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October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. Many of us have been through this but do not talk about it. There is a deep and quiet shame that often settles over a woman when she loses a pregnancy. I’d like to share my own story to shine a light on this all too common occurrence and to let others out there know that they are not alone. The truth, while painful, heals us.
I'm sitting in the exam room with a copy of an old magazine in my hands. I'm nervous. Cold. Why is it always so cold in these rooms?
I hate doctors. I hate tests. I should be excited about today. If only there were no tests.
A smiling nurse enters the room and asks me some questions after the awkward weather chitchat you do with someone who is about to see your most private anatomy. I tell her I've never had an exam like this before. She smiles as if to say she understands, she has seen this before. She excuses herself from the room, and I go back to not reading my magazine.
A few minutes later, there is a knock on the door. A tall, thin woman in a white jacket. My doctor. She introduces herself and tells me the nurse told her I was nervous and new to this so she thought she'd say "hi" before we started. She pulls the circular guide out of her pocket and asks me the date of my last cycle. I tell her and she spins the guide matching up numbers. "You're due May 20," she says with a kind smile.
May 20. Two days before my own birthday. I now know, with every fiber of my being, that it is a girl. I always dreamed of having a daughter whose birthday was close to mine. Images of white blonde hair, dark brown eyes, pigtails and a floor littered with Barbie dolls flash across my mind. A girl. Ballet classes, prom dresses, wedding gown shopping: I'm going to get my dream. I can't wait to tell my husband who is outside in the waiting room.
I'm feeling more relaxed now. It's time to let the doctor do her thing.
She steps out, and I undress and get up on the table. She returns and talks me through the test. It's an internal ultrasound to check and make sure everything is proceeding safely.
The nurse dims the lights as the test begins. It's uncomfortable, but I'm trying not to notice, thinking about those pigtails instead. She continues to scan and look at the screen. She isn't saying anything, but I've not done this before. I'm not sure how it is supposed to go. She clicks buttons on the monitors. Pictures spit out. Still silence in the room. Then she looks at me and says "I'm sorry, I don't see a baby."
Confusion. How can there not be a baby? The pregnancy test was positive. I feel sick. As I'm thinking these things she continues. "There is still a sac. You were pregnant, but there is no baby there now."
More confusion. Does this happen?
I ask them to get my husband. I need him here with me now. They exchange a look. She says she is sorry, she didn't know he was here. The nurse exits to get him. She tells me to get dressed, and we'll talk in her office.
I need to get out of that room. Now. On the verge of tears, I clean myself and get dressed. I open the door and all the heads in that inner office turn to me. Sad looks from the three nurses at the nurse’s station. Bad news travels fast. Confusion and fear in the eyes of my husband as he sees me emerge with puffy eyes.
"What's wrong?" He pleads, instantly at my side. I say, " Come with me." I'm not playing this out in front of the nurses.
We enter the doctor’s empty office, and I tell him there is no baby. He is confused, just like I am. He has questions. Questions I can't answer. I can barely breathe.
Moments later, the doctor comes in with my chart and some ultrasound images. She begins to explain that I've had what they call a missed miscarriage. Sometimes, for reasons they don't understand, the body will reabsorb the baby before it is able to grow. They think the body can tell if the embryo doesn't divide properly or if there are massive genetic issues present. The body terminates the baby very early on.
But my body still thinks I'm pregnant and it is behaving as if I am. That's why I feel off.
I am no longer present. I'm lost in a sea of pain and sadness and loss. This day was supposed to be so happy. My mom is flying in tomorrow. I was going to show her ultrasound images of her first grandchild. We were going to shop for tiny baby clothes. I hear them talking in the background of my grief. I hear the term "blighted ovum." I hear her answer my husband’s question, "Is my wife going to be OK?" I hear her say we can schedule a procedure. I hear her say D&C. That one snaps me back for a minute. D&C is doctor speak for abortion. She's saying I can have one tomorrow.
I'm not doing that. What will happen if we don't do that?
She explains that around week 12, I will begin to miscarry. The body will most likely expel everything naturally, but it will be painful, and I won't know when it might happen.
That's what we are doing. I'm going to let my body take care of this. No procedure. No hospital. Discussion over.
I drift back into my pain.
I remember her giving my husband a bunch of paperwork. I remember sitting in the waiting room while he stood at the window making me a follow-up appointment. I remember him walking me to the car. I remember thinking I can't fall apart until I get home. I remember crying harder than I ever had before sitting on the edge of our bed. I remember him holding me. I remember him lovingly telling me I had to breathe, to calm down. I was scaring him. I was going to hyperventilate.
I failed. I caused this to happen. My body is broken. I can't maintain a pregnancy. I'll never have children. I've disappointed my husband. My mind swirls with negative and damaging thoughts. I'll never be a mom.
I don't remember anything else.
We told no one aside from our parents. I couldn't handle the sad looks. I've seen them before. They only make things worse. I made it through those few weeks carrying a secret and knowing the end could come at any time.
My pregnancy ends on a Friday afternoon. I was home alone. My husband was stuck at work. The pain of it was horrible, but my body did as it should and released everything it needed to. My check-up afterwards was good. We could try again.
Could I try again?
Six months later I entered that same room. The same nurse dimmed the lights. The same doctor began her scans. I closed my eyes knowing this could end badly. It's ended badly before. It's quiet. Is it too quiet? I don't know how it is supposed to go. Finally she speaks. "Open your eyes. Look at your baby."
I cry again, this time for very different reasons.
As it turns out, the little boy I was carrying was absolutely everything I never knew I had always wanted. I was born to be his "Mom." He has filled our lives with immeasurable joy. Our rainbow baby, the beautiful gift that arrived after the storm.