October is the real start of fall around here. The leaves are turning gorgeous shades of yellow, orange, red and brown. The temperatures are starting to drop ( although it has still been pretty warm this week). I’m not ordering as many iced coffees and I pulled out my boots. I love to decorate for fall and enjoy helping the kids choose Halloween costumes. My 12 year old daughter is thinking of choosing a costume and is asking incessantly if we get to "do trick-or-treating this year"... Answer: I have no idea. I hope so. (Stupid Covid.)She may not want to next year.
October is also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. One in four women will suffer this kind of loss. And I do mean suffer. I’ve been thinking about the stigma surrounding those of us who have been through the loss of a pregnancy, whether an early miscarriage or stillbirth. At the time that I had mine, in my 12th week of pregnancy, no one I knew had had a miscarriage, or maybe they just could not say that they had. I remember my doctor telling me how common it was, but when I asked my friends and family members, no one said they had experienced it. One friend said she almost did, but didn't. Talking about it seemed to upset everyone, even my sweet husband. I felt isolated, guilty, fearful. My heart was broken, I had already loved that little baby.
I'm going to share here what happened to me. I'm going to share the details and the emotions, and it will likely end up in the Too Much Information column. But I need to share, so that someone going through it will read my words and know they're not alone.
It was December 22. I had worked a closing shift at a store in the local shopping mall and got home at about 10:00 p.m. My husband, David and out 2 year old son were sleeping and the house was quiet. I changed for bed and washed my face. The last thing I did was use the toilet. As soon as I wiped, I saw blood. It looked kind of brownish, but I knew it was blood. I went to bed, completely terrified. I knew it wasn't uncommon to have some spotting in pregnancy, but I was past the 12 week mark, and in my hear I knew it couldn't be good.
The next morning, I phone the doctor's office. I remember David was home during the day and I was just laying low, thinking if I wasn't active I could keep myself from experiencing this loss. The nurse from the doctor's office told me what I already knew; if I was losing the baby, there was nothing I could do, but just because I was bleeding didn't mean I was losing it. She reminded me I had an appointment already scheduled for the next day, and my doctor would do an ultrasound. We would certainly know more at that point.
Through the 23rd, my bleeding increased and at one point late in the evening I panicked and called the doctor's office again. I knew there was nothing they could do, but I was desperate for reassurance and information. I got neither. The on-call OB told me it was a 50/50 chance I was losing my pregnancy and there was nothing he could do about it. I was shaken to my core. That night I sobbed myself to sleep, although I actually slept very little.
December 24th, Christmas Eve. We went to the doctor's office for what was supposed to be the first of many OB appointment. I had so much to look forward to. Hearing the baby's heartbeat and getting measured. Starting to show and having ultrasounds. The nurse started all the routine first visit stuff. But when my doctor did my pelvic exam, he remarked there was a lot of bleeding and my heart dropped. He stopped the exam at that point and took us in to do an ultrasound. The scan showed an empty womb, just the gestational sac near my cervix. We should have been able to see a heartbeat, arms and legs, a baby, sweet and tiny and thriving. Instead all I saw was a void and the brokenness of my heart. My doctor said something about the baby measuring around the 6-7th week, but that it must have stopped developing at that time. He went on to explain that there is no way to know for sure what happened, these issues are largely caused by chromosomal anomalies. He stressed that there was nothing I did to cause the loss, additionally, there was nothing I could've done to prevent it. It was nature's way of preventing the development of a fetus with major abnormalities. It was difficult to understand at the time. I just wanted my baby, I didn't care if there was anything wrong with it.
Of course, it wasn't to be. My doctor sat with my husband and I for a long time and was reassuring and so very kind. Gently he explained we now had the option of having a D&C (dilation and curettage is a procedure to remove tissue from inside the uterus), or to let nature take its course. He felt confident that I was close to expelling the pregnancy on my own, so we decided on the less invasive route of letting the miscarriage finish naturally.
I will never forget the empty feeling of leaving the clinic knowing I was no longer pregnant. When we walked in, I was pretty sure I was miscarrying, but I had hope. Now, all I felt was desolation and loss.
That evening we had a large family gathering for Christmas Eve. There were 4 babies under the age of 4 months ~ 3 less than 3 weeks old. It was heart wrenching. It's the only time in my life I've been around so many babies and not held one, or wanted to hold them. I just couldn't. Even the humorous moment when my cousin's wife undid her shirt to breastfeed her newborn twins AT THE SAME TIME (Go Mama!) in front of a room full of people was totally lost on me. As the room emptied in a flash, all I could do was sit there and think about my loss. I felt hollow. Carved out. Dead inside.
The next day, we got up with our 2 year old to have a happy, memory making day. I can see the pain on my face in the picture above, covered up with a mask to give my sweet son the Christmas morning he deserved. I don't remember this day well, I know we went to my mom's for dinner, and that the bleeding had slowed down, restoring a bit of hope that the doctor and the ultrasound had been wrong. I called my doctor and he had me go in for bloodwork to check my HCG levels. The result confirmed I was really miscarrying, but the bleeding and cramping had all but stopped.
The next paragraph is very detailed and may be triggering for some people.
The lack of bleeding continued on December 26th, until late in the evening. Suddenly I had immense pain and could feel something was about to pass. I went to toilet, I didn't know what else to do. As I sat there I passed a large mass, when I looked at it, it was clearly the gestational sac. I did not know what to do. I knew that was my baby, but I couldn't bring myself to take it from the toilet. I think I could today, but still, what would I do with it. I had my husband come in to get it, but he couldn't either. And neither could my mother. We all just felt helpless and frozen and so, so much pain. I know someone must have flushed that toilet. I know it wasn't me. I don't know who did it, but I sat with the agonizing thought that my baby had been flushed down the toilet. Like it was waste. Like it was any other bodily function. Like nobody loved it.
What were we supposed to do really? There wasn't going to be a funeral. Our baby didn't have a name, we didn't know its gender. I just sat there and wondered, "How do I love this person so much, this person I never knew?" One night a few days later I lay in bed, my husband holding me while I sobbed. Suddenly I sat bolt upright in bed and screamed, "I WANT MY BABY BACK! I WANT IT BACK! GIVE ME BACK MY BABY!" The hurt and the loneliness were unbearable.
The story doesn't end there, I had complications and ended up having an incomplete miscarriage, so I needed the D&C after all. The pain was excruciating and it took me weeks to recover physically. Emotionally, it took quite a bit longer. My faith kicked in and it eventually pulled me out of a very dark place. My doctor encouraged us to try to become pregnant again and after 7 long months, I finally did conceive my rainbow baby. I was terrified about another loss, but an ultrasound at 7 weeks was reassuring. That pregnancy was fraught with complications and deserves its own blog, but we eventually ended up with a healthy baby boy, who is a grown man today.
I can report the blinding emotional wound slowing healed, over the course of many months, well, really years. I still feel a bit of sadness about it, and for years I struggled through Christmas, the holiday reminding me every year of my loss. But over time, like any grief, it became easier to bear and now several years later, I can think of it without the adjoining deep ache.
If you have had a loss like the one I described here today, or are concerned about one, please reach out for help. I would really like to be a resource for you, and can point you to some professionals who could help you through the pain. Feel free to email me or look at my website for more information.