2014-THANKSgiving

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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hanging-bootiesImage via Shutterstock

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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family-of-five Image via Shutterstock

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

The Unexpected Hatred

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hatred

What surprised me the most about myself when I had my second miscarriage was my capacity to hate.  I’d never really been a hateful person.  Not particularly angry, jealous, or spiteful either.  But when I lost that baby, that tiny, hopeful whisper of a new life was replaced with something horrible and raging.  My hatred was powerful.  It had teeth, claws, and narrow, angry eyes that at first could only focus on one specific group of people: pregnant women.

I didn’t want their babies to be fine.

I didn’t want them to be happy.

I wished them ill.

I hated watching their husbands escort them out of cars.  I hated their round bellies and rosy cheeks.  I hated their maxi dresses and decaf coffees and their stupid swollen feet.  I wanted them to trip on those dresses and spill their coffees all over their dopey husbands.

I wanted someone else to be like me: a miserable, angry failure.  I became an absolutely horrible person.  I took the real me, the generally kind and optimistic person that I used to be, and pulled her deep into my dark depths.  She was gone for a while and even though I was the one who put her away, I couldn’t remember how to find her.

The new, hateful me emerged from those dark depths and blinked at the light.  I was only capable of seeing the world through my own pain and loss and found it impossibly ordinary.  There were all these people, going about their business as usual.  They were astonishingly pleasant and normal.  They smiled, joked, ate and shopped.  They lived while my baby didn’t, so I hated them.  Worst of all were the mothers – both the pregnant women and the women with children.  They were shockingly happy.  Disgustingly fortunate.  They had successfully produced healthy children, seemingly effortlessly, while I had failed.  Twice.  It was almost unbearable.

This version of myself was completely unsure of how to function around others.  Alone, I was okay.  I could hold it together.  For brief periods of time I could lose myself in a book or a movie and not think about the emptiness inside me, the anger in my heart.  But when I had to be with other people, I was raw, a burn victim unbandaged, and I was scared of myself.  I had never before felt emotions so strong that I couldn’t keep them from my surface.  One look, word, or touch of kindness from another person and those emotions would erupt.

I had no control.  And if there’s one thing that I’ve always, always hated, it was not being in control of my emotions.  I always wanted everyone to think I was fine.  Great.  Keeping it together and looking good doing it.  So in addition to hating other people, I really, really hated myself.  I hated my weakness, my vulnerability, and my frightening misanthropy.

There were voices in my head, constantly at war.  They clashed their swords and gnashed their teeth and wouldn’t leave me in peace.  The battles went something like this:

Hateful Voice:  I hate everyone who is happy.  Why isn’t anyone else as miserable as I am?

Rational Voice:  There are millions of people out there who are much more miserable than you, trust me.

Guilty Voice:  Yeah.  Some people have it way worse than you do.  It would be so much more awful to lose a child that had already been born.  A child that you already knew and loved.  Can you even imagine how difficult that must be?  You seriously have nothing to complain about.  You can always try again.

Hateful Voice:  Fuck you.  I don’t care about anyone else.  I just know that I am miserable.  So, so miserable.

For a while, the Hateful Voice was definitely winning most of the battles.  It took a long time for the combination of the Rational and Guilty Voices to gain some ground.  I would love to say that they took over and rescued my better self from the dark depths of despair.  That I healed and moved on because of my own goodness and reason.

But I didn’t.

That’s not to say that I’m not healed now, back to my better self.  Because I am.  But I didn’t do it on my own.  I didn’t even do it with the help of friends and family.  Not completely.

The only reason I can say that I have really and truly come back from that awful, desperate place I was in is that I did eventually have a healthy pregnancy that resulted in the beautiful gift of my children.

I got lucky.  Big time.

If I hadn’t, I really don’t know where I’d be now.  I mean, I returned to my normal life after the miscarriages and before I got pregnant again, and I did okay, but only on the outside.  Inside, I was still devastated.  Broken.  Utterly frustrated.  I’m sure I would have made my way back to living a life of strength and confidence, but I think it would have taken quite a while.

So while I may be one of the disgustingly fortunate ones now, I wish I could let other women who are suffering like I was know that I really and truly get it.  I’ve been there.  It was awful and I’m so, so sorry that you’re there now.  I hope it gets better for you, but please just know that it’s okay to hate everyone right now.  What you’re going through is terrible, and I get it.  Feel the way you need to feel.  Anyone who tells you differently is full of shit.  There is no silver lining.  Sometimes life is just really, really hard.  You’ll get through it because you have to.  Because you are, believe me, stronger than you know.

