I've been putting off writing this post for a few days now. Part of me feels like I haven't quite yet found the right words. I'm still recovering both emotionally and physically. I'm still trying to process the events of the last few days. I'm still grieving the loss of my baby. I spent the morning telling myself that in order to have closure, I need to share my experience. As hard as it is to retrace the moments of the last few days, I'm putting my brave face on and doing just that. The day I was told my baby no longer had a heartbeat, I didn't want to talk about it to anyone. I wasn't ready. That night my friend Rachael sent me many words of support. Having struggled with infertility and her own loses, she was well-versed on what to say and what not to say (read more about Rachael's victory over infertility at her blog Unnaturally Knocked Up). Among her words, a few of them in particular stood out to me. She said,
"You will get through it. Write all your feelings out. It will help."
Oh Rachael, you were so right. Writing comes easily for me. In fact, I'd much rather write my feelings down than speak them (something I'm working on). My story is my own. It's different than anyone else's. It's heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time. My hope is that by sharing my experience, it will help me with my healing process and bring comfort to someone else who may be going through the loss of a child or has grieved the loss of a child. No matter how early on, no matter how many children you may already have, a loss is a loss. It's real, it's raw and it's emotional. The loss of a child is a devastating blow for the entire family, but for the mother it can feel so isolating. I'm well aware that everyone deals with loss differently, but it is my belief that no one should have to suffer silently. This is me choosing not to suffer in silence. If this post resonates with at least one person, then opening myself up and being vulnerable was worth it.
At the end of September, Sean and I learned we were expecting. We were equally excited as we were scared. We've gotten used to dividing and conquering our time between two children. Adding another child into the equation changes everything. However, it is what we want. The idea of having another child started about two years ago for me. A year ago it became reality for the first time. In December 2015, we learned we were expecting a baby. Around the time I was six weeks pregnant, I miscarried (you can read more about that loss here Our Hypothetical Third). That season of my life was messy. I struggled emotionally but ultimately I pulled strength from my struggles. Although I was only pregnant for a short period of time, I did not want to simply forget about this baby so I asked myself over and over again, "What can I learn from this baby?" This baby taught me that I cannot control every aspect of my life. Any other control freaks out there? I will also be forever thankful for this baby because it helped me rediscover my faith and deepen my relationship with God. As hard as the experience had been, Sean and I decided we were going to try again. Little did we know God had other plans in store for us.
In December 2015, I shared this image on Pinterest along with a blog post written around the time of my first miscarriage. This quote has been pinned over 2.4k times. Not a day goes by where I don't receive a notification on my phone from someone liking or saving this pin.
In January, we booked a vacation to St. Maarten for that upcoming July. We were going with close friends and leaving the kiddos behind. This trip could not have come at a better time. Finally, something to look forward to and hopefully for me, a Babymoon! Literally one week later, the media broke the news about the Zika Virus and it was everywhere. I could not turn on the news or log onto the internet without seeing something Zika related. St. Marteen was flagged as a travel destination that should be avoided by pregnant couples or couples trying to conceive. Cue the anxiety. As if it wasn't enough that I already wasn't in control of what had just occurred, we had now booked a much needed vacation and unless I was willing to compromise money and travel plans, I needed to wait once again. I decided that this was happening to me for a reason and I needed to wait. The time passed and six months later we enjoyed a wonderful, much needed vacation. Two weeks after returning from our trip I decided to get tested for Zika. I was experiencing mild body aches which were one of the symptoms of Zika and it was enough for insurance to cover the blood test. The results came back negative which was a huge relief. We opted not to fight for Sean to get tested as he was not experiencing any symptoms and we chose to put the entire Zika scare behind us.
Fast forward to the end of September when I tested positive. I had been using ovulation strips to track my ovulation and they worked like a charm. The dreaded two week wait ensued and of course I started taking pregnancy tests before the end of the second week. They were all negative. But before I even received a positive test, I knew I was pregnant. I was super emotional, exhausted, bloated, my breasts were sore and my sense of smell had become crazy elevated. I was immediately bothered by anyone who crossed my path wearing a strong perfume or cologne. Two days before my missed period, I decided to test again and received the confirmation that I already knew to be true, I was pregnant. A few days later I experienced implantation cramping and spotting. I was super in tune with my body and everything was like clockwork. Finally, after waiting almost another year, we were going to have this baby.
