On September 17, 2015, at 10:40am, my world came crashing down with four simple words, “your baby is dead.”
It was a routine prenatal visit. I had already heard the heartbeat at 12 weeks. And yet, here I was, at 16 and a half weeks feeling numb and confused.
When you’re pregnant, you focus on two main goals: making it safely through your first trimester and making it safely through delivery. Everything in between is just details.
In the first trimester, we are repeatedly told what to look for and when to call your doctor. We’re monitored closely. We read articles online and know statics are high for early pregnancy loss. We know that 10-25 percent of pregnancies will end in a miscarriage. And if you’re between the ages of 35 and 45, that increases to 20-35 percent.
Once you’re into your second term, though, you don’t hear about miscarriages anymore. All we read about is how magical the second term is. This is when you get to start enjoying your baby bump. This is when your nausea is likely to disappear and replaced with energy. We’re even assured our unexpected sex drive is normal and to enjoy it.
In short, we are told we’re in the clear.
I thought I was too, but my story is different. I had a late miscarriage.
Late miscarriages happen between weeks 13-19. Only 2–3 percent of miscarriages happen in the second trimester. So it’s easy to understand why we don’t often hear about them.
After learning that our baby died, the next 20 hours were a blur. I called my husband to tell him the news over the phone. I sat in the patient room numb. I felt empty, sick.
Since I was 16 and a half weeks and possibly wanted to become pregnant again, I was told it would be better to deliver versus having a D&C. Delivery would take between 12 and 24 hours.
Leaving the building, I felt like a walking coffin. That night, I kept looking at my pregnant belly in our bedroom mirror. Crying so hard I was hyperventilating. Ashamed I never took more belly pictures before this moment and horrified that I somehow caused this. Did I push myself too hard? Was it the bouncy house at my son’s 4th birthday party that killed my baby? Did the sex we had earlier this week do it?
One thing I quickly learned about late miscarriage is that nobody has answers and even fewer know what to say. You hear stupid comments. From everyone. Everywhere. Even from professionals.
A second term loss that requires delivery happens on the Labor and Delivery floor. The same floor housing all the happy new parents, excited grandparents, and adorable, crying, alive babies. Life is vibrant there.
When I walked in, I felt like the angel of death.
NOT A “NORMAL” BIRTH
I was greeted with a cordial smile and condolences by a nurse. Immediately, I was assured, “Don’t worry, it’s not like a normal birth.” She was right. It was much worse.
With a late miscarriage delivery, being induced is not as simple as getting an IV of Pitocin because your body can’t register Pitocin that early in the pregnancy. So while yes, I was induced, the way it happened was excruciatingly different.
Every four hours, a pill was inserted into my cervix. If you’ve ever delivered before, think of the moment you finally start pushing. Now, imagine someone inserting their hand all the way up inside of you. That’s what it felt like every four hours.
I didn’t have any pain medication. I figured if I wasn’t going to have a “vaginal birth,” then I’d like to feel as much as possible. My first induction started that Friday at 8am. The 12–24 hour delivery time frame turned into three full days. My doctors had never experienced a situation like mine. They might deliver a late miscarriage once a year.
By Saturday night, I couldn’t take the pain anymore. I had already had 10 inductions and sometimes, if I was “lucky” the doctor would be extra “rough” with insertion to try and move delivery along. It got to the point where anytime the door would open I’d start crying in pain before anyone even touched me. Around midnight I finally got an epidural.
Being in delivery for three days gave us a lot of time in between to talk. Process. Fall apart. Be. How do you pass the time?
My husband and I first began talking about names. It was something happy to discuss that made us feel like regular parents. But that quickly spiraled into a dark hole of sadness. How do you name someone you only met after they died? How do you capture their true essence and spirit? What even was their essence and spirit? We never found out the sex ahead of time which only complicated things for us now. (Once we learned baby was a boy we named him Daley.)
So we moved onto the next subject: what should we do with our baby’s remains? We thought tackling this subject head on was smart parenting. If emotions get the best of you, it’s good to be logical. Right? I vividly remember rationalizing the idea of having our baby’s body added to the hospital’s mass grave with other babies because it was nice to think about the babies all being together, playing, giggling.
We ultimately decided to have his body cremated and bought a beautiful urn that’s in our home. (Funeral homes will do this service for free. What a blessing!)
After being in the hospital for three days—with no end in sight and the same nurses on call—we developed a routine. We became used to the schedule. Shift changes. Meeting the doctor of the day. We even started to love hearing the cries of newborn babies. It was as if we were there for the same happy reason.
I started to feel safe. Secure. Sheltered.
Exactly when those feelings sank into my core is when death knocked and was delivered: Monday, September 21, 2015, at 8:12am.
My doctor came to check on me and after her exam, she said: “it’s over.” She asked if I wanted to see the baby. I said no. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if I’d be able to handle what I’d see. Would the baby look like an alien? Would parts be missing? It terrified me.
So the nurse took our baby away. She took some pictures and came back to tell us baby really looked good but it would be better to see him sooner rather than later because his coloring would continue to change.
Meeting our baby was the best decision we ever made. Turns out our tiny little angel, while purple, was beautiful. I can still see his gaze as I looked at him. It was as if he looked straight into my soul to tell me he was OK. For a moment, to me, he was alive. And he gave me that adorable first look that all mothers know.
We were so immersed in the moment. Hanging onto the seconds as if they were years. Since I had the honor of holding our baby for 17 weeks, my husband held him the whole time while we were together. We said a prayer with him. We told him how loved he was. We told him about his big brother. We cried with him. We hugged him. And that was it.
Our nurse put together a lovely Memory Box and six hours later we were leaving the hospital. It felt surreal after living there for the better part of a week. I went there pregnant and I left empty. Our baby was being shipped to a funeral home to be cremated. In the meantime, we had tests run to see if we could determine what caused the miscarriage. We also wanted to confirm the sex.
BEGINNING TO HEAL
Healing through this experience has been a curvy road. I wish we could have just told our family, let others find out by word of mouth and move on. But that’s just not how grief or late miscarriages work.
Physically, I was healing from a delivery which meant I was wearing maxi pads. Changing the blood soaked pads every day was a constant reminder of losing our son. Plus, I had to wear tight sports bras for a month to stop my milk supply from coming in. To top it off, my stomach was becoming flatter instead of fatter. This messed with me so much that I remember eating constantly just to make myself fat so I could still look pregnant.
Food may have played a negative role as a coping strategy but it was also where I started to really heal. I didn’t have the strength to cook, and yet, we had a healthy 4-year-old to feed. Thankfully, a friend set up a meal train. For weeks, we were brought meals by some women I didn’t even know. And it was in their meals, their cards, their miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death stories that I started to feel loved enough to heal. Maybe I would eventually be OK.
WISE WOMEN AND A NEW TRIBE
This was never a community of women I thought I’d be a part of after my first magical pregnancy. But it’s one of the most beautiful tribes I’ve ever known.
Emotionally, I had no idea how I was going to grieve. I withdrew. I avoided certain gatherings (especially baby showers) and we even told people not to send us cards. I didn’t want constant reminders popping up in the mail.
But there’s always a rebel amongst us, a wise female soul who knows what is needed. One day, a little blue box showed up in the mail with a beautiful angel necklace. It was this necklace that got me through the entire first year. When I wore it, it felt like Daley was physically still with me. I needed it more than I knew.
There are other things I experienced on my healing journey that got me to where I am today. But it’s the women in my life that were strong enough to simply be present with me and share their stories that brought me back to life.