Canada·First Person

I was deliberately childfree. So why did I feel such shame over my pregnancy loss?

Set Shuter was 26 and living the childfree-by-choice life of her dreams as a filmmaker in Toronto. That changed when an unexpected pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage.

A miscarriage changed my life but not my mind about having kids

An illustration of a sad woman with a symbol of a broken heart over her belly. She is surrounded by a film reel.
Set Shuter was 26 and living the child-free-by-choice life of her dreams as a filmmaker in Toronto. That changed when an unexpected pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

This First Person column is the experience of Set Shuter, a filmmaker and writer who lives in Toronto. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

I knew something was wrong when I felt a sharp pinch below my belly button. It sent a polar shockwave through my body and the blood in my head rushed elsewhere, leaving me dizzy. I was at work, crouched down behind a digital cinema projector that refused to turn on before a screening with a Hollywood director. I knew right away what was happening.

I had found out I was pregnant only two days before. It had been a gruelling week at work with too much overtime and little sleep to meet a festival deadline for screening a feature film. I had yet to process my newfound circumstance, let alone share this news with my partner. I was 26, adamantly childfree, and if my choice not to have children wasn't enough, I had been under the impression for a decade that I was infertile after my first Pap test and pelvic exam indicated infertility. 

Given my child-free history, not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined my reaction to this pregnancy. The motherhood instinct was left out of my programming, although I have thought about motherhood a great deal. My teens and 20s were spent constantly rejecting the assumption that I would become a mother by everyone from family to teachers, boyfriends, in-laws, strangers and clients. I knew motherhood wasn't for me when I was in kindergarten but wasn't vocal about it until Grade 4 when a teacher marked up an essay she assigned about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote that I wanted to make horror movies and her red Sharpie made it clear: It was inappropriate that I left out "becoming a mom."

A girl pretends to drive a car.
Even as a child, Set Shuter always knew motherhood wasn’t something she wanted for herself. (Submitted by Set Shuter)

The news that I was pregnant was a shock followed by a rogue wave of joy unlike anything I'd ever felt. Raw emotion pouring from my heart overshadowed every challenge I had ever imagined I would have as a parent. Anything was possible.

When the bleeding started, a darker state of being crept into my heart. 

I don't remember much about the weekend following the loss. At some point, I decided that if I didn't tell anyone, then it never happened. I could simply leave this nightmare behind and step back into my life. I would move on. Anything to avoid the shame I felt after failing to keep this pregnancy. 

Day after day, rejecting my reality eroded my mental health. I cried in the shower every morning to keep myself from breaking down when I was with my partner or at work or meeting friends for the evening. But the denial caught up to me. It led to the annihilation of my relationship, and I fell into a functional depression where I worked myself into a burnout to avoid the pain. 

It wasn't until two years later, after I was diagnosed with premature ovarian failure at 28, that I understood how my strategy of silence was destructive. With this diagnosis, multiple doctors told me in no uncertain terms that I would likely never become pregnant without IVF, and even that might fail. I had already decided after the miscarriage and aftermath that I didn't want to try for a baby. But for months after my diagnosis, every child's face became a painful reminder of what I never wanted but was given, lost, and would never have again. 

When I finally confessed to my therapist what had happened two years prior, she asked what most people would go on to ask when I opened up to them, "Why didn't you tell me?" 

"Because I didn't know what to do with the hopes, dreams, and fears that the baby's existence awoke in me, and before I could figure it out, everything was gone."

A black and white image of a smiling woman standing next to a computer. A cat sits onto her shoulders.
Shuter working on the set of a film in Toronto. (Submitted by Set Shuter)

This pregnancy did not change my mind about having children, but it challenged my perception of motherhood and allowed me to see a role I'd rejected since adolescence from a new perspective. As devastating as it was, the happiness I felt for those two days opened my heart to the gift children are in our lives. Now, I want to be the best auntie I can be to the kids I'm fortunate to have in my life. I don't think this would have happened to me otherwise. 

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Set Shuter

Freelance contributor

Set L. Shuter is a chronically ill writer, filmmaker, and storyteller from Toronto. When she isn’t working or performing on stage, she is in Nova Scotia, writing her days away by the ocean.