How To Survive a Miscarriage by Marathoning 168 Episodes of “Survivor”

A white woman is wearing a white tank top and looking down at her stomach, but her face is obscured. She is surrounded by a beach, tropical plants, and blueberries.feature art by Demetria

One thing you have in common with every contestant on the classic CBS reality television competition program Survivor is that you are not pregnant.

Like you, some of these people were once pregnant, although not quite as recently as you were. Some of them have in fact given birth in the past, as evidenced by children they reference by name and who sometimes appear, as grown adults, in late-season challenges.

You do the math in your head to figure out how old they were when they had their children, which is another way of saying how much better they did it than you did, how much earlier they got their shit together, how much higher their chances of success were. This is math you do as often and as casually as you once calculated your daily caloric intake, a math that is similarly second nature and punishing.

Did they get their shit together earlier than you, though? Did they decide to have children, these sturdy mothers in sensible shorts stranded on an island, their skin leathered by the unyielding sun, their legs and arms pockmarked with mosquito bites? Did they plan on it? Or did it just happen, as it so often does for couples for whom having sex with each other can result in a pregnancy, even if they didn’t mean it to? Would you have gotten pregnant earlier if that was the kind of sex you’d been having?

For most gay people, pregnancy doesn’t happen incidentally. It’s a deliberate choice. There is a pressure to not make said choice until you are “ready,” until you have all your financial and logistical and relationship ducks in a row.

When you eventually decided to go ahead with trying to get pregnant at the age of 40, it was not, ultimately, because your life was in a “ready” place, it was because you realized it would never be.

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Your miscarriage happened eight weeks in. So, obviously, things could have been worse. Eight weeks is early. You remind yourself of this while you lie on your couch watching five grown adults stand on narrow logs in the ocean for six straight hours, competing for a can of Mountain Dew and a stack of Oreo cookies. They wince and pinch their eyes shut in the boiling sunlight, their legs ache and throb and cramp and the world spins madly on and you lost your baby, or whatever it was, you lost your little miracle.

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This is how you found out that you were having a miscarriage: your girlfriend held your hand and a nurse slipped a wand inside you and within moments you both knew, from the nurse’s soft concern, the gentle wonder of her eyes above her mask, that something was wrong. Before saying anything to you she asked your OB/GYN very quietly to take a look, passing off the wand like a baton.

At the first ultrasound, at five weeks, almost immediately the nurse had said “everything is progressing nicely,” but at this one, the nurse and the doctor were silent for way too long for everything to be progressing nicely.

You had hopefully imagined hearing “well, there’s the heartbeat!” for so long, and now here you were in the moment where you’d most hoped to hear those words but there were no words. Instead you just laid there, your girlfriend’s squeeze of your hand growing increasingly intense, somebody say ‘there’s the heartbeat’ somebody point out the heartbeat

So by the time the doctor finally finally spoke, to tell you the baby had stopped developing, you both already knew.

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Your fertility clinic is in a massive three-level open-air shopping mall in Los Angeles, down the mosaic-tiled, desert-flora-dotted walkway from Nordstrom and across from a gourmet pudding shop called Pudu Pudu.

You had convinced your girlfriend that the best way to celebrate a successful eight week ultrasound would be, logically based on location, a trip to Pudu Pudu. You and your heartbeat would enjoy gluten-free wild blueberry pudding with edible blossoms, coconut crunch, a dusting of turmeric, fresh orange filets, local organic milk, cocoa.

“But if there’s no heartbeat, we never eat pudding again,” you told her.

There was no heartbeat and you have not eaten pudding again.

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Pudu Pudu has been empty every time you’ve passed it (which is many times, you haven’t been to the mall this much since the summer you worked at GapKids), just like your uterus is now. Empty. Or; emptying.

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On the TV, two teams line up and take turns drinking glasses of cow’s blood mixed with cow’s milk. When they finish their glass they open their red mouths wide, bloody milk dripping down their chins, drying into the cracks of their parched lips.

