Hope Through Loss...Our Miscarriage Journey Part 1
October is the official Awareness month for at least two very important, and personally touching, causes. Most everyone is familiar with October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but not as many are aware that October is also Pregnancy Loss and Infant Death Awareness Month. Today we want to share the first part of our personal journey with miscarriages.
Miscarriage Sucks. A lot. For something that is as common as miscarriage is (about 15-20% of all verified pregnancies end in miscarriage), you would think that it would be talked about more than it is. It is slowly being talked about more frequently (Carrie Underwood recently opening up about her multiple miscarriages for example), I feel like there could still be more of an openness about miscarriages and what happens during them both physically and emotionally, and what the healing process looks like. Of course, it will be different for everyone, but going through a miscarriage is a scary thing and for me at least, it helps to know that other people have been there and understand what I’m going through.
I think for a lot of women that have miscarried, myself included, there’s a stigma we feel that it’s somehow our fault or that something must be wrong with us. I think it’s that stigma that keeps a lot of women from opening up about their experience. That, and for some the fact that it’s still really painful to talk about. We want to share the story of our miscarriages in the hopes that it will bring encouragement, hope, understanding, and a sense of not being alone to anyone (dads included!) going through a miscarriage or healing from a miscarriage. This will be very real and raw, and therefore also graphic at times. Our story is also quite detailed and long, so today we will be sharing part one. Come back Wednesday for the rest.
With that said, here’s the beginning of our story…
Our first two pregnancies, with Isaac and Kaiya, went smoothly without any hiccups. I had awful all-day sickness with Kaiya in the beginning, but that was as bad as it got. We got pregnant instantly with both of them, we never had to “try." So when we were ready to start trying to have #3, I was expecting it to go the same as the first two. I was a little surprised when it took us a couple of months of trying before we found out we were pregnant. I remember that day well; it was summer time and we were still living at our rental duplex. My parents were visiting from Germany and we played all day at a local water park. I was about 2 days late and started to think I may be pregnant. I mentioned it to Aaron on our way home, and we stopped by to get a test. The test very quickly said “Pregnant.” We were so happy and shared the news with my parents right away (we’ve always shared our pregnancy news almost right away with our parents and siblings).
Over the next couple of weeks, I had some of the normal symptoms, but I remember thinking that it was weird that I hadn’t really had any nausea yet, and I wasn’t so exhausted I could barely function. I even mentioned the no nausea to my mom and sister in law, because it just seemed unusual for me. Even with Isaac I had morning sickness, just not nearly as intense as with Kaiya. I brushed it off though and stayed busy with my two under 3 while waiting for our first appointment that was scheduled at the usual 8-week mark. Unfortunately, we would never make it to that appointment.
At 7 weeks pregnant, on a Saturday, I went to the bathroom and when I wiped there was blood on the toilet paper. I instantly started crying, and when I came out Aaron was super confused until I told him what happened. We had never experienced any kind of pregnancy bleeding with our other two pregnancies, but we knew that it can be fairly common and be perfectly fine, so Aaron did his best to comfort me with that knowledge. In my gut, though, I knew that it wasn’t good. I couldn’t stop crying and didn’t know what to do because it was the weekend, so I called the on-call at my OB’s office. She told us that we can either wait to come in on Monday or go to the ER for an ultrasound and reassured me that it doesn’t mean that it’s a miscarriage and that it was a good sign that I wasn’t having any cramping. We decided to wait until Monday to go in. That was one of the longest weekends of my life. I kept tabs on the bleeding, which didn’t stop but didn’t get any worse on Saturday. On Sunday though, it still continued and I started to have a little cramping. I cried a lot that weekend because in my heart I knew that our baby was dead.
We finally made it to Sunday night, and we went to sleep anxious for the next day to come. In the middle of the night, around 2 am I woke up in excruciating pain. I was cramping so badly and could feel it wrap around to my lower back. It was awful. I woke Aaron up to have him push against my lower back while I laid the fetal position with tears streaming down my face. I didn’t move from that position until morning. The contractions (because that’s really what they are) lasted for 2 hours. When it was finally over I fell asleep, exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Aaron wasn’t sure if he should go to work early the next morning, but I told him that he might as well get a few hours in before my appointment.
Not long after he left, I heard Isaac singing in his crib in his room next to us; Kaiya was still sleeping. I went to get him up before going to the bathroom. When I lifted his sweet, chunky little 2.5-year-old body out of his crib, I felt something slide out of me onto the pad that I was wearing. I kept my composure as best as I could as I set my sweet boy down, and gave him a toy to play with while I went to the bathroom.