By week 7 the typical undesirable first trimester symptoms began. I was nauseous for most of the day and food was not my friend. If it wasn't a carb, I wasn't eating it. I had my intake visit with my OBGYN around week 5. The nurse went through all the typical questions with me, but there were more than usual because I was newer to this practice. One of the questions she asked me was about my previous pregnancies. We went over Mason, Emory and then I mentioned last year's miscarriage. To my surprise she counted that as a pregnancy. I'm not sure why I was caught of guard by this and I immediately felt sad. Did I discount the pregnancy because the loss was so early on and I hadn't had time to bond with the baby? Did time get the best of me? She wrote down in my file that I was on my fourth pregnancy. I completed my first trimester blood panel and booked our first ultrasound for November 1, which would put me at 9 weeks. Since we moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania I needed to join a new practice and was given a routine much different than my last two pregnancies. I had always received my first ultrasound around 12 weeks. I was excited that I'd get a glimpse of the baby a little bit earlier this time around because let's be honest, patience is not my forte.
Week 9 rolled around quickly and it was time to finally meet our baby. Mason was in school and Emory was home with us so we brought her to the appointment. There was a small part of me that was nervous for her being there because I knew there was a chance this could go differently than planned. I tried to put that thought out of my mind and knew we would make the best of it no matter what happened. When we arrived for the appointment, the tech took us back to the ultrasound room and instructed me to use the bathroom in the room to get ready and return to the table. Something about the way she greeted me and delivered those instructions just didn't jive well with me. First impressions speak volumes and hers wasn't exactly speaking my language. I did as I was told and made my way to the table. I was on the table for what felt like an eternity before she uttered another word and they weren't exactly the words I expected to hear. First she asked if I had normal cycles. I immediately became flusted and couldn't think straight. "I think so, yes. Your typical 28-30 day cycle." Then without a hint of empathy in her voice she told me in the most nonchalant tone ever, like we were discussing the weather, that the baby was measuring small, 5 weeks 3 days to be exact. The only glimmer of hope she gave me was the fact that she could see a heartbeat. The next thing I knew, she was done and told me I could get dressed. She proceeded to walk out the door and once again I followed her instructions. When I came out of the bathroom, I stood next to the table. I couldn't bring myself to sit down. I was extremely flustered with what I had just experienced. This ultrasound was supposed to be reassuring and it was anything but. I have two children and lots of ultrasounds under my belt and can say with conviction that I have never had an experience quite like this. I turned to Sean and said, "Never again. I refuse to ever have her do another scan for me." A few minutes passed and she opened the door and said, "The doctor will see you now. He'll explain everything." Okay great, I thought to myself, because you did nothing of the kind. Looking back, I know that it's not the tech's job to deliver medical news to the patient but the issue wasn't with the news she was delivering to me, it was how she delivered it. A little empathy goes a long way, especially with a hormonal mother-to-be.
We walked into the office to meet with the doctor and as soon as he walked in, I immediately burst into tears. I explained what I had just experienced and he immediately voiced his concerns. He attempted to rectify the situation by telling me that their patient experience starts from the moment the patient walks through the door and I shouldn't have been treated like I was just a number. He apologized and said he would ensure that a conversation was had with the tech. From here, he explained that my little person looked normal for a typical 5 week 3 day embryo. The fact that there was cardiac activity was reassuring. He went on to explain that sometimes when a woman's cycle is irregular, the exact moment of when ovulation and/or fertilization takes place is off which can sometimes lead to dating discrepencey in a pregnancy. I wanted to believe him, I truly did, but as I mentioned earlier, I was in tune with my body this cycle. I knew exactly when every milestone took place. Although my brain told me to listen to his medical expertise, my mommy gut told me something was wrong. He told me we would follow up with another scan in 2 weeks to check the growth progress of the baby and have a better understanding of the due date. He gave me hope and I held onto it with everything I had.
After a few days passed by and I had more time to process things, I decided to call my OBGYN to see if it was possible to get in a week earlier for some reassurance. I didn't think I would be able to wait a full two weeks before getting more answers. I was scheduled to been seen exactly one week to the day after my 9 week scan. The 2 week scan that I originally scheduled was also kept in place in order to better determine a due date based on the size of the baby at that point in time. If you're wondering if I scheduled with a different technician, yes I did. A few days passed by and it was time to go in for my reassurance scan. As it was Election Day, I knew that both kids would be home that day. It was a Tuesday and Sean typically works from home, but on that particular day he had to be in the office for a 5-hour meeting. Thankfully my Aunt, or as my children call her, Mema, came Monday night to stay with the kids on Tuesday. I was nervous about what the ultrasound would show, but still holding on to hope.
