Confusion. Shock. Grief. Sadness. Heartache. Fear.
A whole bunch of feelings that were neither expected nor invited to show up on an ordinary Wednesday morning. It was the week of spring break and my husband had taken the day off work. He was in the kitchen cutting sweet pastries from our favorite bakery into tiny bite sized pieces for our three kiddos who were eagerly ready for a day of “family fun.” They’d been looking forward to this day all week and while they were starting their morning in the very best way, I was hiding in the bathroom.
I had been on the phone with an OB nurse explaining that I’d been fighting menstrual cramps since Saturday and I had reached the point in which they were literally bringing me to my knees. I hadn’t slept well the night before and despite numerous warm baths, Tylenol, and heating pads, the pain was just no longer something I could tolerate. As I spoke with the nurse, I admitted feeling guilty and even a little embarrassed for being a 31-year-old adult female calling to complain of cramps. I mean, c’mon, I should be able to toughen up and handle this, right?
I didn’t know.
The nurse listened and talked through my symptoms for several minutes. She gently asked me to take a pregnancy test — you know, just to rule things out. “I know I’m on my period. I’m not pregnant,” I told her. Still, she encouraged me to take the test, “Just as a precaution. Go ahead and take it. I see the doctor coming down the hall so I’m gonna talk to him real quick and call you back.”
Fine… I peed on the stupid stick. I sat waiting for those single lines to confirm what I already knew and moments later, the nurse was calling me back. “It’s negative,” I told her. “There are only two lines.”
As I listened for her response, I glanced down and noticed another faint line slowly emerging. “Wait a minute. No, there’s another line showing up. Wait, there’s definitely a plus sign showing. Oh my God, I think I’m pregnant. Am I really pregnant? What does that mean?”
I didn’t know.
I yelled for my husband and burst into tears. I showed him the test and we stood together, looking at this little stick that had always been something that brought us happy and exciting news in the past. I had never even considered that a positive pregnancy test could actually indicate a very negative outcome.
I simply didn’t know.
The nurse was gentle and careful with her words. She told me that I needed to come in to be evaluated. I prepared myself for some very difficult conversations — to hear that there was no heartbeat and to be given confirmation that this unexpected nightmare was in fact, reality. I told my husband to stay home with the kids while I went in to be seen. I don’t know why I didn’t push for him to come with me. In hindsight, that was weird. But in the moment, I was in shock. And I was scared.
And I just didn’t know.
I arrived for labs and ultrasound and was immediately called in by a tech. I still remember her face. She had those eyes. You know, those sympathetic, sad puppy dog eyes. I told her it was okay.
“I know why I’m here…. Please just be honest with what you see.”
I didn’t know what else to tell her so I got undressed and laid in the chair. I was cold and uncomfortable and doing my best to get through this inevitable nightmare. The tech told me that she saw fluid. A LOT of fluid. There was nothing in my uterus.
“Have you ever heard of an ectopic pregnancy?” she asked. She told me that she needed to call my physician so that he could talk to me. As she left the room, I grabbed my phone and quickly Googled, “ectopic pregnancy.” I took a quick screenshot and sent it to my husband with the message, “This is what’s happening. I’m waiting on the doctor now.” I had no other information, I didn’t know what an ‘ectopic pregnancy’ was, and I didn’t have time to let Google do any more research for me.
I didn’t know.
The tech returned and explained that my doctor probably wanted to speak with me in his office, rather than in ultrasound so I grabbed my things and she walked me down a back hallway to a room labeled, “Education.” Seconds later, a nurse arrived telling me that we needed to go downstairs to the ER. Okay, at this point, I was just going through the motions. I didn’t know why I was being moved from room to room. I had no idea what was going on. I was still in shock.
And I still didn’t know.
The nurse took me directly to patient registration. As the receptionist asked for my license and insurance card, I heard my phone ring. It was my husband. I hadn’t talked with him since sending that quick text earlier in the ultrasound room. “Do you mind if I take this,” I asked the receptionist, and without even giving her a chance to respond, I put the phone to my ear and answered.
