Friday, February 20, 2015

Tough Stuff: The Secret Moms' Club

There is a club that no woman wants to belong to, a club that no one wants to talk about or think about. I was thinking about saving the tough stuff for Tuesdays, but today I am going to talk about something uncomfortable but all too common. We need to talk about miscarriage.

The word miscarriage makes us uncomfortable. Every woman of childbearing age fears it, but the truth is one in four women experience miscarriage, many in silence. I am one of those women and today I am breaking the silence. Currently, I am going through my second miscarriage in six months. I should be ten weeks pregnant right now. The other day I saw my tiny baby on an ultrasound screen, What I didn't see was a heartbeat.Why am I telling the world this? After all, I am a very private person. I don't do public displays of emotion, and most people would never suspect when I am going through something. Believe me, I debated, agonized, and consulted Jan about sharing this very personal situation. It makes me uncomfortable. So why am I sharing? I am hoping that maybe I can help even just one woman feel less alone. We wait until the first trimester has passed before we share the news of pregnancy, in case something happens. The truth is, at the moment of conception something has already happened; a life has formed, and you have become a mother to that child. The truth is that when we see those lines on a pregnancy test we start planning, we start imagining. If you lose a baby and nobody knew it existed, it doesn't make it any less real. It can be a very isolating experience, having to carry on with your life as though you didn't lose a child, as though you haven't' been forever changed. Everybody grieves differently, and no way is right or wrong. Some women may feel that they want to keep their miscarriage between themselves and their partners and that's okay. What's not okay is feeling like you can't talk about it, like you have to just get over it. It is a sad and uncomfortable topic. During my pregnancies, I lurked around on the What To Expect When You're Expecting message boards. I saw a lot of posts along the lines of, "Please, only positive posts, we don't want to read about miscarriage," and "I am sick of hearing about miscarriage". I am sorry that they are sick of hearing about miscarriages. Some of us are sick of having them. My point is, if you want to share your story, it's okay. You don't have to be ashamed or worry about scaring people, or pretend it never happened. If you have lost a baby, whether you were one day pregnant or forty weeks, you are a grieving mother, and you are not alone. Here is my story.

The month before I conceived my second son I experienced what is clinically known as a chemical pregnancy. In this situation, the pregnancy test turns positive but implantation doesn't occur or occurs very briefly. A chemical pregnancy can be missed because a woman may mistake it for a heavy period. We were trying for our second child. I was full of hope when I missed my period and saw that faint line. A few days later the bleeding started and my doctor confirmed a chemical pregnancy. It seemed strange to put a clinical, cold word like "chemical" in the same sentence as "pregnancy". This was my first experience with pregnancy loss, but sadly not my last. Just one month later I was blessed with another pregnancy, this one healthy and full term despite dealing with some scary bleeding at 20 weeks. We figured we would wait a while before having a third. Maybe once my oldest was in school all day, and my youngest was in preschool, and hopefully sleeping better. Have you ever heard that saying, people make plans and God laughs? On August 5th, 2014 just four months after I stopped nursing I missed my period. "Couldn't be," I thought. Still, I picked up a pregnancy test and there it was. Pregnant. I am ashamed to admit this, but my initial reaction was not one of joy. I wish I could go back and change that now. We very much wanted a third child, but it would be financially tight, we would have to buy a bigger car which we couldn't really afford. My then nineteen-month-old was still up several times a night. These are the thoughts that went through my head on August 5, 2014. Thoughts that seem petty and meaningless now, but human thoughts nonetheless.

