Today, March 24, 2017 is the one year anniversary of my due date with Jacob’s older brother or sister who I miscarried at 8 weeks in August, 2015. I think I will always remember that baby’s due date. It was so close to my 30th birthday (March 27, 2016) that I wondered if my birthday would be spent in the hospital, maybe even in labor…and I was totally okay with that! It was also our first pregnancy, and I started hoping and dreaming for that baby’s future the minute I got a positive pregnancy test. For me, the experiences of grieving our first baby and grieving Jacob have been in some ways similar and in other ways different, and I hope maybe this post can help someone who is also experiencing or has experienced an early miscarriage.
Going back and reading an email I wrote with all my feelings about the miscarriage (more below) stunned me with how similar those emotions were to the ones I experienced after losing Jacob. I have considered my grief process with Jacob much harder than what I experienced after the miscarriage, and don’t get me wrong, it has been. Jacob and I just had so much longer to bond. When I miscarried, I didn’t really even think about the term “grief.” I knew I was really profoundly sad and felt lost and hopeless, but it didn’t inhabit my body and demand to be felt both emotionally and physically the way my grief with Jacob has. But it was really profound for me to discover that a lot of the thoughts I had were the same. I don’t see any point in comparing hardships or trying establish a level of how hard miscarriage is relative to infant loss…it just doesn’t make sense, each woman has her own experience, and there aren’t apples to apples comparisons. Before losing Jacob, my miscarriage was my most painful life experience. I may have moved on from it more easily/quickly, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t very intense, real, and difficult at the time. And it doesn’t mean it still isn’t sometimes.
Actually, since losing Jacob, I’ve thought a LOT about this first baby. It started when I read the book Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo, which was gifted to us by thoughtful friends shortly after Jacob was born, and was such a blessing to read in those early days of grief. *Spoiler alert* In the book, the author and his wife learn through their son’s near death experience that they have another child waiting for them in heaven…the child they miscarried early in their first pregnancy. That really got me thinking that maybe I will meet not only Jacob, but this other baby in heaven too, and I started thinking about that baby a lot more. *End spoiler.* Honestly, we were so blessed to conceive Jacob just a couple months after the miscarriage, and that renewed hope really put a hold on my sadness for that little one. I’ve spent some time since losing Jacob feeling guilty that I “got over” the baby I miscarried when I got pregnant with Jacob, because I know no subsequent pregnancy could ever make me “get over” losing Jacob.
But I remember to be gentle with myself. There is no rulebook for grieving a baby of any gestation, and all we have are our own experiences. In fact, clearly I’m not really “over” that baby since I think about him or her so often now. My sadness just took a hiatus, I guess. I think it was just easier for me to put all my energy into hoping for Jacob and leave my sadness over the miscarriage behind. Maybe I even had to stop thinking about that baby so that I could remain as positive as possible about a different outcome with Jacob. I certainly did have a very nervous first few months of pregnancy, afraid to lose him too. But losing Jacob has really made me think even more about that first baby…I hope Jacob has found his big brother or sister in heaven and that they get to play together! I hope I get to meet that baby some day and learn all about him or her, since we knew so little at the point of our 8 week loss. So in honor of that baby’s due date anniversary, and in case this can be helpful to any others who might read, I want to tell my miscarriage story.
I got my positive pregnancy test while on vacation with my family in Northern Michigan, and I was so excited! Having had a few months of negative pregnancy tests beforehand, I couldn’t believe my eyes when there was a second line on that test. It was also super exciting because my cousin and I had really hoped to be pregnant together, and she was already pregnant – we were going to be 9 weeks apart and get to share all of this joy together! She was in Michigan at the same time, and I remember the excitement of telling her in a restaurant bathroom because we didn’t want to share yet with the others in our group. I was cautious in my optimism though, because I knew it was early, and that miscarriage was a real possibility (though I didn’t know how common). I took another pregnancy test each day of that trip (in retrospect, I should have bought stock in First Response), and went to the initial nurse intake appointment at my doctor’s office when I got back home. By that point, I had already experienced a tiny amount of bleeding, or spotting, but it was not ongoing, and the nurse told me that the pregnancy test they administered there was “very positive” so it was probably nothing to worry about. Many women experience spotting early in pregnancy with no adverse outcome. But she did say to call them if it resumed again. Unfortunately, it did. At this point, I was 6 weeks pregnant. If you’re not familiar with how the weeks of a pregnancy are counted, it starts with week 1, which is when you began your last menstrual cycle. So the earliest you can get a positive pregnancy test is around when you miss your next cycle, so that technically makes you about 4 weeks pregnant when you get a positive if you test right away and have about average 28 day cycles. The doctor had me come in for an ultrasound to comfort my fears, and it did just that! The ultrasound tech showed us our baby, with a beating heart, measuring right on track in terms of growth. I still remember the baby’s heart rate was 110, which is not atypical for that early stage. Babies’ heartbeats take a while to pick up to their peak, sometimes in the 170s mid first trimester, then lower again as the babies grow. For example, Jacob’s heart rate at the end of my pregnancy was usually in the 140s. So we were told to take comfort in a good scan, and we did! In fact we fell in love! We had tears in our eyes seeing our baby on that screen, and after that re-assurance we felt comfortable enough to tell a few more family members. I read statistics about the odds of a miscarriage once you’ve seen a heartbeat, and they were very much on our side. We started to really believe we would be welcoming our first baby the following March!
