October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month (it’s also babywearing month so if you interested in babywearing check out my post from last year here!). Miscarriage and infant loss is really difficult to talk about and often it’s considered a taboo topic – inappropriate for public conversation. The truth is that loss is very personal – some want to talk about it and others don’t. It should be acceptable for women to feel either way. We are all different and grieve/process loss in different ways. It’s not fair to try to force women to put their feelings in a one size fits all box.
According to my doctor, almost 1 in 4 women in the United States today suffer a miscarriage or experience infant loss. Miscarriage is typically defined as a loss of pregnancy before 20 weeks. Infant loss is what everything after that is typically labeled. Labels however don’t make anything easier or less painful to process. Loss is loss regardless of how early or late it occurs. It took me almost a year to be willing to publically share this – especially in blog form where it’s out there for all to see- but I am one of those women – the 1 in 4 who have lost a baby.
My husband and I started trying for a second baby last fall and in November we were excited to discover that I was expecting. Other than some all-day nausea, some ligament pain, and heartburn, my first pregnancy was pretty standard (my birth was another story but the pregnancy itself was uneventful). We had no reason to suspect that my second pregnancy would be any different. In the first couple of weeks I felt a little nausea but I was also traveling so it was hard to tell if it was pregnancy related or not but when we got home the symptoms strangely disappeared. I tried not to think too much of it since everything looked good according to the preliminary blood work that my doctor ordered to confirm my pregnancy. When I mentioned to the nurse that I didn’t feel “pregnant” like I did with my son she dismissed my concerns saying that I was lucky that I wasn’t feeling sick and explained that every pregnancy is different so it wasn’t unheard of for me to feel good. She also mentioned that since I was feeling almost the opposite of how I felt with my son that it could indicate that I was expecting a girl this time – which was an exciting prospect. My husband and I went about our normal lives, keeping the secret but excited about our new addition arriving in July. The timing felt perfect. The baby would be due a month after my son’s birthday. They would be almost exactly 3 years apart and would be born in the same season which meant that if the baby was a boy he would be able to wear my son’s old clothing. It was also going to be the perfect time of year to have a baby (in my mind) because my son would be able to play outside in our back yard or at playgrounds while I tended to his new sibling. Unfortunately, God had other plans.
A couple of weeks later I woke up to discover I was spotting. This happened with my son too, but stopped within a day… this time it didn’t seem to be letting up and I was having some mild cramping too. My mind immediately thought the worst but my doctor sent me for blood work (several times) and all of the results came back normal. My hormone levels were rising and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. At just over 6 weeks pregnant the spotting hadn’t stopped and I was a total basket case. My doctor agreed to bring me in to check things out. Normally they don’t see patients until they hit at least 8 weeks. At around 7 weeks pregnant we went to the office and they set me up in the ultrasound room. In my head I already had a feeling about what they were about to find but my heart prayed differently.
As my doctor scanned my belly I searched the screen for any sign of life… my doctor was heartbreakingly quiet. I took a deep breath, trying to hold myself together for my husband and toddler who were with me. My husband and I both wanted this baby and my son didn’t understand what was happening. I made myself ask the question that we all wanted to know. I asked her if there was “anything in there.” Her answer was that “it” being our baby was much smaller than it should have been at 7 weeks (what should have looked sort of like what I call a gummy bear, was just a small dismal looking circle). She also told us that unfortunately she couldn’t detect a heartbeat. She told us that she wanted to see us in a week before any decisions were made just in case it was just too early (since this was a very wanted pregnancy) but she made it clear that there was very little hope. I made myself ask what the next steps were. I needed to wrap my brain around what was about to happen. She told me that we would discuss options in a week if nothing happened by itself…
We went home pretty crushed by what we had just been told. Only a few people knew I was even pregnant and for that I was thankful. I continued to spot. Then, during the first week of December, at just barely 8 weeks pregnant, at roughly 3am I officially lost the baby for which we had been so excited for. On one hand I knew I should feel lucky that my body did what it needed to on its own, without medical intervention, but on the other hand it was physically painful (never mind emotionally) and to say it was messy would be the understatement of the year. It was a long night. The next day I tried to go about life as normal as much as I could but I felt like a ghost just going through the motions. I was still in pain and I felt emotionally and physically empty.
