I put that "from the past" bit in the title to prevent anyone from panicking! I am not pregnant, nor have I miscarried recently - this is the story of the loss of our first child, five and a half years ago.
I have been meaning to write the story out for quite some time, and this seems like a good time. DH is watching whatever those yearly movie awards are - I never can remember - and I am waiting to see if the vague nausea I've been feeling all evening is going to go away, or morph into a real stomach bug. I'm voting for the former.
And so, the story.
* Warning: The following, while not particularly graphic, is a child-loss story that may contain triggers for those mamas who have experienced loss by miscarriage/stillbirth/abortion. Read with caution if that is the case.
First of all, after my miscarriage, I was shocked to find out how incredibly common miscarriage is. Before we lost our child, I had only heard of miscarriage in a vague, theoretical, "never really happens in real life" sort of way. After my miscarriage, I was shocked at the sheer number of women who came up to me and told me their child-loss stories.
In fact, over the past two years, at least three of my birth-blogging sisters have lost children to miscarriage or stillbirth. You can read their stories here: Kathy's Story, Kayce's Story, Kristen's Story.
In the group of six church women (myself included) who started our childbearing years together about six years ago, we have lost a total of eight children: one ectopic pregnancy, one early miscarriage following spontaneous conception, one later miscarriage following spontaneous conception (mine), one miscarriage of twins following successful embryo adoption transfer, and three babies whose embryo adoption transfers were unsuccessful.
So miscarriage is very common. But it's not acknowledged or talked about very often. Even I fall into this trap. When people ask "How many children do you have?" I tend to say "two," even though I am very pro-life and fully believe in the existence and humanity of my now-in-heaven first child.
I rejoice whenever a woman writes out her miscarriage story, because it helps other women know that they are not alone... that many women have traveled this hard path before.
And so, my miscarriage:
Shortly after we found our church home here in the valley, a new friend of ours, Laura, announced her pregnancy. We had been married a year and a half, and couldn't think of any reason why we shouldn't get started with our childbearing venture, so we looked at each other and said "Hey, why not? Let's go for it!"
So in March of 2005, I went off of birth control (I didn't know about the risks or the issues surrounding chemical birth control at the time.... we are no longer using this method of contraception). We soon found that infertility was not one health problem that our family would face, because we were pregnant 2-3 months later - my last period was on May 31, 2005.
I remember that when my period started, we were in California, just preparing to come back to Arizona after a short trip. I was mega-disappointed, as I had hoped that "this" would be the month... but in fact, it was the following month. That was my last period before our little one joined us.
Now, I should give the diagnosis so that the rest will make sense: This pregnancy was a "blighted ovum" pregnancy, also called "early pregnancy loss." This means that the baby dies very early on in the pregnancy, but the "pregnancy," i.e. the sac, the hormones, etc., continue to grow - though usually at reduced rates. This results in an absence of pregnancy symptoms, or very reduced symptoms, and a miscarriage - when the body finally expels the sac - is inevitable and non-preventable.
Something that upsets me very much about current literature and/or practice with blighted ovum and/or "chemical pregnancies" is the notion that "there never was a baby." Yes, there is/was a child; it is just that the baby dies very early on, so that oftentimes when the issue is diagnosed, there is no visible child (because the death occurred weeks before). But there is no such thing as a pregnancy without a baby. Just wanted to clear that up.
After we could have reasonably expected my period to occur, and it didn't, we finally walked to the drugstore behind our apartments and bought some incredibly expensive pregnancy tests (now I get them for $1 apiece at Dollar Tree!). And the test was..... positive! Yippee!!
But it was faint. Very faint.
So we decided to wait a couple of days. We retested, and again, it was positive.... but the test was still faint. If this happened again, I would know what was happening... but at the time, we were just puzzled. "Okay, we're pregnant. I guess. Hurray!"
I had no pregnancy symptoms, except some possible chest enlargement that was so slight as to almost have been imaginary. We kept reading pregnancy symptom lists on the internet and saying, "Gosh, I guess we're just the lucky ones who don't have any pregnancy symptoms! This is cool.... I guess?"
The one symptom that I did have, eventually, was nausea. I didn't know it at the time, but this was a glimpse into the future. With a blighted ovum pregnancy, I should not have had noticeable nausea... and I did. It was moderate, nearly to the point of throwing up (but not quite), and steadily present. It was still in the "cute" category of pregnancy nausea - "cute" as in "I'm pregnant! And I'm nauseated! Isn't this cool? Look everyone, I have morning sickness! Hurray!" Not into the category of being so sick that I was hoping for death, a delightful experience that I would experience five months later as I entered the horrific and indescribable world of hyperemesis gravidarum. But at the time, I just thought it was cute.