Our comfort didn’t last long though. My spotting stopped for about a week, then resumed more consistently than before and I felt compelled to call the doctor again. I remember that appointment was on a Wednesday or Thursday, I was about 7.5 weeks pregnant at that time, and it was really rough. We were both hoping to be re-assured again, and to get another peak at our growing baby. Maybe we were even expecting it. But the news this time was different. Though the baby had continued to grow since the last scan, his or her heart rate was slowing down…I think it was under 50BPM at that point. We were told that it is unusual to catch a miscarriage in process on an ultrasound, and they technically couldn’t diagnose a miscarriage until there was no heartbeat, but that unfortunately that was the most likely case of what was happening. I was told I would probably bleed for a couple of weeks, and given guidelines about when to call the doctor if the bleeding got excessive. They also scheduled me to come back in the following Monday to see if things were progressing because we had a planned trip overseas coming up in 2 or 3 weeks, and they could consider medication or surgery (a d&c) if the miscarriage wasn’t happening naturally in a reasonable time. We were devastated. I know at this point I had only known I was pregnant for 3.5 weeks, but it felt like an eternity. An eternity filled with hope and planning and love for this baby that was now dying inside me, and there was nothing we could do but wait.
Plus, what exactly were we waiting for? I was too stunned at the doctor’s office to ask any questions, and honestly I didn’t really know the questions to ask. I found myself googling to try to find out exactly what to expect, physically, when having a miscarriage at 7-8 weeks pregnant. Since I found myself searching for answers, I want to write pretty candidly about what exactly I experienced. Ultimately, I think the experience is very different for different women. It depends on how far along you are, when the baby stopped developing, whether you and your care provider choose to proceed naturally or using medication or surgical intervention, and probably other variables that I, as a non-doctor, don’t know about.
Things really started progressing for me on Saturday. I actually had contractions for several hours. In hindsight, having now experienced early labor contractions, these were about the same. Maybe even a little more painful (though shorter) than the contractions I experienced in very early labor with Jacob. They happened in regular intervals and got closer and closer together. I ended up calling the on-call doctor to ask if I could take something because why was I letting myself be uncomfortable if I didn’t have to? He explained that this kind of “cramping” as he called it was normal and that it probably meant I was close to “completing” the miscarriage. He also said I could take advil, which ultimately didn’t help a whole lot. Thankfully Saturday was my only day with these mini-contractions.
Sunday was our first wedding anniversary…that was rough. We went out to dinner to try to “celebrate” and I had a glass of wine and felt guilty about it. I only let myself have one because I hadn’t specifically asked the doctor about alcohol and I couldn’t help the thought of what if by some miracle this turns around? Sad. That weekend was probably the hardest of my life until losing Jacob. I felt so depressed, and like I’d failed somehow, and I was sure I’d done something wrong to cause this even though the medical staff all said it was definitely not, and was probably just a spontaneous error in how the dna lined up as the baby was forming, and this was the body’s way of letting go of a baby that couldn’t have survived.
This next paragraph is pretty blunt and pretty graphic, so please feel free to skip it if you don’t feel a need to know the physical details of my experience with miscarriage. I get that it can be uncomfortable to read, and that’s totally fine. I do just want to put it out there though, for those who want to know. Because sadly miscarriage happens in about 1 in 4 pregnancies, so why should talking about it be considered taboo? I don’t think it should, and to the extent that my account helps another woman experiencing a miscarriage, or someone who knows a woman experiencing a miscarriage, to cope and/or offer support, I want it out there.
**Trigger – miscarriage described in detail**
Monday, at exactly 8 weeks pregnant, we returned to the doctor and the ultrasound confirmed that the baby’s heart had indeed stopped beating. Further, I was told that the “tissue” was working its way down toward my cervix and that I would probably pass it in the next day or two. Again overwhelmed by sadness, I didn’t ask many questions. After the appointment, I decided to go to work. I had been sitting around all weekend waiting and wondering and being sad, and I just felt like I needed to get back to some sense of normalcy to keep my mind off of what was happening. Unfortunately, I ended up “completing” the miscarriage at work. In retrospect, I might have thought about this and stayed home. But the automatic-flush toilets in the office building didn’t even cross my mind when considering whether to return to work. And maybe it was a blessing in disguise…if this had happened at home, I’m not sure how I would have processed decisions like to look or not to look, to flush or not to flush, if not, how else to dispose of what was probably an amniotic sac with a tiny baby inside (I don’t know, I didn’t get the chance to find out).