I heard his calm voice ask, “Hey, how are you doing?”
“I don’t know. I have no idea what’s going on.”
“Okay, well, I just got off the phone with the doctor and I’m going to get there as soon as possible,” he reassured me.
“Wait. What? I haven’t even seen the doctor yet!? Why did he call you?”
“Kayla, you’re getting ready to have a procedure…”
“WHAT!?!” I interrupted him again, bursting into tears. “WHAT is going on!?”
I looked at the receptionist and before she could even muster a response, another nurse arrived to take me into a prep room. I listened to my husband on the other end of the phone, “Everything is going to be okay, Kayla. I am working on getting someone over here to watch the kids and I will be there as soon as I can. I love you.”
Why did my doctor call my husband before even talking to me? What procedure did I just register for? Who was going to be home in the middle of the week to watch our kids?
I didn’t know.
I blindly followed the nurse and was greeted with two more as we entered yet another room. They told me I was getting ready for surgery. They apologized for the chaos and confusion and rush but also explained that all those things they were apologizing for were necessary. “This is an emergency, Kayla. This is a life-threatening situation and we are going to be moving quickly.”
She explained that an ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilized egg does not make it into the uterus. Instead, it gets stuck implanting into the fallopian tube. Based on the ultrasound images, it looked like my fallopian tube had ruptured and I was now bleeding internally… and possibly had been since Saturday when I had first assumed that I was on my period. Before I could even start to process what the nurses were telling me, the room filled with staff helping me undress, start an IV, put on compression socks, draw blood, gather my belongings.
Another nurse came in and began discussing bereavement options and available support. There was a nurse documenting on her computer. There was an anesthesiologist introducing himself. There were papers to sign and questions to answer and so many things happening at once. It was blurred chaos. It was uncontrolled chaos. It was too much. I had no idea what to do.
I later found out that my doctor, who I still believe is the best OB/GYN on the planet, had been busy in the background the entire time — trying his best to surround me with the support he knew I would need before all this chaos ensued. He had been preparing my husband. He had been preparing himself. He had been doing his job. He knew it was going to be a lot and more than I could bear alone. He had called my husband before seeing me because he knew this was not something I could process on my own. He knew I needed the support. This had gone far beyond a “tough conversation regarding a failed pregnancy” and my lack of understanding as to what was happening wasn’t the fault of any of the staff around me. The nurses were all doing their best to get me ready. They were doing their jobs. They didn’t know. And you know what?
I didn’t either. I didn’t know.
I felt overwhelmed, like I couldn’t breathe. I needed to clear the room. I mustered every polite bone in my body and looked at the bereavement nurse first, firmly telling her, “I need you to stop talking to me about this. I need you to leave.” The room suddenly grew quiet. You guys, these nurses were compassionate and caring and doing a great job but I needed a moment. I needed space. I needed to find a way to breathe.
Within moments, the room emptied. Everyone had left except for this very sympathetic nurse who was left standing at her computer. “Oh sweetie, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I know this must be hard for you.” I shook my head and apologized for being such a mess. I closed my eyes, wiped my cheeks, and pulled my knees to my chest.
I took a deep breath and looked back at the nurse with tears in my eyes, I asked her, “Will you just stop what you’re doing and pray with me?” I didn’t know what else to do. So right there, in that big, scary moment, that sweet nurse did exactly that. She sat down on the bed, wrapping both her arms around me, and while I sat there sobbing, she prayed. She prayed for my health. For understanding. For comfort and consolation. She prayed for the doctors and nurses. She prayed for their knowledge and expertise. For their ability to take care of me and get me through this tough moment. She prayed for the baby. The baby that two hours ago, I hadn’t even known existed. And it was in that moment that reality hit. I choked back my emotions and asked her quietly, “
I don’t understand. How far along am I? Is the baby alive?”
She looked at me, this time with tears in her own eyes, “No sweetie, a baby can’t survive what has happened. And this is why you’re going into surgery. You too, are at risk and we need to take care of you right now.”