In the days and weeks that followed I did my best to hide what had happened and I’d like to think that I did a relatively good job as not many people knew what was going on. I didn’t want anyone to know. I felt ashamed. I felt as if my body had failed me and to be honest, I was angry at God too. I felt like we had done everything right. My husband and I were in a really good place with our relationship, we were doing well parenting our son (or at least we thought we were), and overall life had been good. I felt like this baby had been a gift for all of our hard work and it had been violently ripped away with no apparent reason. Logically I understood that miscarriage is fairly common and that it wasn’t my fault at all but emotionally I couldn’t accept that. I also felt stupid for being so attached to something that I had barely known about for 8 weeks. I knew no less than three other moms who had lost babies late in their pregnancies (over 20 weeks) in the past year and felt like compared to them I had no right to be upset but I was.
My husband tried to console me saying that it wasn’t meant to be and that we could try again but I didn’t find that comforting at all – it made me angry. I felt like he didn’t care. To me, we had lost a child. It felt like to him, we could just replace it like a broken vase. Almost a year later, I recognize that this was unfair of me. My husband was processing the loss in his own way. We all process loss differently and in the thick of it, it’s hard to see anything else.
Many have asked me why I wanted to keep it such a secret. In addition to the guilt and the pain, each time a friend or even an acquaintance announced a pregnancy, I wanted to melt into a puddle on the floor. I was ashamed that I was jealous of these women who I truly WANTED to be happy for but it was just too painful. I’m sure they would have understood if they had known what I was dealing with but the truth is that I couldn’t face all of the “I’m sorrys.” I knew my friends would mean well but each “I’m sorry” brought a fresh wave of pain. To me this was too personal for social media.
I finally opened up to a friend who had lost a baby later term and admitted that I felt that my loss didn’t hold a candle to hers. Her response changed my outlook completely. She validated my grief and told me that she felt as though ANY loss, regardless of how early or how late is significant and important. She didn’t downplay my heartbreak and was truly a patient listener. She made me realize that I was allowed to grieve.
Physically, my recovery from the loss was rough as well. I bled for WEEKS and experienced painful camping. I had to go for weekly blood tests for over a month to make sure that my pregnancy “indicators” dropped to zero. One of my doctors told us that we could try again immediately if we wanted to…. another recommended that we wait 3 months to give my body a chance to heal. Emotionally, I wasn’t ready to even consider it but wanted to. I was a hot mess. My period returned just a couple of weeks after I finally stopped bleeding from the loss and it was so physically painful that I could barely get off the couch. Truthfully, my periods never really returned to “normal” again. As I tried to cope with what was happening to my body I still had to care for my busy toddler. He didn’t understand why mommy was “sick.” He didn’t want me to lie on the couch. He wanted me to play with him. I felt guilt and even more shame as I relied on television to keep him entertained. I started to think I didn’t deserve another child.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I got through. Talking to a few close friends helped as did a couple of Facebook groups which I will share at the end of this post. A discovered a Christian song about miscarriage more by accident than anything else and that soothed my soul more than I thought possible. I chose to believe that my baby would be cared for in heaven and that one day I would meet him or her…. It was the only thing that made me feel better.
It’s been almost a year and I wouldn’t say that I’m “over it.” I think it’s unfair for us to think that anyone ever gets “over” a loss of any kind. The fact that I am pregnant and expecting another child this December helps but doesn’t “replace” the child we lost and I think it’s unfair to this new baby to even imply that he or she is a replacement. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the baby that we lost but each day is a little easier and it’s getting easier to talk about.
Do you know someone who has lost a child? You probably know a few. You may be surprised to discover that some of your friends have been in my shoes and never said anything to you. Although the media is trying to make miscarriage less of a taboo topic, it’s still deeply personal. If you know someone going through a loss my best advice is to be there for them and supportive of whatever they need to do to survive – try not to say you are sorry. Instead, tell them that you care and that they are brave for sharing their story with you.
Helpful Resources for Dealing with Infant Loss