Sometimes the toughest times in life can be our greatest teachers.
It has been a little over 3 months now since my miscarriage and the thought of it still causes a lump in my throat. To be completely honest, I never understood the pain and sadness that came along with a miscarriage until I experienced it firsthand myself. I truly (and maybe foolishly) never even considered that it was something that could happen to me. I am healthy, I had a healthy first pregnancy, I have no prior health history that would cause me to have one, I am not considered "high risk", so of course I couldn't fathom such a thing. We found out that I was pregnant very early on, so waiting for the exciting initial ultrasound for over two months felt agonizing. When we finally went in for my first appointment at 11 weeks, we were so excited that we didn't even find it strange that the ultrasound tech didn't have the screen on above the bed. I did ask for her to turn it on at one point, but she said because she was training a student who was with her they were not able to discuss the ultrasound or turn the screen on for us to see. I was a little disappointed but didn't question it further. When we were done she told me that the radiologist sent the images to my mid-wife and that she would go over them with us as my office appointment was scheduled for right after. I left the ultrasound room feeling giddy and excited and not one bit concerned.
When I walked into the exam room for my appointment with my mid-wife after the ultrasound I remember chattering away telling her about how Austin started doing this thing before I even knew I was pregnant when he would insist on lifting my shirt so that he could put his head against my belly. “It was like he knew there was a baby in there before I even did!” I laughed. The mid-wife was oddly quiet the whole time I was talking, but again, I didn’t even notice. I was too excited to hear about how the baby looked and find out when we could learn the sex. I proceeded to tell her how I had been feeling and how “maybe I am too busy with a toddler to notice any morning sickness because I haven’t had any!” when she softly interrupted me. After barely having a chance to say a word since I entered the room, she finally said “Heidi, the pregnancy is not viable. I am so sorry. You haven’t had any pregnancy symptoms because the baby stopped growing at 8 weeks.” I can still remember the feeling of my mouth dropping open, the blood leaving my face and the feeling as if I had gotten punched in the gut. Inside I was waiting for her to say she was joking. Though a sick joke, I still would have taken it.
I would like to say that the worst part about the miscarriage was finding out the baby didn’t have a heartbeat, but the second blow came immediately after when she told me I had to plan how I would like to get the baby out. I had three options- to let nature take its course, to take the Misoprostol pills, or to have the D+C surgery. Obviously surgery didn’t sound like a great idea at the time, nor did the unknown of aborting naturally and the risks that could come with it at that point in my pregnancy, so after some discussion with her I ultimately decided that the pills were the best bet.
My appointment was on a Friday and I was instructed to take the pills the next day but I decided to hold off and get a second opinion at another hospital that following Monday. I knew in my heart that the baby wasn't alive, but deep down inside a part of me was still holding onto the fact that maybe this was all a mistake. The tech at my second ultrasound was so caring and talked me through everything the whole appointment. She confirmed that there was no heartbeat and gave me a big hug after and told me that sadly she sees this all the time, and that even though it feels so lonely, 20% of pregnancies result in miscarriage and the majority of women go on to have healthy pregnancies in their future. I left feeling sad, but a part of me was a little relieved to know that I had gotten a second opinion just incase and also that I was not alone- even though I felt the loneliest I had ever felt.
A few hours later after my second ultrasound when I finally decided that it was time to take the first of the two Misoprostol pills, my amazing friend Dr. V, who had delivered Austin, called me. She was on her way to teach a yoga class (yes she is super woman!) and had heard about my miscarriage from the mid-wife and how I had opted to take the pills (they work together at the facility I was being seen at in Cambridge and I had worked very closely with them both during my first pregnancy). She wanted to call me to express her sympathy and to also see if I wanted to discuss the possibility of the D+C surgery a bit because she assumed that since I had been at the birthing center they may not have discussed that option as in depth (they hadn’t, but I also hadn’t asked questions about it). Dr. V explained that taking the pills could result in a lot of bleeding that could last for several days and that it has better results very early on in pregnancies. The surgery, of course coming with its own set of risks considering I would have to be under anesthesia, would only take an hour and would have minimal bleeding and I could resume my normal activities in a day or two. Knowing what an active person I am and having a toddler to chase after, she figured I may want to know more about the recovery times of both options so that I could choose one that I was the most comfortable with and that fit my lifestyle.