That line from that song is stuck in your weary head: if you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding.

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You had been haunted by the possibility of miscarriage. Not just haunted, something more dramatic than haunted, like the kind of haunted where you tell ghost stories every night.

On the day of your five-week ultrasound, you’d read a miscarriage story on your instagram feed moments before the nurse entered the room. Between five and eight weeks, two more miscarriage stories had been told on your instagram feed — your feed is mostly queer people with uteruses between the ages of 30 and 45, so — and you read and re-read all three and you cried for all of them.

You’d then sought out every miscarriage essay on Autostraddle, re-read them each several times. You also re-read a few birth essays, to balance it out.

In the week leading up to your second ultrasound, you’d read a horrific photoessay on The Cut about a miscarriage that was so visceral and painful and horrible that you could think of little else between the moment of reading it and the moment of your own miscarriage.

But mostly what that essay did was inform you that it was possible to have a missed miscarriage; that this late in the game you could still think you were pregnant when in fact you were not, that you could be exhausted and nauseous and have breasts that are 2x bigger than normal despite the fetus having already clocked out of the whole charade, that the whole story could be over while you’re just sitting there looking at your little pregnancy app, look we made it to blueberry week!!!

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The first thing you did, still prone on the table after your miscarriage ultrasound, was delete The Pregnancy App.

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One thing the first eight seasons of Survivor have in common with the “October 2022 Babies!!!” message boards on The Pregnancy App is that there are no lesbians. There would’ve been one lesbian on the message boards (you) but you didn’t want to post anything until you heard a heartbeat.

You imagined that’s what would’ve made you feel more connected to these women with their husbands and their previous pregnancies and their worn-through womanhood and their seeming comfort with their own bodies – a heartbeat. You weren’t sure, though. You might have just continued to lurk. Maybe you’d never learn their language, even with a heartbeat.

When lesbians finally arrive on Survivor in Season 9, they are not mothers and they do not win.

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At the clinic, after you’d put your pants back on, you and your girlfriend transitioned to sitting in chairs at a crescent-shaped wooden table against the wall. You and your girlfriend sat on one side in your masks and the doctor sat on the other. Something inside me is dead, you thought to yourself as the doctor Explained Your Options.

Every Option sounded bad. You chose D&C, a procedure in which you’d get knocked out and then they’d suck the death out of you. Your girlfriend nodded in agreement that this was the best Option of the Offered Options.

I just want it out, you said, your hands on the cemetery of your stomach. Then you and your girlfriend went to her car in the mall parking lot to cry.

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Three days later you returned to the clinic at seven A.M. to put on a gown and participate in what felt like an endless conversational prelude to your eventual release from consciousness atop an exam table in a sliver of a room where the procedure would take place.

You woke up from the anesthesia in a different room, wearing a gown, a flood of blood between your legs, soaking the paper you’d been positioned atop. You asked your girlfriend if she could get you a cappuccino from Eataly, because again, this was all happening at the mall.

Then your girlfriend took you home, and you wanted to watch a television show that would suck you in and also not feature pregnancy or babies or, for that matter, the concept of parenthood at all. You also preferred to avoid the concept of marriage or dating, because people who date and marry on television often have conversations about starting a family. You wanted to watch a show where nobody was starting a family.

And so you decided to watch Survivor, a show you had not seen since its very first season aired in 2000.

You begin with Season Two. They are stranded in the Australian Outback, and nobody has a baby.

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Aside from various medical professionals and a Pressed Juice customer service representative, you’d only told two (2) people about the pregnancy, and you’d wondered if you were being over-cautious or too superstitious, keeping it so close.

It felt like lying not to tell anyone so you mostly avoided everyone. You had it planned out: at 12 weeks you could tell your family, at 16 weeks you could tell your friends, at 24 weeks you could tell the world. It felt like a long time to keep a secret but you were halfway to 16 already!

