Thanksgiving Baby

In April, I lost a baby that was due on Thanksgiving Day.

pregnancy loss ribbon

I’ve written a post about reaching a miscarried baby’s due date before. And I wrote about my first three miscarriages here. But I have never written about my most recent miscarriage, and I want to take a moment to do that as we hit its due date. This baby was conceived very quickly after my third miscarriage. It was conceived days after a potential diagnosis was made regarding my three previous miscarriages and after a solution had been discussed with my doctor to make sure we didn’t lose the next one. With that positive pregnancy test came so much hope. I was still grieving the tiny baby we’d buried less than two months earlier. But now that we had identified a problem, and come up with a solution, and become pregnant so quickly, with a baby due on Thanksgiving Day, no less, we were incredibly hopeful and even a little cautiously excited.

Less than three weeks later, at my first appointment, we were told the pregnancy was not viable. I lost it a few days after that, naturally, at home, as I had done with the others. I wasn’t far enough along to pass any visible remains, so there was no burial or closure as with the loss preceding this one. But as I’ve done with all of my lost pregnancies, I bought a charm to remember that tiny spark of hope that lived inside of me for a very short time.

This Thanksgiving Day, I can’t help but remember that pregnancy. The hope it brought us, and the devastation we felt when we lost it. I can’t help but remember how gutted I was that the diagnosis we’d thought we’d found was obviously not correct, since the solution had not kept our baby alive. I wondered what was wrong with me, and why the doctors couldn’t figure it out. I wondered if we’d ever bring another baby home.

I sobbed for hours after that doctor appointment. But my tears dried up surprisingly quickly. Within days I was back to normal life, mentally moving on to “what’s next”. I remember feeling that I’d somehow bounced back quickly compared with my other losses. I thought perhaps I was becoming accustomed to this pain, after so much experience with it. I was wrong. In the months following our fourth loss, I found more anger inside of me. More bitterness. I wasn’t getting “better” at dealing with this pain, I was just developing more unhealthy defense mechanisms against it. I didn’t cry as much as I used to over my situation. Instead, I held my emotions more closely. I was more guarded. I was more afraid to hope for another healthy child. Staying optimistic and positive seemed like a dangerous and careless choice.  I knew in my heart that I didn’t want to turn into someone whose pain made them a closed-off, angry, bitter human being. But that’s a process. It’s a constant fight against a very strong urge to close up to the world and hate every happily pregnant woman or new, love-sick parent.

On that baby’s due date I’m also reflecting how far we’ve come. A 100% for-sure diagnosis was made. Months of fertility treatments were endured in order to take advantage of a special testing that could give us a baby who would live. A healthy baby girl was conceived from that process. And now I’m just over a week away from carrying her into that elusive second trimester.

This Thanksgiving, yes, I am still a grieving Mama. I’ve lost four very wanted babies and that will always stay with me in some way. I fight daily against the pessimism that presses in on me, making me feel like the healthy pregnancy I’m carrying now can’t possibly last. But at the same time, I am filled with gratitude. I am appreciative of all six of my pregnancies. I am thankful for the miracle of science, PGD, that made this healthy baby girl I’m carrying possible. I’m grateful for the family and friends that supported us through this, for my husband and our strong marriage, for my son, for our privileged life, for our health, for the peace we live in as a country and the freedom we enjoy. This journey has given me an ugly bitterness to fight through. But it has also given me the gift to see our life and fortune more clearly. I see and feel every amazing thing in our lives more strongly now than ever before. There is something about loss, that reminds you of what you have and how easily it can be taken away from you. There is something about struggle, that makes you more grateful for the things given to you. This Thanksgiving, more than ever before, I’m overwhelmed with an appreciation for the life and love that surround me. So perhaps, through all this struggle, I’m growing, too.

Miscarriage – Losing a “Baby”

You may have noticed that I often refer to my lost pregnancies as “babies.”

