Oct. 16, 2019
Today marks nine days since my husband and I found out I was miscarrying our second baby. And a week since the night we feared I would die as a result.
I suppose our story “starts” on a Monday. It was Oct. 7, and it was raining. My two-year-old and I had enjoyed a play date with another mom and her toddler earlier that morning. As someone who tends to get “stuck” in introversion, I felt like the day had been a success… a positive step toward a more abundant social life for both of us.
And since the day marked my 12th week of pregnancy, I felt comfortable telling my new friend the good news, too. Knowing we’d soon share the secret with other family and friends, I figured, “why not?”
Shortly after my husband was off work, I stood up to make dinner. I was excited to try a new recipe—chicken scampi, rice, and asparagus. But as I was pulling out ingredients, I felt a gush.
Thinking little of it, I grabbed a tissue. When I looked down, it was red blood.
“What?!” my husband asked.
“It’s blood. We need to leave.”
Trying our best to think rationally through the panic, I called the OBGYN on call at the hospital where I’d been receiving my prenatal care. I was told that at 12 weeks, there wasn’t much they could do if it was a miscarriage. She suggested I try my best to relax, take a bath, get some sleep, and come into the office tomorrow for an exam.
Knowing that I catastrophize even on a good day, we decided shortly after to head to the emergency room. We didn’t want to wait to find out whether or not our baby was okay.
On the way there, I replayed my pregnancy in my head from the day we found out we were expecting again. I remembered the joy and relief I felt when I saw the positive test. And despite my initial plans to surprise my husband in a creative way, my body language gave it away the moment he came down the stairs that morning. The next couple of months would be filled with reassuring, exciting ultrasounds, online orders of maternity clothes, and hopeful conversations and plans for our growing family’s future.
Now, during that long car ride to the hospital, it felt as if life was threatening to rip that hope and joy from our hearts and hands.
When we got there, we sat for hours—no small task with an active, clingy toddler and anxiety coursing through our veins. I tried my best to remain present and calm for our daughter while holding back fits of tears.
After we were finally called back, we answered the questions of several medical professionals. They gave me a gown and took my blood and urine for testing.
While we waited, I was wheeled back to the ultrasound room. My husband and daughter were allowed to come with me. The tech said she was having trouble seeing everything via a regular ultrasound, so she began doing an intravaginal ultrasound to see things clearer.
As I watched the screen, I could still see our baby. I was trying my best to remain hopeful. I tried to gauge the reactions of the tech and my husband, both of whom maintained a poker face I couldn’t read.
When we got back to our room, I could tell my husband’s demeanor had changed. I asked him if he saw something bad, and he hesitated.
“I’m not a doctor. We’ll see what they say.”
He didn’t want to scare me in case things were actually okay. But I watched as he began to cry silently in his chair.
It took another hour for the doctor to come in to deliver the news.
“It’s not good news. There was no heartbeat. Your HCG levels are down. You’re having a miscarriage.”
I broke down, as did my husband. My mom and stepdad had come up just in case, and she cried, too.
In one instant, I was filled with heartbreak and rage. I felt like I had just been robbed.
“So that’s it? What the f**k am I supposed to do now? Go home and bleed?” I muttered through tears at my husband.
Confused and uncomfortable, my two-year-old looked at me. She was standing beside me in the bed, and leaned around to ask:
“What’s wrong? Mommy sad?”
For weeks, we’d been reading her a “big sister” book before bed so she could grasp the idea of a new baby joining our family. Now, I didn’t know how to tell my first baby that our second baby was no longer alive in mommy’s womb. I didn’t want her to worry or internalize her parents’ reactions, but there was no way to hold back the tears.
“Mommy is sad, baby, but you are safe and we are going to be okay,” I told her as I hugged her and cried into her soft tummy.
After giving us a few minutes of privacy, the doctor came back.
He explained the next few days would be uncomfortable as my body prepared to pass the “product”. That I would experience cramping and period-like bleeding until the miscarriage finished.
My husband sobbed the whole way home, while I stared into the distance. I went from feeling everything to nothing in a matter of minutes. He finally told me he realized our baby died the instant he watched the ultrasound tech measure our baby at 8 weeks, 3 days. But since he wasn’t an expert, he didn’t want to say anything until he knew for sure.
In those moments, it hit me that during the entire month I’d been carrying our silent baby in my womb, I was living life in pure, ignorant bliss. For an entire month, I’d been transitioning my daughter to a new sleep space to prepare for the baby. I purchased maternity clothes to accommodate the bump I had already sworn was there…the bump I caressed and gazed at in the mirror with hope and excitement for April 2020. I was prepared to do most things differently than I did with my first. I was prepared for months of very little sleep. I was prepared to get a little chubby again. I was prepared for the learning curve that comes with transitioning from 1 to 2. But I had never prepared for this. I felt like a fool to life’s cruelest joke.
While he struggled through fits of tears until we fell asleep around 2 a.m., I was quiet. Numb. Emotionally detached.
Over the next couple of days, I’d have a few moments of sadness, but I wasn’t emotionally processing it the way I felt I should’ve been. Even though the medical evidence was there, I don’t think my mind really accepted the idea that my baby was gone.
Wednesday, Oct. 9: The day it all went wrong.
After our ER visit, it was basically a waiting game to see when my body would decide it was time.
On Wednesday, two days after the news, I noticed a bit more blood each time I used the bathroom. But it was manageable and other than some mild cramping, it wasn’t entirely painful.
Once again, out of pure naivety, I thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe it would slowly pass over the course of days or weeks, and then it would be over.
I was wrong.
Shortly after I nursed our two-year-old to sleep on Wednesday night, I felt the cramps intensify.
