October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. It was started in 1988 to recognize the grief of bereaved parents and to show support to the families who have gone through such a tragic loss. As many as 1 in 4 known pregnancies end in miscarriage, but it can still be an incredibly lonely and isolating experience. So this October I decided to open up, share my experience with miscarriage, and hopefully help someone not feel as alone. I do want to warn that this story may be triggering for some.
Deciding to have a second child ended up being a bigger decision than I had originally planned. I had always hoped for 3 kids and never questioned having at least 2. But after the labor and delivery of my first, I wasn’t so sure:
At 41 weeks 5 days, I went into 12 hours of labor and 4 more hours of pushing, resulting in an emergency c-section. My baby went to the NICU and I went to recovery after general anesthesia. A few days later I was diagnosed with bilateral femoral nerve damage and postpartum preeclampsia. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t breastfeed, I was on a myriad of drugs, and I felt like a failure. It was many months before I recovered physically. (Read my full birth story here).
A year and a half later and I still wasn’t sure if my heart and my mind were fully healed. But I did know that I had always wanted to have more than 1 child. My nerve damage had already taken away enough, I wasn’t going to let it take any more. So, 18 months after the birth of my first child, I was pregnant again.
I immediately called my OB’s office. She was booked for the next 8 weeks. Okay, I figured, this was my second pregnancy. I knew what I was doing and it was only a few weeks after when the first appointment would be normally. So I went along with my first trimester. I had the same migraines and the same funny food aversions and cravings I had with my first pregnancy. My tummy started growing (much faster the second time around!). We told family and a couple of close friends and were so excited to be a few days from announcing the pregnancy to the world.
At 12 weeks, my husband, my 21-month-old, and I went to my doctor’s office. We were glowing being able to share the news with my OB, especially since the last time we saw her we were in the middle of such hardships. After the normal questions about how I was feeling and how this pregnancy was going, I climbed onto the table, lay down and prepared to listen to the heartbeat! My 21-month-old came up on the table with me and sat by my belly. The cold gel was squirted on to my slightly protruding tummy. And then, nothing. Not to worry. It was still early and I already knew that often a transvaginal ultrasound could be needed. My OB called for the equipment, I got changed into a gown, and we waited. My husband and I eyed each other; we were starting to get worried, but everything seemed so normal up until now. I lay back down and waited once again to hear the heartbeat.
After a little searching I saw my OB’s face drop and I knew things were in fact not normal. She slowly put the equipment back together, looked me in the eye and said that there is no heartbeat. Before anything is fully confirmed, at this practice (maybe all practices), the doctors get a second opinion and I was asked if that was okay. A few minutes later, with a few more people in the room, it was confirmed. There was no heartbeat.
It ends up the baby had died several weeks earlier, probably around 8-9 weeks based on size. But for some reason my body had not recognized it and was not going through the proper miscarriage process. My doctor labeled it a missed miscarriage.
I was given a few options. I could go home, take a pill, and have a miscarriage at home. Or I could schedule a surgical procedure in the office. I could wait a few more days to see if my body figured it out or move forward immediately. Given that my body had not figured it out for over 3 weeks, I didn’t trust it would now get the memo. I did not want to frighten my 21-month-old at home, nor did I want to send her away for up to several days. So my husband and I quickly agreed on the surgical procedure. I called my mom who lived in another state and asked her to be on an airplane as soon as possible to watch my little one during the procedure, as well as to provide support. I was fortunate: both my mom and sister were with me the following day.
Two days later, at 12.5 weeks, I was back in the office signing what felt like a million forms. “Do you have any questions for us?” the doctors wanted to know. I paused. I did. A big one. But I was nervous as to how they were going to answer. I eventually responded, “May I see my baby once you’re all done?” Their mouths fell open. It ends up that they had never been asked that before. The doctors explained that there wouldn’t be “much to see,” but after they double checked all the tissue, if I still wanted to I could.
The procedure certainly did not feel good, even with the anesthetic, but it was nothing compared to labor with my first child. I remained calm, taking deep breaths and squeezing my husband’s hand. But once the suctioning started, the tears slowly leaked out of my shut eyes. While my body was in pain, the tears were coming from my heart.
The two doctors announced they were finished and needed to double check the tissue. Then they came back in, “Do you still want to see the fetus?” “Yes,” I replied. I wanted to see my baby.
They handed me pretty much a petri dish. Admittedly, not much could be made out, yet as soon as it was in my hands my heart exploded. The sobs started, “I love you my sweet little one. You are so wanted and so loved. I’m so sorry it turned out this way. Know you will never be forgotten. Thank you for being our angel.” I realized I couldn’t cry and hold her all day so I slowly lifted the dish up to hand back to the doctor. “Goodbye my angel, I love you,” I whispered.
The pain and grief lingered for a long time, certainly longer than I spoke about it. Three years and a successful second full-term pregnancy and birth later and and it’s still there, in fact. I still cry on the anniversary of my procedure; I still pretend to hug her on the day she should have been born.
I know I am not alone in this experience. According to the MayoClinic, 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. And I recognize that many are not able to conceive at all. I see you and I hear your cries. I hope you have someone who will hold your hand if you want it, but if not, please always feel free to reach out to me. Know that I and all *three* of my children are sending you love and support.
Reagan is a mommy of two girls on earth and one baby in heaven. She started www.NerveDamagefromChildbirth.com after suffering from femoral nerve damage during the labor and delivery of her first child. She can be reached via the following-