I didn’t always. I struggled with what they were to me for a long time.  I know many people believe that each life, as soon as its conceived, has a purpose and a soul and goes to heaven when it’s done here on earth. But I don’t. I’m not religious, I don’t believe in God, I  don’t believe in an afterlife, or in fate, or anything of that nature. And so it was, at first, very difficult for me to reconcile my scientific view of early pregnancy with my emotional experience of losing one. 3 of my 4 losses were so early that I didn’t even have any visible remains after I miscarried. The one that I did pass, and bury, was very tiny. It was still enclosed in its sac, and I didn’t open it to look inside at its features. But I knew that if I did, it wouldn’t look much like a human yet. The Internet tells me it probably looked something like this:

I knew that scientifically, the babies I lost were all just “embryos.” In fact, maybe with the earliest losses, they hadn’t even made it past “blastocyst” stage. Those ones may not have been anything more than just a ball of cells. I don’t really know, because the point at which you miscarry isn’t necessarily an indication as to how far your baby progressed. Often the baby dies long before you show signs of miscarriage. So, aside from the one I saw and buried, I can only guess what stage each embryo was at before it died. But they were very early. All of them.

And so at first, I referred to them only as “miscarriages” and “lost pregnancies.” But I was unsettled by the fact that these words just didn’t capture the profound attachment I had had to them and the immense grief I felt in the aftermath of losing them. These words didn’t do anything to communicate how special and important these lost lives were to me. And yet, I knew they weren’t fully physically developed babies, either. So what was I supposed to call them?

I became an active member of online support groups for pregnancy loss and noticed that many of the women experiencing early losses referred to their miscarriages as “babies” with no apology or embarrassment. The more time I spent in these loss communities, the more normal it became to me. And so, for lack of a better word to describe the things that I loved and wanted and bonded with and grieved over, that hadn’t quite become “real” babies yet, I slowly started allowing myself to refer to them as babies, myself. They would have been babies eventually, had they been healthy, had they survived. They were babies in my mind’s eye: I imagined them as they would have been later in pregnancy and after birth, not as a ball of cells or a strange little tadpole with arm and leg buds. So why not call it what it felt like?

And so now, I too, without apology or embarrassment, refer to my losses as babies. And finally, that feels right.

If you’ve lost a baby during pregnancy, or know someone who has, join me in lighting a candle on Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day, this coming Wednesday, October 15th, to create a “wave of light” across the globe, honoring every baby that was lost by every heartbroken family.

Getting Diagnosed

This is a conceptual drawing of a Chromosome Translocation:

Have you heard of it?

Neither had I, until mid-April of this year, when I received an ominous evening phone call from my doctor, a reproductive specialist, who had been helping us over the last few months to figure out why I lose so many of my pregnancies.

“Your karyotype came back abnormal,” he said over the phone. I blanked for a moment. Then I remembered: that’s the blood test I took a couple of weeks ago, that we were almost positive wouldn’t turn anything up. I braced myself.

“You have an apparently balanced reciprocal chromosome translocation between….. ” blah blah blah, my brain fuzzed over and I searched for a pen and paper so I could make him repeat it and spell it out so I could spend the next week, month, maybe even year, researching the heck out of it. He promised to send the full diagnosis to me in an E-mail and then referred us to a genetic counselor to talk about it with us in more detail.

The basic gist, without going into crazy, sciency detail that I’m sure will make all your eyes glaze over, is this: I am a carrier of a chromosome issue. Since I’m only a carrier, it does not affect my own health. However, if I pass it on to one of our babies, it results in profound developmental problems. Any baby of ours that inherits this issue from me has a 97-99% chance of dying during pregnancy.  1 in 500 people are carriers of a chromosome translocation, but there are a zillion types of translocations out there, and they all vary in their severity. The one I carry is very severe.

He said there was a technology available to us, called Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnostics (PGD), which has to be done in conjunction with In-Vitro Fertilization, that could help us ensure the success of our next pregnancy. Or we could continue to try naturally and risk more losses.

I was shocked. I was scared. But I was also immensely relieved.

You can’t understand what it’s like to keep losing babies without an answer as to why. It’s not only tragic, but it’s also infuriating. How could no one tell us what was going on, with all of the modern medical advancements? I had been surprised over and over again in the previous 3 years, how little is known about early pregnancy and miscarriage. And how little the medical community did for us, especially after the first two losses. We were finally referred to the specialist after the third.