Even then, I wasn’t entirely concerned. I knew it would get worse before it got better.
But around 8:30 p.m., things really started to pick up. The cramping had begun to mimic the labor contractions I had with my daughter. After a couple of hours, a heating pad was no longer cutting it. Each contraction got stronger, and the pain was all in my back—just like my labor two years prior.
The only relief was my husband applying negative pressure to my lower back at the peak of each contraction. It was a technique we learned in birthing classes and proved handy during our first labor—the one that ended in a healthy, full-term baby girl.
I tried my best to lie down and relax. I wanted my husband to rest, too, just in case I needed him later on. Eventually he fell asleep, and I was hoping to do the same.
But despite my best efforts, the pain only intensified. I tried to manage on my own until I couldn’t cope any longer. I woke up my husband and we headed to the bathroom.
After each contraction, blood, clots, and tissue came out. At this point, we weren’t concerned it was anything other than a “normal” miscarriage. We knew it wouldn’t be pleasant, and we were hoping to ride it out together.
After one particularly painful and long contraction, I looked at my husband.
“That one felt different.”
My gut told me that my baby had just passed through my cervix, and I was right.
I grabbed a toy spoon from the tub and scooped the tiny, flesh-colored body out of the toilet.
I placed it on toilet paper, and stared at the being I created while I held it in my hands.
Grief turns traumatic: hemorrhaging during miscarriage
During pregnancy, most moms yearn for the moment they’re able to pull their newborn baby to their chest. It’s the moment I loved most when my daughter was born.
And strangely enough, I felt that same urge for the small fetus I held in my hands. It hadn’t developed past 8-ish weeks gestation, but its eyes and ears were visible. You could see the tiny buds of arms and legs that had stopped growing far too soon.
As sad and angry as I was, I didn’t want to let go. I felt intense grief all while feeling the primal love any mother has for her child as they meet for the first time. It was a love I’d never have the privilege to carry out, but it was there nonetheless.
My baby had died before medical professionals would even consider it a “baby”, but I wanted so badly to hold him or her to my chest.
Before I could, things turned south.
I began to shake and feel cold. When I looked down, I noticed how much blood had passed as I shared those moments with our second baby. Once my grief turned to fear for my life, the baby ended up back in the toilet—a knee-jerk response to panic that I haven’t stopped feeling guilty about since that night.
It didn’t take long to realize the amount of blood I’d lost in just a few minutes had quickly surpassed the normal amount suggested, which is allegedly supposed to mimic a heavy period.
Without communicating it out loud, we both knew something was off. My husband threw clothes on, sprinted downstairs to let our dogs out, and grabbed our toddler from her bed.
We drove straight to the ER. When we walked in, no one was in the waiting room.
Great, I thought. I’ll be taken straight back.
I signed in and got my bracelet. I sat down in a chair and quickly realized I’d bled through my fresh pad, underwear, and sweatpants. Blood had begun to pour out onto the emergency room chairs.
Growing increasingly worried, my husband notified the front desk attendant, who kept assuring us someone would be out to get me soon.
We became livid.
“Listen, I’m not trying to be rude,” he told the woman with fear and intensity in his voice. “But if this isn’t an emergency, I don’t know what is.”
“I’m sorry, but I’ve called back and I’ve done all I can do right now,” she said. “There’s only one doctor on the floor and he’s working on an ambulance.”
A woman appeared with a wheelchair padded in cloth. They were more concerned about me contaminating the waiting room than getting me back into a room where I could be treated.
I looked at my husband with rage in my eyes.
“I’m not dying in this emergency room tonight,” I told him through painful moans and contractions.
All I could think of was my daughter growing up without a mother. And my grieving husband struggling to raise our child alone while maintaining life and all of its responsibilities on his own. I had visions of my little girl asking for her mommy, confused and homesick for the comfort and safety of me that she once knew.
Maybe 10 or 15 minutes later, though it felt like an eternity, someone came out to get us. Nurses came in to take my blood pressure, check my blood count, and assess other vitals.
While I narrowly dodged a blood transfusion, it was determined I’d need a D&C (dilation and curettage) to stop the bleeding.
I received the surgery at 4 a.m. Thursday morning. And despite passing small amounts of blood/clots afterward, I felt immediate relief from pain and hemorrhaging.
Facing emotions after a miscarriage
While the surgery helped, I wish I could say it brought an end to every type of pain we faced. But the days following were filled with anxiety, fear, and irrational dread of infection and death. Every cramp or twinge was met with instant panic that things would go horribly wrong. My anxious mind told me I could not rest in silence, for letting my guard down could be the difference between living and dying.
Days after, we headed back to the ER to be checked for a post-op fever with unknown causes. Tests revealed a small amount of bacteria, nothing the doctors felt antibiotics couldn’t handle.
After that round of antibiotics, I visited my doctor for a follow-up. It had been a couple weeks since the D&C. Physically speaking, all was clear. Like nothing had happened. It was time to find a new normal.
I should’ve left that appointment feeling relieved. But instead I felt the weight of grief and confusion replace my fear.
Having no physical ailment to focus on meant I was left to face the reality of grieving my baby. Not only that, but I was left to deal with my loss while wrestling with the fact that my miscarriage nearly killed me.
Grief and trauma. Two separate monsters that require their own types of emotional processing. Only this time they intermingled into a demon I had no choice but to face head on.
I was already a mother, after all, and my daughter needed me to be okay.
I checked out of the appointment and drove home silently, focused on the road ahead.
As my mind raced, I heard my two-year-old chatter happily in the backseat.
Hope does exist, I thought. I just have to put in the work to find it.
To be continued.
Love and awkward hugs,