During the next week, the surprise wore off and the excitement began to creep in. My pregnancy symptoms began immediately. I was nauseous all of the time, I was highly sensitive to smells, I had weird cravings and aversions, I was exhausted. I figured these were all good signs. I had no reason to believe that anything would go wrong. As I anxiously awaited my eight-week appointment, I began to imagine my third child. I pictured a dark haired, boisterous little boy or a giggly, bubbly, blue-eyed little girl. I didn't care which. Being a planner, I began to look at toddler beds so my youngest could give up the crib to his baby brother or sister. I ordered him a big brother in training t-shirt. I was blissfully ignorant. Still, I told no one that I was pregnant, not even my mother. I figured I could announce it after my first appointment. I imagined taking pictures of my son in his t-shirt holding an ultrasound picture. It's not that I didn't worry about miscarriage. Every time I was tempted to share my pregnancy news something stopped me. On August 27th, I came home from an afternoon at the park and hurried to the bathroom. You know, pregnant woman bladder. I saw a drop of blood, no bigger than a quarter. I worried, but my husband reminded me that I had experienced bleeding with both of my boys and everything had been fine. That night I dreamed of a beautiful carousel suspended in the sky, painted horses rising through the clouds. When I woke up, I knew, but at the same time I didn't want to know. I called my doctor's office as soon as they opened. They had me come in for an ultrasound. I dropped the kids off at my friend's house and drove to the hospital like a lamb led to the slaughter. As an aside, everyone needs a friend like this - a friend who will take your kids at a moment's notice, no questions asked. I am lucky enough to have a few.

I stared at that ultrasound screen, the technician wearing a perfect poker face. They can't tell you anything, but I knew what an eight week ultrasound should look like. What I saw was an empty space where my child should have been, the heart rate a flat line. They called it a blighted ovum, a condition in which conception occurs but development stops at the forming of the gestational sack. I was devastated, but I told no one. Remember, no one knew I was pregnant. If you are someone close to me who is reading this, please don't feel badly that I didn't tell you. I didn't know how to tell anyone I had lost a child that no one had known about. I went about my days on autopilot. My pregnancy symptoms increased, making it difficult to believe that I had actually miscarried. To humor me, my doctor did another ultrasound and blood work. My hormone levels were dropping but my body wasn't getting the message as it held on to a pregnancy that was already over.

I opted for a D&C. The procedure itself is pretty simple. The tissue is removed under light anesthesia. In the two months following the procedure I went in to the office every week to get my blood drawn. My hormone levels were going down, but not as quickly as they should have. The whole thing was like salt in an open wound. I watched all of the pregnant women coming in for their ultrasounds, their checkups, and their glucose tests. No, I wasn't jealous of them; I didn't begrudge them their happiness or their babies. At the same time, though, every visit to that office reminded me: I should be here for my x number of weeks appointment. I should be wearing maternity clothes by now. It felt weird to simply carry on, weird to order a beer at a restaurant, weird to eat soft cheese or take an Advil. Nonetheless, I moved on as if nothing had happened, because as far as the vast majority of people in my life knew, nothing had. This is what we do, right? We get pregnant and then we pretend like nothing life changing has happened, just in case. But what if just in case happens? If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, does it make a sound? You're damn right, it does.

At this same time my five year old began having difficulties in school. He had begun kindergarten as almost the youngest kid in his class and he didn't handle it well. I spent five weeks meeting with the school principal, social worker, and teacher. After being patronized within an inch of my life and finding no solution, we finally moved him. It was a very stressful time. Not only did I not appreciate being virtually patted on the head and called an overbearing mother, especially given the tuition we were paying, but honestly given my mental state at the time it is a wonder I was able to remain diplomatic (not kill anyone). Anyhow, life went on as it does whether we think it will or not, and I became fixated on the almost obsessive need to get pregnant again. Of course, I knew I could never replace my baby. Yet, I needed something else to focus on. True, we weren't trying in the first place but the expectation of having another child had been created and I couldn't shake it. My hormones stabilized and we were given the green light to try again three months after my D&C. Our nice, low stress Christmas trip to San Diego seemed like the perfect time to jump back on the baby making wagon. Well, Jan, now you know what went on in your guest room. Ahem ahem. Hey, we're all adults here, we all know where babies come from. Admit it, you needed a little comic relief.