Sometimes you’d start to type out the text and then stop yourself. Remind yourself that it was just a little while more and then you could tell your Mom the good news, then you could tell your friends where you’d been, what you were doing. There was also something about typing “I’m pregnant” that made you feel like you were misgendering yourself, a feeling you weren’t pregnant long enough to fully unpack.

Now that you’ve lost the pregnancy, you’re relieved you’d not told anybody, because now there are less people in the world who might believe you are pregnant even though you are not. You tell one (1) of the two people about the miscarriage about an hour after the miscarriage ultrasound. Then you tell all of your coworkers about the pregnancy and the miscarriage in one fell swoop as an explanation of your whereabouts.

The second person you’d told incidentally texts you good news about someone else’s baby on the day of your miscarriage and you don’t know how to respond to their good news with your bad news, so you don’t say anything. She is one of those people who senses things without you having to say them out loud so the next day you wonder if maybe you could get away with telling her telepathically. A few days later she asks gently about how your ultrasound went and then you tell her that actually it is bleeding out of you as we speak, as we live and breathe, as on your television two women pad desperately with their bare feet on a wet rotating log until one loses her grip and plunges into a watery pit.

You have a pillow on your lap and a laptop atop the pillow and you are working and bleeding and watching Survivor.

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On the television, a man is tending the fire when the smoke knocks him out and he falls face first into the flames, awakens, screams, tears into the nearby ocean. When he lifts his arms, you can see the skin of his palms and wrists peeling off like rice paper. He screams. You bleed. You burned the skin off your hand once too, so this is relatable content. You wonder if he will have bruises forever, like you do, or if he will remember to apply the anti-scarring cream, as you did not.

You were suddenly so good at doing things like that once you got pregnant, though. “Self-care” or whatever, because duh, it wasn’t self-care anymore, it was baby-care. All the practices that have eluded you your entire life: giving up weed entirely, minimal medication, going to bed on time, ending your workday after 8 hours of work, eating three balanced meals, taking your vitamins — you did them all! And gladly! And how!!!

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Another thing you have in common with the contestants of Survivor is that your stomach hurts and you are bleeding.

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When the doctors said you would bleed for 7-10 days you thought “I think we could knock this out in five,” but you could not, in fact, knock it out in five. By day five the blood is maybe a dark cherry color, with no signs of slowing down. It feels gross, although maybe not as gross as the people on your TV who haven’t showered or brushed their teeth in 36 days.

You haven’t bought pads since the 90s, and it looks like they all come with wings now. On the TV, sunburnt humans in Reebok t-shirts tear into palm fronds and coconuts and taro roots, and you clip the wings off the pads so they’ll fit into your boxer briefs.

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It is only at your girlfriend’s apartment that you watch anything besides Survivor.

I’m sorry I didn’t know this was about this, your girlfriend says during a movie where a girl gets pregnant.

Everything is about this, you say. Everything is about this except Survivor.

The next day you have sandwiches wrapped in wax paper and potato chips and fresh raspberries and you do a jigsaw puzzle of an astronaut in front of a rainbow and you watch, together, an entire season of Survivor.

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I can honestly say I’m not sure my body has ever fully recovered, said the 40-year-old mother-of-two who won Survivor’s second season in an interview about her time on Survivor. This seems to be a main component of the game: watching bodies shrink as bones emerge.

You lie on your couch reading this interview on your phone with your tiny dog at your feet in a pile of blankets. On the TV, the castaways compete for who can hold their breath underwater the longest.

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The only way you can imagine feeling better about this all happening is to be pregnant again, but first you have to stop bleeding out the first pregnancy and then you have to get your period back and then you have to get your HcG levels back down and then you have to wait another month after that to begin a process that will turn out to involve things like “rapid-fire disappointment” and “a lot of money.”

You hate this. You have always hated having a period, having a body, and it has been tough to expect so much from your own. You hate having your blood drawn and now you feel like you are always going to the mall to get your blood drawn.