A Missed Pregnancy, Indeed

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Missed Pregnancy

One moment I was lying in bed, calmly reading a novel. Then the main character became pregnant and I snapped. Completely.

I got up and searched through my jewelry box for the pointiest pin I could find. I pulled out a large, vintage yellow daisy pin. I grabbed the condoms from the night table and started poking holes in them. Poke, poke, poke. Jab, jab, jab. The pin was two large and left big, gaping, noticeable holes. Just like the ones I felt inside of me.

Looking at those holes in the silver wrapper was a big wake up call for me. I hid the condoms under tissues in the bathroom garbage can, sat back on the bed and sobbed. I’d been hiding my feelings for so long; I hadn’t allowed myself time to mourn or grieve. The pain couldn’t be held back any longer and came out in a big ball of crazy condom poking.

I had experienced a miscarriage several months before. The pregnancy wasn’t planned. In fact, babies weren’t in the plan at all. My husband made it clear from the beginning that he didn’t want children. I told him that I was willing to sacrifice babies for him. I actually thought he’d change his mind. He didn’t and I struggled with letting go of my strong desire to have a child.

We were in a really stressful place about six years into our marriage. We were trying to sell a house in a market where no one was biting, after feeling forced to vacate it due to harassments and threats from the people across the street. We were living in an empty home owned by my mother-in-law until our house sold and provided us with the funds to buy again. We weren’t happy living there and the situation created all kinds of family drama. Finances were tight. My husband was a full time student. His father was extremely ill. We were stressed to the max. I forgot to take my birth control pill for three days.

I was sure the exhaustion, headaches and nausea were from the stress. I thought stress was also what was delaying my period and that my breasts were so incredibly sore because of PMS. I assumed I was having a bad reaction to my toothpaste when I threw up several mornings in a row. Being pregnant didn’t even cross my mind. Sex was scarce during that time, so I didn’t think much of it. Plus, I’d missed doses here and there in the past without problem.

Then I woke up in the night and a pool of blood hit the floor the moment I stood up. Pregnancy still didn’t enter my head. I thought my period must be extra strong because it was late. I called my gynecologist the next day when the heavy bleeding continued. The doctor called it a “missed pregnancy”.

I was numb and in shock. I stayed in bed crying and eating chocolate peanut butter ice cream for a few days, but I didn’t fully deal with my feelings. I shoved them down. I went back to work. I pretended I was okay. I told myself I was fine.

But I wasn’t fine. Women who are handling things “fine” don’t poke holes in condoms. I was a mess.

My husband was sad when he learned of the miscarriage, but it was only because he knew I was hurting. He was relieved there would be no baby and terrified pregnancy would occur again. I finally realized that he wasn’t going to change his mind. No matter how much he adored me, he did not want a baby.

Would I have actually gone through with using the condoms if the holes weren’t so big and noticeable? I like to think I wouldn’t, but I don’t know for sure. I’m glad the holes were so glaring. It forced me to stop what I was doing and to acknowledge my grief and pain.

I opened up to my husband about all the feelings swirling around inside of me. I wasn’t just mourning the loss of my pregnancy, but the hope of any future pregnancies. I felt so ripped off, like the universe was playing a cruel joke on me by allowing me to get pregnant, but then miscarry before even getting the chance to be happy or excited about the prospect of motherhood.

We talked and talked. The conversation kept coming up again and again for months. I had a lot to process. Through these talks two big points became clear. My husband wasn’t totally opposed to being a father, he just didn’t want a baby. I just wanted to be a mother and how it happened actually wasn’t important to me.

We’d thrown around the possibility of older child adoption for years, but never seriously talked about it prior to this. We started to really consider it. We made it a tentative “some day” plan. I dove into research. I was shocked when I told my husband about upcoming classes to get licensed to adopt from the foster care system and he said, “Let’s sign up.”

A year after we officially started the process, our daughter moved in with us. She was nine years old and had been in foster care for five years. She had suffered abuse, neglect, poverty, homelessness, abandonment, instability and many other things children should not have to face. We finalized the adoption six months later.

Parenting a traumatized child is challenging, but it is also so very rewarding. Our daughter has made huge progress since coming home to us. She’s learning to control her anger, work through her feelings and trust us. I felt a pull to her from the moment I saw a photo of her sweet face. She is my daughter. My baby. I was made to be her mother. My husband is an amazing father. Nothing brings me more joy than watching the two of them laugh together. She has healed me. She has completed me.

The holes in my heart were waiting for her to fill them. And she has.