This past weekend, I had my sixth miscarriage. Six miscarriages is kind of a mind boggling thing to wrap your head around. Six of our babies that we did not get to meet (actually, it is more like seven babies we did not get to meet since we believe that our son Edison actually started out as a twin. Thankfully there was no miscarriage involved with that one though). I started thinking about how difficult the first few miscarriages were for me emotionally and physically. They have all been difficult, but it was harder to know what to do with the first few. For some reason, miscarriage seems to still be a slightly taboo topic in our culture. When a woman has a miscarriage, it is generally something she keeps quite quiet, and doesn’t often share with those around her. From my experience, that is the worst way to handle a miscarriage. It is time that people start having an open dialogue about what a woman goes through when she loses a pregnancy.
Let me start from the beginning, with a brief summary of each loss that I have had to endure.
If you have read any of my older posts about my battle with infertility, you know that it has not been an easy road for us to become parents. I have multiple issues that have caused me to be officially diagnosed as “infertile”. The first issue being a hormonal imbalance. My body simply is not capable of producing the same levels of hormones that most women need to ovulate and sustain a pregnancy. From the time I was 12 years old, I was told after numerous studies that I would get periods but I never ovulated. My body was not producing enough of the hormone needed to properly expel an egg from the ovary. As a result, I have battled with problems with my ovaries most of my life. I have had many pre-cancerous tumors growing on my ovaries. I also was born with a deformed, t-shaped uterus, which makes implantation of a fertilized egg difficult, and carrying a pregnancy to term even more difficult. The t-shaped uterus is extremely tiny and made from an unusual type of tissue that is classified as “non-elastic”. No one knows why I have all of these issues with my reproductive system. They are not the result of exposure to any drug or medicine, and they are not genetically inherited. They are just the cross that I have to bear and I have come to accept that.
The first time I got pregnant, I did not realize I was pregnant. Pregnancy hormones are what normally create pregnancy symptoms for most women. Those stories of “I didn’t know I was pregnant” that you see on tv are totally understandable if those women have a hormonal imbalance. The first time, I did not realize I was pregnant until the miscarriage. At first, I thought it was just the world’s worst period. I have had some pretty horrendous periods through the years, so it seemed just a little worse than normal. I did not think anything was wrong until I saw a teeny tiny hand floating in the toilet. I cried for days.
The second time I got pregnant, I started having morning sickness symptoms. My coworkers at the time actually realized I was pregnant before I realized. At the time, I did not know anything was wrong with my uterus. I suspected something may have been wrong (other than my hormone issues) because of the first miscarriage, but my doctor had never mentioned anything specific. My husband and I were still newleyweds at this point, and my job had been extraordinarily stressful, and only getting worse. We knew that I had been advised by numerous doctors to cut back my stress levels. We made the decision that I would quit my full time job and start the photography business that we had been talking about. When my boss asked if I could stay on longer than the standard two week notice, I proudly declined because of my new pregnancy. I worked my butt off during those two weeks, trying to wrap up years worth of work into a tidy little system so the transition would be as seamless as possible once I left. I really regret working so hard during those last two weeks since I am pretty sure it was not appreciated anyway. A few days after I finished working there, I had another miscarriage.
That second loss was devastating. We had gotten so excited. We had names picked out, and we were planning how we were going to rearrange our tiny little cottage that we were renting. That loss was toward the end of the first trimester. We felt so attached to that baby, and it was really difficult to get over for both of us. I was so embarrassed. I did not want to tell anyone that I had lost the pregnancy since it felt like I had failed. I had already told so many people that I was pregnant, and I was just relieved that I did not have to see most of them on a daily basis anymore. I felt like maybe if I just had relaxed while I finished out those last two weeks, maybe I would have been able to keep the baby. I was wracked with guilt for months.
