Each month we will be publishing a personal, in-depth pregnancy and infant loss story under the title “The Raw Truth.” Releasing the intimate details of our pregnancy and birthing stories is a very important part of the grieving process, and for some it is not easy to share. Some stories have been anonymous, some with name changes, while others will use real names. Some will have pictures. Some will be short, some will be broken up into different parts. All very personal and close to our hearts.
In sharing these stories with you, we hope to bring courage and light to loss. Although these might not be your typical story book endings, they are the stories of our lives – and we hope you find the courage in yourself to read and perhaps share your own one day.
For The Child I Carried
Submitted by: Heather W.
When I remember the time before my pregnancy, I was resigned to the fact my husband and I would never be able to have children together. Our prognosis of anovulation and low sperm count spelled in vitro fertilization, something we couldn’t afford and weren’t sure we wanted. Maybe we should just be content with the daughter he had from a previous marriage. My husband never gave up that dream but I truly did. After so many heartbreaking months of trying, I completely and utterly gave hope back.
I began looking at websites advocating child-free living. It wasn’t that I didn’t view my adopted step-daughter as my child, but I wanted and needed the support of those who controlled their decision to not make more children. It felt empowering. I could even see it fitting into my values about the planet and our natural resources. At times, it even appeared kind of fun and carefree. We could focus solely on our one child and just be happy with the fact that our family size was never going to get any bigger.
Our inability to conceive a child was the reason I decided to join the military, go back to school, and contract with ROTC. If I couldn’t focus my energy on making and having that baby I so desperately wanted, I needed something to replace that drive.
I began the military and school thing in the Fall of 2008. After a 21-credit semester with hard science classes, I managed to stay on the honor roll. I loved how it felt to be challenged physically and mentally. Yes, I thought to myself, this is exactly what I needed. I worked very hard to maintain that high educational and physical standard for spring semester with a goal of getting into even better shape than before. I was so driven and determined that I was taking PT twice a day, three days a week. Suddenly something changed in my body. I fell behind on runs I hadn’t struggled with the first few weeks, and soon I was the last to finish whatever we were doing. I thought maybe it was a sign of my age, that I just couldn’t keep up with 18, 19, or 20-year-olds. That is, until, I experienced sharp abdominal pains unlike anything I’d felt before in my life.
I recently had a PAP smear and thought that maybe the doctor poked around a little too roughly, so I called and talked to them. I asked to come in – they asked if I’d taken a pregnancy test. What? I can’t be pregnant. My husband and I were told the only way we’d have children was through in vitro. That CANNOT be it. They convinced me to test anyway because if I was pregnant it would be cheaper to rule it out at home instead of at their office. I conceded and immediately went to a nearby store to buy a test.
I tried to study for class that night but I couldn’t concentrate. I know from all our months trying to conceive that I should wait until the morning to pee on a stick, but the box came with two tests… I’ll just try one now and then take another one in the morning. I walked back to my car, hastily read the instructions, and returned to campus with my plastic-wrapped secret in my backpack. I went in the nearest bathroom, dutifully held the stick in a stream for 5 seconds, and waited for the liquid to cross through the window. This is so stupid, I’m, NOT pregnant. I wonder why I’m having these weird symptoms… oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. There were two pink lines.
The shock overcame me and I burst into tears. This was something I waited so long to experience, this was something I wanted since I was a little girl, this was something that eluded us for nearly 2 years when we were actively trying. But why now?? Why did this have to happen as soon as I signed my life away to the military and made so many plans without taking a newborn into consideration?? I was MAD. Mad at life and whatever twisted cosmic fate there was that wouldn’t allow us to get pregnant before, but as soon as I committed to the military THEN it decided it was the right time. It felt as though we were given a miracle, and I don’t even believe in God. Our number got called, we were picked for the team, it just happened and it felt amazing.
Our baby’s first official picture at 7 weeks. He had a healthy heart pumping 154 times a minute. It was awe-inspiring to see something so little and so fragile show signs of independent life so early. The doctor said everything looked good as far as baby was concerned. However, I knew something wasn’t right because I was spotting intermittently. He said to take it easy and the placenta would attach properly in the coming weeks.
I went through typical pregnancy symptoms, loathing them when I had them and relieved at the time when they went away. I mentioned to a girlfriend that my morning sickness was getting better at 10 weeks and her reaction was one of concern. I had no clue that was potentially a bad thing. Every woman is different, though, right? Maybe I was one of the lucky ones who never actually throw up. The girls, on the other hand, were swelling rapidly and HURT. SO. MUCH. The spotting was still a concern, but one woman I talked to said she spotted throughout her entire pregnancy and went on to have a healthy baby. I rationalized all my fears and tried very hard to put them out of mind. My doctor offered to let me come in weekly to monitor the baby’s growth, but I didn’t want to burden by doing that. Knowing everything I do now, it probably would not have affected the outcome, but I am aware now that in recurrent loss, studies reflect that a woman who receives frequent care from a physician has a greater chance of carrying her baby to term.
I shared the news and loved how it felt to say, “I’m pregnant!” It was the same feeling I had as a newlywed when I couldn’t wait to say I was married or, “My husband this…” or “My husband that…” It felt foreign and strange, like joining a club to which I thought I would never be invited. At the same time, I was also terrified of saying it for fear that revealing it so early and getting my hopes up so high that it would somehow set things down a doomed path. I remember verbalizing that fear to my husband before he called his mom. Oh, the guilt we pile on ourselves when we think we have control over things.
