Pregnancy Loss: Why We MUST Talk About It
Gosh, it's been forever since I wrote a blog post. But October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, so I wanted to take the opportunity to tell my story. And I also want to talk a little about why I feel it is so vitally important that women share their stories of loss.
I found out I was pregnant on my mom's birthday (May 30th) in 2015. We had not been trying to conceive, and so it was a bit of a surprise (to put it mildly). But I took it as a sign that it was meant to be, since I found out on my mom's birthday, like she had sent this baby to me for a purpose. But it took some time for us to become excited about our little Peanut, and, if I'm being honest, I really had no idea how I was going to make it work, having a baby in the middle of my second to last trimester of chiropractic school.
When I found out I was pregnant, I had just started my seventh trimester of chiropractic school, which was the trimester that included not only a full time class schedule, but also a full clinic schedule. I was adjusting more than I had ever done before, which was exhausting both physically and mentally. I was stressed beyond anything I had ever experienced in my life.
I'm going to stop myself right here.
As I type these words, I can see how I'm rationalizing my loss - both to you, my audience, and (for about the millionth time) to myself. I was tired, I was under extreme physical, mental and emotional stress. We hadn't planned for this baby, and while we eventually got excited about it and truly loved and wanted our little Peanut, in the beginning I was scared and a little doubtful about the timing. There are a million things I've gone over and over in my mind, wondering if I had done them differently, if my baby would have lived. The logical side of my brain knows I did not cause my miscarriage. But there is still (and maybe always will be?) a tiny voice that questions if I could have done something differently.
I found out my baby had died when I was 13 weeks and 2 days along. I had been spotting for a couple of days (not the first time during the pregnancy), but it hadn't stopped, so I called the midwife. She suggested I go in and get an ultrasound, since second trimester spotting was not normal. I truly hadn't worried before that moment. I will never forget, sitting in the hallway at school calling the doctor to try to get in that day. I finally got an appointment and had to leave school to make it in time. I almost didn't even call Kyle, because I was that sure that everything would be fine. But my friends insisted that someone go with me, so I called him and we went together.
What follows is all a bit blurry. I remember the doctor's face when she told me she couldn't find a heartbeat. She sent me over to the hospital to the better ultrasound machines, in the hope that maybe her machine just wasn't good enough. But I knew. As we got in the car and drove to the hospital, I knew. Kyle tried to be positive, but I knew.
The ultrasound tech at the hospital said my baby was only measuring 11 weeks and 2 days, a full 2 weeks smaller than anticipated. We had last heard the heartbeat at our 11 week appointment with the midwives. (I still have the recording on my phone, 4 years later.) I couldn't believe that some time just days after we'd heard her heartbeat she had been taken from us. (Side note: I always felt like Peanut was a girl. So, I'll probably refer to her as "she" a lot, even though we actually didn't know for sure.) They told me we should schedule a D&C, and gave me a list of dates. I found out my baby died on a Wednesday. On Thursday, I went to school and took a final exam, which I bombed harder than any test I've ever taken in my life. On Friday, I went to the hospital, they put me to sleep, and when I woke up, my baby was gone. Just like that. One minute I was pregnant, the next, I wasn't. One minute I was an "expectant mother" and then I wasn't.
In the days and weeks and months that followed, I went through a lot of emotions. I blamed myself (remember that stress level I was talking about?). I blamed Kyle (He hadn't wanted the baby in the beginning, maybe that rejection somehow caused her to leave?). I blamed Logan University and my crazy class/clinic schedule (who could be healthy under such stressful circumstances?). Trust me when I say, I know these things all sound crazy now, but at the time, in my hormonal and grief stricken brain, they made perfect sense. I worried about whether or not I would ever be able to carry a baby to term. I longed deeply to get pregnant again. I was terrified to get pregnant again. I felt empty and overwhelmed at the same time. I felt like a failure, and (if I'm being honest) I felt a little bit relieved too. There were so many intense and opposing emotions in my mind and in my body during that post-partum period of time.
Statistics tell us that 1 in 4 women will experience some sort of pregnancy loss. If she's "lucky" that loss comes in the first 6-8 weeks, before she's heard a heartbeat or made an announcement, or even possibly knows she's pregnant at all. At least, that's how it's looked at by society. I will never forget the nurse at the hospital saying to me as I cried on my way into my D&C - "Don't worry. You'll have another baby." As if that should make me feel better, as if this baby didn't matter.
And here's the important reason I'm telling you this story. Most women choose not to talk about their pregnancy losses. Most of us have bought into the lies society tells us, that our pregnancies, because they ended early, don't matter. Most of us feel so isolated and alone, as we bleed at home, or are wheeled into surgery, emptying our uteruses and our hearts at the same time. We feel silly for grieving a baby that wasn't. We feel embarrassed that our bodies didn't work how they were "supposed to". Even our partners often don't understand our grief, because they didn't feel the changes in their bodies, and therefore the baby wasn't yet written on their hearts, as it was ours.
But here's what I learned when I started talking about my miscarriage, when I gave my baby a name, Peanut, and insisted that she was the baby that made me a mother, even though I didn't carry her to term. Other women started reaching out to me and telling me their stories too. And the relief I felt at knowing I wasn't alone was mirrored in their eyes each time we shared our stories. We all just wanted the same thing - for our babies to have mattered.
My grandmother shared with me the story of her daughter that died (the aunt I am named after). My cousin, who birthed her twin boys early and had to say goodbye to them a short 9 hours later, talked to me about her grief experience, and how terrifying pregnancy after loss can be. Friends started reaching out when they lost pregnancies, knowing I was a safe space to share their grief and that I understood. And each story that was shared, each tear that was shed, each hug and heartfelt "thank you" helped heal my heart. I felt less alone, less isolated, less like a failure. I felt like my baby mattered, and that it was ok that I was sad and grieving that little life that didn't get to be. I felt stronger for having survived this loss and gone on to continue to hope. And I like to think that I helped each of those women heal and hope a little too.
So, today, if you're a woman who has experienced loss, I encourage you to find someone you trust and start talking about it. I'd be honored to be that person for you if I can. Here's what I will tell you - It is ok to grieve that baby, no matter how far along you were when your pregnancy ended. Your baby mattered. It is ok to be scared and relieved and sad and hopeful all at the same time. Every emotion you are feeling is valid and unique to your grief experience, and you need to be gentle with yourself. Give yourself time and permission to grieve.
Having another baby DID ease the grief for me a bit. But it didn't end it. Every year on February 6th, Peanut's due date, I think about how old she would be turning and I remember her. I still long to have known that little life, and I probably always will. Just because I eventually got my rainbow, it doesn't negate the storm. The storm happened. It was destructive and painful and an experience I hope I never have to relive. My rainbow is just as beautiful as the storm was ugly. I have both, grief and joy, tangled up together in my journey as a mother. I think it makes me a better mom. I know it makes me a better person. I choose to take these painful lessons and help others when they are walking similar paths. That's the legacy my little Peanut left. Her life was beautiful and meaningful, even if it was too short.