Walking to that bathroom felt like an eternity, even though it was literally 2 feet from our bedrooms. When I finally made it I pulled down my panties and looked down and saw the yolk sac that held our baby laying on the pad. Sitting on that toilet that Monday morning in late August (August 25, to be exact), I broke. I couldn’t bear to flush our baby down the toilet or throw it in the trash, so I removed the pad and put the whole thing in a baggie. The rest of the day felt pretty surreal. I called Aaron and he came home, and his mom came over to watch the kids while we went to my appointment.
The only provider available that day was an NP that I had never seen before, and I made sure to not have to see again. She did an internal ultrasound and told us that my uterus was completely empty, and unfeelingly said that it sounds like it was likely just a chemical pregnancy, not a “real” pregnancy. I tried telling her that the evidence of our baby and the contents of my uterus were at home wrapped in a maxi pad, but she frankly could’ve cared less and passed it off as a clot. She told me to stop in for blood work to check my HCG and sent us on our way.
There was a lot of crying over the next few days. Aaron, with the help of Isaac, dug a hole in our backyard, and we buried our gone but fiercely loved baby in a small cedar box. Thankfully I had two beautiful distractions keeping me busy. Each passing day got a little easier, and after two months or so we started “no longer preventing,” which is basically trying but with a little less expectation. It was a super busy time for us, we were in the process of buying our home in December, and the Christmas season is insanely busy at Aaron’s job. He was working 70 hour weeks to keep up, and we were crazy stressed with the back and forth of our house closing. To be frank, it seemed unlikely that we would get pregnant during that month with all that was going on.
We moved into our house in early January, and I remember finding it odd that I was craving orange juice on move-in day. Up until my pregnancy with Isaac, I hated orange juice but craved it at times while I was pregnant with him. A couple of days after moving into our house, and celebrating Isaac’s 3rd birthday, we found out we were pregnant again. We were excited and happy but a bit nervous. We told our close family members the next day and asked for prayers for a healthy pregnancy. The next night I woke up in the middle of the night to pee (because that’s what you do all.the.time in the 1st trimester), and when I wiped there was blood. Instant tears again with the sinking feeling that we were losing another one.
I told Aaron and he tried to comfort and encourage me as best as he could, but I remember sobbing to him saying “I can’t do this again. Why would God do this again? I can’t do this.” It was a long rest of the night. We went to my OB the next day, and thankfully were seen by a much kinder, empathetic midwife that we were familiar with, who explained that she honestly wasn’t sure if we were having a miscarriage or not at that point, because I was far too early to be able to see anything on an ultrasound even if it was a viable pregnancy. So she said to continue monitoring the bleeding and to do blood work to check my levels. Because it was so early, if it was a miscarriage it would likely be more like a regular period with less pain and bleeding.
As my gut knew, it was another miscarriage. It still hurt like hell, not as intense as the first one, but still really bad cramps and lower back pain. Emotionally it hurt like hell too. Two miscarriages in 5 months, with no explanation or understanding of why. And that’s ultimately what we often want to know as humans, right? The “why” of bad things that happen to us. Unfortunately, it’s also the thing that we almost never find out. I’m pretty sure I yelled at God in prayer a few times. I cried a lot, I held my babies a lot, and I told Aaron that I didn’t want — no scratch that, that I couldn’t wait for a normal cycle before trying again. I think there are 2 typical reactions to miscarriages and the timeline of wanting to try again; some women can’t bear the thought of trying for at least a few months after, while other women desperately want to start trying immediately. With this one, I was in the second group, it was honestly a feeling of desperation to try again.
About a month or so after losing this baby, I had a yearly appointment scheduled with my actual OB (who was the best dr I’ve ever had). I had started to wonder if I could possibly be pregnant, I was having several symptoms, but because I hadn’t had a period yet I had no idea when to test. Our previous miscarriage happened when I was just 2-3 days late, so my cycle was probably pretty on track still, so I mentioned it to my OB at my appointment. She said it could just be my hormones fluctuating still, but said that it was definitely possible for me to be pregnant so I should wait a week or two and then test. I waited 2 days. And I was, in fact, pregnant.
The main reason they tell you to wait for at least one cycle before trying after an uncomplicated miscarriage is largely just for dating purposes. Your due date and how far you are get calculated based off your last menstrual period, so like in my case, when there’s no last menstrual period it makes it really difficult to know how far you are. We guessed I was probably on par with my previous cycle length, but they had me schedule my 8-week appointment at 9 weeks just in case so it wouldn’t be too early to see a heartbeat if our guess was off by some. We were even more nervous this time around, but my symptoms were pretty strong and getting stronger. I had morning sickness, was crazy tired, bloated (it looked like I had a little bump at about 7 weeks, but it was really just bloat), peeing all.the.time. We were nervous but cautiously optimistic because this time was much more “normal.” I was sure we were having a boy from the very beginning, I just had a feeling that it was.