The third and fourth miscarriages are a bit of an emotional blur. I did not tell my husband about pregnancy number three or the miscarriage at first. I felt like I had become a disappointment of a wife. I knew that he was well aware of my fertility problems before we got married. We had discussed it together and with our priest at length during our pre-wedding planning. I knew that he was not counting on us having children. However, when I would see him interact with the children that I had over for photoshoots, I knew that he was meant to be a father. He was so happy around children and so effortless with them. I knew that even though he was not counting on us becoming parents, that it was really hard on him knowing that we kept getting close but it just was not working out.
I eventually told him about the third miscarriage and he was hurt that I had kept such a secret from him in an effort to protect him. The fourth miscarriage felt sadly routine. The pregnancy came and went without much event, just like the third. After four miscarriages, I went to my ob-gyn and basically asked him “what the heck is wrong with me?!” That is when I found out about my deformed uterus. It had been noted in my chart for years but he had never told me. I promptly started trying to find a new ob-gyn.
The fifth miscarriage was when I started to slip into a deep depression. My husband was out of state for a prolonged period of time when it happened, working on getting his rental house in Texas ready for sale. We had just moved into our house here, and I had been working hard on the garden. Trash day came around, and I had a very heavy green bin full of grass that I had removed from the backyard. I could barely move the trash can but rolled it out anyway. The huge strain on my body seemed to trigger the miscarriage. Apparenly, you aren’t supposed to fill up the green bin with sod, so they would not take the darn thing anyway. It was so frustrating…I felt like I had wasted all of that effort and lost my baby as a result. I felt so alone and depressed since my husband was not around to comfort me. I tried to think about military wives and how they must go through things like this all of the time. I assumed that they must get through it by confiding in each other. I tried confiding in a friend, and I got a “what’s the big deal, it’s just a miscarriage right? Just get over it!” kind of response. I realized then that most people simply do not understand what a woman goes through when dealing with a miscarriage.
I told my new doctor what had happened, and she started doing a bunch of blood tests to figure out what was going on with my hormone levels that was preventing me from keeping a pregnancy. She discovered that my body was not producing enough progesterone to sustain a pregnancy. When I went back in for a follow up appointment, we discovered that I was pregnant with Edison. I was immediately given an prescription for progesterone supplements. I am convinced that without those (and some other interventions along the way during his pregnancy), he would not be here today.
As Edison started approaching his first birthday, my husband and I started talking about when we would like to try to have another baby. I had not started getting periods yet, but I think I have only had one or two actual periods in the years we have been married. Strangely, I seemed to be ovulating, getting pregnant, miscarrying, and then starting the cycle over again without ever having an actual period. One day in particular, at the end of March, I had a positive home test for ovulation. Afterwards, I started feeling morning sickness within just a few days. I was convinced I was pregnant. I felt it to the core of my soul. At this point, I felt like somewhat of an expert in the early stages of pregnancy and could spot a pregnancy a mile away. I took a few home pregnancy tests and they were all negative. Still not convinced, I went to the doctor and had a urine test which came back negative. I insisted to my doctor that I was pregnant, so they ran a blood test which also came back negative. They assured me that meant I was definitely not pregnant.
I was crushed. I doubted myself and felt a bit silly. I felt almost as if I had lost a baby since I had been so convinced I was pregnant. Then over the next three months, I started to seriously question my own sanity. The morning sickness went away, but the strong sensitivity to smells did not go away. My husband was getting frustrated with me every time I complained that I couldn’t help clean up after the pets or change a poopy diaper. I kept telling him that the smells were making me feel sick. Occasionally, I felt a twitch or movement in my abdomen. I started to worry that I must have a really big cyst growing again on one of my ovaries. I started gaining weight around my midsection only. I figured that was a result of reincorporating dairy and wheat into our diets (and I went a bit crazy for cheese, making up for lost time). I had been unusually tired over the past few months, but I figured that lined up with the fact that Edison had started walking and keeping up with him all day was an exhausting chore.
