Four pregnancies. Two babies.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It feels a little extra scary to talk about loss in the midst of a pregnancy, but my pregnancy losses are part of who I am as a mom and a person. And I think it’s important to talk about them.

When I fill out paperwork at the doctor’s office and it asks me to relay how many pregnancies I’ve had, it feels very strange to write “4,” but it’s the truth.

That math breaks down to one first trimester miscarriage, one full-term baby, one “chemical pregnancy” (which is such a rough term, no? Early miscarriage, really), and the one I find myself in now, at 29 weeks.

I’ve already written about the first miscarriage, so I won’t repeat myself. (You can read about it here.) It was, as miscarriages go, not too physically taxing. Emotionally, it wrecked me. It made me feel deeply flawed. First it made me certain I’d never be able to have a healthy pregnancy, and then when I went on to have a healthy pregnancy, I couldn’t trust it.

I went through every day for at least the first half of my second pregnancy expecting everything to come crashing down. I envied friends who had never had to go through a miscarriage even as I recognized that I was among the lucky ones for whom a pregnancy loss was a smallish hiccup on the way to a baby instead of the first mile marker on a long-term fertility struggle.

When we decided to start trying for a second baby, our first was about a year old and my cycles were irregular as they started to return. So I took a lot of pregnancy tests–not because we were in a huge rush to conceive, but because maybe I wanted to have a few drinks or take some cold medicine or whatever and wanted to be sure I wasn’t pregnant before I did.pregnancy_test_result

So on Valentine’s Day this year, when I spotted a faint line on a test, I was surprised. I didn’t feel any of the familiar hints of pregnancy that I recalled from the last two times. I took a few more tests over the course of the day, and while the lines remained faint, they were there. I presented a test to The Husband when he got home from work, and he was thrilled.

I still didn’t feel right the next morning. I took the rest of the stash of pregnancy tests, hoping to see the lines darken (nope). Even went and bought a few digital ones because I just wasn’t convinced. When I got a digital “Not Pregnant” that second day, I tried to subdue the growing certainty that this pregnancy wasn’t going to stick. That feeling was confirmed when my period arrived the next morning.

The second miscarriage was easier than the first, but it still wasn’t pleasant. No emergency room visit, no retracting excited announcements to anyone, no lingering pregnancy symptoms (no symptoms at all, really) to remind me of what I was losing. But it was still a retraction. It still was a hope extinguished.

I feel like a walking confirmation of the statistic I’ve often heard thrown around that about half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. If it weren’t for extremely sensitive pregnancy tests, this one would have gotten past me without leaving a mark. As it was, I found myself quietly crying in a dark movie theater when I finally had a moment to let myself process how I was feeling.

Again, we quickly went on to conceive again. And here I am sailing through my fourth pregnancy, toward my second baby.

Here’s what I’ve learned about miscarriage in the interceding years since that first loss:

  • Everyone’s journey is different. Miscarriage can be devastating, or it can be mildly disappointing, or both, or anything in between. What it doesn’t have to be, if we are willing to talk about it, is lonely.
  • Speaking of lonely, miscarriage doesn’t just happen to women. While the physical aspects of the loss were mine to bear both times, The Husband also was excited about our growing family, was also sad when the news turned bad.
  • Toddlers make a great distraction when you’re bummed out about a pregnancy loss.

If you’ve experienced a loss of your own, I’m sorry. It sucks. And you’re not alone.

 

 

Four pregnancies. Two babies.

False start

dogfartsThe husband and I, having spent more than four years utterly content not to be parents, had a long and serious discussion in the basement of a brewery one afternoon in October about changing our minds. Though we had always thought we’d eventually have kids, it wasn’t until this day we had seriously broached the subject. We both feared how parenthood might drive a wedge between us, as so many couples find. We wondered how we could afford children, and how it would affect both our careers.

But in the end, we knew we wanted to be parents eventually, and as I approached my 29th birthday I argued that if there ever were a sweet spot, it was around this time — the most favorable combination of energy, health and finances that we could hope to have all at the same time. And we trusted that we’d be able to make it through the rocky parts together.

So in November of 2014, we started, “Not not trying” to conceive, if you catch my meaning.

In early December, I went away for a work trip came back with a terrible cold, so I took the Monday before my 29th birthday off and stayed home sick. I realized that I might be a day or two overdue for my period (which would not be weird, considering I had just gone off birth control), but I was feeling a little strange beyond just having a cold, so I walked to the drug store to buy a pregnancy test.

To my shock, and soon to my delight, it was positive.

I waited on pins and needles for The Husband to come home. I was going to do something cute and announcement-y to tell him the news, but I was too anxious and just blurted it out. He wasn’t upset but I think the speed with which we had gotten me in the family way took him aback.