Each week we made it to felt like a milestone, and when we passed 7 weeks, which was where I was at with our 1st miscarriage, it felt like a little weight had lifted. Eight weeks passed, which was another little celebration. Finally, we made it to the day of our appointment, which really felt like a milestone. Aaron’s mom met us at the Dr's office to hang out with Isaac and Kaiya while we had our ultrasound. I was almost giddy with excitement and confidence. We got to the room and I put the little robe on and the midwife came in to do the ultrasound. She was the same one that was there for our second miscarriage, so she didn’t waste any time and started on the ultrasound. Aaron took his usual place by my side, holding my hand while she began. My gut shuddered a little when she said she was having a hard time seeing because my bladder was full, so she had me go to the bathroom real quick. While in there my nerves started up again, because at that stage with Isaac and Kaiya it didn’t matter how full my bladder was, you could see them. I mentally tried staying positive, and she started again. She found the baby and measured it and said that it was measuring at 6 weeks 1 day. I thought I was more like 9 weeks so I told her that, and to be honest we were both confused as heck about the dating. Not having a last menstrual period to go off of made it so complicated, and she said it could be that it was just too early still and that their hearts typically start beating between 6 & 7 weeks, so it wasn’t unusual for there to be no heartbeat yet. She said we should schedule another ultrasound in 1-2 weeks, and to do a blood HCG level right then and then 48 hours later to see if it’s increasing or decreasing.
As we walked out I started crying, convinced we were losing another one. Aaron wasn’t very worried, he thought it was just too early, but the dating was confusing me so much because based on when we found out we were pregnant and only being at 6 weeks 1 day didn’t make any sense to me. I calmed down though and found out my HCG levels that day were at 55,000 (anything over 5 is considered pregnant, so that was a great number!). We prayed so much over the next two days, and we got the call from the nurse saying my second HCG test was over 75,000. They didn’t double, but when your levels get that high the doubling often slows down, so the nurse said it was encouraging. We spent the next week and a half in prayer. We did a tv fast because being pregnant I couldn’t do a food fast and Aaron can’t do a food fast with his type 1 diabetes either. We prayed so much, our families prayed so much, my MOPS group was praying. As we got closer and closer to the appointment I was more and more confident that it had just been too early and that our baby would have a heartbeat. After all, I had zero bleeding, zero cramping, my symptoms were as strong as ever.
The day finally came, and we headed into our appointment, this time both kids in tow with us. We prayed while we waited in the room. The same midwife was there, and she began right away. My heart was beating about a million miles a minute, just waiting in anticipation to hear that amazing heartbeat. It never came. Our baby was the exact same size, 6 weeks 1 day, no heartbeat, no change. I started crying (seems to be a theme in this post), Aaron started crying. Isaac and Kaiya continued being cute and playing quietly in the stroller. The midwife offered condolences and was really kind and empathetic. I needed to do another HCG draw, and she recommended we go ahead and get the full recurrent miscarriage blood work done since this was our third in a row. Numb, we walked down to the lab. They took 17 vials of blood for that blood work. I was in a daze but I remember softly and jokingly asking the sweet phlebotomist if I was going to have any blood left after. We left in a haze of confusion; how did we lose this baby when my levels are increasing, my symptoms were strong, what the heck was going on? To add salt to the wound, Isaac’s special luvie, Mr. Bears came to our appointment with us but didn’t make it home. That was the straw that fully broke me. I sobbed so hard for that little bear blanket, heartbroken that we lost another baby and our son lost his best friend. We told him he went on vacation and should be home soon while I frantically searched online for a replacement; someone on eBay came through and within 4 days Mr. Bears (number 2) was home from his vacation.
My OB called me herself later that afternoon, and I had a list of questions for her. She explained a new term to us, we were having what they call a missed miscarriage. A missed miscarriage is when the baby dies, but your body doesn’t realize it and keeps going on like it’s a healthy pregnancy. The sac continues to grow, your HCG keeps increasing, your symptoms increase. Eventually, most bodies figure out that something’s wrong, but it can take weeks for that to happen. That’s why I had zero bleeding, my body still thought it had a healthy baby on board. She told me I had 3 options, 1) I could just wait for the miscarriage to start naturally, but that could take weeks especially considering my levels were still so high and I had zero bleeding; 2) I could take an oral medication that would jumpstart the miscarriage for me, but it’s pretty painful as it induces cramping, or 3) I could have a d&c surgery, where she would go in and empty my uterus of the baby, sac, and tissue. She recommended the d&c for several reasons, the first being that because this was my third consecutive miscarriage she thought it would be wise to have some of the baby’s tissue sent for testing, and also because it’s quicker, mostly painless, and your HCG blood levels drop rapidly so you’re not walking around for weeks and weeks feeling pregnant but knowing that your baby is dead. We chose the d&c, I couldn’t bear walking around any longer knowing that my body was still pregnant but our baby was gone, and we also wanted to have the baby’s tissue tested as well. My dr was able to get it scheduled for two days later.