Then on the 4th of July, I got what we thought was my first postpartum period. I have heard that the first period after you have a baby can be a doozy. My normal periods are pretty bad, so you would expect that the first period in years would be pretty horrendous. The pain was excruciating, not like any period I have ever had. I kept thinking that it felt more like a miscarriage than a period, but that seemed ridiculous since the tests over the past few months had told me over and over that I was not pregnant. I tried to pull myself together for a bit so we could go to a local event to celebrate the 4th (we missed meeting up with our friends because of my pain but I still wanted Edison to see the petting zoo). When we got home, the pain was way worse. It got so bad that after dinner, I was actually trembling and throwing up from the pain and the massive blood loss.
I tried to take it easy for the rest of the weekend. On Sunday, I was standing in the bathroom and all of a sudden a huge bunch of stuff fell out of me, fluid and tissue. I was totally freaked out. I was convinced that I may have finally gotten a massive tumor that took out the rest of one of my ovaries (my right ovary has gone through so much trauma that only half of it remains). There was a lot of clear fluid, blood, and a solid mass of tissue. I picked up the mass to examine it, and see if it looked like a cyst or tumor (or God forbid, an ovary). As I turned it around in my hand, I saw the last possible thing I ever would have expected to see: a teeny tiny face.
I stared in disbelief. I looked closer and noticed that the mass of tissue was actually in the shape of a tiny little fetus, a large head, tiny thin little neck, and a petite little body with what appeared to be two arms, two legs, and an umbilical cord leading to a tiny little lump of placenta. I had already screamed for my husband to come in when I thought I had just lost an ovary on the floor, and suddenly we are both trying to deal with the fact that I am holding a baby in my hand that we did not know existed, and keep our wild little man from running through all of the blood that was everywhere.
We were devastated. Despite all of the miscarriages I have gone through, I have never actually seen any parts of the babies except for that first time. To see the baby in her entirety was more than I would have ever expected to deal with. We buried her in the backyard, under the hibiscus tree. My husband dug a tiny hole and we said some prayers. Edison obviously did not understand what was going on, but seemed to sense our sadness. He cried the whole time we were out there. It was a very sad evening.
On Monday, I scheduled an appointment with my ob-gyn. He assured me that it was probably just a really bad first period, and that large blood clots are common for a first period. I tried to tell him that I saw a face, but he convinced me that the tissue was capable of morphing into all sorts of strange looking things. I started to doubt myself and think that maybe I had imagined the whole thing. I started to think that maybe I was slowly losing my sanity from lack of sleep. He ordered some blood tests and told me they would call me the following day with the results.
For most of Tuesday, I tried to put the whole issue out of my mind. It was not difficult to ignore thinking about the issue since we had a really scary incident come up regarding our extra lot on the side of our property (I will have to blog about that story later). As it got toward the evening, one of my good friends asked me what my test results had been from the doctor. I realized it was almost the end of the business hours and I had not heard anything yet. I called the doctor’s office, and no one wanted to give me the news. Apparently I had miscarried, and my hormone levels had been incredibly low (presumably lower than in previous pregnancies for some reason). My body had not been able to sustain the pregnancy due to the low hormone levels. The assumption was that the baby may have died some time ago, and was just now coming out. I was stunned, depressed, felt guilty and relieved all at the same time. Relieved since at least that meant that I was not losing my mind and my instincts were right all along. I felt guilty because I felt I should have trusted my instincts when I felt I was pregnant, and somehow started getting some hormone supplementation, despite the negative pregnancy test results.
I am trying to find comfort in knowing that God has a plan for our family, and perhaps the timing was just not right at this moment for me to be pregnant again. Perhaps my body needs more time to heal. When we were trying to buy a house, we kept running into a wall with the first couple of houses we put offers on, and then even though we felt like we were “settling” for this house, we saw later that God had to have had His hand on the situation, leading us to the house that would be perfect for us. Who would have ever expected that I would end up needing a 100% handicapped accessible house after I had a baby, especially when we thought I would never have a baby?
