I knew something wasn’t right. Too much energy, not enough nausea.
I’d just started a new job and other than some initial administrative hiccups, had begun to settle in nicely. For the first time since being laid off in the middle of my first pregnancy, I’d found my professional feet again. It was an emotional transition as a relatively new full-time mom to go back to commuting into an office 5 days a week. This change meant more stability for our family and a chance to get back to building our proverbial nest egg. Focusing on trying for another baby helped us to feel more positive about the changes.
Surprisingly, and yet not so surprisingly, we got pregnant right away. I found it hard to believe, but peed on as many sticks as it took for it to feel real. Within a week, we’d told our family and I made a little “Big Brother” onesie for my son to wear. By six weeks, we couldn’t contain our excitement and told a few close friends. Our first pregnancy had been a breeze, from the 2 weeks of trying to my water breaking the day before my due date. We felt sheepish but delighted to break the news about our second. I felt great, but anxious about the pregnancy. I tried to reassure myself.
But within days, those feelings turned to deepening anxiety and overwhelming fear. My vivid dreams devolved into nightmares, and one night that week, I woke up with persistent but mild cramps and feared the worst. But I was reassured by a staggering wave of nausea at the end of our 8th week, and my husband’s comforting words. I permitted myself indulgent daydreams of nursery designs, double-strollers, and the sweet smell of my baby’s wispy newborn hair.
But as we neared our first ultrasound, my anxiety only worsened. The ultrasound tech took my weight and I told my husband to remember the number so we could tally up my weight gain for the pregnancy. I’d lost a few pounds in the last week or so, which worried me.
As I hopped up on the table next to the ultrasound machine, the nurse said “oh no.” My heart skipped a beat, we hadn’t even started the ultrasound! The machine read “Windows error.” The nurse struggled to reboot the machine, eventually just unplugging from the power source and then replugging it. The machine rebooted, but I took it as a bad sign. As the ultrasound began, I could only look straight up at the ceiling and squeeze my husband’s hand. There was silence and I knew that was bad. Finally the nurse said “there’s no heartbeat dear. I’m so sorry.” I will never forget her soft maternal voice or her hand on my shoulder.
Her words, though a complete shock, sounded familiar to me. In my mind and my dreams, I’d heard them before. As much as I’d feared them, I was hopeless to prepare to hear them. Given my anxiety all along, there was no room to question her findings. She told us how sorry she was again and went on to measure and label everything she saw on the screen, including a malformed sack, signs of small hemorrhage, and a baby measuring only 6 weeks and 1 day, rather than the nearly 9 weeks we’d calculated. I began to cry, as did my husband. In our first moments of grief, the shock began to give way to disbelief. How? Why? Really? No, no, NO.
The nurse stroked my arm as I sat up and stayed with us for a minute while we cried. I got dressed and waited for the nurse to come for us to take us to a room. Our doctor was running behind, so we sat in an empty exam room waiting for him to arrive. As we waited, we tried to make sense of it all. And suddenly all the anxiety and signs made sense. What still didn’t make sense was why this was happening to us. We must have experienced every stage of grief in that exam room over our hour-long wait. I was shocked and sad, but didn’t yet feel the loss of the baby, only the loss of the pregnancy and all the dreams and planning we’d already begun. I told myself the baby was dead before she was even alive. That she was so new she probably hadn’t been “assigned” a soul yet. That because her heart wasn’t beating now, it never had. That my child was still with God, waiting for a suitable earthly body, maybe the next pregnancy. Would there be a next pregnancy?
Finally the doctor who had delivered our son nearly 18 months before arrived. I threw my arms around him and sobbed deeply, soaking the shoulder of his nice suit with tears. “Let’s talk,” he said. What came next was strangely harder to accept than what we’d already heard.