At 10 weeks I spent time with a friend and we went walking around a local organic store I had never been to before. We had fun looking at all the items not sold at chain grocery stores like soy pizza, organic chocolate, organic lipstick, even organic feminine products! We bought chocolate and then left to hang out at her apartment. Once there, we watched a movie and spent time enjoying each other’s company. At one point I used the restroom and when I wiped my heart skipped a beat. Bright red blood, that’s not good. That’s bad… it’s bright red. I have to lay down, I have to get out of here. I left as fast as I could, not mentioning the spotting for fear it would be more real, and I drove home straight-faced and in denial. I had gotten so far, I made it to 10 weeks. Only a couple more weeks and I’m in the clear. I just have to make it to the second trimester and then things will get better – must make it to the second trimester, DAMMIT. I laid down for several days. The spotting let up but it did not completely go away.
Right before our 12 week appointment I noticed a change in the spotting. There were now tiny little clots but nothing bigger than a few millimeters. Everything could still be okay, I kept telling myself, but when I shared my fears I was told I might be the problem – that popular medical websites suggested too much stress may cause a miscarriage.
They walked us back to the exam room and handed me a cup for to take to a nearby bathroom for a sample. I told them I didn’t feel the urge and that I also had some concerns about spotting. They sent me over to an ultrasound room to see what was going on before they wasted any time on a potentially non-viable pregnancy. The tech tried an abdominal scan first but couldn’t see much. I knew it right then and there. When she left so I could prepare for an internal ultrasound I said to my husband, “It looked pretty empty in there.” I braced for the worst. She came in again and performed the other ultrasound. She found the baby immediately which surprised me and made me smile. There he was! Just floating on the screen. Wait a minute… he’s not moving, where’s his heartbeat? He looks way too small. Then the tech sighed and said, “Ohh, Heather, this doesn’t look good.” She took some measurements. “There’s no heartbeat, and baby only measures 9 weeks. I’m so sorry.” She rubbed my shoulder and got me a tissue. It was over.
I thought I steeled myself up for that moment but seeing my baby melted my dying heart. I cried. My husband held me. The ultrasound tech escorted us back to the exam room and the doctor talked at length about our options. I asked him why I carried our baby so long after he had already died. He said that sometimes it takes the body a while to figure out it’s not pregnant anymore.
He gave us his pager number so we could contact him directly about what we wanted to do after this point. Either we could go the natural way or I could have a D&C.
The next few days were spent keeping people at bay. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to see anyone because I didn’t want to come unglued. I didn’t want to have to act strong when I broken. I didn’t want to face that it was coming to an end. I didn’t want to lose our baby! I felt terribly conflicted over the fact that I was mourning the dead child I was still carrying. After three agonizing days, I finally asked for the D&C. It scared me that I was going to have my uterus scraped and my baby discarded in a biohazard waste bin. As we prepared for it April 15th, 2009, I began feeling strong cramps. My abdomen felt like a tight fist, I could feel my uterus contracting. I took Advil, a medicine I painstakingly avoided the past few months, in bitter acceptance of what would come. I took the first and last photo of my pregnant belly, and I asked my husband to be with me.
Twenty minutes later it happened. Like the whistle on a tea pot, the pressure built until there was nowhere for everything to go but out. It was sudden and profuse, and painfully emotional. I thought the worst part was finding out our baby was dead. No, the worst part was giving birth to a baby long before he was due. In a toilet. I felt ashamed that not only did my body fail to provide a nourishing environment for my baby to live, but that I was giving him such an undignified end.
The blood, dear god, the blood. It sounded like someone had turned a faucet on. We almost went to the hospital but the on-call doctor advised us to wait an hour and if it was still going that strong then to go ahead and come in. It is fairly normal for someone as far along as I was to experience a lot of bleeding in those first couple of hours. I soaked pads as soon as I stood up, so I spent most of the night in the bathroom on the toilet. I frantically scoured the contents of my womb in the toilet. I was obsessed with finding anything that might look like a baby or placenta. It was gross and it was weird, but I didn’t care. I saw one clot that contained gray tissue but it looked like a string. As I reflect on it, that was the umbilical cord. Not long after that, I bore down and passed a large amount of tissue. Sure enough, my baby was there.
I sobbed harder and louder and submerged myself in grief. I told my husband he could come in if he wanted to, but I wasn’t sure he would want that. He was outside the door the entire time and I could hear him weep. He came in and he saw our baby in my hands and it just tore him up even more. I was strangely comforted in knowing I wasn’t going through this alone, and the love I had for him grew in that moment because it wasn’t just my loss, it wasn’t just my pain. This was hurting him, too.
I didn’t know what to do with the baby. Who talks about that sort of thing? Who prepares you? I hastily posted a message online asking for advice and several women immediately replied. They said I could put him in a shoebox and bury him. Or plant a tree in remembrance. And they were so sorry and really meant it. It helped to know they’d been there before.
I placed cotton balls inside a shoebox and laid our baby on a tissue floating on top. I covered him with a clear plastic bag. I wanted to remember him like that. I needed to take a picture. I secretly grabbed the camera, embarrassed my husband might see me and think I was acting crazy. The urge was too strong to ignore. I’m never going to see him again, this is my only chance to memorialize him. Come to find out, taking a picture of your baby is quite common, and I don’t regret it. Instead of one picture, I now have two. Until recently, I really only looked at him with sadness, but a dear friend recently told me that when she looked at my little peanut that he was beautiful. That he grew from the love my husband and me share. That’s how I want to remember him, and that’s why I’m sharing him.
Mommy and Daddy love you, Pumpkin.