the way in. Later that day my doctor confirmed I had miscarried.
I did what I think a lot of women must do when this happens: I went to Google for answers, not quite sure how to talk about the pain of miscarriage. I reran in my head all of the things I must have done to “cause” this. (Obviously, with the benefit of hindsight, I know I hadn’t done anything.) Still, I didn’t tell Sophie.
After a few weeks I called to tell her what had happened. “Oh angel, I am so, so sorry,” she said. “Why didn’t you tell me, weirdo?” We laughed; I had a little cry. I said I was sorry a million times. She called me crazy a million times back, and then she said, “What’s really wild is how common this is.”
She was right. An estimated 10% of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage. The same number of women will have trouble getting pregnant in the first place. And still, we hardly talk about it. The fertility industry is projected to be worth a whopping $36 billion in the next four years. But what’s more remarkable is the lack of investment into the emotional and mental well-being of the women impacted by fertility struggles. (And the lack of education regarding conditions we might experience: endometriosis, PCOS, premature ovarian failure, early menopause—the list is endless.) We don’t know enough about alternatives to pregnancy or about how to navigate loss. We often don’t know what we don’t know.
When I created Peanut, I wanted to build the mother of all social networks for mothers to support one another, to build community. What I didn’t consider at that point were all of the different roads to motherhood. But as I watched my best friend on hers, and I had my own experience of loss, it felt only right to do what Soph asked me for all of those years ago. Adapt Peanut to create Peanut TTC (trying to conceive). It’s a place for women on their fertility journey to find and connect with other women dealing with their own challenges, to support one another, to share, and to help end the silence.
Michelle Kennedy is the founder of Peanut, a social network for women to connect across fertility and motherhood. Follow her @Peanut.
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