We had educated guesses along the way. We had misdiagnoses. I got the usual “you probably just have bad eggs” explanation multiple times. My gut told me that was wrong. And I pushed and I pushed to try to figure out what was really going on. But after the 4th miscarriage, where we thought we’d had a diagnosis and solution, but lost the pregnancy anyway, I began to accept that maybe, at the ripe old age of 30, I, for some unknown reason, already had “bad eggs”.

I had started taking a hormone that was supposed to help with egg quality. And despite my shattered heart and exhaustion from going through so many pregnancies and losses, we were going to try again and just helplessly cross our fingers. Again.

That’s where we were when I got the call.

In that moment, everything changed. And yet… nothing really changed.

We still had lost four of our very-wanted pregnancies. And now I knew for sure, their losses could not have been prevented. I was born a carrier of this condition. There’s nothing I could have done to prevent those babies from dying. I was told something similar after my first miscarriage. I was told it wasn’t my fault, and there’s nothing I could have done differently. But, as I’ve seen with other mothers in my shoes, in your core, it’s hard not to accept responsibility. Especially when no one can tell you for sure what happened. I felt, after every pregnancy, that I was this little embryo’s mother. I was the only one who could keep it safe. And I failed. I knew logically the failure was not mine to bear. But I felt it anyway. And now, with my diagnosis, I had a better understanding of why they didn’t survive. I could stop wondering if my body was toxic or poisonous. I could stop wondering if perhaps I’d taken the right supplement or medication, if things would have gone differently. Now I knew these babies’ fates were decided for them at conception, when they received my translocation, and that I did everything I could while they were around, and had no choice but to say goodbye when their time was up.

I was glad for the answers. But I was scared, also, for the implications. Would I ever be able to have another healthy baby? We had RJ. Surely if we could produce him, we could produce another. The genetic counselor and my specialist also felt confident we could conceive another baby that was not affected by my translocation. And so we decided, in desperation to complete our family without additional heartbreak, to take the most aggressive route available to us. We decided to take advantage of the technology offered to us by our doctor: PGD.

And so, with my diagnosis, although nothing had changed, everything had. Now we had answers. And we had a plan, however daunting.

You can read more about my miscarriages here and I promise to talk more about our experiences with PGD and IVF soon.

Due Date After a Miscarriage

One of our babies was due this week. On Friday. The day after our 4th wedding anniversary.

By the time you get to your due date after a first trimester miscarriage, the raw, intense, desperate grief has usually passed. But there is still an underlying ache. That pointless, but hard to ignore question, of “Why me??? Why didn’t I get to keep my baby, when other women were able to keep theirs?” still pops up from time to time. And as your due date approaches, it’s impossible not to imagine your huge belly, and the tiny, squishy newborn that would be emerging from it, into your life, had things gone differently.

This week especially, I’m grieving that baby we lost 7 month ago. I’m wearing the charm I bought in its memory, around my neck. I’m picturing our guest room transformed into a nursery with hints of either pink or blue. I’m picturing us at the hospital, holding our new child and crying with joy and exhaustion. I’m picturing us bringing that baby home and introducing RJ to his new sibling and all the chaos that would follow. I’m letting myself picture these things, and I’m letting myself cry over the fact that they’re not my reality anymore. I’m crying a bit harder this week than I usually do.

But then I’m wiping my tears. I’m hugging, laughing and playing with my son. And I’m taking him to his swim lessons, and his playdates, and his Toddler Time. I’m planning an anniversary trip with my husband this weekend. I’m taking the daily injections and meds that will hopefully lead to our 6th and last pregnancy. I’m still going on with my life. Because while I’ll never “move on” from losing my babies, I’ll always keep moving forward. It’s really the only direction worth traveling in. And it doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten. It doesn’t mean you don’t still hurt. It just means you’re choosing life and happiness in the wake of your grief.

So on Friday, I won’t be in the delivery room learning my baby’s face and his/her cries. I won’t be sleep deprived and nipple-chafed and drunk with newborn love. But I’ll be wine tasting with my husband. Thinking back on the 4 years of marriage we’ve had together so far, laughing about the good times we’ve shared and maybe letting a tear or two slip thinking about the harder ones. But mostly, we’ll be thinking forward to the hopefully countless years we’ll have together from here on out, that will no doubt bring more laughter and tears.