Are you ready to try again? When do you want to try again? These words. Everybody knows what they mean. Everybody knows what “trying” means. Of course you will try again! You want it now! You want to get back into the game!

Fire represents life in this game, when your fire’s out, so are you

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When a contestant is voted off, the journey ends. All those weeks have passed, and they are no closer to the one million dollars than they were yesterday, or three days ago, or let’s just say hypothetically eight weeks ago, or nine months ago, or ten years ago.

Maybe they’ll return to a future season of Survivor, get another chance to apply what they learned (or didn’t) the first time. Maybe they won’t. You don’t get any store credit, nothing for time served. You have to start back at the beginning.

Once you’re voted off the island, you can eat whatever you want, finally, all the soft cheese and unpasteurized juice your little heart desires, which is nice, but feeling close to something bigger felt nice too, even if it was often physically uncomfortable.

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A sense of purpose. A sense of every day getting closer to something you’d wanted all your life. You hadn’t let yourself want it because you hated wanting things you couldn’t have, because you were 40 and so far hadn’t achieved or acquired any of the things you’d hoped to by now.

But then before you knew it, you had it! This one thing, of all the fucking things, was gonna be your sole easy win. You got pregnant on your first IUI. Something was growing inside of you and it wasn’t another mental illness or stomach problem, it was a human, a dream, a life.

A miracle. Your little miracle.

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Bring me your torch


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Riese

Riese is the 40-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in California. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2988 articles for us.

51 Comments

  1. I look forward to your writing always, Riese, and am always moved by the clear-eyed, introspective voice of your personal essays. This one is no different. Thank you for writing it, and sharing it in this public sphere where I am certain it will make others feel seen in their own experiences, and less alone. Even though I’m very sorry you had to write this. And yet, thank you.

  2. My wife had a miscarriage around the same time as you (doing the math), also on a first IUI, late 30s. Opted against the D&C in favor of long late nights of pain lying on the bathroom floor, swapping Survivor for shitty TLC programming. We felt we had cursed ourselves by telling our close family members too soon, so apparently you can’t win. Thank you for sharing this experience, it is good to know that we are never alone.

      • I read this essay while lying on an exam table to see my 6 week old IVF embryo alive and happy. It felt like foreshadowing when I miscarried later that day. Thank you for making me feel less alone. I miscarried 2 other times- one at the same week (9) just this year. It’s a lonely feeling to be empty again.

  3. Been there, so sorry. It was something I thought I understood before we went through it a couple times, and then I realized I hadn’t understood it at all. The pain is deep and real and the toxic positivity around fertility is infuriating. Wishing relief for you, however it comes.

  4. despite being a stranger, the writing here has engendered a fond feeling towards autostraddle in general and to you in particular. so i couldn’t finish this essay, because i don’t think i can manage another heartbreak right now, even vicariously, for someone i think highly of.

    hoping there is some peace to be found as you move through this, sending what i have your way.

  5. Feeling for you Riese ♥️ I’ve just finished my latest miscarriage and it feels like the world is made of daggers. Tried to watch 3 different shows the other night and they were all about this. I have nothing comforting to say, except I know how incredibly lonely it can feel to have a cemetery under your skin and I’m right there with you.

  6. Many days, in my job as a psychotherapist, I think about your blog post in which you said, “16 years ago I had a choice: open your heart to the prospect of wanting to see a person you’ll never see again, or stop wanting. I chose the latter.” Here’s to being open enough to the world to risk so much heartbreak. Thank you for your words on grief, then and now.

  7. Dear Riese, I am so incredibly sorry for your loss. I am sorry that you have to go through this.
    Words are not enough. This hurts so much.
    May you have people in your life who support you now and in the upcoming time, and who don’t shy away from your pain because they don’t want to say something wrong and end up saying (almost) nothing at all.
    I hope you find people who truly understand and who don’t try to be positive because they can’t hold your sadness and that you are mourning.
    Though I am a stranger from the internet, I send you many good wishes and warmth in this difficult and hard time <3 <3 <3

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