If you have gone through a miscarriage, or know someone who has, I would like to share some words of wisdom that hopefully may help deal with the difficult situation. I feel like part of the reason that most women do not tell people when they have had a miscarriage is because of the idea that a miscarriage was caused by something the mother did “wrong” or because the baby was a “reject”. I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that the little body that I held in my hand was 100% perfect. I know in my heart there was nothing wrong with her. I also know that there was nothing I did that could have caused the miscarriage. Sometimes these things just happen and we do not really know why. I hope that sharing my experiences will help get rid of some of those preconceived ideas that people have about miscarriages.
If you know someone who has a miscarriage, here is my list of the worst things you can say in response to hearing the news:
1. It’s probably for the best; there must have been something wrong with it.
2. What did you do wrong/what did you do that caused it?
3. It’s no big deal; it’s just a miscarriage. It’s not like it’s a real baby.
4. It’s just like a big period, right?
5. Just get over it.
Here are some helpful things that you could say instead:
1. I am so sorry for your loss.
2. How are you feeling?
3. Would you like to talk about it?
4. Do you need anything?
5. Do you need help with anything? (Things like laundry and general housework are especially difficult to keep up with after a miscarriage since the physical pain lingers for a while.)
6. Would you like some company?
7. Do you need a hug/shoulder to cry on?
I am incredibly grateful that I have friends now who have said things on the second list. I no longer speak to the friend who said the things on the first list.
If you have recently gone through a miscarriage, here is my list of advice for you:
1. Acknowledge that your body and spirit have just gone through a major battle. Take time to rest and heal both physically and emotionally.
2. Be sure to take in lots of fluids and rehydrate yourself. Drink some electrolyte enhanced water. In addition to all of the fluid loss from the miscarriage, I often have had hormonal extremes of hot and cold flashes, bringing on hot and cold sweats. All of that sweating leads to additional fluid loss and potential dehydration.
3. Listen to your body and what it is craving. You will need to replenish your iron, so be sure to eat lots of leafy greens and/or lean red meat.
4. Take time to journal your feelings, talk to your spouse, and talk to others in your support network of family and friends. I have found that the more I kept a miscarriage a secret from those around me, the longer it took for me to grieve and heal emotionally from the loss.
5. Accept the idea that you suffered a loss. Have a small memorial service, prayer service, candlelight vigil, or other symbolic act to acknowledge the life that you lost. Sometimes it is even more difficult than dealing with a death of an adult since it feels unfair…like the poor baby never even got a chance to really live life.
6. Spend time resting and do what makes you happy. Watch your favorite movies, catch up on some craft time, etc. Just be sure to let your body rest and heal.
7. Spend time in prayer. Reflect and ask God all the questions you have. You may not find the answers to all of your questions, but it may help you find peace with the situation.
8. Don’t discount or feel ashamed of your feelings of sadness and loss. It is perfectly normal. You lost a child, no matter how short of a time you were carrying that baby. That is something that is difficult for anyone to handle. Give yourself time to grieve.
9. If you have no children yet and have a miscarriage, it can be incredibly discouraging. It may feel like it will be impossible for you to ever become a mother. Do not get discouraged…I still had our son after having had 5 miscarriages.
10. If you already have a child or children, dealing with a miscarriage has a new set of challenges. How do you explain the loss to the child? Will they understand? How do you try to stay happy and positive for the little ones who are too young to understand? How do you keep up with little ones on the move when your body needs time to heal? I wish I had the answers to all of those questions, but in reality the answers to those will vary for each family.
I sincerely hope that our society starts to change the way we handle miscarriages, and start treating them with the care and respect that the mothers going through them need. I am hoping that this is the last miscarriage I will ever have. I do not know how many more I can mentally and physically handle. I pray that we will be able to have another child at some point without having to go through more miscarriages in the meantime.