Waiting. Waiting is so hard. There’s so much waiting in pregnancy; waiting to take a test, waiting the 3 minutes for the result of said test, waiting for your first appointment, waiting to hear the heartbeat for the first time, waiting for the morning sickness to end, waiting to find out the sex, waiting for the third trimester, waiting for labor to start, waiting for labor to end, waiting for the ***** anesthesiologist to get to your room already, waiting to push, waiting to finally hold your crying, wrinkled and beautiful baby in your hands.
There’s a lot of waiting with a miscarriage too, except you don’t have the hope of a good outcome. Waiting for our d&c was awful. I was in a fog the day before, trying to be strong for Isaac and Kaiya who were still young and needed their mommy to be present. Being present is hard when you’re mourning, though. It’s hard to put on a smile and read another book or sing a silly song when all you want to do is lay in bed and cry and sleep. But you give a smile, however weak it may be, and read that book with tears in your eyes as you hold the very real blessings in your arms.
Aaron went in extra early to work the next day, with plans to meet me at the hospital when I got there. Aaron’s mom and youngest sister met me at the hospital as well, to stay with me until Aaron got there and take Isaac and Kaiya to their house for the rest of the morning and afternoon. Walking into the hospital was extremely surreal. I sometimes have a tendency to internalize my feelings, so I was a bit of a grump and extra short with Isaac and Kaiya. I had requested another ultrasound to be done before getting prepped for surgery because I didn’t want to have any doubt in my heart that the first two ultrasounds were wrong. The ultrasound tech was one of the sweetest, most compassionate hospital workers I’ve ever met. She was so kind, and she gently showed me the white spot on the ultrasound that was our baby’s non-beating heart. The measurements were the same, and my follow up HCG results I was given that morning showed my levels started to drop ever so slightly. I asked her if I could have a picture, and she printed me several. We didn’t have any ultrasound pictures of our previous losses, and it meant so much to me to have a picture of this one.
It was time to start prepping for my surgery. They took me to my pre-op room, which was quarantined because I had had MRSA twice before and they were unsure if I was a carrier, so I could only have one person with me. I kissed my sweet babies goodbye as tears began to fall. Aaron got there as I was changing into my hospital gown, which provided a great distraction and chuckle, because he had to be in full protective garb, thanks also to the quarantine (they did do a nasal swab that was sent off to test if I am a carrier of MRSA, which I found out weeks later that I’m not). Everyone that came into my room, nurses, Dr's, etc wore extra protection, except for my OB. She rolled her eyes when she came in in her normal clothes and said it was major overkill. She went over everything with me while the nurse put in the IV, and then the anesthesiologist came in to get consent and go over the risks and everything. Finally, it was time to go. Aaron kissed me with tears in his eyes as they started to roll me out. The next thing I remember was sort of waking up on the way to the recovery room. I was still very out of it but I asked to see my baby. The nurse was thrown off and whispered to the other nurse about being confused because the baby was too small to see anything, and the second nurse calmly told me that my baby was with my dr to get testing. I went in and out of consciousness for a little while and then started asking for Aaron. Thankfully they let him come back right away to be with me. I was in recovery for a couple of hours, and my OB came in to let Aaron and I know that everything went very well and that she carefully but thoroughly scraped the lining of my uterus to get everything out. Pain was to be expected for a couple of days but shouldn’t be too bad, if I start bleeding heavily or the pain intensifies I was to call. I was discharged with a couple of prescriptions, and Aaron and I started to head out of the hospital.
As we were walking out I had the heartbreaking realization that that morning I walked in pregnant, like so many women do walking into that hospital, and just a few hours later I too, was leaving no longer pregnant, except unlike those other mommies, my uterus wasn’t the only thing that was empty, my hands were too.
Three days later was Easter Sunday and the due date for our first miscarriage. I did my best to make it a special morning for the kids. When it was time to get ready for church I started stressing out because I didn’t know what to wear. I was abnormally upset about it, which I think kind of threw Aaron off a little until I revealed that I had been planning on wearing my new maternity dress to Easter that I bought just days before we found out we lost another baby. I was crying, outwardly upset about not having anything to wear, but inwardly upset about having another baby taken away from us. I remember standing in the bathroom trying to do my hair with tears rolling down my face and suddenly feeling Aaron’s hands wrap around me from behind. I broke in his arms. After a bit, I was able to compose myself and finish getting ready, and I ended up wearing that dress anyway.
Pain is an odd thing, and the grace that God gives you to persevere during the pain is incredible. I was able to celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Christ that day with a heaviness in my heart but a genuine smile on my lips. As heartbroken as I still was, I was also aware of everything that God had given me, and I’m so thankful my kids were able to have a fun day with family.