Trigger Warning: This is a story about miscarriage.
I think it’s safe to say most adults have an awareness of miscarriage. At the very least, they have seen it used as a plot device on some TV show.
I know I did. I remember a friend of my mom’s having several of them before finally giving birth to a precious, full-term son. I remember my friend having one shortly after asking me to be her child’s godmother. Another friend had one in her second trimester, one of the saddest situations I had been connected to at that point. And most recently, an acquaintance who would become a dear friend had a child with a severe birth defect, whom she birthed and buried around 20 weeks (not a miscarriage, but a still birth). There were others, for sure, but those stick out to me now.
Like most things, we go through life feeling like tragedy or heartbreak is something that happens to other people, until it happens to us. And so it was with the miscarriage of my third child.
My life as a mother is somewhat unique and definitely full. As a 26-year-old, I was married and inherited a 12-year-old son and 10 -year-old daughter. Then I was diagnosed as infertile, or as we like to recall, “Zero Percent Chance” of getting pregnant. I remember saying to people, devastated as I was, that I would rather never be pregnant than be pregnant and lose a baby. Miraculously, a few years later, I was pregnant with our Miranda. In those first weeks, I was still scared of miscarriage, but by the time I confirmed the pregnancy (I was in serious denial that it could be real!), I was already 12 weeks along, which aided my fears. My first pregnancy was near perfect, and though it ended with an emergency C-section due to Miranda being in a footling breech position, we went home with a beautiful daughter.
In the years following that, I often wanted to have another, but life never matched up. We were traveling for my husband’s music ministry, we had no insurance, we moved from south of Chicago to South Carolina, where we knew no one. Finally, when our son got married at the end of 2013, I made peace with being done with pregnancies. Time to pass the torch.
You know how this goes. Six weeks later, I found out I was pregnant. It was a month before my husband’s 50th birthday AND our son and daughter-in-law were dropping serious hints about a baby of their own. The timing seemed crazy, but the joy that followed our initial shock was explosive. Another baby? What a gift!
The day of my first appointment, I woke up so excited and energized and showing, that I was convinced perhaps we calculated wrong and I was 12 weeks along instead of 8 weeks. I worked out, went to the office, had lunch with my husband, and we stopped home before our appointment.
I was spotting.
I just shrugged. Surely it was no big deal. But there was an ominous feeling…
My time with the nurse was great. We chatted about all things baby, how we were likely going to be new parents and grandparents at the same time. My doctor came in and we joked. When I had become her patient the previous year, my initial appointment had turned into outpatient surgery for an IUD removal. Now here I was… pregnant.
Or was I? In the six years and 1000 miles since my pregnancy with Kaity, things were different. My appointment included a transvaginal ultrasound. I’d had one before, during fertility testing, but not during a pregnancy, nor had I ever had an OB perform an ultrasound herself. At first, the doctor said, and I quote, “I don’t see a baby in here.”
As my husband squeezed my hand and I tried to breathe, she moved the wand around and found the sac. She told my my uterus was tilted and had obstructed the view. Then she said the words that were my worst nightmare, “I don’t see a heartbeat.”
My initial reaction was deep, deep confusion. I was only 8 weeks along. I knew that hearing the heartbeat wasn’t necessarily possible, so I didn’t see why this was an issue. I wasn’t thinking about the efficiency of the ultrasound making a difference. Then my doctor performed measurements and said the embryo (my baby) was only measuring at 6 weeks.
I would not accept the news. We questioned everything we could think of. I would not schedule a D&C. I could not believe that a miscarriage was occurring.
Through the weekend, I spotted here and there. I prayed. I hoped. I tried not to grieve, because it meant giving up, but in my heart, I knew. When I returned 4 days later, there was still no heartbeat and the measurements were smaller. In defeat, I allowed my doctor to schedule a D&C.
There are other facets to this story that I remember so clearly… how no one in this OB office would make eye contact with me (except for a compassionate phlebotomist who dried my tears and would later celebrate my rainbow pregnancy with me), how the pre-op nurse at the hospital clearly hadn’t read my chart and gave me a pregnancy test, how one of the other doctors who checked me referred to my baby as “materials of conception,” how my doctor acted amused at my 2-week check-up when I said I hadn’t cried yet that day.
Oh, my heart. Miscarriages matter. Our babies are real. They were alive, and now they are not.
Miscarriage, my miscarriage, made me feel weak, unable, and stupid. I didn’t understand how technology had changed during my pregnancies. I was basically scared into believing I needed a D&C (as a C-section mama, I wanted desperately to give birth to this child on my own). And I had no idea that my recovery would include things like prolonged fatigue, general lack of clarity, and depression. I also didn’t know that I had options for what to do with my baby’s remains.
As a 37-year-old mother, when it came to my miscarriage, I knew nothing.
This is a story I have told too many times in the past 20 months. But during that time, I have been especially blessed. Three months after my miscarriage, I was pregnant with our son Jack. During my pregnancy, I met an amazing group of women – through “Centering,” midwife-led, group-based prenatal care, and a tribe of mamas in my community. I learned so much from them, and I also learned that my situation was not so unique. One in four women suffer a miscarriage. And you know what?
One of those women I met told me about the organization Stillbirthday, who supports women with any kind of pregnancy or infant loss and trains doulas and chaplains to do the same. When I told her about my compassion for women who lose their babies, who have traumatic births, she told me I should be a bereavement doula. I had no idea what that was… now I am days away from my certification.
It is my hope to raise up a core support system in our community for women whose pregnancies involve heartbreak. This looks different for different people. I want women who are told they are miscarrying to know they have options. I want families who lose their precious babies in the womb or shortly after birth not to feel alone for one single moment. I want women who have had a C-section to know how strong and capable of healing they are. And I want health care workers, who likely feel overworked meeting physical needs, to have a brochure or phone number in hand for those patients who need help having their emotional needs met during these heartbreaking and confusing times.
With the help of the expert mamas who surround me and gleaning from so many stories, Three Dots Birth and Bereavement Support will be launching soon. In our beginning, we will be available for support at the onset of diagnosis or loss as well as after a loss or traumatic birth has occurred. Our services will include support and coaching for families who feel overwhelmed with whatever their birth outcome is. We will be provide these services free of charge, with hopes the community will support our efforts.
Our goal: Let women know they have options. Make sure they have support. Whether you are the one in four and know someone who is, we can all agree that the one shouldn’t have to grieve alone.