On January 11th, 2015 we were surprised to learn that we were already pregnant again. A September baby would be perfect, I thought. She would be one of the oldest in her class instead of the youngest like her brother. I don't know why we thought it was a girl, but we were convinced. I would like to say that I was over the moon with excitement as I had expected to be, that I cherished every moment. The truth is I was guarded. I had been burned before. My doctor checked my hormone levels and they were perfect, having more than doubled in forty eight hours. I became obsessed with creating the healthiest baby possible, wanting to believe I had some control. I drank vegan protein vegetable smoothies every morning. I took organic prenatal vitamins from Whole Foods. I bought organic veggie trays and finished them within a week. I didn't feel very pregnant. The nausea came and went; it still does. That was about the extent of it. I had no bloodhound sense of smell, no mood swings, no food cravings or aversions. Nervously, we went to my eight week appointment. We waited anxiously as our two year old got a kick out of putting his toy race cars in the stirrups. Don't worry, I disinfected them. The cars not the stirrups. When my ultrasound began I was instantly relieved to see the baby instead of an empty gestational sack like last time. It was very tiny, of course, but we could still make out the head and tiny tadpole body. Sadly, the relief was short lived. The baby was measuring at six weeks instead of eight and half. A heart beat could not be detected, but if I really was only six weeks it was possible that would happen. It was possible that my dates were just off. It was possible. Yet, just like last time I knew, as much as I wanted to believe otherwise. My dates weren't off. I knew when we had conceived.

My OB advised us to be "cautiously optimistic". I love my OB, but honestly this is one of the most contradictory phrases in the English language. It is impossible to be optimistic if you are also being cautious. What followed was the longest week of our lives. I continued taking my prenatal vitamins and ordering my coffee half decaff. I continued hoping against all odds. But really, what were the odds? When I had gotten pregnant I searched for comforting statistics. The consistent answer seemed to be that a healthy woman under thirty five with a history of one or more live, full term births has a less than five percent chance of a second consecutive miscarriage. Well I am the five percent.

Eight eternal days later I sat in the darkened ultrasound room. My husband tried to entertain our two year old, who was very upset at my feet for being in the stirrups where his cars needed to be. I was glad he was there for a distraction. He seems to be able to make me laugh in the most dire of circumstances. The same ultrasound technician was there with the same poker face. This time, the baby was on the screen, seemingly perfectly formed. And perfectly still.

Was it harder to see the baby or the empty sac? Nothing about this has been easy. Still I am glad that I got to see this baby, even though now I can't stop seeing a still form where a wriggling tadpole should have been.

Sadly, these things happen, and more likely than we care to acknowledge. Statistically, one in four women will experience at least on miscarriage in her reproductive lifetime. Maybe she is your sister, your mother, your best friend, or your doctor. Maybe you don't even know that she has been indoctrinated into the secret moms' club. Maybe she's you and no one knows. Maybe you feel that you are alone. You're not.

Next weekend I will have another D&C performed and then I will move forward. I won't move on, mind you, because experiences such as these change us forever. But, I will move forward because that is the only direction worth going. You will move forward too, brave soldier. This may be impossible for you to believe if you are in the throws or aftermath of loss, but I promise you, you will. It occurs to me here that I haven't described how I remembered my babies, because that is important and their is no right or wrong way to do it. Some people have jewelry made, get a tattoo, donate to a hospital, participate in walks, or release balloons. First of all, I named my babies. This may seem weird to some people. After all, it was so early on and I didn't even know the genders. Still, to me they are all my children whether I got to keep them for a day or forever. The baby I lost to a chemical pregnancy I call Eden to represent the garden of life. The second baby I lost is named Quinn Jayden. Quinn means, "wise" and Jayden means, "God hears". And this baby? I think I will call her Hope, because hope is one thing that I still won't give up. Why did I lose two babies in six months? I don't know. Some testing will be done but the reality is I will probably never know. Will we try for another baby? Yes. Not now. For now I am going to stop focusing on having another child, but we will try again when we are ready. Is it worth it? Yes it is. I have learned to appreciate pregnancy, as miserable as it can be. I will never again take for granted the sound of a heart beat. And, as much as they can drive me crazy, I appreciate my living children that much more. A million things have to go right for a child to make it from conception to birth and only one thing has to go wrong. One small glitch in the genetic code. I have a statue in my backyard nestled among my rose bushes. It is a statue of a sleeping baby in the palm of God's hand. I suppose it is easy to say that it's unfair for this to happen, and it is unfair, But those babies didn't suffer. As their mother, I will take all of that suffering so that they can experience only peace, because that's what mothers do. As I said, this is a difficult story to share, but if it can ease the loneliness of just one person then it is worth it. Sometimes it is hard to know exactly how to feel in the direct aftermath of a more or less invisible loss. Sometimes it is hard to know how to react to such a unique grief. True, we have no road map, but As a woman in the trenches I want to tell you a few things about miscarriage that I myself needed to hear:

