I was nine weeks and four days pregnant. Our little baby, whom we had started making life plans for, had stopped growing. I was medically diagnosed with what is known as a "missed miscarriage." As the doctor searched for the tiniest flicker on her screen, I already knew the verdict. She was searching for a flicker of hope that I was all too familiar with when we had undergone IVF two years prior. This time, hope was completely absent.
At some point in my bliss of pregnancy-induced nausea and spectrum of food aversions, the embryo had stopped growing and its heart stopped beating. My doctor went through next steps with me, and within minutes, I had decided to move forward with a procedure called a dilation and curettage (commonly called a D&C), where they surgically remove remnants of the pregnancy. It was an easy decision as I felt like my body had already failed me since it had failed to recognize this miscarriage had even happened. Paired with the fact that I had a 13-month-old toddler at home who needed his mom to be fully present, I had no time to drag out this nightmare. Amid my grieving, I felt confident with my decision and a slight bit of relief knowing we could close this chapter and put it behind us, physically at least, within a few short days.
The next 48 hours were the longest of my life. I left my doctor's office feeling completely numb. My womb, which had previously been a place of comfort and both my babies' first home, had turned into a tomb. I felt completely incapacitated. How could I carry on knowing my baby who would never be was still in my body? After I found out this baby had died, so did my dreams of a life with him/her. A part of me was nervous at how in the world I was going to manage a toddler and a newborn. Another part of me wondered how I was going to introduce our firstborn to the idea that he would have a baby brother or sister. I'd wondered how I was going to teach my son to say his new sibling's first name, how I'd manage any feelings of jealousy or if he would be as kind and loving to his sibling as he was to our dog. There were so many changes to come with being a mom of two, so much that was unexpected. I was ready to embrace the chaos, but time/life/the universe felt otherwise.
I proceeded through the next day in a haze. I forced fake smiles and laughter in front of my toddler and mustered up every bit of strength I had to continue caring for him. With each hug, I'd pull him in closer and hold him a few seconds longer. As I faced the fragility of life, I had one tiny miracle standing right in front of me.
As I faced the fragility of life, I had one tiny miracle standing right in front of me.
Nap time would allow me a couple hours of relief where I was able to crawl back into the darkness and isolate myself from the rest of the world. When morning came, it was time to complete the procedure. We headed to the doctor's office and sat in the waiting room. One by one, I saw baby bump after baby bump walk through the door, a harsh reminder that this was not going to be my future. Not this time, anyway. I sat there straight-faced while my partner and I awaited our fate.
As we sat in the surgical room waiting for my doctor to come in, tears started flowing from my eyes. This was it. I was here. This was really happening. These were my final moments with the child I would never have a chance to meet. It didn't matter if I was ready; I had to come to terms with reality; this was happening and there was no going back.
In what seemed like mere minutes, I awoke and was handed a juice. Everything was a bit fuzzy, but there was one thing I knew for sure — I was no longer pregnant. It's an indescribable experience to go from the excited state of an expecting mom to no longer pregnant and no baby to show for it. I didn't have the war wounds from an intense labor or a snuggly newborn keeping me up at all hours of the night. In fact, I didn't have anything because I merely existed through this experience until everything disappeared from under me.
It hasn't been long since this happened, and most nights, I still find myself lying on my left side feeling sad about our loss. Every day has certainly gotten easier, and we continue to take it a day at a time as a family of three.
I know that this is just one chapter in our story, and there are a few things I've learned so far:
- Having one child doesn't mean I didn't grieve the loss.
One of the first things close friends and family said to me when they learned about our loss was to know we were blessed because we had our first baby. While well-intentioned, this comment peeved me more than anything else. Not for one second were we ungrateful for our firstborn, nor do we ever for a second take him for granted. We struggled to have our first and knew how lucky we were. The idea that because we had one meant we shouldn't grieve the loss of our other was ridiculous. We still can and should grieve the loss. Having existing children doesn't take that loss away from us; it only ensures that we continued to put one foot in front of the other.
- Taking time for myself to mourn isn't selfish.
Amid our loss, I was also faced with extreme mom guilt. I was in a deep state of sadness, and it was physically a struggle to get myself out of bed. I needed to be alone and to process what happened, but I was overwhelmed with anxiety that I also should have been spending this time with my son, embracing every moment with him. I felt selfish and guilty and had prayed that one day he'd forgive me (when he will likely never even remember those few days). I soon came to the realization that this wasn't in fact selfish but completely normal. Becoming a mom doesn't make me any less human, and taking time for myself to heal was a benefit for my entire family. Prioritizing my well-being is not selfish; it's crucial.
- I felt more bonded with my partner.
The experience of a miscarriage or fertility issues in general can be a lonely road. However, I realized that my partner is also the only person in the world who experienced the same loss as me. He may not have physically felt the loss, but the same dreams are shattered. The vision for the same future together is lost. But my partner and I were able to pull each other toward the light. In my darkest days, he pulled me forward. In his moments of doubt, I provided reassurance. Times of mourning and times of celebration are the things that make a life, and when I realized how much of life we've lived together, it was an amazing gift in itself.
- It's OK to press pause to enjoy the now.
As soon as we found out we were expecting, we quickly began planning our future. Solidifying last trips, planning a move, adjusting workloads, and the list goes on. We knew how fast these next few months would go, and there was no harm in getting our ducks in a row while I was still "mobile." After our loss, it felt like our world went back to status quo and there was no longer a deadline of when we had to get certain things done by. As much as I resented not having to make these plans, I also wanted to just be present. To not think about the future, because I no longer had to. To be in the moment, because this was the only thing that was certain, what was right in front of me. I didn't want to plan a future not as a family of four, and so I didn't. I pressed pause, and I embraced the now.
- People don't know what to say, and when they do, it's often the wrong thing.
If you're the one in four who has been unlucky enough to experience this kind of loss, this will be one of the first things you notice. Even your closest allies will have no idea what to say, and rather than ending an "I'm sorry" with a period, they tend to follow with a "but." "But at least it was early," "but at least you didn't tell many people," "but at least you have a healthy baby already," "but at least you're young and can try again in a few months." But I don't want to hear it. In the midst of grieving, I didn't want to think about "trying" again. I didn't want another baby; I wanted this baby. I had to put my self-defenses aside and realize most of these comments, while often ill-informed, were not intended to be hurtful. Most people are coming from a place of support, however, our culture has made miscarriage and fertility a topic we gently sweep under the rug, and because of this, many lack accurate information and proper etiquette when it comes to this conversation. I appreciate what they're trying to say, but I'm still working through my grief. And that's OK.