I ended up choosing to go forth with the D+C surgery instead of the pills after talking to Dr. V and I am so glad that I did. From the beginning I had an internal fear of taking the pills and then having to get the D+C done too if there was any remaining tissue, so in my gut I knew the surgery was the way to go this far into the pregnancy. I won’t go in depth about the actual procedure right now, but it took less than an hour and I was under anesthesia so I don’t remember a thing. I recovered very quickly and had zero complications or side affects after. I was able to exercise and teach within a couple days and when I went in for my two week follow-up everything was back to normal and my cycle was back on track right after. Physically I was back to “normal.”
Emotionally, though, I am changed forever. It’s only been a few months, but I still think about it every single day. Every week I find myself thinking “this week I would have been this many weeks pregnant” and then feeling a stab of sadness that I am in fact not pregnant. After the surgery I felt like I needed to “get over it”, but the physical loss of having the baby surgically removed made things worse rather than better for me emotionally for quite some time. I literally felt empty inside and it wasn’t something I could get over easily even though I felt like I should. As my mom said, “The sadness never goes away. You just learn to live with it.” Two things that I found to be very helpful in the delicate weeks after surgery were taking an extra week off from work and going to acupuncture. Three days after my D+C I saw Stephanie, who specializes in women's health at Chi Harmony in Boston, for an acupuncture appointment and it really helped with my anxiety. I knew that between the sadness and grief plus the surge of post-partum hormones in my body after the surgery I needed to help bring my body back into balance as much as I could. I also drank Red Raspberry Leaf Tea almost everyday for a month afterwards which also helps to balance female hormones as well as strengthen the uterus (which was important after undergoing the trauma from the D+C).
Though there was a lot of grief that came with my miscarriage, I must say there was a lot of lessons that came with it too. For that reason, I bought myself a necklace with tiny angel wings that I wear everyday to remind me of my little angel baby and the gifts that he or she blessed me with, like the fact that I am more grateful than ever for my son, Austin, than ever before. Even on days when I am tired and frustrated, I have more patience with him than I did before because I truly understand what a gift he is. This experience also impacted my marriage in a big way. Chris and I’s marriage has always been good, but going through something so sad that only him and I could understand made us even closer and made us appreciate each other and our family even more.
Lastly, my little angel baby taught me to have so so much compassion for the women and men out there who struggle to get pregnant and don’t yet have a child of their own. After my initial appointment when I found out the pregnancy wasn’t viable, all I wanted to do was go home and hug Austin. It was him who helped me out during those difficult times just by being him, and without Austin I can’t imagine how much more I would have felt that loss. My heart really goes out to anyone who is trying to conceive and is having difficulties. All I can say is that I see you, you are not alone. I know the feeling of going on social media after a miscarriage and being bombarded with pregnancy announcements. I know the feeling of seeing pregnant women when your heart is aching and wishing you were too. I know the feeling of being mad at your body for “failing” and wondering what I could have done differently. However, I also know that the world keeps moving and doesn't stop for our grief, and though it might feel impossible to be strong, you already are more than you know. Most importantly, I now know that there wasn’t anything that I did wrong or could have done differently, and the same goes for you. Sometimes the toughest times are our greatest teacher. Experiencing a miscarriage has given me more compassion for others who have gone through it too and it has given me a voice to talk about a subject that is sadly extremely taboo. I couldn’t believe how many women I knew had experienced a miscarriage before until I had one myself. You are not alone, we are not alone. Let's not be afraid to talk about it anymore. XO