He started to ask us questions about the pregnancy: How I was feeling, pregnancy symptoms, a recap of my cycle dates. He went on to give us his observations on the ultrasound. “It looks like a miscarriage on the images, but from what you are telling me, I don’t want to confirm it yet.” He hypothesized that we may have miscalculated our dates or that my cycle had been much longer last month than I realized, meaning I’d gotten pregnant as much as 2 weeks later than I thought. At 6 weeks, a heartbeat sometimes isn’t visible on ultrasound. He ordered a second ultrasound in a week. Deep down I knew the reasons why his hypothesis didn’t hold up, but I grasped at the only chance this pregnancy had of surviving. A boulder had been tossed into our emotional stream. Suddenly there was hope. Our grief came to a screeching halt. Our fear and anxiety however swirled around the boulder in turbulent rapids.
We left feeling numb, my husband physically sick. We stopped for milkshakes for some reason and picked our son up early from daycare. Seeing him lifted me and at the same time made me mourn his unborn sibling.
The week was painfully slow and filled with our unpredictable emotions. From moment to moment our spirits turned from despair to hope and back again. We tried to stay busy at work and focus on our son, but kept quiet to most about what was happening. We couldn’t allow ourselves to commit to either outcome. We were confused, scared, and myriad other emotions, some of which we couldn’t even identify. But we stayed strong for each other and our son, going about our days with as much an attempt at normalcy as possible. Little did we know that the normal we once knew no longer applied to us.
A few days later, I woke up from an exhaustion-induced sleep screaming at the top of my lungs. I don’t know what I saw in my dream, but I didn’t allow myself to drift off again until the sun came up. I hadn’t had much appetite, I was stressed and felt mildly nauseous off and on. I prayed it was a sign that our baby was alive and well inside me. We celebrated my birthday that weekend and blowing out candles, opening presents, and eating cake distracted us for a moment. I didn’t wish for the obvious when I blew out the candles. I think I’d begun to accept.
Tuesday finally arrived what seemed like several weeks later. By then we’d resolved that whatever the outcome, we were going to be okay. As I lay on the table for the ultrasound, I mustered the courage to look at the screen. Things looked different but I knew that it wasn’t in a good way. The tech confirmed it and went about her measuring and documenting. We didn’t cry. I think we were out of tears. I felt my body relax into the table and my husband’s hand relax in mine. The boulder in our stream suddenly dissolved like a sandcastle in a rising tide.
It was finally over. We saw the doctor, who confirmed that the miscarriage was absolutely certain. The doctor reassured us that it was nothing we had done, nor was there anything we could have done, to influence this outcome. I’d been eating virtually all-organic, and had avoided alcohol for the 2 years since we started trying for our first baby. But it felt good to hear it wasn’t me. He went on to explain that 1 in 3 pregnancies end in miscarriage, usually due to things just “not coming together as they should” and reminded me just how complex and miraculous the process of conception and pregnancy is. He tried to give us hope that this was likely a one-time ordeal, and encouraged us to take care of ourselves, take some time to heal, and try again.
As I rested at home the next few days and my hormones began to return to normal, more emotion bubbled to the surface. The little being inside me hadn’t felt like my child for the last several days, until now, when she was gone. My tears revisited me in a moment where I finally accepted that she was real, she was our child, and she was now with God instead of here with us. I can’t bring myself to name her, although we started to call her Junebug. It felt like she was a girl. I admit I brushed my son’s long thick hair to one side a couple of times, to get an idea what our daughter might look like.
As time passed, the pain of the loss subsided. But as a friend who suffered an early loss around the same time told me, you never forget. Our loss showed us our strength as a couple and as parents to our wonderful son. It showed us faith when we didn’t even know we had it, and it brought us closer together. I personally coped by focusing on trying again. It took tremendous courage for my husband, but his support for me never faltered, and almost as soon as we were cleared to try again, we were pregnant.
It wasn’t an easy pregnancy, but it was a healthy one, despite fear being along for the entire 10 month ride. After my miscarriage I couldn’t be convinced I would be able to have more children, but my OB was confident. I told him at the time that when he delivered my 2nd baby, he could say ‘I told you so.’ Over the next 3 and a half years, he got to say it twice.