We didn't tell any friends or church family about our pregnancy. For one thing, we thought that we were "supposed" to wait to tell people because "that's what everybody does." Also, looking back, I think I must have had an instinctual knowledge that something wasn't quite right. We had a feeling of unreality about the whole thing - "We're pregnant, but everything is just the same. What's going on?" We almost told friends several times, but never quite got around to it.
In mid-July, we interviewed our first set of midwives. At the time, we had only private insurance, so we had no maternity coverage. When I first started my research (much before this time), I had been under the mistaken belief (I was so incredibly ignorant) that "maternity" meant "hospital," and that our private insurance would still cover out-of-hospital midwife-attended birth. I was wrong, of course, but by the time I was done with my reading, I was absolutely sold on homebirth and wanted one regardless of what was covered and not covered. I was in love.
That is a decision, incidentally, which I have never regretted. Some of my decisions in life and parenting are decisions that I still feel torn on.... But with homebirth, I have absolutely no regrets, second-guessing, or questions. I found a niche, a passion, and a cause.... and a wonderful and safe method of birthing for our family (I know it's not for everyone). I am so thankful for that.
So we went into Phoenix to interview our midwives. An hour before we left, I injured my back, and so by the time we got to their office, I was in so much pain that I could hardly walk or sit down. But despite that, we fell in love with our midwives and with midwifery care, and had a great time.
That was also one of the first time that I saw a collection of birth photography, and I found it a bit shocking. Now that I'm used to the most candid and up-close birth photos, I try to think back to that moment to remind myself why non-birthy people sometimes find birth photography off-setting when I now find it beautiful.
(With our second baby, we didn't stay with these midwives because they were just too far away... we changed to another midwife closer to home. But we remained on good terms with this team, and one of those midwives actually ended up at our later birth as a back-up anyhow!)
But back to the story:
Sometime around seven weeks, we decided to tell our parents. I had had a plan devised for quite some time, and my husband agreed to it - we got blank greeting cards, wrote nothing but "Proverbs 17:6" in them, and mailed them to both sets of parents.
(Proverbs 17:6 - "Grandchildren are the crown of the aged")
And then.... we waited. Three days went by, and... nothing. No phone calls, no excited congratulations, nothing.
A week, then a couple more days went by.... we were thoroughly puzzled!
And then, a package arrived in the mail for us from my mom. It contained a baby blanket which had been hand-made for my own birth, and a card that said something like "Did I guess right?" My mom was a stinker! But it was a perfect answer to our card, and I loved it.
After that, DH called his parents and said, "Um, did you get our card?" His mom said, "Oh, yes, I got it, but I was just too tired to look up the verse, so we didn't." Oh, dear. So DH got to give the news over the phone: "Um, that verse was "Grandchildren are the crown of the aged." Get it? Grandchildren?"
Enlightenment and congratulations followed.
A few days later, we called the rest of the family and let them know about the baby, and so were showered with love and congratulations. It was a lot of fun.
That was the end of the fun part.
The next morning, July 28th, I went to work as normal. I was primarily a homemaker, but I worked a part-time job as the secretary of our church.
I felt fine, but when I went to use the restroom shortly after arrival (at 8:00 a.m.), I noticed that there were brown streaks on the toilet paper. Brown streaks. I was puzzled and a bit alarmed. Was this blood? Was everything okay?
So I went back into the office and called my midwife. She said to keep an eye on it, but that there was nothing to worry about unless the blood was red. It was just a matter of waiting.
My boss (also my pastor) was out of town at the time, so I was alone at the church. This was a very good thing, I'm afraid, because I spent most of the morning - in between spouts of actual work - frantically googling "brown blood while pregnant" and "miscarriage symptoms" etc. etc. etc. It was a good day to be alone.
I went to the bathroom several additional times to check, and there was no more blood of any color.
However, as the morning progressed, I started to feel... yucky. I can't quite remember all of the details, because it is a bit hazy, and it was also almost six years ago now. All I can say is that I started to feel.... off. Not well. Cramps, I think, vague nausea, and just a sense of ill-being that grew and grew with intensity. I just felt worse and worse.
However, oddly enough, I did not put the pieces together. I did not realize that this was the beginning of a miscarriage. I just wondered why I was feeling so badly.
Sometime around mid-day, our sweet worship director came into the office to make a few copies. She was her usual bright and breezy self, and she chatted cheerfully during the few moments the copier was buzzing. By that point, I was slumped against the door, staring blearily at her, and could only mumble idiotic monosyllables. I felt like dirt, I was having a hard time staying on my feet, and I could not carry on a rational conversation - but I don't think she noticed anything. She left in less than five minutes, and at that time I gave up trying to work till quitting time - I got my stuff and headed for my car.