-It's Not Your Fault. My OB told me, "You did nothing to cause it, and you could have done nothing to prevent it". This is difficult to believe for us as mothers, as women. Shouldn't we be able to control what is happening inside of our own bodies? If we could, we would do anything in our power to do so, but we can't. You didn't lose your baby because you drank fully caffeinated coffee, went out on a bender before you knew you were pregnant, or could only stomach English muffins. You didn't lose your baby because you took medication, fell down the stairs, dyed your hair, forgot to take your prenatal vitamins, cleaned the litter box, or had too much stress in your life. You didn't lose your baby because it was an unplanned or even unwanted pregnancy. Nothing that you did or did not do caused your miscarriage and nothing you had done differently could have prevented it.

-Grief Has No Time Limit. Many posts that I read on miscarriage support forums were along the lines of, "It has been x number of days/weeks/months, shouldn't I be over it by now?" No, you shouldn't. However you feel is how you should feel. I can tell you that days will come when you will almost forget, and the time will come when the heaviness on your heart will lighten. Then something will remind you of pregnancy or your due date and you will be back underwater. Then you will get up again. Grief comes in waves. Don't let anyone tell you that you should be over it by now. The caveat to this: if you are unable to eat, sleep, or complete your daily activities or if you have thoughts of harming yourself don't wait for it to get better. Get help. Remember you are not alone.

-A lot of People Won't Understand. Some will say hurtful things along the lines of, "At least you weren't further along", "It wasn't really a baby yet", "You already have children so just be grateful". Most likely, these people have good intentions. They just don't know what to say. The loss of a child makes people uncomfortable no matter when it happens. But loss is not contagious and it's okay to talk about it. Just be prepared for some of these responses and don't take them to heart. The only appropriate response is, "I am sorry for your loss. Is there anything I can do?" I know this because I have been blessed to receive many of these responses, since I elected not to hide my miscarriage this time. To those of you who have not yet received a return call from me, I really do appreciate your thoughts and concern and you will hear from me soon. I am still processing and it is much easier for me to do that through writing and sometimes difficult to do through talking,

-Your Husband/Boyfriend/Partner Is Grieving, Too. Miscarriage, like all hardships, can strain a relationship. Sometimes the spouse who is not carrying the baby gets forgotten, but they are grieving, too. Sometimes they are even more prone to keeping their grief silent in order to be strong for their spouse. Encourage them to talk about it. It's okay if they are angry, want to try again, or don't want to think about trying again. It's also okay if they don't want to talk about it and would rather lose themselves in the game. Remember grieving takes many forms.

-Getting Pregnant Again Won't Take Away Your Loss. All children are a blessing and if you decide to try again and are blessed with another pregnancy it will bring you joy. However, you will have many complicated feelings. This baby will never be that baby and you may feel guilty for wishing that it was, or for being excited while still grieving you previous loss. You may also feel disconnected to the pregnancy or even indifferent. That's normal. It is a coping mechanism. Once you have been badly burned you can never enjoy the glow and heat of a fire with quite the same innocence. But, you will appreciate your pregnancy more than ever before.

-Yes You Will be Happy Again. I know it seems impossible, but I promise you that it will happen. I can't tell you when. But you will live to fight another day.

