A CBS News correspondent opened up about suffering a miscarriage while on assignment in 2017 covering wildfires and the guilt she continues to wrestle with, despite doctors reassuring her that it was not her fault.
Mireya Villarreal, who penned a personal essay titled "'Did I cause this?' Getting past the stigma of miscarriages” for CBS News on Tuesday, said she vividly remembers standing on the ridge of a scorched hill in Yosemite National park in July 2017 when she began to feel stabbing pains.
She said after a 45-minute trek up the hill, rather than feel accomplished, she was cringing in pain near the C-section scar left by the birth of her son. She was nine weeks pregnant and hadn’t told any members of her crew, leading one to suggest she “must have eaten a bad burrito for lunch or some bad Mexican food on the way here.”
“I’ll always remember those words, uttered by a co-worker who had no idea I was pregnant,” she wrote. “I knew if I told any of the men on that crew what I was going through, they wouldn’t understand. I’d get that look – ‘Oh, you poor woman’ – and then word would get back to my managers. So I kept everything to myself.”
She said due to her location, there were no bathrooms nearby and she knew she was heavily bleeding.
“There were no bathrooms close by and I was worried I’d bleed through several layers of clothing and then everyone would see the pain I was going through on my bright yellow fire-retardant suit. But it didn’t, and for that, I’m thankful,” she wrote.
Villarreal said that her thoughts were racing as to whether she could save the baby or even get a doctor on short notice before her thoughts turned to wondering if she had caused it to happen and if it was her fault.
“In my line of work, the facts are all that matter,” she wrote. “But for some reason, in this situation, finding data and stats wasn’t easy. Blaming something or someone for the loss isn’t that simple. Sometimes, your body can’t handle the pregnancy. Sometimes it’s chromosomal abnormalities with the fetus. Food. Trauma. Stress. Sometimes there is no explanation — it just happens.”
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage, with the most occurring during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.
Despite knowing this and discussions with her doctor, Villarreal said she couldn’t help but blame herself for putting her body through a grueling work schedule while pregnant. She said she felt “ashamed and guilty,” and blamed herself “then and still do.”
“My ambition and selfishness led to this miscarriage,” she wrote. “No doctor will ever convince me that’s not true. And that’s OK.”
Villarreal said it was months before she could bring herself to seek help through therapy to deal with the emotional toll the loss had taken on her, and that talking about it with other women has also helped her.
She and her husband began trying for another baby again, and she said she has suffered two more miscarriages over the last eight months.
“Each time I’ve been on the road for work. And each time I go through one of them, the same feelings I had during the first miscarriage resurface,” she wrote.
Villarreal said that during a recent interview with Alanis Morissette, who has also had several miscarriages, the two talked about how the heartbreak hasn’t deterred them from wanting more children.
“Someone recently told me, ‘Why can’t you just be happy? Some women never get to have kids. Can’t you be happy with what you have? Isn’t it enough?’” Villarreal wrote. “Here’s the thing: No, it’s not enough. And it’s okay to say that. It’s okay to want more for whatever reasons you may have.”
Villarreal, who said she would go “through 100 more miscarriages if it meant having another child like my 3-year-old” said she is still working on forgiving herself.
“Through therapy, I’ve realized that grieving the loss of this child was important, no matter what stage of the pregnancy I was in,” she wrote. “But forgiving myself is just as important and something I’m still working on.”
Villarreal’s essay comes days after another journalist, NBC News 3 Las Vegas’ Michelle Velez, opened up about her molar pregnancy and cancer diagnosis. Both women shared their stories during National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, which is honored every October.