My appointment was at a different office than I had gone to for my 9 week scan. The ultrasound room was set up differently. At the last appointment, there was only one screen and it was titled towards the tech making it nearly impossible for me to see what she was seeing. This time, there were two screens, one for the tech and one on the wall directly in front of me. As the ultrasound got underway, the tech held small talk with me. She did a few measurements and then the said the words that I didn't want to hear but knew were coming, "Oh Amy, I'm so sorry. There's no heartbeat." And just like that, my baby was gone. I remember feeling instantly dizzy, like the room was spinning and I wasn't in control. The truth was, I wasn't in control. There were no tears, I was lost in a crippling wave of shock. I got up got dressed and sat down. As my mind raced to process what I had just been told, the tears crept in. At first they were slow, but before I knew what was happening they took over and I crumbled. In that moment I felt so alone and so helpless. The tech told me I needed to be seen by a doctor and she escorted me to another room where I was greeted by a nurse. The nurse handed me a tissue, asked a few questions and told me the doctor would be in to speak to me about what would happen next. I waited in the room for what felt like an eternity. I remember feeling like being passed from room to room was so routine for the tech and the nurse. I listened to conversations taking place outside of the room among staff or patients or both. I couldn't make out what was being said but there was laughter and various topics being discussed. I remember thinking how I wished I could be on the other side of that wall. I wanted to be the one who was laughing or having a normal conversation. Instead I was forced to sit in a silent conversation with my tears and the crippling loss of my child.
After some time passed, the doctor entered the room. The first thing he asked me was if I wanted someone to be there with me. There was an authentic sincerity in his voice and although I knew this was a routine conversation for him, his tone made it clear that it was not the conversation he wanted to be having. I explained that my husband was at work, over an hour and a half away in a 5-hour meeting and my two young children were home from school for the day with another family member. He proceeded to explain next steps and told me that I did not have to make a decision right then and there. I could go home to give myself more time to process and talk about it with my husband. I told him I was ready to make my decision at that moment. He went on to explain that I had three options: I could wait for things to happen naturally, I could take a medication to induce the process or I could have surgery. I thought about my three choices and which one would be the best for me. I thought about my miscarriage last year and how physically painful it was. Ultimately I decided that I needed to have the surgery. The doctor explained that the procedure was called a d&c but medically it is referred to as a Missed Abortion. I hated that terminology. It made me feel as though I was giving up on my baby, even though I knew that wasn't the case at all. As with any surgery, he explained there were risks involved. We went over the risks together and before I knew it I was signing off on a consent form. He told me that a nurse would be in shortly to bring me into another office to schedule my appointment. It was at that moment that I realized I needed to tell Sean what was going on. I knew he was still in his meeting but he needed to know what was happening. I looked at my phone and he had sent me a message asking how everything was going. I responded by telling him we had lost our baby. He immediately called me. I'll never forget the first words that came out of his mouth, "I'm so sorry I wasn't there." Sean knows me better than anyone else and I know that he knew just how much I was hurting. I knew it was killing him that he wasn't there by my side. He rushed home and I was passed along to the next office to schedule my surgery.
As I walked out of the building, the tears came on even harder. I got into my car and immediately sent a group text to my friends who knew I was expecting. "I lost the baby. Scheduled for surgery for tomorrow. Not ready to talk, just wanted to give everyone an update." As much as I knew I didn't want to talk about it, I knew I needed the support. The supportive texts came through that afternoon and into the night and in the days that followed. I chose to read them and respond when I was ready. They truly helped. I didn't want to go straight home, I knew I just wanted to be alone for a little while. So I went where any US citizen goes on Election Day, I went to vote. I just wanted to feel normal, feel nothing, forget about what I just experienced. After voting I arrived home. My children were napping and my Aunt was sitting on the couch. The TV was off and my heart broke for her. She had been sitting there in silence waiting for me to come home. She gave me a hug and sobbed but my tears had stopped. Something about being in the presence of my children and family gave me strength. I spent the rest of the night just trying to keep a normal routine and trying not to think too much about what tomorrow would bring. My children must have sensed something because they were both extra cuddly with me. Talk about the best medicine, ever.
