Recently one of my sisters-in-law lost another pregnancy.
We have chatted and cried for hours on the phone and sent countless emails back and forth. Like most people who experience a form of infertility or pregnancy loss, she feels misunderstood (for lack of a better word) which only adds to the pain of the situation.
Together we came up with the idea of doing a series of posts educating friends and family members (and me!) on how to understand and support pregnancy loss. Since I have never experienced it, I turned to some of my most beloved friends to answer a few questions for us.
Let me introduce them to you.
The is Brooke. She is my sister-in-law. She writes a blog about life over at S + B. She is adorable and I cannot express to you how grateful I am to have her as a sister-in-law. When I asked her to explain her situation to you this is what she said, “We had miscarried previously in October of 2010. So this time we’d been trying to get pregnant since December of 2010, but before the October miscarriage, we’d been trying for about six months.” She just miscarried in March, bless her heart.
This is Kim (aka Sensei or even Kimsey). She is my dear friend, my business partner and my photography teacher. She writes about life and photography over at Kim Orlandini. When I asked her to explain her situation to you this is what she said, “My husband and I had always struggled with our fertility since we were married. I was diagnosed with Endometriosis when I was 19 so it was always a struggle each month when we were let down again with no baby. This particular time we had been trying about 2 years when we became pregnant. We lost baby at just prior to 17 weeks gestation. This is four months of pregnancy.”
This is Laura (aka Mrs. Dub). She is the one who actually set up my blog when I went to visit her in Chicago in 2006. She is one of my oldest and most clever friends, an accomplished writer and a former blogger. When I asked her to explain her situation to you this is what she said, “I discovered I was pregnant in October 2007, just prior to our daughter’s first birthday. From there, the pregnancy proceeded normally until 10 weeks along, when I began to hemorrhage. We thought we had lost the baby but were thrilled to find it was miraculously okay. In the process, doctors discovered a dozen ovarian cysts caused by extreme levels of hormones. From there, my pain, discomfort and strange symptoms persisted, yet the doctors continued to insist the baby would be fine, despite my unusual case. However, at 17 weeks, via an ultrasound and subsequent amniocentesis, it was confirmed that I was experiencing a partial molar pregnancy. (Quick science lesson: A partial molar pregnancy is when an egg receives two sets of chromosomes from the father, usually because two sperm have fertilized the egg. The egg then has 69 chromosomes, instead of the normal 46, which is incompatible with life.)
“At 19 weeks, I developed severe preeclampsia and was encouraged to terminate the pregnancy to preserve my life. Doctors recommended an advanced D&E (dilation & evacuation), but we didn’t feel good about it. In the end, I was induced and had Zella via emergency c-section on February 4, 2008. She lived for mere seconds and weighed less than a pound, but we had the privilege of seeing and holding her after delivery.”
Something I learned.
One of the things I learned came from Laura and I wanted to make sure that I started out with it. I sent each of these ladies a little list of questions with this note attached, “Okay, here we go. Just let it all out on these. I am going to ask the questions in the best way that I know how; I pre-apologize if they come off as …anything but loving.”
Laura sent me a message back asking if she could change some of the wording in the questions. “Would you mind if I change the wording of miscarriage to pregnancy loss or infant loss for these questions? One of the sensitive areas for woman who lose pregnancies is miscarriage, because that generally implies you spontaneously lose the baby at the very beginning of a pregnancy (which many do). In my case, I delivered the baby alive at half-term, so miscarriage isn’t medically correct … and while I’m not a total stickler on it, I know some readers will be all over it if they’ve had a similar situation. Is that cool?”
So grateful for friends that teach me. I hope you let your guard down over the next few days, send your defensiveness on vacation and just learn from these women and their experiences.
This will be a series of posts.
Physically, what did the loss feel like? You have all had children before, was it a similar pain to that of delivery?
