In the summer of 2021, I welcomed a healthy baby girl after a healthy pregnancy and a super quick process of trying to conceive. I didn’t love the newborn phase; for me it was mostly focused on survival and not as much “soaking it in.” Once my daughter was able to walk, I started to really enjoy her: this tiny human who is becoming her own person! I knew I wanted her to have a sibling and that once we made it past the pregnancy, birth, and newborn stages, it would all be worth it to have two little people creating their own way in the world.
When my husband and I decided to have a second baby, I assumed the process would flow similarly smoothly. Instead, it took several months of trying before we were finally able to celebrate that second line on a pregnancy test. For the first time, I felt the disappointment and frustration that plagues so many couples as they try to start or expand their family; it’s terrible! The ovulation guessing games, the (mechanical) sex, the abstinence of alcohol and dodging friend/family inquiries as to why you can’t “just have one drink” without getting into the whole journey. It’s both joyously just you and your partner but also crushingly private. And then month after month of hope turning into frustration and anger. Like I said, it was only about 5 months for us, so my heart goes out to those who are trying for so much longer. You all are warriors for your families from the start!
So when I found out I was finally pregnant with baby #2, I was so excited and mostly relieved to be past that horrible stage of waiting and wishing. We only wanted two children so I knew I could now start the clock to get past pregnancy, birth, and that first year. That paired with the fact that I had just turned 36 meant I could breathe a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have to trudge any further into geriatric pregnant-hood, increasing those pesky risk factors for all things negative in pregnancy and birth outcomes. No, I was pregnant, my biological clock could stop ticking and my countdown to having two toddlers and my body back to myself could begin.
I also happened to change OBGYN practices as I was trying to conceive. I thought I wanted more hands-on approach that I felt had been lacking from my first OB provider and went with a practice that was known to be more holistic. They even had me in for a “pregnancy confirmation” appointment, during which I took the same pee test I had taken at home but they gave me time to talk with a nurse practitioner. Turns out I didn’t have many questions since I’d already had a baby before, but the sentiment of the appointment was comforting.
I made my first ultrasound appointment for 8 weeks, so I had to wait just over two weeks after finding out I was pregnant. It was an exciting and frustrating wait, happily holding this secret as pregnancy symptoms slowly started to creep in. Nausea like a low-level persistent hangover, the hallmark of my first pregnancy, began around 7 weeks, which was a backhanded message of hope: the worse you feel, the more real the pregnancy was.
Everything was progressing as it had with my first pregnancy, except the nausea seemed to wane after a few days. I figured this was just part of the ebb and flow of symptoms and thought nothing of it. Then I went in for my 8-week ultrasound…
As I said, this was a new practice to me, but they also had apparently been having issues with their ultrasound machine that morning. The screen for patients to watch was tinted purple, which didn’t elicit the most faith in this technology. But onward we went. The ultrasound tech began swiping my abdomen with her wand and soon was asking if I was about 6 weeks along. I said “No, I’m 8 weeks now.” To which she said, “Hmm, no it looks like you’re more like 6 weeks.” My first instinct of distress.
We heard a heartbeat, which was also measuring closer to 6 weeks than 8 weeks, according to the tech. I was 1000% sure of the date of conception due to diligent tracking, but who was I to question medicine. Ok, maybe I’m only 6 weeks along. It didn’t make sense to me, but I was ready to roll with it.
The tech took a few more measurements and then sent me to wait in my exam room for the nurse practitioner to arrive. My husband and I sat in an awkward silence, feeling a tension in the air, but not wanting to speak for fear of bursting the small bubble of optimism that remained.
When the NP came in, she wasn’t able to pull up the scans in the room, so she had to go speak with the tech. Even more uncertainty in this practice was being sown by the moment. When she returned, she was…unclear. She asked if I was sure I was 8 weeks along, if I had been experiencing normal symptoms. I said I was sure, but I guess I could be off and that I’d had some nausea several days ago, but it had subsided. All of this was coated in an overarching shoulder shrug of confusion and ambiguity. She told me to come back in 2 weeks for a follow-up ultrasound and just “keep an eye on things.” Then she sent me and my husband on our way.
Not once did she mention the word “miscarriage,” even as something to watch for. Never did she actually say that this pregnancy might be in trouble. There was clearly an implication of something not being right, but without any honest conversation, I was left with so many doubts, including “what had I done wrong?” It wasn’t a slam dunk appointment, so clearly I, as the mother, had misstepped. I walked away from the clinic full of anxiety and uncertainty, two feelings I had hoped would be quelled by this very appointment.