-Do Something To Acknowledge Your Baby. Whether you were one week or forty. Plant a flower, make a memory book, name your baby. Your baby was real and will always be a part of you.

-An Early Loss Doesn't Count Less. I can't begin to imagine the pain of giving birth to a sleeping baby, or losing a living breathing child. That being said, loss at any time is painful and you are entitled to your grief.

For those of you who want to support someone going through pregnancy loss:

-You Don't Have To Say Anything. Just be there. For me, offers to get me out of the house have been invaluable. So have "I am thinking of you" calls and emails.

- It's Okay To Bring Up Your Pregnancy Or Your Friend's Pregnancy. This one is personal. Some women in the throws of a loss are hurt by reminders of pregnancy. Again, it is not that she isn't happy about your pregnancy. She just knows that she should be growing a belly, too. It is best to give it some time and gauge people's reactions, but you don't have to hide. Pregnancy is a joyful time. Personally, I still want to hear about your pregnancy. One day it will be my turn again, too. Be prepared to let me hold your baby a lot, though!

- It's Okay To Be Uncomfortable. It is an uncomfortable topic. Remember, you don't have to say or do anything, Sometimes it can be hard to know whether or not to bring up someone's loss, regardless of its nature. You want them to know you are thinking of them but you don't want to pick at a scab. I think a simple, "How are you doing?" is sufficient. Personally, if I want to mention my losses I will, but often I just want to talk with you about that skank on the bachelor or that new guy in your life. These are welcome distractions. That being said, if you bring it up you are not bothering me or reminding me of it. It's okay.

I will carry Hope with me for another week, but I know she is already gone. I have been pregnant a total of twenty weeks in the last six months and it has been quite a roller coaster. It is difficult and confusing to be pregnant, then not pregnant, pregnant then not pregnant. It is difficult and confusing to continue carrying a child that I know has died. But here I am. The truth is I am not unique; we all have crosses to bear, and often the heaviest ones are invisible. The truth is I will be okay. I would like to thank everyone who has supported my husband and I and continues to support us through this journey. I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read this. I encourage you to share it with anyone to whom you think it might be helpful. Finally, I would like to thank God for my two healthy children. Some people don't get so lucky. I would also like to thank Him for the three I carried for only a short while. It is pretty special to be a mother to angels.

"An angel in the book of life wrote down our baby's birth, and whispered as she closed the book, 'Too beautiful for Earth'".


  1. I have no words dear friend. My heart grieves and breaks for all of you as a 5 year veteran on this path angel mommies walk. And I truly believe my Maddox was right there waiting for your three babies when they arrived. I know he would have been an incredible little brother in our family so he'll also be a great older friend to Eden, Quinn and Hope on God's playground. Just know if you need someone to cry with, sit in silence with, get angry with (but not throw things at please), laugh with and/or drink with ;) I'd be honored to be that friend for you. And Kat.... THANK YOU. For Eden, Quinn, Hope, my Maddox and all of the angel babies watching over so many families, thank you for remembering and honoring them with this post. This post will be very helpful and meaningful to so many. I'm hoping you will give me permission to share it in my baby loss and Walk to Remember groups. God Bless.

    1. Thank you! That means a lot to hear as I really did agonize over whether or not to share this. I truly cannot begin to imagine the pain you live with missing Maddox. But you have turned it into good with your walk to remember. You are a veru string woman. I would be honored if you would share my post with your group. Our angels are all playing together. I will definitely take you up on that drink. ;) Thanks for reading l.

  2. Very powerfully said. Wish we were there to at least give you a big hug. We love you so much & will always keep you both in our thoughts & prayers.

  3. I lost my very first baby a month ago, I was supposed to be 11 weeks it measured 9 weeks one day. I have been having an enormous amount of difficulty dealing with it. As a child all I wanted was to be a mother, I was told I couldn't have kids due to PCOS and I finally get pregnant and it's gone, just like that. I feel so bad for all the moms in this situation. But I'm not even strong enough to help myself right now. The struggle seams to be getting harder each day not easier.