Looking back, it’s odd how calmly I was able to go back to my desk and continue working. Honestly, I think after a weekend of grieving and wondering, I was relieved that the unknown had occurred and I wanted to move on and not return to that sad place, at least not at that moment. I write this to say that how you process and react to a miscarriage might surprise you, and that’s okay. Like I’ve said before, there’s no rulebook. Take care of yourself and your partner, and as long as you’re doing what feels right for the two of you, that’s all that matters.
That’s a lot about the physical side of how things happened, and the medical process. But perhaps more important to share is the email I sent the wonderful health coach I was working with at the time. I just felt like I needed to list all the conflicting feelings I was having and share them with someone, and she was the chosen person. Not sure that was so lucky for her, but it was fortunate for me because she responded with such lovely and thoughtful validation of all my varied emotions. Here is the list of thoughts I sent her, which I wrote pretty much stream-of-consciousness and haven’t edited:
- How am I supposed to feel? I want to feel how I’m supposed to. How do other people think I’m supposed to feel? I want them to think I’m appropriately sad, but also strong/professional.
- I kind of already feel like I was never even pregnant, even though three days ago I felt like I had been pregnant forever.
- Is it wrong to tell people? Why do I want to tell people? Am I too open/unfiltered? Will people judge me/think it’s inappropriate if I tell them/other people?
- I shouldn’t take tylenol because I should feel exactly how this feels without medication/i want to feel that.
- Why is this happening to me? Why do I have to be one of the 25%? There must be something wrong with me; I’ve always had a premonition that I would have trouble having children. Of course I’m one of the 25% I’m not really surprised at all, I knew there was something wrong with me. I’m sure I did something wrong and that’s what caused this.
- I don’t know if I ever want to try again. We should try again right away. I wonder when my Doctor will say I can try again.
- I hope my pregnant friends don’t think this is going to come between us. Is it going to be hard for me to be around them/their babies? If it is, does that make me a bad person? How can I hide it?
- Is it okay for me to go out with friends? Am I supposed to not talk about it? Can I? Is it ok to talk about it?
- I can’t wait to drink wine. Holy sh** that’s a terrible thing to think right now.
- Maybe I’m kind of relieved. Maybe I wasn’t ready in the first place. Now I can get in the shape I wanted to be in when I got pregnant.
- I’ll do everything perfectly next time. But how will I not be stressed next time? I’ll be so worried constantly.
- I should quit my job an focus on preparing myself to get pregnant again. Even if I keep working for now to have something to occupy my mind, I should quit as soon as I get pregnant because I will be so worried and I won’t be productive at work.
- We shouldn’t celebrate our anniversary this weekend. I don’t know how to celebrate our anniversary this weekend given what’s happened. I don’t know how I want to celebrate our anniversary this weekend. I feel like this year has been a waste and I’ve accomplished nothing. I feel like I have just been in survival mode this whole year. I feel like it flew by and I have no memories of it.
Wow, reading through these for the first time since I had the email exchange with her was pretty intense. I honestly didn’t remember having a lot of these feelings because I feel like that weekend is kind of blocked out in my mind. My memory of it is foggy at best. It’s shocking to me how many of these feelings were similar to thoughts I’ve had since losing Jacob, and reading it really helped me remember how intense and dark those days were. I wanted to share this to show that miscarriage is really, really hard, and you might have a LOT of conflicting emotions. I just want any woman going through this type of experience to know she is not alone.
It may always be a struggle to know how to acknowledge or honor that first little life we lost. Jacob gets a whole blog, that baby gets one post. I generally refer to Jacob as my “firstborn” and always plan to. When people ask if I have children, I usually say something about Jacob. Sometimes if the conversation seems to invite it I’ll mention that I had a miscarriage before Jacob, but honestly that’s rare. Maybe this is because of the way miscarriage has become (has always been?) a taboo topic in our society. Maybe it’s because I don’t know enough about this baby to share much. Maybe it’s because the bond with Jacob was so much stronger and that loss is so much more raw. Maybe it’s because I got to hold and study and kiss Jacob, and I never saw that baby except on a screen. Regardless, I will never forget or not feel love for our first little one, and I like to think he or she is looking down on us, arm in arm with Jacob, and can feel all of that love.