As the days wore on, I grew weary with my anxiety and more dubious of the ultrasound’s results. Maybe since it had been on the fritz, it wasn’t giving accurate results? Maybe all the medical staff were just reading incorrect numbers from a wonky machine? Rather than wait the 2 weeks, I decided to schedule an ultrasound with my previous OBGYN a week later. At least I knew they had a functioning ultrasound machine!
Finally back in familiar surroundings with familiar faces (I even got to see my favorite NP), I was able to get an ultrasound that I trusted. And unfortunately, the results were more definitive and devastating than before: this time, there was no more heartbeat and the fetus was still only clocking in at 6 weeks’ growth. As painful as it was to hear, at least I had some certainty this time. There was no more guessing; this was what they called a “missed miscarriage.” They said the words, described to me what it was, took the time to be clear and answer my questions. I have never been more grateful for such clarity and honesty from a medical professional. It goes a long way to being able to comprehend and move forward in decision making.
We had options: we could opt for the medical procedure to remove the pregnancy (“fetal material” as they crudely called it in my paperwork) or we could wait and let it pass on its own in the coming days or weeks. It seemed less invasive and more “natural” to let it pass, so I left the clinic thinking it would be like they said, just a heavy period.
The next day, my daughter happened to be having her first surgical procedure to get tubes in her ears after months of recurring ear infections. If it wasn’t enough to be a first-time mom dealing with your child having to undergo anesthesia, I was also moving about the world knowing I had a dead fetus in my body. It’s a strange experience to hold both the living and the dead at the same time, but as mothers, we’re called to do a lot of hard things.
Fortunately, her procedure went great and we got to snuggle all afternoon together until her bedtime that evening. My husband and I laid low, watching a movie together on the couch, and suddenly, I felt like I got my period. I sat up and shuffled to the bathroom to see some blood in my underwear. I thought, “This is it, time to say farewell and start the healing process,” as I put on a pad and went back to watching the movie.
An hour later, I started having some severe cramping. I typically have heavy periods and intense cramps, but this was more acute, more painful. I kept periodically running to the bathroom, wiping up some blood, and going back to my evening. But after about 2 hours of cramping, I felt the rush. I toddled my way to the bathroom and upon pulling down my underwear, I saw it…the fetus…him/her. It didn’t look like a baby, but it was definitely a bigger blob than I had ever seen come from a period. And I had had a “contraction” to “birth” this out of me.
I sat staring at this blob on my pad, awestruck, confused. This was more than what they had prepared me for since this was more than any past period. Cramps are one thing, but minor contractions are another. Uterine lining is one thing, but a mass of fetal cells is another. I was frozen with indecision: do I throw the pad and all its contents away in the trash? Flush it? Should I bury it? It seemed unceremonious to flush or trash, but almost too macabre to bury. Take it to the hospital? What would they do with it??
I decided to throw it all in the trash and stick on a new pad. But little did I know this wasn’t the end, but just the start of the bleeding. Every 2 hours, I was filling a pad and growing more and more terrified for my own wellbeing. I was right on the cusp of when they warned I should go to the hospital: bleeding through a pad an hour would be a sure sign to go, but 2 hours? Was that enough? We had a sleeping toddler to worry about; would my husband stay to watch her? Would I have to drive myself? The logistics gave us enough pause to withstand about 6 hours of this indecision. Finally, at 3am, I feared I’d lost enough blood that my life was potentially in jeopardy. The flow was slowing, but had too much damage been done? I called the nurse line, explained the situation, and she recommended I have someone drive me to the ED.
I called my incredible neighbor who has two kiddos of her own. I couldn’t actually speak as I started sobbing right as she picked up, so my husband explained the situation. She came over right away and left her husband to watch her kids. Having someone so ready to come to my aid in this time of deep vulnerability just opened the floodgate for my tears. I’m forever grateful to have not only her as a dear, supportive friend, but several other neighbors that I could have called upon if need be. They were all a beacon of hope during this trying time.
We arrived at the Emergency Department (late on a Fri night/Sat morning no less) and due to it being an “active bleeding” situation, I was ushered back right away. As much as I’m a fan of this hospital and how much care they took of me, I really wish I could have seen an OB while I was there. I was really regretting not getting the D&C and I wanted a professional to look me over to tell me if I needed to get one to make sure it all was out. Again, I was in need of some certainty in an incredibly uncertain situation. With it being a weekend, middle of the night, non-laboring situation, I had to settle for the ED resident taking a peek and telling me I was fine since the bleeding was winding down.
