2014-THANKSgiving

The Two Missing Kids: Explaining Miscarriage to Children

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My husband, our two kids, and I were at a social gathering this past Mother’s Day when we encountered a family with four children. My 8-year-old son, who is my youngest child, stopped near to them and looked at them longingly. He then pointed them out to me.

“That could have been our family,” he said quietly.

As my chest tightened and I fought back tears, I hugged him and kissed his head. I knew what he meant, but there wasn’t much I could say in response. Because he just doesn’t understand. He doesn’t comprehend that we never would have been a family with four children.

Because in his mind, there are two missing kids in our family. They are the pregnancies that I lost.

My son found out about the “missing kids” quite by chance. My mother, who is an avid genealogy enthusiast, tracks every family birth and death on elaborate charts on her computer. One day she was showing my kids the family tree when they noticed two other “leaves” growing from my branch. They saw and read the notations for the two babies I had lost.

Naturally, my mother felt horrible. She carefully explained to my kids that after my daughter was born, but before my son, two babies had started growing that didn’t make it. They had died before they were born. And it made Mommy and Daddy sad to talk about it, which was why the kids hadn’t known about them.

It does make Mommy and Daddy sad to talk about it, even though it’s been ten years since I miscarried those pregnancies. The grief never quite goes away. I have become more comfortable with it—more familiar with it—and the sorrow that initially smothered me and weighed me down has settled now around my heart, just giving it an uncomfortable squeeze every now and then. Once in a while I even manage to forget about it; other times it takes my breath away at unexpected moments. The heartache doesn’t overwhelm me daily anymore, but it still accompanies me because I miss those two babies.

The first one I lost toward the end of my first trimester. That life, no matter how new or tiny, was deeply loved. My husband and I had waited so long for me to get pregnant with our second child, and we were overjoyed when it happened. We had such plans for that kid. We’d discussed names and what supplies we needed. We’d imagined the beautiful and happy life that the baby would live with us and with our daughter. But when I went in for a routine exam, my doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat. I sobbed right there on the exam table. I wasn’t ready to let go of this loved one, and neither, it seemed was my body—it held on tightly. But the baby had died.

The second one I lost early in the second trimester. After the first miscarriage, we were hesitant to get too emotionally attached to the child. But how do you not get emotionally attached? We were so relieved to hear the baby’s heartbeat at our 9-week appointment that we started to celebrate. But by our next appointment a few weeks later, there was no longer a heartbeat. Once again, my body—just like my heart— didn’t want to let go; it kept clinging to that little being. But the baby, whom we later found out was a boy, had died as well.

I haven’t given my kids those details. They don’t need to know. Not yet anyway. All they know for now is that there are two missing kids.

This fact has hit my son particularly hard. This past Mother’s Day wasn’t the first time he’d pointed out other families with four kids. We have some friends who have four children as well. My son will mention from time to time that we could have been like them. That we could have been a family of six.

How do I explain to him that if I had not lost those babies, he wouldn’t be here? That it was our plan to only have two children? I can’t. And I don’t. I just hug him and kiss his head. I hold him tightly, and together we mourn that loss.

It’s a difficult thing to think about though. There’s this incredible battle that goes on between my heart and my head. I mourn for the miscarried pregnancies—the two missing babies. But then I feel intensely guilty because had either one of those pregnancies gone to term, I never would have had my son. This boy whom I love and cherish and delight in. This boy who has become one of the main focuses of my world. It’s a vicious cycle of pain and guilt.

When those feelings become too much to bear, I try to imagine that both of those lost pregnancies were my son. That he wanted to be in our family so badly that he fought with all of his might to get here—that he just kept trying and trying until the conditions were right. And now he’s with us. In our family where he belongs.

My son. That sweet, sweet boy. He still wants those two missing kids in our family. From time to time, he’ll ask me if I am going to have another baby. He’ll offer to share his room if we have another boy. (He’s clearly never lived with a baby.) And he “generously” offers up his sister’s room for a girl.

I just hug him and kiss the top of his head. “Our family is perfect just the way it is,” I explain to him.

And it is. Because it has to be. With my two children with me on earth. And the two missing kids—my two angels watching above us.

Related post: What Could Have Been

Blaming Myself for My Miscarriage

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Miscarriage-blame Image via iStock

My nerves were shot as I headed to the doctor’s office. For reasons I couldn’t comprehend, I was nervous and worried about seeing Dr. Quinn, my ob/gyn. My fourth such visit in the last five years; a follow-up appointment for my recent miscarriage. The second time I had seen her after a D&C.