Election day cuddles
The next morning arrived and the house was soon empty. Sean dropped the kids off at school and needed to drive my Aunt back to New Jersey (she had met me at work and had driven home with me two days prior). This gave me some time to myself. I got in the shower and I sobbed. I couldn't hold it in any longer. I had flashbacks to my last miscarriage. One moment I was fine, the next I was hysterical. I felt so sad for this baby. Although I had only a short 8 weeks with it (medically speaking the baby was 10 weeks) I had loved that baby fiercely even before it had become a reality. I knew the baby was gone, but I still felt pregnant. It felt like a sick joke that someone was playing on me. Due to being put under anethesia for the surgery, I was instructed not to eat after midnight. I stayed up watching the election coverage and ate a protein bar and had a big glass of lemonade right before the clock struck midnight. That morning I was feeling like I normally did in the morning before eating...like crap. I was supposed to arrive at the hospital by 12:15pm and was told I'd likely go into the OR around 2:15pm. I hadn't taken the anti-nausea medicine that I had been prescribed and had been taking over the course of the week prior and boy was I feeling it. It was going to be a long morning.
Sean got home and we made our way into the car. Due to the fact that I was scheduled late the day before, I was placed at another hospital. We were heading to Muhlenberg Hospital in Bethlehem so the drive was about 15 minutes longer than it would normally have been to our local hospital. As the minutes passed by, I gradually felt worse and worse. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot of the hospital and parked I opened the car door, leaned out and proceeded to get sick. It was raining, so I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my head. The rain misted against my face and mixed with my tears. I felt like I was stuck in a nightmare and I just wanted to wake up. I cleaned myself up and held Sean's hand as we walked into the lobby of the hospital. The tears would not shut off. I just wanted everything to be over with and to be back in the comfort of my home so I could begin the healing process.
Not too long after I arrived, I was brought back into a room. A tech walked in and handed me my hospital gown and a bag for me to place my belongings. She was kind and she took the time to make small talk with us. She didn't know why I was there and when she asked how I was feeling, I told her not too good because I still felt pregnant and I was feeling very nauseous. When she realized what I was there for, her arm wrapped around me and she gave me a hug. I'm crying now as I type this because this was the most powerful moment of this entire experience. I began to sob and could barely get the words out but I managed to mutter, "Thank you so much. You are the only person over the last 48 hours who has given me a hug." Of course my family had embraced me, but she was the only medical professional who took the time to give me what I truly needed. A hug. I could tell she was moved by my words and she said,
"You are not a number...you are a human being."
Validation. There it was. The irony in this moment was that I was still reeling from the experience I had with the first ultrasound tech a week prior. And here was this women, a complete stranger, who within 5 minutes of meeting me made me feel like I mattered. Thank you, God. Next, I met two nurses who took down my vitals and needed to fill out paperwork. Before I knew it, I was in the bed and receiving IV fluids and my first round of Zofran for the nausea. One nurse stayed behind and continued to take down information. She was one of those nurses with amazing bedside manner and she shared with me that both of her daughters had undergone this procedure. She kept repeating to me, "You're going to be okay, I just know it" and I actually started to believe her. At another point during our time together she told me she would say a prayer for me. I was made as comfortable and as warm as possible. I was encased in a sea of blankets and had a warmer attached to my IV fluids. Relief met me soon and I was lulled in and out of sleep. The anesthesiologist came back and did his routine intake which included more signing on the dotted line. He offered to give me something for anxiety prior to entering the OR. I refused. I was feeling okay at the time and I didn't want to risk feeling woozy. Just prior to being brought back, my two OR nurses came in fully scrubbed and introduced themselves to me. They were kind and empathetic and reassured me that I would be fine. One of them couldn't believe I refused the anti-anxiety medicine and she said I didn't know what I missing. She commented that it's very rare that anyone refuses it. We laughed and she asked me if I knew what to expect. I told her I was unsure so she took the time to tell me a little bit about what would happen once I got back to the OR. She made me feel comfortable. I was instructed to take a dose of antibiotics orally and was given another dose of Zofran through the IV. This specific antibiotic is extremely strong and hard on the stomach. I was nervous that it would affect me based on my weak stomach from the pregnancy, but I felt fine after taking it. Next, I met the doctor who would be performing the procedure. And finally the resident doctor and a medical student came in to introduce themselves. They would also be in the room to assist. Some more time passed and it was finally time to be wheeled into the OR. I didn't end up going back until around 4:30pm, much later than we originally thought so we made arrangements for the kids to be picked up from school. I said goodbye to Sean and was wheeled to the OR.
