July 29, 2012 was the most devastating day of my life to date. On this day, I gave birth to our first child, which was about 6 months too soon. With time comes healing, however remembering this day still brings tears to my eyes, and probably always will.
“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” ~Robert N. Munsch
I write about this story, our story, because pregnancy and infant loss is something that is all too often hushed and not spoken about. It is something that one will simply never understand unless they too have gone through a loss of their own.
For me, the greatest healing I found as I navigated through the stages of grief and loss, was listening to stories of others. Being able to share my own story, and the thoughts and emotions I was experiencing, also brought healing.
I will insert a disclaimer here that some parts of this story may be somewhat graphic. Again, my purpose for sharing this is because I wish more than anything that I could have been better informed and prepared for this experience.
At the time we lost our first child, I knew of absolutely no one in my family or my husband’s family who had a miscarriage; there were only 2 other people in my life at the time, who I knew had lost a baby. Or so I thought. Statistics show that at least 1 in every 4-5 women will experience a miscarriage. Once I found out this number, I pondered if in fact there were others in my life who may have also experienced a loss.
May 2012 had been a busy month. Our landlord broke our lease to the first home we lived in as a married couple in order to sell the house we were renting; we scrambled to find another place to live, packed up all our things, and moved into a new home. That same weekend, we drove down to San Diego where I ran a marathon, broke my ankle during the race, and returned home to a house filled with boxes, that I had to navigate through on crutches. With all that “excitement” going on, I had been ignoring some odd symptoms I began experiencing.
A few days later, I realized that I was about 5 weeks pregnant. To this day I can picture those 2 tests flashing back the word “pregnant.” Immediate feelings of joy, excitement, and anticipation came flooding through me with the realization that I was a mother. Tears began to flow and I paced around the home excitedly for quite some time, thinking about how I was going to tell my husband that he was a daddy.
The next couple months were hard, very hard. I had never felt so exhausted and sick in my life. Yet my hopes and dreams for our baby surpassed all the discomfort I experienced. I recall the 2 doctors appointments we went to where we got to hear the heartbeat, and even got a picture of our tiny miracle. Little did we know that picture would be the only glimpse of our baby that we would ever get to see.
The last weekend in July, I noticed some spotting and immediately felt a sense that something was wrong. After consulting with some family and friends and it being a Saturday, I rested and tried not to worry. Sunday morning I woke up and began noticing some very slight cramping that started increasing with frequency and intensity as the morning progressed. I decided to contact the on-call doctor, who suggested we go to the ER to get checked out.
Within minutes of arriving at the ER, I began bleeding profusely, and the contractions I had been feeling quickly began increasing in frequency and intensity. The next 6 hours were the most traumatic, excruciating hours I had ever been through at that point in my life. Most people don’t know that you actually go through all the stages of labor with a miscarriage, and in fact the contractions are more intense and without pause as they are in a full term labor. The pain was unlike anything I had yet experienced, yet the emotional trauma was much worse.
The one factor that intensified this entire experience was the fact that not one doctor or nurse would tell us what was going on the entire time we were there. I had 2 ultrasounds done that day, one before getting admitted, and one after the hours of contractions finally ended. Yet I was never once told that I was having a miscarriage and that my baby was in fact already deceased.
The way I found out that my baby had passed, was when I went in to use the restroom after all the contractions finally subsided. Instead of passing another blood clot like I assumed it was that I felt when I stood up, my baby was born into a toilet.
Words cannot express what I felt at that moment. The most overwhelming being anger. I remember wanting to leave, go home, and rip up all the cards that had been given to us, and throw away the couple things I had already bought for our baby. I told the nurse to take away my baby, that I didn’t want to see it. I remember my husband asking what they were going to do with our baby and if there was a way to keep the remains for a burial; I looked at him as if he had lost his mind. My only thought was to leave and erase everything.
To this day, I wish more than anything that I would have asked to see my baby. This is a regret I will always have.
The days and weeks that followed our loss were very dark times. The initial anger I felt turned into a pain so intense, there are no words to describe the emotions I experienced. I wanted answers, but there were none to be had. My OBGYN told me that my autoimmune disease may or may not have been the cause of our loss and I was immediately brought back to when I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis; my doctor had told me that I may never be able to carry a child successfully to term.
Not only was I dealing with the overwhelming loss of my first baby, but also the potential loss of whether I would ever be able to have a healthy baby in the future.
To add to it, my ulcerative colitis began to flare up a few days following the miscarriage. Up to that point, I had been in remission for the past 6 years. However I quickly realized that waves of anxiety were returning as they had in the past and adding to the grief I was navigating. Memories and flashbacks of what I experienced, how I survived, through living with the symptoms of ulcerative colitis prior to being diagnosed came tumbling through my brain.
I cannot express the turmoil and flood of emotions I was experiencing at this time even now. The thing I remember contemplating was how in the world was I supposed to just resume my life? We had only shared our news with family and a few close friends, so hardly anyone knew what I/we were going through. Yet is was as if I felt the need to tell everyone, the world, that just days prior, I had been carrying life inside of me. Now, all I had was emptiness.
I kept asking myself what was wrong with me; what had I done to cause this. Why did I suddenly see babies and pregnant bellies every single place I went. How could I say to another mother that I simply could not bear to be in the same room as their baby, because all it made me think about was my own baby. My baby that I never got the chance to hold. My baby, that I would never get the chance to watch grow up, smile, and say “mama.”
These thoughts and feelings were overwhelming and I was simultaneously ashamed that such thoughts were going through my mind. I felt like I was suffocating in a sea of all these emotions. For awhile, it was as if I had lost the will to live. Nothing, absolutely nothing on this earth was enough; my only thoughts were of wanting to be with my baby.
I think I will always wonder “why?” I will wonder why this had to happen and what caused my baby to die without having the chance to live here on this earth. I still wonder what he/she would have looked and felt like. I imagine how our lives would be different had this child been ours to keep.
The one thing that I do know, is that our stories need to be told. One who has never experienced a loss will simply not be able to fully grasp the pain and anguish felt through a mother and father’s grief, or even for those struggling with the loss of infertility. They will not know what to say, and more times than not, they will say the wrong thing.
I realize that not everyone’s experience of loss is the same. Nonetheless, my hope is that our story will help shed more light and understanding into what it means to lose a child. What the experience can be like and what to expect. I know that had we been treated differently in the ER, had the doctor actually sat down with us to explain that there was no heartbeat and what I would be going through to birth our baby, it would have been less traumatic.
Every other mother I have spoken to who has lost a baby, has experienced much of the same emotions I felt and still feel to date. Each exchange brings about more comfort. A little more healing. The best piece of advice I would give to someone trying to comfort another who has experienced a loss is to simply ask them to share their story. Then just listen.
Have you experienced a loss in your life? If so, how did you find comfort, or are you still seeking it? What is the one thing you wish others “knew” about loss that would help them to comfort you?