Driving home, I felt dreadful. I was slumped against the side of the car, just trying to get home in one piece. I figured that if a policeman stopped me, I would either collapse or throw up all over him, and that he could take it from there. I didn't care about anything at that point.
When I got home, about 10 minutes later, I got inside and ran for the bathroom, as I had overwhelming nausea and needed to throw up. However, when I got there, I didn't need to throw up after all. Instead, I used the restroom normally...
... and then I saw the blood. Lots of blood. Pouring, streaming, out into the toilet. It looked like rivers and showers of blood, going everywhere. I had never seen so much blood.
It was at that point that I truly realized that I had lost this baby.
I got to the phone and called our midwife. She gave me directions on what to do, and what to watch for, told me to get DH home, and to rest. I called DH and told him what had happened, and he was home within 20 minutes. I was a tearful mess during this entire time, needless to say.
DH was extremely upset. At first, he insisted on clinging to the hope that we might have had twins and lost only one of them, which really annoyed me. DH occasionally has the habit of clinging to false hope in times when grief is the more appropriate response. It was nice when he got past that phase.... I hope that I put that understandably? But apart from that, he was a great comfort.
We decided not to go the hospital. Our midwife told us that most miscarriages complete on their own just fine, and we didn't want to go in unless we had to. My body showed signs of doing fine on its own (no fever, etc.), so we never saw a doctor. When I hear that nowadays many doctors automatically do D&C procedures on all miscarrying women, regardless of necessity, I am very glad that we were able to stay home.
After the first hour, I actually felt okay. I took it easy for the rest of the day, and the miscarriage continued like a normal period. I was able to resume normal activities very rapidly.
It surprised me, when I read other miscarriage stories, that normal miscarriages can take much longer and be much more painful than mine was. I am guessing that it is because my pregnancy was a blighted ovum pregnancy that the miscarriage was actually easier than other women's experiences - I have often read of miscarriages being like a "mini labor" experience, with contractions, labor, transition, and "birth" phases, and lasting for many hours or days. Mine was over much sooner. (Though my miscarriage did follow - in miniature - a labor pattern, of growing "contractions" and then extreme nausea during "transition," which mirrors my other labors - I have always thrown up during transition.)
After a while, when I was feeling better, I went back into the bathroom - and I could see the sac floating in the water. I didn't pick it up. I wish I had..... I really wish I had. Now, if it happened, I would pick it up, look to see if I could see the baby, and then devise some way of burying it properly. But I wasn't thinking clearly, or thinking at all.... and at the time, in my ignorance, I thought that an eight-and-a-half-week baby would be too small to be seen by the naked eye, so I didn't try to look. Considering the type of pregnancy we had, I was probably right, though a normally-developed child would definitely be clearly visible and easy to find at that gestational age. Anyhow, that is one major regret of my miscarriage.
DH spent the evening calling all of the family to let them know of our loss - the same family, incidentally, which he had called the evening before to announce our pregnancy. It was a really sad time, a time of grief.
My aunt, who is one of the sweetest women in the world, wrote me a letter "from" our baby. It was precious, and I still have it:
"Dear Mommy and Daddy,
"We don't know each other very well because we weren't together very long, but I want you to know I felt your love and anticipation and excitement.
"I know you would make great parents but you can't imagine how wonderful it is being in heaven. Jesus welcomed me into His arms with a big hug and then introduced me to my Gramma Fern. We are having a great time together. She is telling me all about you, Mommy, when you were born and how you grew up. She is very proud of you. We'll have lots to catch up on when you get here!
"I just want you to know I am loved and well cared for here just as I would have been if I had stayed with you. But we have to obey Jesus when He says come home so that's what I did.
"I'm giving you this little bear (included with letter) to be a reminder of me until we meet in heaven - soon I hope!
"I LOVE YOU,
She was so sweet, and we appreciated that so much.
The most hurtful comment was from an unnamed family member, who said "Oh well, you weren't really pregnant yet anyway."
I found my emotional recovery to be... okay. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't terribly hard. We told our church family the following Sunday, and we were immediately surrounded by love and sympathy. They were so wonderful. Three months later, we were pregnant again and were almost immediately plunged into the life-altering world of hyperemesis gravidarum, previously mentioned, which left me neither thought nor energy (nor consciousness) to deal with anything past surviving minute-to-minute. But we remember our little one with regret and love, and we look forward to meeting him or her in Heaven.
We did not name our baby, since we did not have a distinct impression about sex. That too will have to wait for Heaven.
And there you have it. The story of our first baby's "birth" - born not into our arms, but into eternity - but loved and remembered always.
I'm so glad I finally wrote this out - every baby deserves his own birth story, even if it a story in which "hello" and "goodbye" are intertwined.
Baby, we'll see you in Heaven. We love you.