October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. One in four women experiences a pregnancy loss, and I am one of them. For the first time in three years, I’ve decided to talk about my own experience of pregnancy loss. Up until now I just didn’t have the strength to talk about it publicly, but I feel like it’s been long enough that I can share.
One sunny September morning three years ago, I was eight weeks pregnant with my second baby. I went in for an early ultrasound, and I remember how excited I was knowing I would soon get to see and hear my baby. Everything had been going as normal, just like I remembered with Tee, with the exception of a bit more morning sickness. I took comfort in the research that showed that women with more nausea were less likely to miscarry.
I laid down on the table, felt the cold conducting gel on my belly, and patiently waited for my chance to see my little bean and hear the heartbeat. The measurements seemed to be taking longer than they had with Tee’s ultrasound. The tech asked me if I was sure of my dates. Maybe I was only six weeks and not eight weeks along as I thought? No, I assured him, I knew how far along I was. He kept scanning, and finally he told me that he couldn’t see the baby, but that it was possible that I was too early along to tell. He asked me to come back in a week for another scan. I must have looked terrified, because he hesitated then told me if I was able to wait, he could do a more accurate transvaginal exam on his lunch break to look again.
I cleaned up and walked out of the room. Chris, who had been waiting with Tee, took one look at my face and asked me what had happened. I told him what was going on, and of course we waited. We went outside, and I laid down in the sunshine on the grass and closed my eyes. I don’t remember thinking anything at that moment. I just wanted time to stop, for things to be like they had been only 30 minutes earlier. We returned to the lab, and I got back on the table holding Chris’ hand as the tech did the second exam. He looked and looked, but still could not see the embryo. He told me he would send my results over to my midwife, and I should call her today for an appointment.
I was very quiet as we got into the car. I remember Chris saying something like not to panic until we’d talked to the midwife, but at that point I already knew. I leaned my head on the car window and let the tears stream down my face as we drove home. I knew I would never hold this baby in my arms.
The next few days were a blur. I tried to be normal for Tee’s sake (she was only 19 months old), but I cried a lot. My midwife sent me to get my hCG levels checked. On the first test the numbers were so high, I had a momentary hope that maybe I had in fact made a mistake in my dates. Maybe I really was still pregnant. But then over the next two days the numbers dropped and there was no denying it anymore. This was likely a blighted ovum, a type of miscarriage where the embryo dies very early on or doesn’t develop at all.
My midwife laid out the options: to wait for a natural miscarriage or to induce one with medication. It was too emotionally wrenching for me to wait the days or weeks it could take to miscarry naturally, so I opted to take the misoprostol. It was raining the day I laid on the couch with a hot water bottle as the cramps started. I went to the bathroom and felt the sac slip out. I just sat there and cried for a while. The next day Chris and I buried our tiny little might-have-been under the apple tree in our backyard.
Is it “Real”?
Some people might tell you that a blighted ovum is not a “real” pregnancy, so it’s not a “real” miscarriage. That there was never a fetus so it doesn’t count. I tell you that’s a crock of shit. Loss is loss. When I miscarried, I mourned more than just that baby. I grieved for the loss of my hopes, dreams, and expectations. I felt broken, like my body had failed me. Even after that ultrasound, I was still experiencing nausea and tender breasts – my body was still telling me that I was pregnant, and that itself felt like a betrayal. Three years later, I’m in tears as I write this. I still remember how it felt to be told that there was no baby in my womb. I remember the emptiness and the grief. Don’t tell me it’s not a real loss.
One of the hardest things about pregnancy loss is how alone it makes you feel. I kept this a secret. I didn’t tell anyone at work. The only reason my in laws knew was because we had told them about the pregnancy, so I had to tell them I’d lost the baby. I never told my father, and I only told one friend who had experienced a very similar loss just a few months before me. In a way, I appreciated that it was early enough that I could keep it private. Hardly anybody knew about my pregnancy so I didn’t have to face questions like, “When are you due?” after having lost the baby. At the same time though, I felt so alone. Chris tried, but he didn’t understand. I don’t know if any man, no matter how loving, supportive, and empathic, can truly understand. Babies don’t become real to their fathers until they’re born, or at least until they can feel them kick. But this baby was real to me from the moment I saw those two little lines on the pregnancy test.
Saying that this wasn’t a real pregnancy or a real miscarriage is another way to erase my experience, my grief, and my baby who never arrived. It makes women feel even more alone and isolated. Don’t ever do that.
Our Rainbow Baby
And then when I got pregnant again two months later, I was petrified. What if I miscarried again? I had a lot of anxiety and tears until I felt this little one move inside of me. Happily, this time everything went as planned and Kay, our rainbow baby, was born the next August. Every year around this time though, I feel that same sadness and wonder what if. I know that if we hadn’t lost this baby, Kay would never have been born. I can’t imagine not having her in our lives, and I would never do anything to change the family we have now, but I can’t help but wonder who I missed out on loving.