We couldn’t decide how to tell our parents. We were going to have a baby.
After thinking, praying, and feeling led to start a family for almost a year, the home pregnancy test was positive, and the blood work at the doctor’s office came back positive. It was empirically true. But why did I feel like it wasn’t a reality?
It became more real as I became more sick. My energy was suddenly gone. I could not tolerate certain smells or food. I was nauseous throughout the day.
My dad’s birthday was the next week and I decided to tell him the news with a funny birthday card- Happy Birthday Grandpa! I also shared the news with my mom and siblings. There were happy tears and congratulations.
Finally, a new happy season for us. New hope.
While working as a production assistant on a documentary, I have interviewed women in all sorts of positions including complicated pregnancies, abortion, miscarriage, and adoption. I knew that if I were ever to get pregnant one day, that miscarriage or complications could always be a possibility. I’m not the girl who dreamed of becoming “mommy,” so I never really worried about it.
My goals were always career oriented. I knew I wanted to get married, but kids were just tagged on at the end of the list. When I got married, it was wonderful. When I got pregnant, it was surreal. It was like I spoke of someone else it was happening to. It didn’t feel real even as the doctor confirmed the blood test. I was looking forward to going to my first 8 week appointment so that I could finally see the famous ultrasound image of a tiny baby. I needed visual evidence to knock some sense into me about what was actually going on. And yet I still felt this feeling saying, “It isn’t real.”
I was determined to be tough and realistic as the ultrasound room was dead silent. The nurse kept asking questions like, “Do you have a history of cysts? Is this your first pregnancy? Are you sure you are 8 weeks?” … I knew. I knew when she asked the questions. I knew when she didn’t say anything, when she didn’t put it on the screen. I told myself that I had known all along- it wasn’t real anyway. See? Not real. But I’m okay. I’m not the girl who is defined by pregnancy and kids. I didn’t cry.
After the ultrasound, Joel and I were sent to another room where we waited for almost an hour. The doctor confirmed what I knew was true but what came as a blow to Joel: miscarriage. To be more precise, “blighted ovum.”
It was a trick, because I had no symptoms of miscarriage. In fact, my HCG levels were through the roof and there was a fully formed gestational sac on the ultrasound. There just wasn’t anything inside. What does that even mean?
“A blighted ovum happens when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterine wall, but the embryo does not develop.”
Miscarriage means to carry badly. “A morbid expulsion of an immature foetus,” according to the Comprehensive Medical Dictionary. But the cases where the body hasn’t expelled the fetus are called “missed miscarriages.” A double miss. You miscarried the baby, but you also missed the miscarriage altogether.
The only thing I could rationalize was, “It was never real. I knew it.” Okay, what do we do now?
“There are many administrative tasks to a miscarriage. You have to tell everyone, including your boss and your sister and your husband’s parents. We didn’t have the energy to make phone calls, so we sent text messages. I felt an urgent need to update everyone who knew, as if I had passed out bad information and needed to correct it as quickly as possible.”
After we left the appointment, I sent an identical clinical text message to deliver the news to friends and family. Joel preferred actual phone calls to process. He needed to verbally process, but I did not want to talk. I had nothing to say.
We realized we hadn’t eaten all day and pulled into a restaurant parking lot. As soon as the car was parked, Joel broke down crying. I was numb to the medical news, but Joel’s grief made me aware that this was real. I could handle the unfortunate but common diagnosis, but why would God do this to Joel? I was suddenly furious at the ridiculousness of it all. Hot, silent tears ran down my face.
“One of the most vexing parts of a miscarriage is the linguistics. What was lost? A baby? It feels odd to use the same term for a healthy child, but also honest, when I consider how real this being was to me.
My doctor asked to see me back in 10 days. She wanted to see if I would miscarry naturally before pursuing a surgery. She also wanted to make sure that our dating wasn’t wrong and to confirm that there wasn’t a tiny embryo growing that just didn’t show up on the ultrasound.
During those 10 days I continued to have morning sickness, afternoon sickness, and night sickness. I had no energy. And I had no baby.
It was all a cruel joke. I wanted so badly to show up to the next appointment and have them discover that it was their error- that there it was on the screen- our baby! God’s little miracle that was just too small to see earlier! But I knew that was unlikely. Those stories weren’t going to happen for me.
Ten days later, the ultrasound image remained the same- empty. Except the gestational sac was growing as if there were a baby inside. My body was apparently confused. So that’s when my doctor recommended a D&C.
I knew from reading miscarriage and abortion stories that a D&C is extremely different for each woman. They are different because of the reasons that women get them and different because of the reactions women have to them. Some women have the procedure and go to work the next day, with no complications or issues. However, some women take weeks to heal and have painful side effects.
My initial instinct was no. In my mind, it was an invasive procedure and I didn’t want it. It is also an abortion procedure (when you have a baby in there to remove) so my conscience was burned by those letters, even though I had no embryo/baby in there. My thought was to let my body act on its own.
Then the other part of me, the tired, barren, sick, and sad part of me, wanted to schedule the D&C as soon as possible to be done with this nightmare and start over.