As I was wheeled into the OR I was a bit overwhelmed at the scene that met me. The lights overhead were bright and shone down onto a table in the middle of the room. Long metal surgical instruments were lined up on a table nearby and were being inspected by someone in scrubs, a younger gentleman who I had not met. Including the team of individuals I had met earlier, there were about 10 people total in the room. The two nurses instructed me that I would be scooting over from my bed onto the table and to place myself into a cut out. I was able to do so effortlessly. The OR was extremely cold so and they immediately surrounded me with blankets. I must have had 5 blankets strategically layered around me. A mask was placed over my nose and I began to breathe and tried my best to relax. I remember telling myself that soon this would all be over. The nurse I had made small talk with earlier asked me how I was feeling and I said I was feeling okay. I'm not sure what possessed me to do so but I asked her if she could say a prayer over me and she did. At the moment it just felt right. I can't remember what she said but as she spoke the prayer I started to drift into a deep sleep. When I awoke, I was in a recovery room and a new nurse was monitoring me. I remember feeling a mixture of relieved, tiredness and warmth. She began feeding me ice chips and asked if I was in any pain. I was feeling a little discomfort, but thankfully no nausea, so she gave me a dose of fentanyl through the IV. I didn't want to move, I just wanted to live in that moment. I had made it. The surgery was over and the healing process could finally begin.
On the ride home I wanted one thing and one thing only. McDonald's. I got my wish and ordered a Big Mac with a Diet Coke. Nutritionally was it the best decision I could have made for myself? Absolutely not, but I earned those calories and I enjoyed every last drop. I finished my meal in the car and it was so satisfying. It had been a few weeks since I was able to enjoy food without having an aversion. We picked up the kids from their Gigi's and headed home. It was around 8:00pm when we finally walked in the door so we put the kids right to bed. I paid a visit to each child, laid with them and explained that I no longer had a baby in my belly. I said the baby went to Heaven to be with God. When I explained this to Mason, his big beautiful brown eyes met mine and he asked, "Where's Heaven?" I told him it was way up high in the sky and that it was a beautiful place where everyone is happy. It was a surreal moment, telling my child that I had lost another child, a child that neither of us had met.
In late October, we had a family mini-session done by local photographer Erin Joyce Photography. We incorporated an announcement picture into the session (photo pictured in the beginning of this post) and I couldn't wait to share it with the world. I was waiting until the end of the first trimester to do so. When I look at this picture, although I am met with extreme sadness for a child I will never meet, I am also taken back to that moment in time. I was pregnant with our 3rd child and blissfully happy. Our entire family rejoicing in our happiness for our newest member, captured in one picture. I will forever be grateful to Erin for this image and it will hold a special place in my heart, always.
Tonight we're putting up our Christmas tree. Yes, you read that correctly. I decided I want to fill our home with happy feelings and what better way to do that than to decorate for the most wonderful time of the year? Even if we haven't yet put away the Halloween decor or celebrated Thanksgiving. Rules were made for breaking. Am I right?
Today, I'm 4 days into my recovery and healing and my disposition changes day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. The support I've received from family and friends has been extremely helpful. I just want life to be as normal as possible, but there's a part of me that realizes it may take some time to get back to that place. Physically, the past two nights I've experienced extreme lower back pain. Part of me feels like I've been overdoing it during the day so today I made a more conscious effort to honor my body and take it easy. Our plan is to wait one cycle and try again. I'm choosing to believe that God has a plan in place and what I need to do now is just let go and let Him be in control.
If you find yourself reading this post and you are going through something similar, I'm sorry. I wish I could reach through the screen and hug you. Take things day by day and don't lose hope. The word hope is often associated with the following phrase Hold On Pain Ends and it is so true. Let time do its thing and heal your wounds. You'll come out of this wiser and stronger. Whether it's your first baby that you're fighting for or your fifth, don't give up just yet. If you're reading this and you know someone who is currently experiencing the loss of a child, focus less on finding the right words to say, because there are no right words, and just show your support. A hug goes a long way, too.