This post is in memory of the sweet baby we buried in our backyard on February 1st, 2014. I can’t have you in my arms, but when I’m missing you, I’ll at least wear you around my neck, and forever keep you in my heart.

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Triggers

After you’ve had a miscarriage, there will be reminders all over the place of what you lost. Letting these reminders, whatever form they might take, fill you with sadness isn’t dwelling; it’s grieving. It’s a healthy and normal way to work your way through life in the aftermath of losing something profoundly important to you. In the world of psychology, things that remind you of your loss and cause your grief to bubble to the surface are called “triggers.”

You’ll be reminded of the baby you lost when you spend time with a pregnant friend and glance down at your flat stomach thinking how it should be big and rounded by now as well.

You’ll be reminded every time someone announces a pregnancy or birth on facebook.

You’ll be reminded every time you hear a newborn baby cry.

You’ll be reminded when you look at the calendar and see your baby’s due date approaching.

You’ll be reminded when you least expect it, in the middle of a conversation with someone who knows nothing of your loss:

Earlier this week, I was at a play date with a Mom I’d never met before and her son who is the same age as mine. This woman didn’t know about my losses. She didn’t know she was triggering my grief when she told me her older son was only 17 months older than her younger son.

I could see in her face how she wanted me to say “Wow! 17 months! How did you manage?” I could tell that she was fishing for sympathy and appreciation as she told me what it was like finding out about her pregnancy when her oldest was only 9 months old and as she described the trials and tribulations of raising two babies under two years old. Babies who were now 3 and 1.5 years old.

My gut reaction was to tell her to stop. Be grateful. Please. Realize how luck you are that your younger son is here, running around and laughing with mine. My sadness and jealousy wanted me to tell her how I, too, was once expecting “two under two” and that I was thrilled and excited. But that in February I buried that baby in our backyard. That baby would be due any day now. I, too, would be about to enter a world of crazy nap coordination, two babies in diapers, and long, sleep-interrupted nights. That I would give anything to have that back.

But it’s not this woman’s fault that her baby was healthy and lived, and mine did not. The guilt I wanted to make her feel was not fair for me to do to her.

So I half-smiled and nodded. I swallowed the knot in my throat, turned my attention to my son, and waited for her to finish, before politely changing the subject.

I don’t know this woman very well yet. But maybe someday I will. And maybe then I’ll tell her about the baby we lost in the winter, and then the one we lost in the spring, too.  She’ll feel bad for me for a moment. But she won’t know, not unless she’s been there herself. She won’t really know the void in my heart that won’t ever completely go away. She won’t know how every time I see her sons, so close in age, or any other siblings close together in age, that I’ll silently grieve for the two babies I lost this year, that each would have been born before my son’s second birthday.

Tell Me About Your Miscarriage

I first wrote this piece in late February, just after I experienced my 4th pregnancy and 3rd miscarriage. It was intended to be published to a website that disbanded. It’s been sitting on my google drive for months, and I’ve finally summoned the courage to post it here (a fabulous start-up website that I share with two other Moms), instead. But it is a bit out of date. Since writing this, I’ve gone on to experience another pregnancy and loss, as well as finally receive a diagnosis/explanation for my losses. I promise to write more on my journey as it unfolds. But without further intro, here are my thoughts from earlier this year:

 

There is so much silence, (and dare I say, “taboo”) around the topic of pregnancy loss. Why are we made to feel like we shouldn’t talk about something that is so common and such a natural, yet tragic part of life? I’ve seen statistics thrown around about pregnancy loss; some say 1 in 5 pregnancies end in loss. And I’ve even heard stats as high as 1 in 4! Yet, before my own miscarriages, I had never spoken to anyone about their pregnancy loss, ever. Once I began to open up about my own losses, other women opened up about theirs. I entered this whole private world of hurt and loneliness. Through talking about my miscarriages, I found healing. It hurts to think that so many women (and yes, men, but I will be writing this post purely from the woman’s perspective as it’s the only perspective I know) bear this pain alone. Many women I’ve met in the online pregnancy loss world keep their early pregnancies and losses secret because of the hurtful and misguided things they’re afraid to hear people say. Or because they feel ashamed of their losses (and this last reason breaks my heart the most). It is my hope that over time we can learn to treat the tragedy of pregnancy loss as a publicly recognized, significant loss. One that we can talk about unashamedly with our friends and family in order to heal and find peace. The first step in accomplishing such a thing, though, is having the courage doing just that: Take a deep breath, grab a tissue (or a whole box of them), and talk about it.

