“So can you understand? Why I want a daughter while I’m still young? I wanna hold her hand and show her some beauty before all this damage is done. But if it’s too much to ask, it’s too much to ask … Then send me a son.” – Arcade Fire
I have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of the band, having been enthralled around the “Funeral” era, but not thinking much of their music past that.
But when I really heard “The Suburbs” (the title track, not the album) on PBS’ “Austin City Limits” about six weeks ago, those lyrics grabbed me by the gut. The tears immediately flowed, hearing words that summed up something I had never thought about in that way before. Simply put, in the moment as the prose enveloped me, I was crushed to hear someone else say how I was feeling … Spelled out in lyrics was my prayer/hope/wish/dream, and it was almost too much to take.
We had learned only a few days before that our baby had died.
On Black Friday this past November, Hunter and I had gone to Target later in the evening to see if anything interested us. It was time to get our Christmas shopping started, so we went out once all the crazies were back at home.
I was almost two weeks late, but had thought nothing about it, as I had started taking a new medication for my blood pressure. Cycle screwiness was a possible side-effect, but it was also a pill I shouldn’t take if I was, by chance, pregnant. So, while out that night, I grabbed “Zelda: Skyward Sword” for him, and a box of EPTs for me.
And so, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, three years to the day my Dad died, I peed in a cup. I dipped the stick in, and it was instantly positive … As were the other four I took within the next 24 hours. (My doctor would later ask me if I thought I would eventually get a different result. Honestly? Maybe I did.)
We weren’t planning on trying for at least another year. Being in my thirties, that may be a scary prospect for some, but we were enjoying the time that we had together, just the two of us. Plus, financially, we were in no way prepared at the moment, and I knew it would be even more pressure added onto Hunter. (He’s in the midst of deciding whether or not to go back to school as studios and studio work have really dried up in the city.)
I obviously found out before he did that the test was positive, and I waited a day to tell him. I kept trying to think of the best way to share our news with him, as no cutesy Pinterest-esque gimmick would be needed in this situation. Instead I searched for words that would convey how hopeful I was for our future as a family … All the while, feeling shocked, scared, and quite simply, saddened by the sudden nature of it all.
In the end, I simply blurted out “I’m pregnant!” But, only after he questioned the tears I had in my eyes in the middle of a totally random conversation. The angst that came with being first-time parents passed quickly. Swiftly, the wonderment of bringing our child into the world, something made of love, surpassed any feelings of doubt we had. We easily made decisions about how things would change, how we would go about raising the baby once she came. Making concrete choices early on alleviated some of the pressure we instantaneously found ourselves under … And joy soon passed any fears we may have had.
Not that any of the angst mattered anyway. We already loved our Penguin.
The first couple of doctor’s visits were pretty status quo: One to the little Russian woman who had been my general practitioner since arriving in Chicago. (She was the one who confirmed my pregnancy with a blood test, calmed my fears about my blood pressure and size and told me to enjoy every minute of it.) The second was to a new OB-GYN at the hospital where we would deliver come July. (I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I bonded with my doctor, and Hunter and I both felt excited that was where we had ended up.)
I was immediately referred to a high-risk practice at another hospital in Evanston, and soon had to go through the same process again. That visit, Hunter was working, so I went to meet the doctors by myself. Fifteen minutes after walking through the doors, I saw and heard Penguin’s heartbeat for the first time. Five minutes later, the technician went to get the doctor. There was a lot of mumbling and whispers beside me, with him finally telling me that we would talk once I got in his office.
There was a good chance that our baby was cornual ectopic, he said … Meaning that she had implanted high in my uterus, just not quite all the way out of my fallopian tube. I was told that I would have another scan two weeks later, to go to the hospital if I had any pain at all, and that there was a strong possibility that it could all end with me not only losing the baby, but my uterus as well.
Hunter and I had already decided that we would tell some immediate family and a few friends when we went home for Christmas. My Mom already knew, having asked me out-of-the-blue days after I took the tests if I was pregnant. And we had told Hunter’s Mom and my best friend, Robin. So, over dinners at my family’s and his, we told a few others that we were “having a baby, but …” And then we waited.
It was the hardest (and longest) two weeks I’d ever had.