I hoped that when I arrived my nerves would settle. I tried deep breathing and positive thoughts, but none of that helped. Fear and worry crept up on me. I might find out what caused this latest loss once I saw the doctor.

Why was I scared? Why did I have such apprehension about this appointment? Simple. I knew it was my fault. I blamed myself. Seeing the doctor would confirm my greatest horror; that I caused our baby to die.

Only six weeks before this appointment, my husband and I headed for our 12-week ultrasound. Just four weeks earlier, we had seen our baby and its strong heartbeat. We knew that today would confirm that our baby was still growing and we would get to see its little face.

Instead, we discovered that the baby stopped growing at 10 weeks. The baby had died. We had lost our fourth angel.

As the shock wore off, I found myself doing the math; trying to figure out when the baby died. Had I done something to cause this loss?

At 10-weeks pregnant, I had gone on a girls’ weekend with my sister and mother to New York City. Did I do something in NYC that caused me to lose this baby?

Was it the soft mozzarella I ate at that Italian restaurant in the Theater district? It was tasty, but maybe it wasn’t pasteurized.

Was it because I walked, on average, 6 miles a day? My body wasn’t used to that.

Could it be that sip of wine my sister encouraged me to try? I should have known better.

Was it flying? I have issues with circulation, to the point that I have to take baby aspirin while pregnant. Did flying cut off the oxygen necessary for my baby to grow?

Had I been drinking too much caffeine? I tried to limit it to 200 mg, but maybe I did my math wrong.

I knew, in my heart, that losing the baby was my fault. It had to be.

A fourth loss was devastating. I had fooled myself by thinking I wouldn’t lose any more babies after having my two little girls, Ginny and Grace, after my first three losses. Apparently, I was wrong. Just by getting pregnant, I felt like I was playing Russian Roulette with a baby’s life.

I waited in the reception area a brief time before being called back by my doctor’s nurse, Michelle. She talked to me, expressing her sorrow at my loss. Then, she took my blood pressure. 148/98. My blood pressure normally runs 110/70. Not good. I needed to calm down.

As I waited for the doctor, I took deep breaths and tried to convince myself it wasn’t my fault. I would be held blameless for my baby’s death. I reminded myself that many things can go wrong in the first trimester and that miscarriage happens often. The miracle is when a baby does make it to term.

Then, I realized that no matter what the cause, I couldn’t do anything to change the result now. All I could do was wait to hear what my doctor had to say.

After several minutes, my doctor entered the room and gave me a hug. She has been with me through every loss, and has always remained optimistic. Then, she sat down, looked at me, and let me know that the results had come back from genetic testing on the fetus.

“Your baby was a girl.”

I laughed. I was astounded to learn that my instincts had been right. I had called the baby a girl since I was 5 weeks pregnant.

“It appears there were some extra chromosomes. It is difficult to know if those extra chromosomes were part of the baby or the placenta. However, there were other markers that suggest it was likely the baby. In particular, the baby had an extra chromosome 21, an indicator of Down’s Syndrome.”

Relief seeped over me. I could stop blaming myself. There was something wrong with the baby from the beginning.

The doctor then reassured me that the odds of this happening again were low, despite my age. I let her know that my husband and I planned to try for another baby. She smiled and told me to call her the moment I get another positive pregnancy test.

Part of me still worries that I will suffer another loss if I do get pregnant again. At 42, the odds are that I will lose another baby. But all I can do is hope that I will not deal with the heartbreak again. And, in until I know if another baby is in our future, I will love my husband and my darling girls.

Related post: The Unexpected Hatred

It Was Supposed To Be Easy

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All my life, I’ve operated under the impression that having kids is quite simple. (Not the actual act of childbirth, mind you. I’m not quite that naive.)  

Step 1. Find husband.  

Step 2. Have sex with husband.  

Step 3. Nine months later, pop out a beautiful baby.

For me, step one was only marginally easy. I may have had a minor panicky thought around age 26 or 27 that I might never get married. That I might end up the one all my friends’ kids would call Aunt Jen, and who had a lot of cats. Or worse – birds.  But I did find a guy who, quite surprisingly, really, wanted to marry me.

Not surprisingly, step two was also easy. Step two, subcategory A – actually orchestrating a meeting between husband’s spermatozoa and my ovum, could have presented a far greater challenge, but the meeting went off without a hitch and Presto! Pregnant.

I was enthralled with the idea that my uterus had a function, other than every 29 days causing me untold pain and suffering and generally behaving as if it was in the throes of end-stage Ebola virus.  It was incubating a human, one that would ostensibly grow into said beautiful baby.