I had spent most of my pregnancy in Ukraine. I was fourteen weeks along when I felt menstrual cramps and started bleeding heavily. For me it was a three-day process of ER visits, OBGYN visits and ultrasounds. I held up pretty well through most of it until the final ultrasound when the ultrasound tech came in and tearfully told me that I had, indeed, been carrying a baby with no heartbeat. I started to cry then picked up my bag and sprinted out of the office. Gage (our two-year-old) held my face in his lap the whole drive home and played with my hair.
I had to deliver the baby at home instead of getting a D&C. I took a prescribed drug called Misoprostol which induces labor. The nurse had told me (over the phone after confirming that both ultrasounds showed no heartbeat) that I should take the drug ASAP and then within a few hours or so I’d start the process. When I got off the phone with her, I was like, “Alright, I can do this.” She definitely underplayed what happens when you take this drug. I was lying on the couch about an hour and a half after taking the pills when I felt contractions. I stood up to find my mom (my husband was still living overseas), but doubled over and crawled to the bathroom. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to get into a warm bathtub because I’ve heard that contractions are much less painful in water.
The process took a few hours. I feel like I was very blessed in that I had no sense of time. I didn’t know that it was actually six hours of labor. I thought it was only maybe one or two. My mom sat on the other side of the shower curtain the whole time, letting me squeeze her hand through the contractions. Physically, it was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. The contractions were about 45 seconds apart, lasting two minutes. I had to dilate quite a bit and of course I had no epidural or real painkillers. I threw up and my whole body shook and I spiked a fever. But the worst part was that when I’d been in labor with Gage, I’d known that it was all worth it because at the end, I’d have a baby. This time there was nothing at the end of the tunnel but more darkness. It felt terribly wrong and sick and twisted.
My mom helped me breathe through it all and when it was time to push, this makes me cry. She completely took control; even through my sobbing insistence that I didn’t want to and couldn’t do this, she told me that I had to because my other babies needed to come to a healthy womb and this was necessary for me to be healthy. She really saved me and carried me through this – in both an emotional and physical sense.
I had no idea anything was wrong. I had had spotting my entire pregnancy so when I started having a bit more I thought it was stress, or that I needed to slow down a ton. It wasn’t until I woke up early one morning in a puddle of blood. (Nice eh?) I began bawling immediately and knew, just knew. I was shaking so hard, woke up my husband and we sped to the hospital. A very very tough memory. I was cramping just a bit prior to going in for a D&C. (A medical procedure where they put you under and basically suck the baby, and tissue out of the uterus…graphic but true and it still haunts me to this day.) I was three days from having to deliver vaginally. At the time I was certain if I had to deliver vaginally it would have ruined my soul…now? I am haunted by the process of the D&C with a baby at that gestation.
Obviously, Zella’s delivery was closer to a typical birth than a traditional miscarriage. It was very scary because I severely hemorrhaged and had to receive a blood transfusion and emergency C-section to save my life, but it all happened under a doctor’s care and with advance notice of her condition. I also suffered an early miscarriage at home last fall. It was a unique situation where I thought I was pregnant but tested negative and even had a routine period. A few weeks later, I began to bleed and cramp, at which point we discovered I was pregnant. The baby must have embedded outside of the uterus, resulting in low levels of hormones. Physically, it was like having severe menstrual cramps. The pain at times was excruciating, especially since I wasn’t sure what was happening. I bled for a week afterward. Since I didn’t even know I was pregnant, there was no emotional trauma to complicate the situation, but I know from almost miscarrying Zella at 10 weeks that losing a pregnancy at any stage is devastating and can add emotional pain to the very intense physical pain you might be experiencing.
Describe your emotional self during this process.
During the final push, I was a mess. I started freaking out. I felt so many emotions: relief, guilt for feeling relief, terror at what had just happened, love for the baby, fear of seeing the baby, an emptiness that I’d never felt before, and the feeling that I would never be able to get it out of my head. It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever experienced.