I woke up the morning of my appointment with Bright Eyes’ “First Day of My Life” on my brain radio … As far as I knew, Dec. 28, 2011, would decide whether we would have a hopefully healthy baby, or if our dreams of ever having children were over. As we waited for my name to be called, Hunter just assured me again and again that it would all be OK … That we had been worrying for nothing … That we would walk out of the hospital smiling that day.
And he was right. Immediately, once the ultrasound started, there she was … Exactly where she was supposed to be, slap in the middle of my uterus, heart pounding away. The technician told us she had seen our previous scan, so she knew what the issue was, but that everything was perfect now. She sent us on our way with a CD full of pictures, orders to relax because the baby was fine, and wishes for a happy and healthy 2012.
The next day I had a normal appointment with my regular OB-GYN who celebrated the findings, and filled me in on just how bad it could have been had the cornual ectopic diagnosis panned out. Since the information from the other hospital had not arrived yet, she wanted to do a quick check to make sure that the baby looked OK. The little flicker of a heartbeat coming from her screen assured her (and I) that we were right where we needed to be.
I finally began to let myself relax. It was the 12th week, and we had seen and heard Penguin’s heartbeat numerous times. Numbers fly around everywhere when it comes to pregnancy statistics, and no one can seem to agree, but the chances of something happening after that point are very, very slim. We started our registries, wanting to make sure grandmas began to take care of some key items for us … We found ourselves walking through the baby aisles, discussing which diaper bag we liked, oohing and ahhing over tiny things. We tossed around names, making note of a few, laughing at some, and wondered how in the world we would ever find one that either, much less both of us, liked enough to label a person forever.
The end of the first trimester was closing in. Soon, there would be no more nausea, plus an upswing in energy, and well, it was all welcomed in my world.
It meant we were one step closer to meeting our baby.
They say there’s such a thing as mother’s intuition, and I know it now to be true. In the days leading up to my Down Syndrome screening, I began to worry, feeling as if something was wrong. My symptoms had begun to fade a little bit, but I was just assured by Hunter, my Mom and even myself that the time had come for those things to change.
I just knew that once I saw her on the screen, everything would feel real again. I would know that our baby was OK.
“I’m going to stop this now,” the technician told me just a few minutes into the scan, moving the wand away from my body. “There’s no heartbeat.”
“Excuse me?” I said, barely able to comprehend the words I was hearing.
“There’s no heartbeat,” she repeated as she began to walk to the door.
I don’t remember much after that, just the sobs that came as everything seemed to stop around me. I know the only thing she asked me was if I wanted a tissue before she left the room, and then I was left alone to “gather my things.”
I immediately called Hunter at work, who was under strict instructions to answer, as it meant something was wrong. The only bit that remains with me from that conversation were the wails of: “She died, Hunter. Our baby died.”
The technician came back into the room to let me know that my OB-GYN was on the line waiting to talk to me. Once she got me on the phone with her, she immediately left the room again. After a brief conversation with my doctor, letting her know I was not in any shape at the moment to make decisions I knew were coming, I started to make my way out of NorthShore in Evanston. It was the most alone that I had ever felt in my entire life. In a hospital full of people, nurses and doctors around every corner, not one person looked me in the eye as I sobbed, much less said “I’m sorry.”
And that will unfortunately remain with me forever.
Since Penguin’s heart had stopped beating the week before, and there were no signs that my body was recognizing the loss, my options were to try Misoprostol (Cytotec) or simply proceed with a D&C. My doctor and I had a long conversation about the benefits and risks of the D&C. Benefits? I would go to sleep in the hospital, never feel any pain, wake up and the physical aspect be over. But the risks, including being put under anesthesia and undergoing a procedure that had a chance, even ever so slight, of damaging my uterus, were enough to make us at least try the Misoprostol.
Two days after we found out she was gone, Hunter and I made the decision to miscarry at home with the help of the medication.
My doctor apologized to me on my follow-up visit for not warning me that going to the pharmacy could be hard. The same drug is given for those who choose to have a medically induced abortion. Unfortunately, a small number of women have had more-than unpleasant experiences picking up their prescriptions based on assumptions. I knew this before Hunter and I went to pick it up and told him what I would do if one person looked at me the wrong way. (Needless to say, it wasn’t very nice.)