 

So, tell me about your miscarriage.

And let me tell you about mine, too.

 

Seeing those two little pink lines early one December morning instantly changed my perspective and priorities in life. They made the career plans I had been working on that year seem suddenly so unimportant. All the deadlines and challenges I was worried about last week were now insignificant, comparatively. There was something growing inside of me that was more important to me than life itself. I was going to be a Mom. There was no going back.

 

I still remember how my husband cried with happiness when I revealed my surprise to him later that day in the form of an early Christmas present. We had been officially “trying” for a few months, but we had dreamed of and planned for this day for much longer. I was on top of the world, more excited about anything than I’ve ever been in my entire life. I thought to myself: “there is another human life growing inside of my body. I, alone, am responsible for keeping it safe and healthy. And when this baby gets here I will love it and care for it more than I have ever loved or cared for anything.” As the days passed, I ate, slept, and breathed the excitement of my pregnancy in a way I never knew I could anticipate anything.

 

The cramping started one morning when my husband and I were relaxing on the couch together. “I’m cramping,” I said, slightly alarmed, but hoping that it was likely just another one of those explainable symptoms I had looked up on the Internet since finding out I was pregnant. Dr. Google assured me, once again, that what I was feeling was normal. As long as it wasn’t accompanied by bleeding, it was likely fine. A few minutes later, a trip to the ladies’ room (a VERY regular occurrence since becoming pregnant and having apparently lost all bladder capacity) revealed a streak of red blood on the toilet paper. A shaky phone call to the on-call doctor, plenty of reassurances that it was probably fine, two trips to the hospital lab for blood draws and two and a half agonizing days later, it was confirmed. I was having a miscarriage.

 

This happened to me over two years ago. I have a healthy 1 year old baby boy now. But recalling my first pregnancy and loss still brings tears to my eyes and an ache to my chest. I was due on September 1st, 2012. I will remember that date forever. That’s when my first baby was supposed to be born. No subsequent children or other happy life events can ever change that or bring that baby back.

 

After I lost that pregnancy, I felt the intense need to be pregnant again as soon as possible. My purpose was gone. Those priorities I had had before my very short-lived pregnancy hadn’t magically become important to me again. My life felt suddenly, startlingly empty. Was I still a mom? If a grew a very tiny being for a couple of weeks, never saw it, never held it, but knew it was there – what did that make me? I remember being left with this awful feeling that I’d dreamt the whole thing up.

 

Our second pregnancy happened so quickly compared to the first. I blinked and I was pregnant again. I was reassured by every doctor and friend and family member that the first loss was a fluke. I was a healthy, 28 year old woman. Experiencing two losses in a row is so rare. Be positive. Relax. I tried. I tried so hard to be positive. This time something didn’t feel right from the beginning. And yet I didn’t feel like I could tell people that or even fully admit it to myself. I had to be positive for the new life growing inside of me. But then the cramping again. And the bleeding. And the blood draws. And the bad news.

 

My second loss spiraled me quickly into a depression. I hadn’t even really started grieving the loss of my first pregnancy (and didn’t even know I’d have to) when the second one was taken away from me as well. Before I knew it, I was grieving the two most important things I’d ever been given. All at once. It was horrible. And incredibly lonely. Nobody else missed the life I was carrying because nobody else’s life had been so connected with it as mine had.

 

I am able to talk about my losses with such clarity now, but at the time, I was still discovering this new, heart breaking world. It took me awhile to accept that I had lost something profound and that I had to grieve in order to move forward. I had this impression from society that I should be able to adjust my expectations for the future and just move on and try again. I wanted to do that badly. And at first, I tried to. Unfortunately,  I discovered that just wasn’t possible. I had to feel the pain, go through the stages of grief, slowly and agonizingly. I had the support and patience of my husband. I had a lot of friends and family who wanted to be there for me, but didn’t know how. I felt that no one understood what I was facing.

