The Baby That Wasn't Meant to Be

This is not your typical 300 Days of Sunshine post, but even in the land of sunny skies there are cloudy and stormy days sometimes...




"Grief is in two parts.  The first is loss.  The second is the remaking of life."  Anne Roiphe

I'm not usually one to write about personal experiences on social media, but with one in four pregnancies ending in miscarriage, women need to support one another and have the freedom to tell their stories so that others may find comfort and solace knowing that they are not alone.  Issues regarding women's health, reproduction, and healing need not be taboo, despite our tendency to be a culture of silence around uncomfortable topics.  There are a lot of misconceptions about miscarriage that can lead women to depression, guilt and anxiety; but through talking openly and courageously about our experiences, we can build a community and comfort each other through the ups and downs.

This is my story.

March 30th, 2016.  

That was supposed to be the birthday of our first baby.  

We had planned and prepared, and envisioned what this baby's life would be like.  I made lifestyle changes, exercised safely, changed my diet, shopped organic produce, and researched foods highest in folate.  I tracked my weight and symptoms every day.  I switched from coffee to ginger tea.  I made excuses for not drinking, ordered Shirley Temples at happy hour, sipped on sparkling grape juice at my 30th birthday party, and avoided friends so that I could keep the secret.  I took my vitamins religiously and cleaned my kitchen relentlessly (with natural cleaners, of course).  I enrolled in the Healthy Pregnancy program through my insurance company.  I went to bed early.  I made time for relaxation and meditation to send Baby some good vibes.  I started endless lists: baby names, registry needs, questions for the doctor, daycare centers, options for baby monitors, things to do each month.  I bookmarked helpful articles and read all the books.  I researched options for my birth plan.  I bought a pants expander (which I didn't even know existed).  I shopped for clothes I could grow into.  We already decided which bedroom would belong to the baby.  When I knew his or her little ears were developing, I sang and listened to classical music.  Jaycob kissed my belly every day.  I journaled and wrote letters to the baby.  He or she was already the focus of my life.  I was never alone because Baby was with me throughout all of my experiences, and every decision I made was for him or her.

Besides fatigue and some food aversions, I felt great!  I ran, biked, swam, hiked, and did three triathlons (although with careful awareness of my heart rate and any symptoms).  I looked into prenatal yoga schedules.  I planned to do a 5K every month to support healthy pregnancy.  I was giving Baby all kinds of happy, exercise-related endorphins!  I was good at this pregnancy thing. 

With one week left of my first trimester, we were already brainstorming about how to announce the good news to our friends, families, and coworkers in a few short weeks.  It was getting to be impossible to contain our excitement!  

But even the most careful planning doesn't prepare you for the unexpected.

I arrived at my midwife's clinic for the last appointment of my first trimester.  We went over questions: flu shot, Vitamin D, breast feeding classes, birth options, travel restrictions, tips for nausea.  A fetal heart rate had been detected on the ultrasound the previous month, but it was too tiny to hear at that point.  At this appointment I was eager to actually hear the heartbeat for the first time and excitedly had my phone out, ready to make a recording of Baby's first sounds for Jaycob!  I laid down and my midwife got the machine.  I held my breath.  Seconds passed.  Nothing happened.  But it's early, the midwife said, and your uterus is tilted.  We may not hear anything yet.  Let's try the other ultrasound machine.  A new exam room, a larger machine, a few long minutes... nothing.  You're not yet 12 weeks, she said.  And it's hard to find the baby on thin people sometimes.  Nothing to worry about.  But let's have you go to the perinatal associates specialty clinic just for reassurance, where they have a more advanced ultrasound machine.

Call it motherly instinct or just a tendency to prepare for the worst, but I was already in tears on the way to the specialty clinic.  Something was wrong.  I was supposed to hear the heartbeat.  I was supposed to be happily on my way home by now.  I wasn't supposed to be at a clinic for high-risk pregnancies.  I went through half a box of tissues in the waiting room, but still felt confident that my sadness and anxiety would transform into tears of joy when I could hear the heartbeat in just a few minutes.  I was anxiously awaiting the reassurance and elation I would feel soon.

The tech called me back to the exam room.  Two seemingly-endless, uncomfortably-silent ultrasound examinations later... There is no heart beat.  I'm so sorry.

Hysterics.  Devastation.  No.  No.  That can't be right.  It was there a month ago.  My baby had a heart rate.  I even have a picture.  You have to check again.  I've had no bleeding.  No cramps.  I've done everything right.  Is it possible that you just can't find it?  This isn't happening to me.  But why?  I was frozen.  I was paralyzed.  How could this happen?

I'm so sorry.  These things just happen.

I knew that these things happen.  One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage.  I know half a dozen people who've gone through this.  I thought I had prepared for this possibility.  We waited to make an announcement for this very reason.  I knew on some level that I didn't do anything wrong and that miscarriage is just a form of natural selection that occurs when the baby can no longer develop.  But the reality of the situation just didn't fit with the abstract idea of the existence of miscarriage.  Why me?  I never thought this would be me.  It might be as common as 25%, but for the patient this is not common.  This is a life-changing trauma and loss.  