At almost ten weeks, after we’d announced to everyone and their uncle’s step-cousin that we were expecting, I started cramping and bleeding, went to the hospital and was told, in no uncertain terms, that this was a miscarriage. I was completely devastated and felt (perhaps unnecessarily) embarrassed that we had announced to all and sundry about the baby not three days before, and now we were left with nothing. It was all erased, like a roll of film you’d accidentally exposed to light.

As of now, this has happened two more times. I, purposely, didn’t announce to one and all either of the following times and only told a few close friends and our families about my pregnancies. This way I didn’t have to un-tell quite as many people. It has been difficult and trying and quite nearly soul-destroying.  

When I see women who have been impregnated when their husbands have barely sneezed lightly in their direction, and then nine months later they pop out their own beautiful baby, it becomes maddening to me. I’ve feared greatly for the safety of our computer because when I see a six week old embryo on an ultrasound picture, proudly displayed on my newsfeed, I want to shriek with the unfairness of it all. I also want to tell the uninformed woman that six weeks is way too early to announce and that you might be setting yourself up for a terrible disappointment.

As I have experienced these miscarriages, and the trials and tribulations of reproduction, people come out of the woodwork with similar stories. Suddenly people everywhere have had miscarriages and now that I was part of the club, they made this known to me, whereas before they never mentioned it. It seems as though infertility and repeat pregnancy loss are taboo subjects that shouldn’t be discussed in polite company. I don’t think this should be.

 One out of every five pregnancies ends in miscarriage.

It’s not anyone’s fault that they have fertility issues. Things happen and life is hard, but no one brings these things on themselves. If only five people read this, maybe one of that five won’t feel so alone.

What Could Have Been

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It can hit you at the weirdest times. It just does. And when it does… it gives you an emotional chill like a shadow from your past.

I was driving my wife to work today as we often do in the morning and it hit me just then. She was going through Facebook scrolling by a picture of some old friends with their kids. I asked her, “don’t they have four kids now?” They do.

And it hit me. We could, too. Or could have. But don’t.

We’ve come such a long way… many years and thousands of miles from a phone call to my work one night. Something was wrong. My wife knew it. Through her tears she asked me to come get her. I left work right away. I found her in a stall in the women’s room at Boston University where she worked… crying.. her clothes soaked through with blood. I took her to the doctor but by then she knew… we knew… how could you not know… she had suffered a miscarriage.. what would have been our first baby as a newly married couple. Of course, my wife was physically OK and that was most important. We were assured we could try again at some point when the time was right. That was important too. In the meantime, we went home for a couple of days and hid ourselves in takeout and movies and self-pity. We told the few family members who already knew she was pregnant. But let’s face it.. There’s not a whole lot someone can say or do to make you feel any better. And all the good will can’t replace the fact that you were already secretly picking baby names and nursery colors and getting excited to be new parents. You compartmentalize that chapter of your life like an old photo in an album that you tuck away on a shelf and only glance at once in a long while.

Time passed. We went on to have a beautiful daughter Alicia.

We’d go on to have another miscarriage, too. By that time we felt like old pros at it. This time my wife was right in the doctor’s office at her pregnancy exam when the doctor informed her she was miscarrying. It didn’t make it any easier. We went home. We hardly told anyone. This time, we poured ourselves into caring for our young girl at home that we already had. And again we compartmentalized that chapter of our life like an old photo in an album that we tucked away on a shelf and only glance at once in a long while.

Time passed again. We went on to have another beautiful daughter Andreya.

We chose not to try for more children. Out of four pregnancies, two ended in miscarriage. I feel blessed to have two healthy kids. Why test the percentages again? Sure once in a while the thought of another baby creeps in… the idea of raising a new baby and having that excitement back in the family. For us, the time has passed. But yes I still think about it… sometimes… at the weirdest times… that our family might have been bigger… could have been bigger… but isn’t. And I know there are so many other couples just like us. This is my subtle nod to them.. we’ve been there too. I’m not going to tell you how to feel. I just want you to know you’re not alone. You’re not. Today I flipped through that old photo album in my mind and was taken right back there.

I dropped my wife off at work and returned home to make breakfast with the kids as one danced around with her panda stuffed animal… And the other drew one of her fantastic drawings. They really are the most incredible kids. Yes I still think about it… sometimes… at the weirdest times… that our family might have been bigger… could have been bigger… but isn’t.

It’s always going to be a page in that old photo album of our lives together. But my family is perfect the way it is and that’s just fine with me.

Related post: The Invisible Moms’ Club