This is sort of a difficult story to write because it is more personal than anything else I have shared. It is also a story that I really feel needs to be told because it is about something very common, but very seldom discussed.
It is a story about miscarriage.
I was 34 years old, had two easy uncomplicated pregnancies which resulted in 2 healthy wonderful children, and then found myself unexpectedly pregnant with my third. And just as unexpectedly at 12 weeks, I miscarried. Because no one ever talks about what miscarriage feels like physically, and the books and internet sites I read did not describe it at all, I was totally on my own, and absolutely overwhelmed by what it felt like.
Some people refer to miscarriage as “losing the baby”. A girlfriend who has had 2 miscarriages, told me she hates this term saying “I didn’t lose my baby. My baby was right where I put it. My baby died.” While blunt, this is also pretty accurate. At least “losing a baby” is a much gentler term than “miscarriage” or worse, the medical “spontaneous abortion”.
When I was pregnant with my first, I refused to entertain the notion of miscarriage. I also lived in total denial about the birth process and even what it would be like to have a newborn. It was my coping mechanism. Of course, looking back I describe my first 6 months with Helen like being hit by a truck.
Then I got pregnant with Billy when Helen was 13 months old and had another easy uncomplicated pregnancy. Yay me.
For 2 years after Billy was born, I hemmed, hawed, analyzed and over analyzed about having a third. Logically I thought that we should not expand our family. We had a smaller 3 bedroom house, only one of our vehicles is adequate for 3 car seats, and our financial picture would be better if we cap the family at 2 kids. But, emotionally, intrinsically, I wasn’t ready to call it quits reproductively speaking. My husband’s position was that he was happy with the two we have, but would be happy with a third. He was very honest in reminding me that I would have to do most of the hard stuff – pregnancy, labour, midnight, 2 am, 4 am and 6 am feedings, being at home with 3 children etc but was more than happy to step up to the plate and do his part in the creation…. 🙂
But over the winter, I decided to go with logic and stick with our two. Great! We would regain closet space, basement storage and garage space by getting rid of all our baby clothes, equipment, and maternity clothes. I mentally prepped for a garage sale in late May.
Then in April, I was late.
I have only been late 2 times in my life, so I was floored. I took a pregnancy test. After the indicated 2 minutes, it was very faintly positive. “No frickin’ way” I thought. According the packaging even a faint positive is still positive and I should follow up with another test in two days. So I did. I put it aside and lived in denial for 2 days. On “pee-on-a-stick-again day” I made sure to re-read the instructions. I made sure to use ‘first thing in the morning’ pee that is more concentrated. I made sure to pee on the stick correctly. Then it was immediately positive.
To complicate matters, my husband was away. So I had to live with my hard-to-believe news for 2 more days before he came back; this isn’t the sort of thing I wanted to tell him over the phone! When he came back, I waited until dinner was over, the kids were asleep to tell him; “Honey, I’m late”.
“You’re what?” came the incredulous reply.
“Late. I took a pregnancy test and its positive,” I said handing him the stick.
He took it, looked at it, looked at me and started to laugh. “How the hell did that happen?” he asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine, but apparently that warning about condom failure rate is not a myth”
Then I started to laugh at the dazed, yet incredibly proud look of “yeah my boys can swim!” on his face.
Once the surprise wore off we were totally thrilled and at peace with this bonus pregnancy. However I did say to my husband, who has an unholy fear of the V-word, “You know you’re going to go get a vasectomy after this baby is born right?” To which he replied, “Hell yeah!” Three is enough for this couple!
Fast forward to the end of week 11; after suffering more nausea and more fatigue than with my first two, I was feeling better. I was looking forward to see my maternity doctor for our first check up and feeling happy about life. We had even started to share our news with friends because what the heck, I was almost 12 weeks, so we were pretty much in the clear.
And then I started spotting.
This is where the story gets gory, so if you are uncomfortable with details such this, you may want to skip the next couple of paragraphs.
While totally unsettling, I know perfectly well that many women have bleeding yet still healthy pregnancies. I know because I am one of them, having experienced spotting with my first. But then it didn’t go away. And it got slightly heavier. While it was neither really heavy, nor bright red so at my first prenatal appointment my doctor was quick to reassure me that it was probably nothing. Until she put the Doppler on me and couldn’t hear a heartbeat. “Not unusual at this stage” she hedged, “but let’s send you for an ultrasound so we can be sure.”
The ultrasound was quickly scheduled for the next morning, and fortunately the children were at a sleepover at grandma’s. As soon as the technician put the device on me, I knew it was over. I could see a round thing in my uterus, but nothing in it shaped like a baby. I said, “That is not good”, and the technician replied, “aahh, well, no. I see a sac, but no little one.” After taking some measurements she left to get the doctor. He came in expressing his regret that there was no viable pregnancy. I had a blighted ovum, a thoroughly repugnant term also referred to as a missed (or silent) miscarriage. Essentially the baby had died, likely at about 7 or 8 weeks, but the sac was not expelled so my body thought I was still pregnant. For a full 4 weeks. I was pissed off!