After I ‘awoke’ from the surgery I felt a lot of bleeding, I told my nurse I felt I like I was bleeding to death…she told me that was normal…to which I responded, “NO! I really feel like I am dying.” She pulled back the blanket an indeed I was hemorrhaging. I hemorrhaged for 40 minutes before they got it under control. This was the worst physical and emotional pain I had experienced up until that time in my life. I was physically exhausted, literally bruised and beat up, and my heart was shattered. I had to stay overnight in the hospital on the maternity floor. I was so so very sad that entire night, and in disbelief. I was very sad for many, many, many months. I felt like my heart would never heal, that I let this baby down, my family down. I felt like I was broken and worthless. I felt guilty I almost died and left my family. Very strange but very true emotions.
Looking back, I realize how strong I was in the two weeks between finding out our baby wouldn’t survive to delivering her. I empowered myself by finding out what I could do to make my delivery as comfortable and memorable as possible. I had the advantage of preparing myself for her inevitable death. Additionally, the hospital provided additional resources, like a photographer and grief counselor, to make the experience more bearable. Still, it was surreal to walk around feeling the baby’s movements and know she would never come home to us. I felt very disconnected from the world and from other pregnant women. It’s like I had been kicked out of club. Those emotions continued after her death. While I felt a surprising amount of comfort and peace that her purpose on life had been served, I couldn’t help feeling jealous of others who weren’t asked to do the same. Like most people who suffer a loss, I appeared strong on the outside, but inside I was constantly hurting. At first, I would mentally relieve the experience every few minutes, but over time, the memories became more distant and sweet.
I once heard someone compare having a miscarriage to putting a batch of cookies in the oven on the wrong rack.
When they don’t turn out, you just throw them out and start over. What’s your reaction to that (because I thought it was pretty horrible!)?
So many people (including myself before my miscarriages) don’t seem to understand exactly what happens when a miscarriage occurs. There is an actual living, growing being that dies inside of its mother and has to come out of her. It’s not something you get over in a day or a month or even a year. I had someone in me that had potential to become a living being, outside of my womb and now that potential is gone, at least for now. This is very real. It’s death. It’s serious. It’s not cookies. And the whole, “just try again” thing… it makes me really mad. I’ve heard this analogy as well, from a person who is extremely fertile… in fact, too fertile. For someone who struggles with her fertility, deciding to try to get pregnant is a big decision. You’re essentially telling yourself, “I know this may end in heartbreak. I know it will probably be months until I see a plus sign. Am I ready for this?” But then there are always those fertile people who are like, “Oh, we’re going to get pregnant in April or maybe May.” And then in March they post the Ultrasound pictures on facebook. (I’m not begrudging pregnancy, or posting things on FB). Realize that getting pregnant is not baking. Miscarriage is not the bad batch that you throw out and forget about when the next batch comes out right (sometimes years later, if ever).
I don’t know about you, but even messed up cookies can be pretty delicious. The smell is still amazing even though they may not look very pretty, I would still probably eat them. To compare a baby to a messed up cookie is pretty heart wrenching and makes me sad. I wonder if that person has ever suffered such a loss. Like I said, if you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything, and if you have to, the best words…no matter if baby died a week ago or five years ago, “I am so so so sorry for your loss. This just completely sucks. Let’s go eat a cookie.”
This person is a jerk. Okay, that was rude. That person is an idiot. Still too harsh? The reality is some people, even those who have suffered a loss, are going to say dumb things. Yes, most miscarriages are caused by genetic disorders that are incompatible with life. However, losing a baby is not like baking cookies. Beyond the inevitable devastation and disappointment, many people deal with lingering health problems, subsequent infertility and/or fears for future pregnancies. It’s not a simple event, nor is there a simple solution, medically or emotionally. As a general rule, avoid making analogies, especially stupid ones.
Tomorrow we will learn about the DO’s and DO NOT’s when it comes to supporting a loved one through a horrific experience like those bravely shared above.