We’ve all been touched by miscarriage. Whether a personal experience or through a friend’s, it’s heartbreaking. So many women and families go through this but the range of emotions one might feel, shame especially, can make you second guess opening up about it. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month and that’s exactly our intention with this post, bringing awareness to this subject. You are not alone and you should not feel shame. Friend and Love Child contributor, Kelly, recently brought the subject of miscarriage to my attention and I’m so thankful she did. After suffering a miscarriage, Kelly found it comforting to read other women’s stories, eventually giving her the courage to try for another baby. We are honored to share the stories of 3 strong women, some who have never openly shared until now. We are dedicating the entire week to this subject in hopes that it inspires women to talk, share, learn how to support one another and realize the power behind healing. Photo by Katie Jameson
I was pregnant over Thanksgiving 2015 while visiting family in California. I happily spent the week sleeping in, eating holiday foods and dreaming about our second child. One day while walking on the beach, I found a beautiful little abalone shell nestled in a rock on the shore that just fit in the palm of my hand. I marveled to myself that it was about the same size as the baby in my belly. I brought it home wrapped in a scarf and kept it in my underwear drawer.
Several weeks later I had an appointment at my doctor’s office to do 12-week bloodwork. I already had one baby so I knew what it felt like to be pregnant, and I had a nagging feeling that I should be bigger or sicker or somehow feeling more pregnant. It was just before Christmas and I was hoping to tell my family about the baby while home for the holidays. I asked the doctor if we could listen to the heartbeat just to make sure everything was OK before I broke the big news. She said we could, but warned me that at 12 weeks sometimes the heartbeat is hard to hear. I popped up on the table and repeated those words to myself as she searched and searched all over my belly for the swosh, swosh, swosh sound. The silence was deafening. Finding nothing, she suggested we do a quick ultrasound. As soon as the dark image of the motionless little bean popped up on the screen I knew that our baby was no more. The doctor told me that based on the size, my fetus had stopped growing a handful of weeks prior- probably just after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, I went to this appointment alone so I had to go out in the waiting room to call my husband and break the sad news over the phone. My doctor gave me the option of passing the baby at home but I couldn’t comprehend miscarrying over Christmas so I opted for a D&C later that day to end this nightmare and move on. The procedure went well and by that night I was at home recovering. Through fetal DNA testing we found out that the baby had Turner’s Syndrome (a very common cause of miscarriage) and I was encouraged that it had nothing to do with my “advanced maternal age” or genetic makeup.
At first, I was embarrassed that I had already told a couple of people about my pregnancy, but it allowed me to reach out to them about what had happened. Friends brought me soup and magazines and flowers and chocolate. But most helpful were all the calls and emails from women who shared their stories of miscarriage and loss with me. It helped to know that I wasn’t alone and this was a common (and sad) part of life.
A couple of days later I found the little abalone shell in my drawer and it reminded me of the last weeks our baby was growing in my belly. That still little body just a couple of inches long, was forever immortalized in this iridescent dome of the same size. I slipped a gold nail through one of the holes in the shell and hung it on my bathroom wall. Later that year I got pregnant again with our sweet, healthy daughter, but I still look at the abalone shell from time to time and think about the strange cycle of life and the tiny baby girl that never was.
We lost our first baby. It’s hard for me to fully comprehend how many different emotions make up those five little words. And this is the first time I have shared this story openly, and I am ready. It happened 7 years ago, and when I think about that time it feels like another lifetime, and like it was yesterday all at the same time. My husband and I were like so many other couples. We waited several years after getting married to start a family, and when we decided we were ready to remove our multiple layers of birth control, and really take the plunge, I could not get pregnant. We tried for almost one year, and had a plan in place for fertility next steps, and then I got pregnant. Hot diggity dog! We were over the moon.
My first trimester was full of excitement, non-stop nausea, and pure naïve bliss. It was this beautiful, special secret between my husband and I, and it was magical. We knew absolutely nothing about babies, and my changing body, or what the hell we were doing. So we went to all my doctor appointments with our list of questions, read so many books, and soaked in every ounce of info we could, and completely loved it. It was in my second trimester when everything changed. I had an ultrasound during a routine doctor’s appointment, and we were mesmerized by seeing our sweet baby on the screen, moving around, listening to those heart beats. It was glorious! This was the way it was suppose to be, and everything was moving along nicely. During the ultrasound, the technician barely talked, she said maybe two words. She was really focused on what she was doing, and avoided engaging in our blissed out love fest. We left the doctor’s appointment floating on air, and we both went back to work. And then I got a phone call later that afternoon. It was my doctor. She wanted me to come back into the office the next day for another ultrasound, and left it at that. I said yes of course, but could sense that something was not right in her voice. So we went back.
And to be completely honest, this is where I really do not remember the story with 100 percent clarity. You know those cold, damp mornings when it’s really foggy and you are trying to drive cautiously, and when you turn on your headlights to help you see the lines on the road, but it only becomes harder to see? That’s what I see in my mind when I go back to this part of the story. Lots of blurry fog.
We went back for the second ultrasound, and sat through the process in silence. We still heard the heartbeat, and everything looked the same to us. What was happening? We were told to go back out and wait in the office waiting room, and they would come get me shortly. We waited in silence along with the other 15 pregnant bellies and countless images of sweet baby faces on brochures and magazines. Then the nurse came out and called my name Amy Tucker. We got our stuff and went into the examination room. The cheerful nurse came in and congratulated us on our baby, and went into talking about what we could expect for our care starting in the first trimester. I politely stopped her and said that we have already been to several appointments, I was in my second trimester, and just had a follow up ultrasound. And then we got the ‘oooohhh’. She looked at my chart and said we called the wrong Amy Tucker, and we were escorted back to the waiting room. There was another pregnant Amy Tucker in that same office, at the same time, and with a healthy baby. The torture began.
Throughout the next two weeks we experienced so many appointments, specialists, a CVS (Chorionic Villus Sampling procedure), and countless moments down on our knees begging for this nightmare to end in anything positive. We learned our baby was a girl, and she was very sick. Her nuchal fold, which is the skin on the back of her neck, was abnormally thick. The CVS showed that her heart, brain and lungs were compromised, and she had severe hydrops, which is lethal swelling. She had Turner’s syndrome, which is a chromosomal disorder in which she only had one X chromosome. It occurs in 1 in every 2,500 girls. We were told that it was a miracle she lived this long, and in most cases the baby is naturally miscarried in this situation. And we were told she would never survive outside of my womb. It was a death sentence.
Time and space stood still.
We went through a raw, vulnerable and incredibly devastating process to determine what to do next. We decided to have a D&C (dilation and curettage). It was the worst moment of my life. How did my entire world come shattering down in a few short weeks? How could this possibly be happening? Did I do something to cause this? Were my husband and I suppose to be together and grow a family? Was this punishment for any lie, hurt, or pain I inflicted upon anyone else? Could I sacrifice myself in any way to make my baby survive? The runaway train of guilt and sadness began. I was desperate to find a reason, some sort of explanation to make sense of all the pain and suffering.
The morning of the D&C I sat by myself on my patio and asked my baby and the universe for love and forgiveness. I talked to my sweet baby and told her how much she was loved, and that I will always be her mother, and she will always be my baby. Words cannot even begin to express my emotions that morning. As I sat there looking out into the sky, a small colorful bird flew in front of me, and sat on the back fence. It was looking at me. It was there for a reason. And then two more birds flew down and sat next to the small bird on the fence. It was like I was seeing my baby, my husband, and myself all sitting together on that fence. And it was a moment of peace. I knew in that moment we would always be together in body and soul as I watched the birds fly off into the wide open sky. And now every time, even to this day, whenever I see a colorful bird flying in the sky, I say hello and talk to my sweet beautiful baby girl.
There is so much more to this story after this horrible experience, but I will end here with a feeling of hope. My husband and I went on to have 2 more babies, a boy and another girl. They are 6 and 4 now, and fill our days with love, light, adventure, and exhaustion. I still think about my first baby girl all the time, every day in fact, even 7 years later. I think of her with love and kindness, and I often talk out loud to her knowing she can hear my every word. I can feel a connection to her, and it’s so comforting when I think of her now. I recently went into a Pier 1 store (which the last time I was there was probably 1997), and I walked in and immediately saw a painting. It was of 5 birds sitting on a line. I stood frozen and literally gasped for air. It was our Tucker family, all 5 of us. Together and complete. My husband, myself, and our 3 baby birds. I bought the painting, and now it hangs over my tub in the bathroom. I look at it every day as I am getting dressed, or as I take a bath, and I look at it as our true family portrait. It brings me tremendous comfort.
It’s incredibly moving when women start to share their stories. We all need each other so much during this transition into motherhood, no matter if the baby ends up in our hearts or in our arms. So many women have experienced a loss, and my heart goes out to all the moms, dad, and families that are experiencing grief. You are never alone, you are strong, and you are loved.
Here are a few wonderful local Austin resources for anyone experiencing and grieving a loss.
The HOPE (Helping Ourselves through this Perinatal Experience) Support Group
Free support group for grieving parents that meets weekly at the Ronald McDonald House. My husband and I attended this group, and it was literally our life saver. It changed our lives, and allowed us to connect with other parents in similar situations.
The Austin Center for Grief and Loss
This amazing group provides counseling services to individuals and families who have experienced a loss.
The Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas (PPHA)
Provides information and resources for women that may be experiencing a postpartum mood disorder (anxiety, depression, OCD). Like a cruel joke, as you are experiencing a loss, your body is still going through tremendous hormonal changes. And this can often trigger a postpartum mood disorder, which can easily be overlooked as part of your grief. If you feel like something is not right, please reach out and connect. You are never alone, and there is always help.
At 10 weeks, our little blop (Lil Nugget as we’d nicknamed it) would reach fetus status. He would be the size of a kumquat, the websites said. He would have little fingers, little fingernails. We’d be able to hear a tiny heartbeat, see slight movement on the screen.
When we entered the doctor’s office I was already on edge. Another woman and her husband sat quietly reading next to each other, whispering excitedly back and forth. I looked at all the holiday cards lined up on the wall from December. I scanned the happy faces, looking for my favorite: too Midwestern, too modern, too many photos…just right.
We were given a different room this time.
After the first appointment, they sure downgrade you. My husband joked.
The nurse setup the ultrasound machine. I stare at a pamphlet for Cord Blood Banking; I’d read that it was expensive and fairly ridiculous, but wanted to ask the doctor if our hospital takes cord blood donations. We can hear the doctor in the other room, laughing with a pair of nervous soon-to-be parents. She comes in and grabs a new pair of gloves.
So how are we feeling? Great actually! No morning sickness? Nope, none at all.
The jelly smears on quickly, the screen boots up. And there’s nothing there. The silence is momentary.
That isn’t right.
The doctor pokes around. I wince a little, looking intently at the screen. There’s nothing there.
The fetus was most likely reabsorbed by womb. There was something wrong with it. Your body knows when something’s wrong.
Reabsorbed. I don’t know if I’ve ever taken stalk of how strange a word that is. Absorb: take in or soak up (energy, or a liquid or other substance) by chemical or physical action, typically gradually…soak up, suck up, draw up/in, take up/in, blot up, mop up, sop up…It’s a seriously weird word.
The good news is: We know you can get pregnant.
We know I can get pregnant. That is good news. I look to my husband. He has on his “I’m cool, I’m totally cool” face. She recommends I go have some sushi and wine in a hot tub. I chuckle nervously. I’m immediately overcome with a horrible feeling of relief. It spreads over me like a warm blanket, and just like a fever, I develop a slight chill down my spine.
On the walk home, we discuss this relief in a very roundabout way. We talk about upcoming festivals that I can party at now, the fact that I’m looking for work so I no longer need to lie. I keep checking myself, but the relief stays in tact. That night I have a glass of wine, the taste feels foreign to me now, too tart, too acidic.
A few days later, a photo op pops in my head. I was going to have our photographer friend take our baby announcement picture at Coachella. I was going to buy a little onesie and bring balloons. After that memory, more little things take focus: I’d recently created a separate account for “Lil Nugget” on Netflix. My Pinterest feed was all cloth diapers and breastfeeding tips. Hell, even my phone was full of flat belly photos of myself (I was creating a GIF with the Glow App). My real life had no baby and my digital life had no idea. There’s nothing there.
We had been pretty loose with the initial baby announcement. It had started innocently enough, just telling parents and siblings after we took the third pregnancy test. Over time, our festival friends had to know, then co-workers began to get the drift. All-in-all, we had to reach out to quite a few people over the next week. Not many people talk about the feeling you have disappointing others. There’s nothing there.
By the time you’ve gotten used to the idea, then comes the actual physical part. My doctor was a gem, she gave me some pain meds. The Saturday it really hit, we went to a museum, goofed around. We were playing Mario Kart when the cramps started. I was legitimately surprised by how painful they were. I was surprised by the feelings I had. I was very surprised overall.
Women don’t talk about miscarriages like mine. The ones that happen early and often.
I found it strange that this happened to so many women, yet I had never heard a woman openly talk about it. It was something discussed in quiet whispers, behind closed doors. Obviously every woman is different, every miscarriage is different. But to me it seemed silly to keep it a secret. I felt weird. I was moody. My body felt strange. I wasn’t going to be acting normal. Why not let people know what’s going on?
So I set about telling people. I casually slipped it into conversations, like you would a food allergy. At first, I could tell I was startling people. There’s nothing quite like the word “miscarriage” to make someone stop chugging beer. Over time, however, my friends warmed up to me just talking about it. And I felt so much better. It felt great to bring it up when it popped into my head, to sad smile at someone and have them hug me, because they knew. I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but I am saying it’s an option.
Here are just a few things I learned from dropping the “M” bomb:
- Miscarriages are really common. We choose to reach out to those we told initially and spill the beans directly. While the process of letting people know was painful and awkward at times (I will admit I used emojis), I couldn’t believe the amount of stories that poured forth from friends. So many people I knew had been through similar experiences and were quick to share their own pregnancy journeys.
- Pain inspires empathy. Sharing my own pain opened me up to other people’s grief; not just friends who’d lost children, but friends with secret struggles they normally keep private. Opening up helped me feel like I wasn’t alone.
- Funny is funny is funny. Making a joke about a recent miscarriage may seem like a rough way to go, but until you make someone snort uncomfortably you can’t knock it. Don’t judge yourself for any emotions (or strange jokes) that pop out unexpectedly. There is no such thing as inappropriate when it comes to your own feelings.
- Distractions come in many forms. Preparing for your pregnancy is full of books and websites and forums and apps. Recovering from a loss sometimes feels like coming up empty over and over again. Myself? I picked up Spanish on Duolingo, restarted a book list I’d made years ago, and took up Rosé as a new found drink of choice.
It’s autumn now, and as I start pinning Christmas recipes (I know…I’m a freak) I’m well aware of my old October due date. I still keep my “Lil Nugget’ account on Netflix. I sometimes accidentally cradle my belly with my hand. The gravity of life is always with us. Which makes it all the more important to share our sadness, our confusion, our inappropriate asides. What better way to heal than with friends?