I returned to my midwife's office and waited for an eternity in the exam room until she could see me again.  We had to talk about options.  I had to have labs done.  But how could I possibly go back out into the world and see smiling people getting into their cars and going through their days?  I was in my own bubble and everything was in slow motion.  I couldn't move.  My baby was dead.  My hopes and dreams were smashed.  I had nothing to look forward to.  Nothing else mattered in the world.  This was one of the worst days of my life.

I didn't want to see anyone.  I told my best friend the devastating news, and said that I wouldn't be leaving the house for a while.  I put on my sweatpants.  I called my husband, who was 1500 miles away on his annual fishing trip.  I didn't want to go on Facebook and see everyone's cute baby bumps and happy, smiling children and adorable baby showers.  That was supposed to be me.  We were supposed to experience this together.  I couldn't face the thought of starting back at the beginning.  People may wonder how you can miss someone that you hadn't even met, someone who didn't even have a personality yet, but when you spend 24 hours a day sharing your body with a living being, thinking about that tiny life through every motion of your day, it feels very empty to suddenly know that that little life is no longer there.

Part of my identity had become that of "future mommy."  I now had to come to terms with the fact that I was no longer a pregnancy patient.  I was no longer sharing my life with my child.  I didn't have a child.  I was alone.  My baby never even had a chance.  Over the next few days I repeated the facts to myself until I accepted and believed.  My baby didn't have a heartbeat.  I had had a miscarriage.  My baby is dead.  

I found solace in my amazing family and friends.  Every day I felt stronger and more hopeful thanks to a comforting meal from a friend, truffles on my doorstep from a treasured coworker, supportive and comforting phone conversations with my family members, uplifting music, thoughtful text messages from far-away friends, lots of reading of books and blog posts about miscarriage, and journaling about my own thoughts.  I found my sense of humor again, finding the irony in the impeccable timing of the free sample of newborn diapers that arrived in the mail days later, and laughing about the dozen Oreos I ate in bed the other night, for which I evidently had no excuse.  (Maybe my pants expander will come in handy after all.)  Everyone must mourn in their own way.  Some people name their lost baby and have a memorial service, or plant a tree in their baby's honor.  I instead decided to leave wildflowers at the top of one of my favorite mountain peaks in Santa Fe and make a shadow box containing our only picture of our little angel. 

I learned that my type of miscarriage was called a "missed miscarriage" because I didn't have any symptoms suggesting that development had ceased.  The fetus was still in place, though not alive anymore.  Five days later, I started medication that would help speed up the process of my body expelling the fetus and tissues.  I chose this option instead of surgery (a procedure called dilation and curettage, or d&c) because I generally choose more conservative and less invasive medical procedures when the option is available, and I believed that being awake for the process and experiencing it at home would be important in my stages of healing.  I took two days off work and let the medication take effect.  When it was over, I felt a sense of closure.  I could now move on.  Although my life would never really be the same as it was before, and my next pregnancy would be accompanied by feelings of trepidation, I felt hopeful about new beginnings.

Through this process and all the people who supported me, I learned how I, too, can better support my friends through difficult obstacles in the future.  I learned what to say and not to say.  As a healthcare provider, I learned the importance of being direct with a patient and stating her diagnosis in a way that the patient can comprehend and process.  I learned to never treat a patient as if her condition is common, regardless of what the statistics say.  To that person, this is not common.  And as always, I appreciated the support and kindness of my midwife, who made time for me, did not rush my appointments, answered all of my questions (even when I called her over the holiday weekend), treated me like I was the only important patient to her at that moment, and allowed me the freedom to make my own medical decisions.


"Each person's grief journey is unique as a fingerprint or a snowflake."  
Earl Grollman

I'm sharing my story so that other women may know that they're not alone.  We are always hesitant to expose our vulnerability or discuss painful topics, fearing that others may think we're looking for pity, but no one should suffer in silence.  Everyone grieves differently, but the bottom line is that everyone must grieve so that they may move on and rediscover hope.  We must honor the loss of life, accept that the universe just doesn't make sense sometimes, and find a (sometimes hidden) path that leads to hope.  

My friends and family were wonderful in my healing process.  No one expects people to say the right thing or ask the right questions (because how could anyone know the right thing to say in this situation?), but everyone in my life was there for me, listened to me, and found their own unique ways to show love.  Most importantly, I have the world's greatest husband who anticipates my needs before I even need to ask, who knows exactly what to do to allow me to be my best self, who selflessly puts his family first, and who serves as my rock every day.  We lift each other up and together we have hope that there will be a baby in the future.  And for now, we treasure the time we have together.  Because life is just too short.  



Shadow box in memory of Baby

Flowers on Picacho Peak



"If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again."  Flavia Weedn







Comments

  1. Beautifully written dear! Today was my baby's due date. It brought back some of the pain but mostly I felt peace because of talking to people like you. I'm always here for you. I hate that you are now part of this secret club. You will be a wonderful mother someday however God allows it to be!

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  2. My heart goes out to you Betsy. Sending you my love and a big hug

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