Today, October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, so I am going to share a personal story. The statistics are that 1 in 4 women will experience this loss. Its an astounding number, and really I wonder if it isn't under-reported. There is a growing movement to bring this out in the open, out of the shadows, where it has been. It is an intensely private grief, but one that too many women suffer in silence, when there are in reality, so many who share this grief and who can support you through it. I was one of those who suffered silently. Like a lot of women, I didn’t want to announce my pregnancies “too early” in case of loss. My first pregnancy happened so quickly; it was our first month trying and I was ecstatic. It was the perfect timing, just as we had planned, so that I would ideally give birth just as my husband was finishing his spring semester of teaching and would have several weeks off to help out with the baby. I already had names picked out. I was already planning a nursery, for either a boy or a girl. I had already bought a maternity skirt I found on sale. I had already scheduled a tour at the birth center where I knew I wanted to give birth. We were dreaming big dreams for this little one. All in only about four weeks from when I had seen those two lines on a stick. But it was early, and we hadn’t told anyone yet, not family, not my best friend, certainly no happy social media announcements. It was a private, happy secret, until it became our private grief.
I was about seven weeks pregnant. It was October 6th, and we were on our way to visit my mother-in-law in San Antonio. We stopped at a gas station and I went inside to pee, and there was blood. I told my husband, and we turned around to go home. I was scared and sobbing and starting to cramp. I knew it didn’t look good, but I tried to be hopeful. We told my mother-in-law that we couldn’t come, that something had come up. I just couldn’t tell her what was going on. We hadn’t told her I was pregnant yet, and I didn’t want to talk about it or answer questions. Of course, that only left more questions. She knew something was wrong, something was going on, and for months, she asked about me if I was okay. And it never seemed right to explain. It was the weekend, so I couldn’t go see my regular doctor. I didn’t have an OB since I was planning to give birth at a birth center with midwives. No one had even confirmed my pregnancy. So I went into an urgent care clinic and waited and waited and waited to get in, only to have them tell me that they didn’t have an ultrasound and there was nothing they could do. I was told to go to the ER, but I didn’t want to do that. I was continuing to bleed. The next day we had our scheduled tour at the birth center and a consult with the midwife. I decided to go ahead and go. It was so surreal; I was being shown around this beautiful birth center with all the hopes and expectations of having an amazing birth there, all the while I was still bleeding, knowing that this beautiful dream was slipping away. The midwife was kind when I told her, but there was nothing she could do, no way to stop it. There was a little hope; sometimes women do bleed in the first trimester and the baby is safe, but I wasn’t under their care yet, so she recommended I see my doctor and schedule an ultrasound. With pregnancies this early, you need a vaginal ultrasound, equipment that they didn’t have.
I tried to get an appointment with my GP, but she wasn’t available. There were no openings for another day, and with another nurse practitioner, a man who I had never seen. I reluctantly scheduled it. Meanwhile, I had to go to work, to go teach my classes, as if there was nothing going on. As if I wasn’t still bleeding. I went in to the appointment, and I was scared and alone and just needed some understanding. This guy offered none of that; he was clearly uncomfortable even handling “women’s issues.” They did a pregnancy test, and it was negative. I was crushed. Even that last sliver of hope was gone. All our dreams were gone. Instead of sympathy, he questioned whether or not I had even been pregnant, whether I knew how to read a pregnancy test, or if there had been a false positive. Now I angry; this guy treated me like an ignorant child. I knew I had seen that second line; it wasn’t faint. I knew how to read the directions. I wasn’t holding it up to the light looking for an evaporation line. And a quick google search is enough to find out that false positives are extremely rare, ie. you’re taking HCG supplements.
I went to the ultrasound, which required drinking a ton of water and not peeing, then having someone insert a vaginal wand while pressing on your bladder. It’s extremely uncomfortable and invasive. And there was no sign of pregnancy, not even an increased lining. It was all gone, everything, nothing even to show for it. This life we had celebrated had vanished as if it had never existed. The NP continued to press the point that I had never been pregnant. Maybe my period had just been a month late . . . and I had imagined that blue line. I had been bleeding for three days. We walked out completely shaken. Not only was our baby that we had already come to love and dream about gone, but no one seemed to even recognize that she had existed (yes, I had already been thinking it was a girl), that this tiny life had mattered.
I should have reached out to others. My mom had had two miscarriages, my sister had had one and an infant loss. But I bore this in silence. How could I tell people I had lost a baby when I hadn’t even told them I was pregnant? I didn’t know how to start. I couldn’t find the words. Even my husband couldn’t really talk about it. It hurt him as well; he was sympathetic and he held me when I cried, but I felt so alone in this. I had no answers. What had happened? What was wrong? Did my body fail me? I’ve had a long, troubled history with accepting my body, and this seemed to confirm it. I spent several months tracking my cycles, I brought in my charts to my gynecologist. I noticed I had a short luteal phase, and I started reading about this. Maybe I had low progesterone, which is needed to sustain a pregnancy. I’d had one longer cycle, but I couldn’t bring myself to take a pregnancy test before my period came. Had I had an early loss and not even known about it? Maybe, she said, but everything looked good to her. She tested my progesterone, which only confirmed that I had indeed ovulated. She was the first one to hear my story, to believe that I had actually been pregnant, and it was recorded in my chart. She knew the feelings of losing a pregnancy, the fears, the jealousy of seeing other pregnant women, the need for answers, to somehow control the process. I was heard. Finally. It was several months later before I could tell my story to others, when I poured my heart out to friends, to my mom. But that one insensitive NP still lingered in my heart.
I started taking every supplement I could to increase my fertility, to lengthen my luteal phase; I tracked my cycles and my ovulation religiously. And it worked, I got pregnant again. This time, I immediately went to see my provider and she confirmed it. She listened, she heard my fears, she was sorry she hadn’t been able to see me last time. She ran labs, tested my progesterone since I was worried about it. It was borderline low, so she prescribed supplements. Whether it really helps is not is not known, but she knew I needed it for my own peace of mind. She ordered an early ultrasound and this time, we saw that tiny little bean with a heartbeat. But I couldn’t let go of my fears. Every time I went to the bathroom I was worried I’d see blood when I wiped. But my little bean grew; every test and ultrasound looked good. But the worry never really left. I had a beautiful, uncomplicated labor at the birth center I had toured before, and I finally held my rainbow baby in my arms a little over a year later.
After my second son was born I became a doula. Then a year later, I trained as a bereavement doula, and I have had the honor to support other families during their time of loss and grief. Because I know now, it is so much better not to go through it alone. To not grieve in silence. 1 in 4 have suffered this. We are not alone. Let’s break the silence.