Oddly enough, the trip to the pharmacy ended up being one of the rare highlights of the week. (And my only venture outside of our apartment for a full seven days.) The pharmacist on call, a man in his mid-to-late twenties, had to explain the medication to me. He did so with grace, extending his whole-hearted apologies to Hunter and I more than once. After the devastating way in which I learned our baby was gone, it was a blessing to finally see a stranger – at a busy Target in Uptown Chicago, nonetheless – show such compassion over what we had lost.
Hunter and I decided early on that we would not be sharing the full experience of what all we went through the day we had to let her go. Those memories are ours, and ours alone.
But, I will say that it was painful … Physically, it was unlike anything I had ever experienced; emotionally, for us both, it was the worst jumble of loss and love imaginable. The whole process took about seven hours, start to finish … Alone in our apartment, as the first real snow of the season fell outside the windows surrounding us. We were told to expect a lot of blood, clots, and indistinguishable tissue – the way I’m sure any of us imagine a miscarriage would be.
Instead, she came out perfect, a tiny little being I was able to hold in my hand. We were able to tell her how much we loved her; how sorry we were that we didn’t get to keep her; how we would do it all again just to have had the short amount of time with her that we did. In just twelve weeks, she forever changed who we are as people in general; but more than that, who we will eventually be as parents.
She is, and will always be, our firstborn.
The days since have been hard. It feels like yesterday and forever ago all at once. There are more good minutes than bad now, as time is the greatest healer we have after any loss. But memories and missed milestones have a way of creeping in uninvited, so the tears come. But there have been a few times I’ve realized I haven’t cried all day, and I have celebrated a bit of relief. But Penguin remains on my mind constantly, and the “what ifs” burrow their way to the surface every now and then.
I’ve also had to adjust my way of thinking, because I can’t shut out everything around me.
I am doing all that I can to not allow babies or other pregnant women make me sad or bitter. (I’d be crying or angry all the time, as I am surrounded in the real world and on social networking sites.) There have been moments, comments said, pictures shared, that have got me in the gut. But I choose not to let my loss overshadow the joy I genuinely feel for people I know. (Although, I will admit that a few have been temporarily unsubscribed from on Facebook … Sometimes, it’s just more than a girl can take.)
I know I didn’t do anything wrong. I know that I did not cause this. From the moment I saw those two pink lines, I loved my baby … I never drank another Diet Coke, switched to decaf, immediately changed blood pressure medications, upped my vitamins and began taking DHA, started making myself sleep more and tried not to be as stressed out as I normally am – even in the beginning with the ectopic scare. I did everything right for her.
Since this is our first loss, we were not offered genetic testing, not that I wanted it. But my doctor thinks that more-than-likely her death can be attributed to triploidy, and should hopefully be a one-off problem. A “fluke” she says, but it’s hard for me to feel too much excitement over doing it all again. Unfortunately, I am no longer naive, and will enter future pregnancies knowing what can happen, knowing how quick it can all be over. But after telling Hunter early in the first trimester that this would be the only time I would ever do this, I told him after our loss that I would do it as many times as it took. Some of the best advice I have received was quite simple: “Don’t panic, and carry on.”
Once we decide we’re ready to try again, I hope I can adhere to that. Because, truth be told, I simply feel broken.
I went back and forth on whether I would share our story, as I’m a pretty private person. Even though we were in our 12th week, very few people knew that we were expecting a baby. But in the days and weeks following our loss, reading other stories is what got me through it … Knowing that women could survive what I was experiencing – in some cases, way worse – I knew that I would make it. So, maybe one day, knowing that we have gone through this, and that we have survived, will help someone else.
On top of that, she was our child, and I hate that we never got to share our joy with everyone that she was coming. So just know, that for a few short months, we felt as if we had everything … We experienced more happiness than we ever imagined. We were very excited about what we were putting out into the world, proud when we imagined how great she could be. Her heartbeat still plays in my head and I will be sad forever, knowing that she is physically gone … But I know that eventually, I won’t be sad all the time.
I am a Mother without a child to hold, to care for, to mold … But I am a Mother in my heart, and for now, that’s all I get to be.
For support if you are suffering a miscarriage or loss: