I am so very very sad reading all of these stories here. They have taken me back to a few years ago, when we lost three babies in a row during our struggle to have a child. We finally have a daughter now, which I consider a miracle and a joy beyond belief. For so long, miscarriage and ectopic loss boards were my home, and I shared and grieved with hundreds of others who understood. We despaired that we might never have a living child. Now we do, but still the memory of those failed pregnancies comes back to me, perhaps even more poignant now because in seeing our daughter, we know exactly what we have lost.
This will be a very long post, sharing not only the physical aspects of those losses but also the emotional.
First Pregnancy, April 2002
We had tried for more than three years to get pregnant, with each passing month more painful than the last. Tests on each of us showed no problem, so we continued to try but with failing hope. The surprise of a pregnancy made all of those 39 long, dim months of waiting seem like nothing... we finally had what we had been praying for! I had taken the test in the afternoon, and the reality of it had not even set in before I started bleeding. HCG tests showed very low numbers. The words, "a non-viable pregnancy," spoken to me over the phone by a nurse, crushed any remnant of hope which I had. I learned again that no matter how badly you wish for something not to happen, even if you say a prayer on every single breath, it can still happen. I can't pinpoint the actual moment of miscarriage... it seemed more like a long and more painful period lasting about a week, followed by extended spotting. Our baby was so small that it was not identifiable. To so many who have never experienced miscarriage, they might think that all you lose are the days or weeks that you were pregnant. They are wrong... you lose the entire lifetime you have imagined with that child. I believe that each baby conceived is a unique and unrepeatable individual, and that no matter how early it is lost in the pregnancy, a person that would-have-been is now gone forever.
Aside from the elation at seeing the initial positive test and the joy of telling our families that we had finally conceived, there was little happiness during that brief and fleeting pregnancy. We'd had only a few hours of untainted joy before the spotting began, and the rest of that time was spent worrying and crying and dreading to check the toilet tissue when I wiped, for fear of more blood. The weight of our years of trying to conceive came back, and I dreaded another long wait to get a second chance. I mourned my baby, and although I had known of it for only a week, it was as if a lifetime had passed. And indeed, an entire life that would-have-been was lost. Our future was gone, and my hope failed.
Second Pregnancy, March-May 2003
Eleven months later, I became pregnant again. The day before I took the test, my husband had told me that he had given up, and that our first pregnancy must have been our only chance. He told me that he thought he could live without a child, but could I? I sat in the floor and listened to this, the most negative thing I had ever had him say, and it all seemed so surreal. It didn't affect me... I didn't cry or argue or get angry to hear these words. I just accepted it and knew it could be true... we might never have a child. The next night, after feeling strange all day, I took a test, and it was a very strong positive. I woke my husband to tell him, and we stayed up talking about our fears for this pregnancy long into the night. I tried to convince myself not to love the baby, because I might just lose it. What an impossibility! How could I not love this life within me? I could feel it changing me... I "felt" pregnant for the first time. I thanked God each time I felt sick, and although I was afraid of losing it (terrified), I also began to dare think that it could possibly last this time. It all felt so REAL and normal. But the memory of my first miscarriage would not let me dare to let go of fear, and although I was joyful, my heart was sick with the thought that I might lose this one as well. Elation and fear played a duel within me, and slowly happiness won over the worry.
My very happiest (and worst) day was one I experienced in May of 2003. I was almost 10 weeks pregnant, and my husband had brought me to the doctor for my second checkup. Everything in the exam seemed wonderful, and after hearing of my fears, the doctor decided to reassure me that all was well by scheduling an ultrasound later in the day. We would get to see the heartbeat, and our fears would be somewhat relieved. The time between that appointment and the time of the ultrasound (about 2 hours) was the gladdest and best time of my life. The thought of seeing our baby made both of us elated. We ate lunch, went shopping for plants, and laughed and talked about our future. For the first time in years, I didn't wince when I saw a big pregnant belly on a passerby, I beamed because soon that would be ME. I can actually pinpoint the best moment I had ever had up until that point... we were at Lowe's, looking at perennial plants, and my husband was across the aisle. I could just barely see his face through the pots and foliage. The time to see our baby on the ultrasound was drawing very near...soon we would drive back to the clinic. William looked across the aisle at me, smiled his biggest smile, and asked, "Are you ready to go, momma?" It was the first time he had said that, and it all seemed so right and so true. I was a momma, a real momma who was about to see her baby for the first time. Its heart would be beating, and it would live. Everything would be okay, and our baby would be born, and I would love him or her so so much.
