October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. This is a tough subject of course. I want to start with the disclaimer that I realize everyone copes in his or her own way when grieving a pregnancy loss. I’m sharing my own experiences.
I think it’s difficult for people to understand what it is like to lose a baby as early as I did. My miscarriages were at 6 weeks and just barely past 4 weeks. While I hate categorizing losses on a scale from hard to unimaginable pain, surely these experiences were not as awful as they could have been. And yet...
In reality, had I lost a baby? In the case of my second miscarriage, the line on the pee stick was so faint I had to hold it in the sunlight to see it. The next day it was gone. Surely the positive test was a result of a little fertilized egg that wasn’t meant to be. It burrowed in and then sort of changed its mind. But when I saw that line, my heart made some extra space for that baby--a space that is still there, still empty.
That was my second miscarriage and I had already had a baby. It wasn’t fraught with such terrible questions like: what if every pregnancy I ever have ends this way? I knew I could conceive. I knew I could carry a baby to term. But I also knew that conceiving was a leap of faith, a journey of which no one could know the outcome.
My first miscarriage was more difficult. It was the first month my husband and I were trying to conceive and--I thought--I got my period. But it was light. And only lasted a few days. And was followed by tender breasts and very frequent trips to the bathroom. On a whim, I pulled out one of my home pregnancy tests one night and the second line was dark. There was no ignoring it. I was pregnant!
I left the house under the pretense of getting coffee, but really I went to a baby store and bought a pack of newborn onesies and a bib that said “I love Dad.” I wrapped these up in some tissue paper in a box and I threw the in pregnancy test for good measure. It was a few days before our first anniversary and I told him it was an early present.
It was everything you hope telling your spouse would be. He was thrilled. He hugged me and spun me around. We looked in awe at the tiny onesies. We marveled that there was a baby already cozy in there, probably with a heartbeat.
Two days later, I began to spot. And suddenly my breasts didn’t hurt. I was worried and the mothers I knew--namely my own mother and my sister-in-law--tried to say the right things. They had both spotted early in pregnancy. They were sure it was fine. Try not to worry.
I pulled out the pregnancy test and stared at it, willing this to be the truth. I got blood drawn. The next day, in the minutes following my husband’s announcement to his parents, the bleeding became bright red, and my pregnancy hormone levels came back really low. I still remember the number: 36. The midwife was kind. She said it was almost definitely a miscarriage and that I should come in for a rhogam shot.
My friends who knew I was pregnant did their best. They said: “You’ll have another,” and “it wasn’t meant to be.” But I loved this baby. How could they say that? I wanted a sympathy card. Or flowers. Or acknowledgement that I hadn’t made this whole thing up. One of my friends heard of the miscarriage and immediately came over and fixed me dinner. This was truly a kindness. My grandmother sent me an email of condolence. I saved it. I saved the home pregnancy test. I saved the onesies and the bib. I needed to know that this baby was real and that I loved it.
When I hear that friends of mine have lost a pregnancy. I remember how I felt. I write them a card of condolence. I give a little memento for their baby. Something they can look at. Something to know that it was real. Perhaps my friends don’t need these to grieve, but in case they do, they know that I grieve with them and remember their baby.
Going on to have a healthy full-term pregnancy was joyous. But I knew just a small sliver of joy was taken out of it. Telling my husband wasn’t as special. I didn’t want to surprise him. I wanted him to read the test. I wanted to be practical. When I had spotting, I went in to get my numbers right away and had an ultrasound to see the heartbeat. I worried. And I worried. And I kept peeing on those sticks, willing them to get darker and darker.
I look at my beautiful boy now and there is some peace with that miscarriage. I wouldn’t have the boy I know and love if I had carried that other baby. And while I believe this, it doesn’t quite feel right. It was much the same with my second miscarriage. I know I wouldn’t have this perfect little girl that I have now. But the happiness and hope I’ve felt when I discovered all four pregnancies have been very very real.
I have a desk drawer that has positive pregnancy tests, yellowed with age and labeled with the date. I need these. I need these little objects of proof. Proof that my heart has two little holes that won’t ever be filled no matter how much love I have for my two babies that made it to the Earth.
Olivia Hinebaugh is a stay-at-home-mom to a three-year-old boy and baby girl. She is an aspiring novelist and steals time whenever both kids are sleeping to clack away at the keys. She tweets about mothering and writing @OliveJuiceLots
She can also be found on Facebook.