Fortunately, I was discharged within a few hours and we made it home before my daughter even woke up the next morning. My husband and I struggled through the weekend that she was out of daycare as we took turns catnapping and taking care of her. It wasn’t until the following week that I started wrapping my head around all of the events that had unfolded. I was no longer pregnant. I had had a miscarriage. I had to go to the Emergency Department because I feared my life was in danger. Each of these on their own was its own trauma, but it was really the fact that I feared for my life that was most traumatizing.
In hindsight, I wish I had gotten the D&C. At least then I would have had more certainty and control over the miscarriage process. Had I known how intense the bleeding was going to get, I would have wanted that to have happened under the control of a medical professional. Being forced to make decisions about my medical state under such trauma was too painful. I didn’t realize that I needed to be grieving, not forced to monitor my own vitals during this time.
So there was some regret on my end for not getting the D&C and trusting that it would just be like a “heavy period,” which apparently some miscarriages are. I also became resentful of my husband who tried to convince me out of going to the hospital since it was logistically tricky. We’ve since come up with a general rule that whoever is experiencing the medical emergency gets to make the call on whether they need further medical intervention.
In processing the regret and trauma of my miscarriage, I also realized I was grieving the loss of time that had gone into getting pregnant and then losing the pregnancy. I just wanted to have a second child and move on from pregnancy and infancy, but this set the clock back so many months. Who knows how long it would take to get pregnant again or if it would even happen. The frustration of the “trying” process felt like too much to bear again. We did end up taking several months off to just recover and “be” over the holidays and into the new year. I didn’t need the pressure on my uterus as much as I needed healing time.
It also weirdly triggered in me unresolved feelings of loss and grief from when our family dog died earlier in the year. For some reason, THAT is the grief that held me most captive in the aftermath of my miscarriage. So that’s all to say that even though I hadn’t connected emotionally to this pregnancy as “my child,” there was still wave after wave of complicated and painful emotions to wade through over the weeks and months that followed.
In untangling from this layered grief, my husband and I started trying to conceive and like the first time, were fortunate to have it take right away. I think having greater care and appreciation for my uterus through this whole process made the difference. I no longer take it for granted, both what it can do and that it, too, is fallible.
It was a complicated first trimester, though, emotionally. With my first pregnancy, I hardly shared with anyone, but then with my second, I shared more broadly so early with my closer friends. I sent photos of my positive pregnancy test to about a dozen girlfriends the day I took it, so I was a lot more open that time. Part of me felt superstitious, like perhaps I had jinxed the pregnancy by sharing too widely, getting too confident too early. A miscarriage has a way of slapping the confidence right out of you. So with this new pregnancy, I told a smaller group of close friends right away, then a bigger group once we made it past the 8-week ultrasound. I shared with our family later in the first trimester, but didn’t share publicly until after 20 weeks, just to be sure. My miscarriage made me prioritize my own mental health rather than focus on what and when to share with the public. I told those who knew about my miscarriage and were instrumental in supporting me; those were the ones I knew I could trust to carry this delicate information and hold me until I built my confidence back up in this pregnancy.
If there’s one thing I’m still mad at my miscarriage about, it’s that it took away my wide open happiness that I had early on in my first two pregnancies. I wasn’t able to be as optimistic or joyful since there was always this doubt in the back of my mind that it may not make it. Every appointment, I held my breath until the doctors showed me the heartbeat was progressing, the fetus was growing, all was well. Though it did help me prioritize myself and those closest to me; it helped me build trust within my network with those who got me through those complicated months of grieving. It also taught me more about respecting my body and everything it goes through to build a new person.
I now am 8-months-pregnant with my second child, who is due just after the one-year-anniversary of my miscarriage. I celebrate my first child as much as possible (in my bloated state), since I know our time as a family of three is so precious these days. She is none the wiser about what her mom went through last year and I’m grateful for that. I’ll share with her someday and with her brother to help normalize the experience should they ever go through anything like that.
It truly was having supportive friends, especially several who have shared their miscarriage experiences with me, as well as communities like Journey for Jasmine that help shine a light on miscarriage, that helped me process through my pain and grief. Miscarriage can be so isolating, but knowing there are others that have made it through creates a bond and a safety net to know that we can get through it too. And maybe even go on to have a rainbow baby at the end of it all!
Photos taken by Taylor Robinson.
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