I remember the first pregnancy test I ever took. I read the instructions four times (like it’s difficult to pee on a stick) and made myself count to 100 before looking at the results. And there it was – that beautiful plus sign that said I was pregnant.
My husband and I had been trying to conceive and were overjoyed! I immediately called my sister, who used to be a nurse at an OB/GYN. She shared our joy, but seemed uncomfortable as she warned us that the chance of miscarriage is 10-20% in people who know they are pregnant. I suppose it’s difficult to tell expectant parents that their happiness can be stolen from them in an instant, but it can. So we heeded her advice. We only told a handful of people and I (barely) refrained from starting to buy baby things.
Six weeks into the pregnancy I got the dreaded nausea, but told myself I could push through it. My “no-nonsense” mindset seemed to work as my nausea lessened and then stopped. Around the same time I called my OB/GYN and made an appointment. They couldn’t get me in until I was 12 weeks along, so we waited as patiently as we could for that first visit.
So there we were, my husband and I, in the doctor’s office, 2 ½ months after that positive pregnancy test, looking at the ultrasound. And there was nothing to look at. A “blighted ovum” my provider told me. I had lost the pregnancy at 7 weeks, but for whatever reason, I had never started bleeding. We were shocked to say the least. But as painful as it was to receive this news, for me, the coming weeks were the true horror story.
We opted to wait and see if my body would expel the pregnancy on its own. In hindsight it’s silly that we tried this method as obviously all of this had just been sitting in my uterus (not coming out) for more than a month. After a couple of days of nothing happening, I called my doctor to get a medication (Misoprostol) to induce bleeding. Rarely, Misoprostol can cause extreme cramping or heavy bleeding. The doctor said if I went through more than one pad or tampon in an hour, I should go to the emergency room. I took it and there was a lot of blood, but we managed it.
One week and another doctor’s visit later, there was still some tissue in my uterus, so I took Misoprostol again. I had always had heavy periods, but by late afternoon the next day, I was bleeding more than I had ever imagined was possible. My husband worked an hour away and wasn’t due home until 9 PM. I was at work (where I was the Executive Director and sole employee of a small nonprofit) and was supposed to present at a fundraising event that evening, but was freaked out that I may be hemorrhaging. I didn’t want to just go to the ER – who knows what my hesitation was – I was just in panic mode.
Because our culture stigmatizes talking about miscarriage, we had only told those people who knew about the pregnancy that I was miscarrying. And I didn’t want to ask my husband to leave work early because he would have to tell his coworkers what was happening and I couldn’t bear other people knowing…I had left a message with my OB/GYN but they weren’t calling me back, so as 5 PM approached (and everyone in the building where I worked would go home leaving me alone with my fear), I managed to compose myself enough to make up a fake excuse and ask one of our board members to go to the event for me. Then I cornered a person who worked in a nearby office. Barely holding back my anxiety (and tears) I told her what was happening and asked if I could go home with her so that if the bleeding got worse I wouldn’t be alone.
In good news, she said yes and the bleeding eventually slowed. In bad news, another week and another trip to the doctor revealed that I still had not fully expelled the pregnancy. It felt like the nightmare was never going to end.
The thought of another round of Misoprostol and another week of waiting to see if it worked was too much. We scheduled a D & C, a procedure to remove tissue from inside the uterus. As the nurse prepped me, I remember feeling relieved that when I woke up, this would all be over, finally.
Throughout all of this, I continually reminded myself that miscarriage was common, and this had happened to countless would-be parents before. And anyway, I was lucky because it was a miscarriage and the pain of it couldn’t begin to touch the pain felt by a family who had had a stillborn baby. That had happened to my cousin when I was just a teenager and I still remember the empty look in her eyes that Christmas, just months after it happened. As she dished food onto her two-year-olds plate, her grief was palpable and there was nothing any of us could do.
But when I called the only friend I had told about my pregnancy to tell her I lost the baby, she would hear none of my “it’s all fine” attitude. She said I was allowed to grieve, no matter how common this was or how far along I was. Within minutes she had packed her two kids into the car and drove from Helena to Bozeman to be with me. If she hadn’t given me permission to, I may have never fully grieved.
I remember the second pregnancy test I ever took. This time I didn’t have to read the instructions and it was once again positive. It had only been two or three months since my D & C and I was delighted that we were able to conceive again so quickly.
This time around, we called my sister again, but didn’t tell anyone else except our doctor. It’s just as well because I lost that pregnancy less than a week later. I had gone to the doctor for some blood work and was relieved to know that they would monitor any future pregnancies much closer than my first. This provided some reassurance that my body could not betray me into thinking I was pregnant again when I wasn’t.
This miscarriage was similar to any other period, but in addition to the cramps in my uterus, there was an ache in my heart that I couldn’t numb with ibuprofen.
I remember the third pregnancy test I ever took. This time I bought a three pack of tests! It was negative, but two days later, my fourth pregnancy test was positive.
Honestly I don’t feel like there was as much celebration this time. Rather, there was anxious waiting. I struggled during the pregnancy to bond with her. I wanted to so desperately, but my subconscious just kept screaming, “What if she doesn’t make it?” It didn’t help that she was little and not a big mover. She kicked some, but I constantly worried, as many parents do, that she had stopped moving. More than a few times my husband and I shined a flashlight into my belly to get her to move (don’t judge us) so we could assure ourselves that she was still there.
I just couldn’t make myself believe in her until she was in my arms. So much so that my “birth plan” had one item on it – I wanted to hear every single one of her heartbeats. I needed to know that she was ok and we weren’t going to lose her. I’m a pretty polite person and I generally assume medical professionals around me know what they’re doing, but I prepped my husband in advance that if her heartbeat dropped so much as a single time I would turn into an evil monster screaming bloody murder for a C-section. I was not going to lose this baby.
In the end I got to hear her strong little heartbeat for about 24 hours before she was delivered via C-section. I expected to feel that instant “great love” that so many mom’s experience, but it didn’t happen. I think I just struggled to grasp that she was really there and really ours. Of course my love for her grew exponentially in the next 24 hours until she was all I could think about or see, even when I closed my eyes.
We were lucky, my husband and I. Our third pregnancy was “the charm,” and we had our fiery little daughter. We managed to conceive three times in a year. On most days I forget the pain of those first two pregnancies. But I know this is not the case for everyone. Some people are still in the middle of all this. Some struggle to conceive. Some don’t get their happy ending (called “rainbow babies”). Some never stop feeling the pain, no matter how many successful pregnancies they have.
We don’t talk about miscarriage and stillbirth nearly enough in our society. If this has happened to you, you do not carry this grief alone. Grieve. Give yourself permission. Cry. Name the baby. Celebrate their due date as a way to remember them. Leave the room when a beaming pregnant person walks in (completely oblivious to your pain). Join a support group. Call Roots Family Collaborative. Talk to a counselor. Tell your other children and extended family. Tell the whole state about it in an article in a parent’s magazine – whatever it takes to heal.
And know that you are not responsible for this loss. You are not a failure. You would make an excellent parent.
There are so many well-meaning people who make statements about these losses that feel like daggers to the heart. If you know someone who has had perinatal loss, simply listen and show you care. Know your words have weight.
Cami has been the Education Director at Bridgercare for five years. Her time is split between teaching about topics like pregnancy prevention (at work) and playing on the river with her headstrong little miracle named Lucy.