Dealing with the heartbreak of a miscarriage

Dealing with a miscarriage

The words “Oh dear” are not what you want to hear from your doctor during an ultrasound to see your 12-week-old baby. I was laying on my back staring at the ceiling of my gynecologist’s office when she said these words, and then jammed the ultrasound wand into my abdomen harder.

“What’s wrong? Is there something wrong?” I asked, trying, in mid-panic, not to sound like I was panicking.

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There was a long pause, and finally she said, “I’m not looking at a 12-week old baby. I’m looking at something the size of a 7-week-old baby. The baby stopped developing but your body didn’t discard the tissue. You’ve had a miscarriage. I’m sorry.”

Suddenly all the breath was gone from my chest and there didn’t seem to be enough in the room to fill my lungs. I felt cold all over and the whole world just froze. A miscarriage? It wasn’t possible. Surely it was a mistake. Please, let it be a mistake. I stared up at the butterfly stickers stuck on the ceiling above my head. I couldn’t even look at my husband who was squeezing my hand so hard I thought he might break it. I couldn’t do anything, not even cry.

“Are you sure? Could it be a mistake?” I croaked out of my dry throat.

She didn’t think so, but said she’d send me to a specialist to have them run another ultrasound. That ultrasound showed the same. The tiny little dot of a baby had stopped growing. I’d heard the little heartbeat at my first appointment at six weeks, and it had filled me with such joy. My husband had beamed and I had cried and laughed. But it turns out that was it. It would be the only time we’d ever hear it. Just a week or so after that appointment, that little heart stopped beating. My baby was gone. Just seven short weeks of life, then gone.

I found out later the baby was a girl – my little daughter. I don’t think anyone understand miscarriage except a woman who has experienced it. Other mothers who haven’t miscarried don’t understand the deep pain of losing a child who was still growing in your womb, but they probably can empathize more than most. Women who have never been pregnant can sympathize, but they can’t truly understand the profound loss you feel. Becoming a mother changes you. After the shock of finding out, it’s to exciting start to really start thinking of yourself as a mom, even while that baby is no larger than a sesame seed. He or she is your little sesame seed, and I can’t count the hours I’d sit smiling dreamily with one hand laid atop my tummy, trying to imagine the little person growing in the warm, cozy confines of my belly. I don’t think dads understand it, either. It affects them and hurts them certainly, but not the way it affects the mom. I don’t think a baby in utero is ever as real to the dads as it is to the mom.

For me, from the first moment I learned I was pregnant, that baby was on my mind. In the morning when I ate breakfast and made sure to have some fruit with my cereal, whether I wanted it or not, I was thinking of her. When I sucked hard candies and ate crackers and even ate awful ginger snaps to fight the nausea, I knew it would be worth it for her. When I looked longingly at the coffee machine after I’d already had two cups, and then kept drinking my bottled water instead – I was thinking of her. When I crawled into bed, absolutely exhausted for no discernible reason, I could smile and know that little sesame seed was causing all this trouble. From the first moment I knew I was pregnant, I was aware all the time that I was sharing my body with another little person.

I was so supremely happy discover I was pregnant! Within hours of finding out, I was pondering names aloud with my husband and looking up my due date online. I was dreaming of whether my older daughter would have a brother or a sister. I called my parents and sisters and brothers, and giggled and laughed my way through telling them. I spent hours absentmindedly patting my tummy. I couldn’t wait for the first ultrasound, to hear the heartbeat at the next appointment, to find out boy or girl, to feel the little fluttery wings of the baby moving in my tummy. I was so filled with joy.

Of course, technically I knew it was possible that this baby wouldn’t make it. There are a million things that can go wrong in pregnancy and a fair number of pregnancies end in miscarriage, especially in the first trimester. We all know that. My older daughter has special needs and we nearly lost her as an infant, so the pregnancy was already identified as high risk because of that. I should have been more prepared, but somehow I was still completely blindsided when it happened to me! I was in complete shock. It didn’t seem real. I kept on waiting for someone to tell me there had been a mistake and everything was fine. No one did, but it took a while to stop hoping.

My husband tried to make me feel better by saying, “You can always get pregnant again.” It would help ease the turmoil in me a little, made me feel like I had a bit of control over things, but ultimately the shock and pain of it would come back and overwhelm that little island of temporary respite. I felt so empty. I felt cheated. Why me? Why did this happen to me? I ate what I’m supposed to eat, I got plenty of sleep, I read all those web sites and followed the advice. Why is this happening to me? I felt angry. Angry at my body, angry at my doctor, angry at fate.

I wrestled with guilt. Did I do something to cause this? Was it because I had a couple glasses of wine before I knew I was pregnant? Was it because I took cold medicine before I knew? Was it something wrong with my egg? Did my body do this? Why did this happen? In my case, I was able to learn that it had nothing to do with anything I did. My miscarriage was due to an abnormality responsible for about ten percent of all miscarriages. When I later learned this, it helped ease the guilt somewhat, since I really couldn’t have done anything differently. It just wasn’t meant to be. A strange place to find comfort, but I will take it where I can.

I was comforted that I have been lucky enough to have one beautiful, sweet, happy baby who grew to gestation and is curled up next to me sleeping as I write this. I think having a miscarriage with your first pregnancy must be much harder, and my heart goes out to those of you who are dealing with that. It must make it all the worse when it’s the first time and your dreams are so vast. Those women who have had multiple miscarriages – I just wish I could reach through the screen and hug you. I’m sure that there are no words to express how that must be for you. I wish you hope and better tomorrows.

When I looked for comfort, I found that many more women than I had realized had had miscarriages. My mother, my mother in law, two sisters, a grandmother, two aunts, cousins, friends, friends of friends... all had been through the pain I was reeling under. These women were the most helpful to talk to for me. My husband was very sad about it, but not the same way I was. These women understood and could hear me, especially the friend who had just lost a baby a few years ago.

I felt cheated that I had never gotten to meet my baby, see what she would have looked like. I felt angry that I never got to hold her, keep her safe and kiss her. I never got to be her mommy! But I realized eventually that although I never met her face to face, for 7 weeks I was able to hold and nurture that baby in my body. I kept her warm, I fed her, I carried her, I loved her. In her short life, she never knew pain or discomfort. She only knew the soft, gentle embrace of me, her mother. And when her life quietly ended, and her little heart stopped beating, I held her and we were together until the end. She did know me in her own way, and I knew her, because I knew the hope of her, the dream of her.

I know my mother had a miscarriage. It was a boy. I know there is a brother I never met, but I rarely think of him. He is sort of a non-entity to me – the boy who didn’t make it. But my mom certainly remembers. That’s her son. We mothers of miscarried children, we never forget. Others may, but we don’t. Those babies were our children. I will always think of my little daughter who lived so short a time. Losing her has given me a great deal of pain, so much sorrow, and I have to face that and come to terms with it. I will eventually. I think it is getting easier. It hurts less today than yesterday. And perhaps what’s important to remember is that yes, it hurts that I lost her but while she lived, she gave me a great deal of joy. I want that to be how I remember her.

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