Because I’m a neurotic planner and obsessive daydreamer, I almost immediately calculated my due date: August 24, 2015. I called to schedule an appointment with the OB/GYN my friend had recommended — I would see him in about a month, since I was only four weeks along.

I started to deal with the early pregnancy symptoms, like getting up 200 times at night to pee, and sore boobs, and fatigue like none I had ever felt before. It felt surreal and wonderful and exciting, even if it was uncomfortable.

Because of our social habits, we told a few of our closest friends, since we knew they’d suspect anyway as soon as I said, “I’ll just stick with water, thanks.”

We spent Christmas with both our families, and though a small part of me was desperate to announce the news, we both agreed it was better to wait until I had at least gone to the doctor. So I pretended to have a few cocktails and tried to seem alert.

On New Year’s Day, we joined some friends for a meal at a Chinese restaurant (a long-standing family tradition of mine, the history of which I won’t get into right now.)

The most important part of this tradition is the reading of your fortune, after you’ve finished eating the cookie. It’s our family superstition that your New Year’s fortune predicts how your whole year will go. Mine said, “Pleasant experiences make life delightful. Painful experiences lead to growth.”

Can you guess where this is going?

I got home and noticed I was spotting. I also felt a little crampy. I began frantically searching Google and trying to reassure myself that it was something called “implantation bleeding.”

We went out for dinner later that night with a friend, still working hard to convince ourselves everything was fine. We came home and I went to bed, tried to sleep. I got up to pee a few hours later and discovered I was bleeding more heavily. I returned to bed, choked out, “It’s happening,” and cried into The Husband’s shoulder until I fell back asleep.

The next morning, we walked over to the doctor’s office I was supposed to see in a few weeks to ask if they could see me. The receptionist told me with a regretful look that I would have to go to the emergency room.

It seemed silly to go to the hospital for what physically just felt like a heavy period and what otherwise was clearly a foregone conclusion: I may have been pregnant for a few weeks, but I wasn’t anymore.

But just in case there was something that could be done, or any complications, we went.

After an initial urine test and internal exam, we waited for what felt like many hours to get an ultrasound. The  technician was a kind woman who told me she had three children and had also had three miscarriages. While she was preparing the ultrasound equipment, she told me she wasn’t allowed to interpret anything, and I asked her if it was difficult to keep a poker face when she knew what was happening. She told me she just tried to make small talk and keep it positive. Once the wand was in place and her gaze were fixed on the monitor, despite her best efforts I could see the light go out of her eyes a little bit. It was the last shred of hope I held onto and it was gone.

I waited, vulnerable and pantsless sitting on a big absorbent paper pad in a hospital gown, waiting for the ER doctor to confirm what I already knew. I didn’t want to sob in front of him, so I instructed The Husband to take on the persona of tough-love coach — to tell me to buck up, and try to be funny. I knew any sympathy right now would break me down. That morning before we had gone to the hospital, my dog walked into the living room, sat down and ripped a huge, noisy fart. It had made me burst out laughing even as I was preparing to go to the hospital. I replayed that ridiculous scene in my head as the ER doctor confirmed I was miscarrying.

“Dog farts. Dog farts. Dog farts.” I thought, as he explained what would happen in the coming days.

“Dog farts.” I thought, as the nurse pointed to the printed word “miscarriage” rather than saying it aloud on my after visit summary.

“Dogfartsdogfartsdogfarts” I thought as I took my prescription for heavy-duty painkillers and walked out of the hospital.

I held it together long enough for The Husband to pay for parking and then sobbed all the way to the pharmacy.

* * * * *

I know that miscarriages are incredibly common, and I’m grateful for movements like the #ihadamiscarriage campaign (started by Dr. Jessica Zucker) that are making it okay to talk about this more.

I also know that as miscarriages go, mine was pretty easy. I was only about 7 weeks along. I didn’t have to have any procedures or deliver a recognizable fetus or un-announce my pregnancy to all but a handful of people. I was back at work two days later and had an office door I could close if I needed to cry.

But even the easiest miscarriage felt like a body blow. It was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. It took away the shell of naivete and invincibility I had felt, and although the ER doctor first and my OB subsequently gently explained that it was extremely likely I would get pregnant again with ease, my miscarriage planted seeds of doubt and worry and made  me know that my body was fallible and that hope can sometimes lead to unimaginable disappointment.

I felt emptied out in so many ways and desperate to conceive again, as though if I got pregnant again fast enough I could forget what had happened.

Just as my doctor told me I would, I found myself holding a positive pregnancy test just three months later. But I will always carry with me the sadness surrounding that few weeks during which I first fell in love with the idea of motherhood and then grieved the baby who wouldn’t be.

 

False start