You know that feeling when a parent sees their baby for the first time? That feeling of overwhelming love and adoration and joy for a child they’ve only just met? It’s indescribable. And it’s the most accurate way to describe what I was feeling in that moment, except opposite. I felt like I had spent the last two hours moving through a storm of chaos with whirling winds, pouring rains, powerful thunder and scary lightning and all of the sudden, everything had stopped. Everything was calm and I was suddenly filled with this fierce, overwhelming, and profound sadness. I was sad for the final realization that somehow, sometime, some way, human creation had failed. I felt like I had failed. I felt like a piece of motherhood had been stripped from my identity.
The rest is a blur.
I woke up from surgery with my husband by my side. He had rushed through the hospital door only moments after I had been wheeled into the surgery room. We had missed seeing each other by a few minutes but he tells me that my doctor had warned him over the phone that he wasn’t going to wait. “I’m not gonna be able to wait on you, Jeremy. But I promise I’m gonna take care of your wife.”
I had three little incisions — one on my belly button, one below my belly button, and one on my hip. They told me they had removed my right fallopian tube. They told me that I could still conceive if we wanted to try again. They told I needed to take it easy and that it was okay to cry. They told me there were services and support groups available if we needed them. They told me that my husband and I needed to talk together to make a decision regarding we wanted to do with the remains.
Big stuff, right?
Big, awful, painful, scary, heartbreaking stuff.
So why am I sharing such a personal story? Why am I writing about such a private and traumatic moment? Why do I feel the need to expose the world of social media to such a sad moment in my life?
Because I am a writer and I have a story to be told. Because I am a verbal processor. Because right now, I feel empty and my only coping mechanism is to sit in front of my laptop and translate my heartache into written words. Because I hate to admit that I know there are countless other women who can relate and recall the very same feelings I’m feeling now. Because I want those women to know that they’re not alone. Because I also want the reassurance that I’m not alone. Because my heart aches and my body hurts and I need to talk about it but I’m at a loss for spoken words. Because the loss and grief are real. Because something failed in those first few weeks of creation. And because I lost a baby and that truth hurts me the most.
On March 27, what I assumed was a “hard” period turned into a surprise pregnancy. That surprise pregnancy turned into a devastating miscarriage. That devastating miscarriage turned into a life-threatening situation and an emergency surgery. That emergency surgery turned into a whole bunch of heartbreak with grief counseling and bereavement discussions and a day filled with uninvited and unexpected chaos and sadness and pain.
1 in 4 women experience loss.
I am now part of the 1 in 4.
And now… I know.
One last thing: according to that statistic, 25% of women have experienced loss. One.in.four. This is not uncommon, folks. This is happening every day and, oh, does it hurt. Do you know a friend or loved one who is part of that statistic? Maybe it’s you who can relate to that awful number. I pray that’s not the case. But here’s my point: before this week, I had always tried my best to understand the sorrow my friends felt with the loss of a pregnancy. I had always tried to walk with them through the survival of a nightmare I never fully grasped myself. I was a friend who saw their heartache and wanted more than anything to remove their pain, but never knew what to say or how to do it.
After a week of resting and recovering and basically taking each day by the hour, here’s what I think I know: I think there is nothing that can ease our pain. There is nothing that will “fix” our sorrow or “make it better” for our friends or ourselves. Bad things happen every single day. They happen to all of us, this is a guarantee. So while our stories of loss may be different, our details different, our experiences and reactions different, we share the same pain and that pain offers connection, in the most authentic and unfair way.
I don’t know why miscarriage or pregnancy complications happen — to me or anyone for that matter, but I do know it won’t help to direct our anger at asking questions regarding why. So right now, I’m leaving that alone. Right now, I’m focusing my energy on giving myself permission to feel my feelings. I’m taking it easy.
Beyond those things, here is what I’m hoping… I’m hoping that maybe as the pain softens with time, I’ll be able to use this awful experience to help others get through the same scary, awful heartache. I’m hoping that maybe I’ll be able to offer some stronger empathy, deeper compassion, and better consolation to those hurting. I’m hoping that maybe I’ll be able to use my story to replace someone else’s feelings of guilt and fear and loneliness with understanding, reassurance, and support.