We were told to go immediately to my doctor’s office and she would give us more information and tell us our options. I realized when I was in the waiting room that a maternity doctor’s office was the last place in the world you want to be when you have a miscarriage. Women in various stages of pregnancy bloom are there, stages that you will not experience this time. And newborn babies getting checked out, something you will not be able to do now that this pregnancy is over. It is probably more hurtful to be there waiting for the doctor than at home where you can crawl into bed…
But my doctor was great. She, who had been so pleased to see me again the day before, was visibly upset about our sad news. She laid out my options: I could wait to miscarry naturally, I could get medicine that would make my body miscarry (which could take up to a week, and would be very unpleasant) or I could get a D&C (Dilation and Curettage, essentially dilating my cervix and scraping out the pregnancy tissue). Either way, I was referred to the Woman’s Health Centre at the Foothills Hospital. They called me the next morning and my appointment was set for Monday, ironically enough, also the date that I was supposed to go in for my first ultrasound, the nuchal translucency test.
The lady from the Woman’s Health Center was kind. I told her I had never had a miscarriage and had no idea what to expect in the event I miscarried on my own over the weekend, so she tried to explain. “You are going to be in a lot of pain, but it’s not going to last very long. Then you will feel the sac come out. It will be dark purplish.” She told me to keep it so they could examine it when I came in to be sure everything came out and I was not at risk of infection.
So I carried on. Saturday was a busy day including a family party for my son’s 3rd birthday and then a date night. As the birthday party ended, I started bleeding a bit more heavily and experiencing cramping. Shortly after my husband took our kids to my parents, I started having heavier bleeding and severe cramps which felt similar to medium contractions. For the next 15 minutes I had one minute on, one minute off contractions then I felt a need to push and ran to the bathroom. Out came blood and a huge red bloody lump. I scooped it out into a plastic baggie and put it in the back of the fridge. (Anyone want to come over for dinner?) Then I took two Advil and promptly passed out.
When I woke up, my husband was home, I told him it was over and we got dressed and went to our party. I was sad, but I was glad it was over and I decided to carry on with my night rather than dwell on it.
I did not realize that I had passed a huge clot, and not the sac itself. That happened the next evening.
Late Sunday afternoon, the kids were enjoying the sunshine and kiddie pool in the backyard and we were reading when I was suddenly overwhelmed with cramps. I went inside to take some ibuprofen and lie down, but they just kept coming, severe & fast, like hard labour. My husband came in and sat with me for a bit, but we couldn’t leave the children unattended for very long so I crawled to the bathroom while he kept the kids outside and away from me. For the next 40 minutes I was alternately on the toilet or on the floor writhing, because nothing made it better; not the 2 extra strength Advil, or Aleve, not breathing through the contractions, yoga positions, massaging my stomach or just crying while lying on the cold bathroom floor. I was about to try the shower when I felt one great contraction, and then plop, out it came. It was as the clinic lady described, a purplish sac, denser than the huge clot of the day before. I quickly put it away in its plastic bag because I didn’t have the heart to examine it. I crawled back to my bed where I promptly and mercifully fell asleep.
The doctors and nurses all tell you to watch your bleeding and if you soak more than a pad an hour to go to the hospital. When I woke up about an hour later I had soaked through the pad, my clothing and onto the bedding. And it just kept coming and coming. I was feeling sad, a little weak, a lot relieved but also a little concerned about the bleeding. I called Health Link when the bleeding continued to be heavy and the nurse recommended I go to the hospital where they looked me over, checked my blood, did an internal exam and sent me home. They didn’t seem overly concerned…
The next two days I was extremely thankful to have my mom come over and take care of us. She watched the kids, did my laundry, fed me and made sure I napped. I was so drained and exhausted. I don’t know how I would have coped otherwise.
But after those two days, I started to feel like myself again, and regain my energy. The sun still came up, the moon still shone and life went on. My two adorable, frustrating, fabulous children needed their mommy, so there was no more time to feel sorry for myself, or for the one who wouldn’t need me.
Another unexpected reaction was depression. I felt very detached from people around me to the point where the people I love the most annoyed me all the time and I was irritable at things that shouldn’t make me irritable. I didn’t realize I was depressed until I started to feel better half a year later!
Though 3 years have passed I still feel melancholy when I think about what could have been. I feel less inclined towards Christmas because it was also my due date, and I look at children that are the same age mine would have been wistfully. Looking back at this time in my life, the whole thing was just surreal. I couldn’t believe that I was even pregnant. It was trippy to look forward to a baby. And then it was just as unbelievable that my body failed me by miscarrying that child.
And that is my story of miscarriage.