 

As I struggled through my own grieving process, I began to wonder why I felt so alone in this, when it seemed from everything I read that it was actually quite common. That’s when I started opening up about it. When the mood so struck me in conversation with friends or even strangers, I talked about my pregnancies and losses. I even mentioned my losses on *gasp* Facebook. Yes, I made my miscarriages “Facebook official”. Why shouldn’t I? They were and are a huge part of my life experience. They aren’t my fault. They are something horrible that happened to me. I hoped through opening up that I could find healing. Unexpectedly, I found so much more than that. Women I hadn’t known had experienced miscarriage opened up to me about their losses as well, and I connected with them in a way I never would have otherwise.

 

Meanwhile, with very little help and support from the medical community, we decided to try again. My third pregnancy happened a few months after my second miscarriage. I worried every single day of that pregnancy. I panicked at every twinge. I checked for blood every single time I went to the bathroom. It was the longest, most challenging nine months of my life.

 

My son was born 4 days after his due date. Healthy, happy, beautiful, amazing. Worth it. Worth every moment of pain I had been through. He didn’t erase my past wounds but he helped me sew those last few stitches through the holes in my heart. Those scars will remain forever, but they ache a little bit less every day.

 

My story doesn’t end there, though. I have one more miscarriage to tell you about today. I might have more to tell you about someday, but gosh, I hope I don’t. This loss is still very fresh and the pain still raw. The moment that stands out the most from my miscarriage two weeks ago was the desperation I felt when I realized a loss was undeniable. I was lying in bed, my son was napping in the other room. The physical pain was so strong and I just desperately wanted to make it stop, to somehow physically hold that little life inside of me. I had an ultrasound scheduled for a few hours later, but I already knew what it would show, that the baby I wanted so badly was no longer living. This was supposed to be my son’s younger sibling. They would have been 20 months apart. At that moment, if I could just have told that future baby how much I wanted it, how much I loved it already and what a great life we would give it someday, I knew it would stay. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do anything but lie there helpless as another life was taken away from me. The helplessness and desperation is what I remember most from losing my last pregnancy. This was the first time I was far enough along to pass visible remains. I was surprisingly grateful for this because it allowed my husband and I to hold a somewhat impromptu burial for our little embryo in our backyard under our son’s favorite tree. It gave me a closure I never got with my first two losses.

 

With this loss, I had a larger outpouring of support. Was it because I was a tiny bit further along? Was it because I’d been so open about my losses recently and so people had a better idea of what to do? I don’t know. But this time, friends sent flowers, cards, text messages and E-mails. People left me heart-felt voicemails and brought wine and cookies. Nobody can take the pain away,  but it means a lot to have people recognize my loss as real and let me know they’re here for me while I grieve.

 

I wish I didn’t have go through this again. But here I am. I wish no one had to. But women go through this every day. Let’s make the process less lonely. Let’s be there for each other.

 

If you know someone who has experienced pregnancy loss, take the time to educate yourself about how you can support them through it. Below are some links of helpful things to do and say, as well as things you should avoid doing and saying. Of course, everyone experiences loss differently, and there is no one-size-fits-all reaction.  But in my experience, the most important thing is NOT to ignore the situation out of discomfort or concern about saying the wrong thing. Your silence will be louder than your words. Instead, the most meaningful thing you can do is to take the time to sit with your friend and say, “Tell me about your miscarriage.”

 

How to Help a Friend Through Miscarriage

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Woman Who’s Had a Miscarriage

After a Miscarriage: Supporting Friends & Family Through a Loss

 

 

Sandra

I’m a stay-at-home mom to a fabulous little toddler boy who came into our lives in January 2013. When I’m not running around trying to keep up with him, I’m consumed with trying to build our family in the face of recurrent pregnancy loss. Miscarriage is such a little-talked-about tragedy; through this blog, my hope is to bring light to a hardship that many families find themselves faced with. And I’ll try to throw a little “GUESS WHO PEE-PEEed IN THE POTTY TODAY!!!” in there too, because, hey… I’m a mom… and my kid is amazeballs and you all need to hear about it. So with that…. look at me and my fantastic kid!!!!! Gush gush gush!!!!!

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