That was my best moment. And little did I know that about 15 minutes later, I would be having the worst moment of my life... but instead of being brief and fleeting, it would seem like forever. When the ultrasound technician couldn't find anything with the first tool, I was concerned, but still my excitement and gladness was alive. She had to use the transvaginal ultrasound, and said that sometimes it is just hard to see on the regular one. And as I watched the screen, and the look of concern in the technician's eyes as she still searched for a heartbeat, it began to dawn on me that it had happened again. Just when I had allowed myself to be completely happy, it had happened again! I looked at William, sitting in the shadows to the side, and he looked back at me. There was none of the beaming and smiling and laughter in his eyes... just worry. The nurse finally exhaled when she saw something on the screen, but when she asked me if I was maybe not as far along as I had thought I was, I knew it was true. My baby was dead... it had simply stopped growing. Where there should have been a very visible baby on the screen, there was just a tiny shape with no movement. I writhed on the table... I was inconsolable. I screamed, I wailed, I couldn't stand to deal with this again. William had not cried tears at his mother's funeral a few years before, and he didn't cry now, but his face looked just as pained and aguished as it had that day. He had wanted this so much, too. My hands flew to my belly, which just minutes before I had believed held a living baby. How can your happiest moment be followed so closely by your worst?
I had to give blood for a beta HCG count to confirm that the pregnancy had failed, and it was many minutes before I could manage to walk to the lab. The nurse was kind and considerate, and tried to reassure me that all would be well at first. But when she saw that I knew it was over, she squatted down and took my hand and told me that she had lost a baby, too, and knew how I felt. Tears shined in her eyes. She escorted me out through the back exit, so I wouldn't have to see the pregnant women in the waiting room. I rode home stricken, shocked, and quiet. There were no more tears. I was numb now, and berated myself for ever having hoped. I hated my body for failing me again... I felt broken and empty. I found myself still putting my hands on my stomach, which had already begun to round out. How could my baby have just died? I'd done everything right... everything. How could this happen to us again? I just sat and stared out the window and grieved quietly. My husband, clinging to some hope, tried to find a way that it might not be true, but his logic failed and I could tell he knew he was just offering empty reassurances.
I miscarried several days later. The doctor had asked if I would prefer to miscarry naturally, and I said that I did. I wanted to do it on my own, to at least do that much, and when it finally started, I felt relieved. The HCG tests had shown rapidly dropping numbers, so there was no longer any hope about miscalculated dates. It was going to be over soon, if I could just get through that night. I had felt small cramps throughout the day, and in late evening I had felt a gush of warm clear fluid, so I knew it would be happening soon. I didn't even wake my husband, but instead snuck in and out of bed to go to the bathroom. I had actual contractions, which went on for hours with brief intervals during which I could rest, but I welcomed the pain. Somehow I didn't cry, not even once, but was instead very stoic and solemn and silent. I have reflected back on this miscarriage since giving birth to our daughter, and realize now that the pains I felt then were very much like the contractions I had while delivering her without pain medications, but far briefer and less intense. I passed a moderate amount of blood and some clots, but I never saw my baby... I didn't really look. If I could take anything back, it would be that. I should have looked. I used to reassure myself that the baby probably wouldn't have been identifiable, because it stopped growing, so maybe there was nothing to see. But since then I have read of others' experiences and I think I would have seen the sac and the too-small baby within. I feel as if I have betrayed my child by not looking. I regret that so deeply....
I thought I would feel better the next day, since it was finally all over, but I felt even more empty and alone. The physical pain had ended, but the grief had become more intense. I kept putting my hands over my now-empty belly, and the grief wouls leave me crumpled on the floor. This time, I found support on the internet, in pregnancy loss forums. I don't know how I would have managed without those wonderful ladies. My close family and husband were very supportive, but I needed to talk with others who had endured the same loss. It was made more difficult because we had not even told some of our friends about the pregnancy. I don't know why we waited... and how I wish we hadn't! I had to face these people and smile and appear normal, while inside I was waiting for them to notice and ask, "What is wrong with you?" But no one asked. And most of those who did know, and had been so excited about our pregnancy that seemed to be going so well, would scarcely meet my gaze. The loss felt so unacknowledged, too taboo to be mentioned. I began to hate my body, which could not even perform this one function which others seemed to do almost effortlessly.
Ectopic Pregnancy, October 2003
To do something to feel back in control of this, I had a few tests and it was discovered that my progesterone levels were abnormal. It was something I could cling to, a glimmer of hope. It was something I could do... something tangible and real. I began taking oral supplements, and a few months after the miscarriage, we began trying again. To our utter amazement, we conceived the first month. But the positive test was received with trepidation, because I was already bleeding. This time, I did not allow myself to hope for a good outcome, and after many blood tests which showed slowly rising HCG levels, I suspected that the pregnancy was in my tube. An ultrasound confirmed this, and I was not surprised or shocked. I had expected something bad, and this was actually what I felt might be wrong. I had been almost expecting the pregnancy to be ectopic, and I accepted the diagnosis without complaint or hestitation.