My doctor was completely respectful and said I could go either way, but warned me that there was increased risk of infection if my body didn’t start acting on its own. She carefully explained that she performs this procedure all the time for miscarriages and that it is a very common choice for women with my diagnosis. She said if it were her, she would absolutely have the D&C.
Days passed with no changes. Joel and I prayed and thought and researched. We decided to schedule the D&C.
It was my first time having full anesthesia, but it wasn’t bad. I don’t remember a thing. Interestingly, on the day of the surgery, my HCG levels were 48,000, but there was no baby. No miracle. No story to share except this sad one.
My recovery was uncommon. It was bad. I experienced the worst pain I have ever felt in my life for six more weeks. The pain usually only came at night, but it was so bad that Advil or Tylenol didn’t touch it.
One night the pain was so excruciating that I ended up in the ER. Something was seriously wrong. As Joel drove me to the ER, I frantically turned on Shane & Shane’s album of hymns, praying and listening to words of hope as I lay in the fetal position with my eyes clenched shut. I thought that I might die from the pain, so I wanted to die while listening to truth.
Apparently I had a ruptured ovarian cyst, on top of everything else. They ran some blood work and the doctor came in at 4 AM to announce, “You’re pregnant again!” Joel and I looked at each other in shock. I knew it was a mistake, right?
Yes, the doctor then discovered it was his mistake, because the HCG level at 300 was likely just leftover from my previous pregnancy. I knew this was the likely culprit all along. What a joke to end our night in the ER.
After the whole ordeal, I thought Joel and I would bounce back and continue to try again, like all the miscarriage stories. “We were pregnant again in no time!” Etc. Etc.
But we didn’t try again. We were hit hard by all of the trauma, and we didn’t feel ready to bounce back into that world again. We have our own issues to deal with that are also going on (like Joel fighting MS, moving across the country, starting a new degree program, and finding a new job) so we feel pretty content in regaining strength and putting all of our new pieces together again.
I was so tired of being the sad couple, the couple that needed prayer, the weak couple, the couple that couldn’t make it to things because of sickness.
Even now my mind is racing at the “whys” of not having a baby anymore or the “whys” of the pain that Joel experiences. He told me that the news of no baby was worse than any pain he had ever experienced.
I sometimes wonder if we have to be here, down in a pit, so that our character is changed more and more. Or that we can be more grateful one day because of the dark days we’ve lived through. I don’t know.
But the power I do see is when I get to link hands with other broken people. And that gives me hope. We often can comfort those suffering simply by saying, “We get it. It’s horrible. We don’t know why. But we’re here and we love you.”
This past week I was able to talk to other women who have also lost a child in early pregnancy and say, “Me too. We don’t know why. But I’m here and I’m praying peace for you and sending love.”
You know what can be the most uncomfortable thing? When you share your suffering and receive a blank stare, because someone has no idea what to say. And I honestly don’t blame people for this because it used to be me.
But now, I can look someone in the eye and understand deep pain and not be afraid of it. It is not strange to me. It is understood and it is acceptable to hurt, but it is not the way things are supposed to be.
When our season of suffering started two years ago (Joel constantly in and out of the hospital, barely able to get out of bed), I used to quote a Bible verse and believe with all that I am that, “This is for your glory Lord.” Thinking back on it, people really encouraged me because they said that I encouraged their faith or inspired them.
Now when things hurt, I just say, “Ouch.” I react and contemplate and feel. I’m tired of suffering. I’m not looking to inspire, I just want to be done with feeling isolated in pain. I will not pretend to be holier or stronger or more put together than I am. I still want to honor God in my suffering, but it’s different now. Instead of being self sufficient, I am just broken. I want to ask for input to be reminded of truth, to receive guidance from those with more life experience, and to ask for forgiveness when I let out my bitterness that sometimes grows with pain.
I wasn’t a girl who always dreamed of being a wife and mom one day. I dreamed of having a career. And maybe a husband. And maybe kids in the way, way future.
I’d like to think that we can still one day have a baby. Who knows. I had just wrapped my mind around stay at home mom-ing, which both intrigues and frightens the daylight out of me. Now, I don’t know.
That’s not to say we won’t try again one day, because we so look forward to the day that we will.
I’m here, still hurting, but still going. I am sharing as part of the grieving process. I am sharing to connect with those who also grieve. I am sharing to inform people (like us) who had no idea that this could even happen the way that it did. I am sharing the story of the life that existed, as short as it did.
When someone you know and love dies, your life changes, and it is the change that fuels your grief. You can’t call them or see them like you used to; you can only smell their cologne on the clothes that still hang in their closet. But when it’s a fetus that has died, or a baby, or whatever you want to call it, your life doesn’t change, and that’s the strange part — because it was supposed to.
Your office was supposed to be turned into a nursery, and you resented that, but now the plans for a crib and a changing table are gone and nothing at all needs to change.
The sadness is in how things stay the same.
I included some quotes from Laura Turner that I find true and helpful. Her article, I Was Pregnant, And Then I Wasn’t, sums up so perfectly what happened to me (and what happens to many women). Thankful to her for her words where I didn’t have any.