In that ultrasound room, I lay on the table and watched the screen intently. I was very clinical, very detached. I had already mourned this baby, from the moment I had seen the positive test. There was no screaming, no writhing like before. Just a slow and steady fall of silent tears that rolled down my cheeks and left smears on my glasses. I asked many questions as we waited for the doctor, queries about treatments for ectopic pregnancies, causes, and how uncommon it is. The technician tried his best to answer our questions, and I was glad to see he met my gaze steadily and openly. That simple gesture made me feel better, and I prepared myself for possible surgery. The doctor, who had been my physician through the entire ordeal from infertility testing to miscarriages, confirmed that the baby was in my right tube, and it had already succumbed. There was no heartbeat, although one might have been visible at 6 weeks 4 days when using transvaginal ultrasound. I was relieved that I did not have to endure seeing a fluttering heart, only to have to remove it from my body. I got a more clear look at the embryo than I did during my miscarriage before, and I felt so hollow and empty knowing that my body housed yet another dead baby. Why was I so broken?
I was prepared for laparoscopic surgery which would take place in an hour or so, and that entire time seemed so surreal. I had never had surgery of any kind, and I was both curious about how it would feel and fearful that it would go wrong. My husband seemed terrified for me. He had also never been in surgery, and I think that seeing me with an IV and lying so helpless on a narrow hospital bed upset and frightened him. The nurses were very reassuring, and took the time to tell me that they were sorry for the loss of my baby. One recounted that she had also had an ectopic pregnancy, and understood my fear. She cried as she told me, and smiled as she mentioned that she went on to have a daughter a year later. Their kindness meant so much to me... here were strangers who were more open and sympathetic than many of my own family and friends had been during our previous losses. I was given a sedative, but it made me jumpy instead of calming me. I couldn't hold still... I wriggled and squirmed and tapped my feet against the bedcovers. I had moments of mellow calm interspersed with periods of anxiety and fidgety irritation. I was impatient for it to be over, but I had eaten earlier in the day and my stomach had to settle. That period of waiting was very difficult, and I could see it was wearing on my husband who seemed so fearful for me.
I did take the advice of the nurses right before being put under the anesthetic, and that was to think of something pleasant. In my case, I recalled the memory of a great afternoon William and I had birdwatching a few years ago. We had driven down a very narrow dirt road in a wildlife refuge in the autumn, and the edge of the road was hemmed in with trees on both sides to make a canopy above us, with just glimpses of the clearest sky. The autumn leaves were falling and swirling all about the car, narrow leaves of the brightest yellow, and on the car stereo was playing a song from The Lord of the Rings books, sung beautifully by a choir. It was very elvish and melancholy, and made me think of Lothlorien, a place described in the story as being hauntingly beautiful, restful, and calming with its golden trees. We drove the length of that tiny road listening to the song, and even though there was just a gravel turnaround at the end, it was well worth the drive and we were both completely at peace. It is one of my nicest memories, something which could never be recreated even if we went at the same day of the year and played the same song. We didn't know where that wee road led, and what might lie at the end... and when it just ended, with no destination, we weren't sorry at all. I remember that now as a life lesson... a thought that comforts me as I travel down any new road.
My surgery over, and a success because they saved my right tube, we came home. The doctor said that the baby's remains were not substantial enough to be identifiable, so yet again, I had nothing tangible to bury or mourn, The physical pains and recovery from the surgery helped to dull my emotions, and at the time I was very glad of that. I had trouble comprehending that terrible number, "three." It is a small number, but seemed so huge. Three babies lost, gone, never to grow. Three individuals with their own ways which I would not learn in this life. Three, the number of children my parents had, enough to make a busy, happy household. The number of siblings which my husband has, each their own unique person. I will have to wait to meet them, I suppose. I never even got to see their heartbeats... I just knew they were there, although for so brief a time that most people seem to have already forgotten them. Most don't realize that they were here long enough to change my life forever... my first three children who have affected me as much each day in their deaths as they would have had they been born.
We finally have our long-awaited child, after seven painful years of frustration and loss. If you don't think that we were nervous during that pregnancy, you would be wrong! Each moment was counted as a blessing... each day, a milestone. We saw a pulsing heartbeat on that ultrasound at last, instead of stillness. And she finally arrived, safe and alive. Those were my first words when Gail was born: "She is really alive!" I could scarcely believe that she was real, and yet each morning upon awakening, there she was.
Having lost three babies (and after enduring so many years of infertility), we have such an appreciation for each day we spend with Gail. She brings unfathomable joy. And yet, when I look at her, I do wonder about her siblings, and what they might have been. So, although I am so wonderfully happy to be a momma at last, I do still miss those others. They paved Gail's way with love and tears, and we will never be the same.
I don't know that anyone has actually read this far... but if you have, thank you. It felt good to share this amongst those who understand.
My prayers are with all of those who are struggling through loss... many hugs to you all!