It was this time of year. Almost to the day in fact. Four years ago something happened. Some ‘thing’ in my body, in my heart happened. As the dust settles and hormones begin (I think that is what this feeling is) to level out and life regains some normalcy, I can reflect now with more emotion. I can feel more safe amidst the confusion. I can allow myself to feel, even if I don’t know what it is that I am feeling.
Something happened. There is even a name for it. Somehow though, name or not it still doesn’t feel as though it makes any real sense to me.
October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
These are my stories.
I was ten. I remember not believing them when my parents told me that my mom was pregnant. A cruel joke. Not because I didn’t want her to have a baby, because I desperately wanted her to. How exciting to have a little person to love and care for! I maintained my disbelief until my mom came home with a purple sweater. It had flowers embroidered on it. It was longer and wider than the rest of her clothes, enough material to make room for the swell in her expanding belly. There was a real baby in there! Weeks went by and my excitement grew. And then one day I came home from school to get my flyers packaged and ready to deliver for my after school job. In the living room I found my brother and sister sitting opposite my dad. I remember him looking so lost, like a piece of him had broken. Somberly he prepared us, “There is something I need to tell you.”
It had been a boy. My little brother went on to be with angels before I ever got to meet him. I still think about him. Not all the time, but I do. I have brief moments when I wonder (especially now having younger siblings through marriage) what it might have been like had I not remained the youngest. Had he been born he would be 25 this year.
I don’t ever remember being able to talk about it. Not at home and not with anyone else. I was young and there were a lot of intense things going on with and around my family at the time, so maybe the miscarriage just got lost in the shuffle.
Maybe they all thought if you don’t talk about it long enough it will make it as though it never actually happened at all. But it did. There was a baby and then there wasn’t.
We keep these secrets. We hide our pain, hoping to loose it over to confusion.
Twenty two years later, I was thirty one with a 13 month old and I was 5 weeks pregnant with our second child. We were visiting my in-laws when I noticed spotting. I didn’t panic.
This is normal, ask the internet.
One day turned into five and still there was blood. I wasn’t in pain. Physically I felt totally fine, but my heart knew something was going on. I called my doctor. She agreed to see me that same day. My husband was scheduled to leave that afternoon. He was headed up North for the weekend. Previously scheduled, he was leaving on a weekend away that he both deserved and needed.
I went to my Dr.’s office where I sat in the tiny sterile waiting room alone while flickering florescent lights overhead left me feeling ice cold. You wouldn’t know I was uneasy. At least I felt like I was keeping it together perfectly.
She called me in and I explained what had been going on. She took a urine test and it read positive. To be sure of what was going on she scheduled an emergency ultrasound. The technician was beautiful, her eyes were kind and her voice soft and gentle. She made it clear that she could not indicate her findings until a radiologist had read the results. I understood and we proceeded. As her eyes grew wide and the wand returned red my heart cracked. She was so kind and it was obvious how deeply she struggled to not say more. I left the office and walked into the fresh air where I immediately began to hyperventilate. There were tears so big and a pain so deep I thought it would swallow me whole.
I could not lose this baby.
My mom had come to meet me at the office and walked toward me, so understanding, she said nothing. She put her hand on my back and after a moment softly said, ‘Come, let’s go for a walk’. I didn’t have to say anything until I was ready. I kept trying but my words sounded as though they were coming from a wild animal. I was unable to hold my tears. I had been bleeding for 8 days. How could I hope to receive good news? When I was able to see clearly and breathe steadily we went for a coffee.
I had just received my Venti something or other when my cell phone rang. The doctor’s office. I went to stand in the street where, without bracing me in any way she proceeded to tell me that I was in fact pregnant with triplets. Triplets! Tri means three. Three babies. I thought for certain that a hole had appeared in front of me and the earth had swallowed me whole. I lost my vision for a moment and was unable to hear anything. It was as though I had literally transported to a place of disbelief. After regaining my composure I was able to pick up a few details.
Two sacs. One viable heartbeat. Others too faint to tell. It’s early yet. Won’t know for two weeks. Etc etc. I stumbled back into to my seat. I told my mom we had to go. With concern written across her face she asked, ‘well?” When I regurgitated my understanding of what I had been told to me she laughed out loud. I remember wanting to slap her. This wasn’t funny. I was hysterical. ‘I think this is great. God blessed you with three babies! How exciting!’ Like it was a lottery I had won. The reality was we didn’t know anything. Were there three? Was there one? Were there any? We wouldn’t know conclusively for T-E-N days!! Of all weekends for my husband to be away! My mom didn’t give me a chance to argue. She came home with me and promptly made me pancakes. I was dreading the phone call to my husband. The poor guy was as anxious as me and feeling guilty for leaving for the weekend. I reassured him before leaving that he should go.
Men need the wilderness to get centered sometimes. I remember telling him triplets and then the screaming sound of silence. You see, it’s different for a man. We both think about the health and well-being of babes and mom but women think of the emotional/physical ramifications along with everything else. Men (or my man) wears the burden of how am I going to put clothes on the backs and food in the mouths of FOUR children?
But still I bled. I was in no pain. I was strangled by the unknown. My now 15 month old was still waking up at 3am every morning. I was still putting on my ugly uniform to pour coffee for strangers from 7a-3pm every day. We tried to live life normally. We decided to only tell our parents what was going on. My decision. I didn’t feel like fielding questions about something I didn’t understand. No one even knew we were pregnant yet!
It was time for our ultrasound. My husband left work early to meet me. I made it clear to the technician that I did not care if she lost her job, I was NOT leaving that room until she told me how many babies were in there. She looked confused, almost angry. “Who told you that you were having triplets?” we explained our backstory. ‘Well right now there is only one, very happy and healthy baby bouncing around in there. But there is a mass beside the sac.” My husband was relieved. Almost joyful. In his mind there had only ever been one and now we were being told that we were getting the one that we had been hoping for! I needed answers. A mass? What does THAT mean? Were there ever three? Why did I bleed for two solid weeks?
What is going on inside my body?
Finally at 11 weeks pregnant I got to meet with a specialist. A sincere and kind man. In his hand was a stack of papers filled with medical jargon and images from radiology from the three ultrasounds I had had in the last 3 months. “I guess you’re wondering what’s going on?” He asked me so matter-of-factly. He wheeled his chair beside mine and traced the sentences typed across the paper with his finger, explaining what the experts had to say about my case.
It’s something called ‘Vanishing Twin Syndrome’ apparently 21-30% of pregnancies go through this. Yes, this started out as a multiple pregnancy. Yes you were pregnant with twins and what looks like the potential of a fraternal triplet. What happens in this case is the non-viable fetus, or in this particular case fetuses dissolve, resulting in the spotting and blood loss.
And just like that it was real.
I remember a flash in that first week where I had concerns saying out loud to myself, I bet that I am pregnant with twins and losing one. But it never really made sense. Even though a medical professional outlined and explained what had happened and the medical reasoning (of which there are none) it still didn’t make sense to me.
How could this be something that commonly happens and I’ve never heard of it? How is it that this ‘thing’ this ‘syndrome’ can be outlined as something both real and that happened to ME and still make no sense? It never felt like something I could openly talk about. Many people didn’t even know that I was pregnant yet. Why burden people with a loss when there was a child to celebrate! As I grew through my pregnancy and got larger and larger, more people would ask me if I was having twins. People think it’s funny I guess, joking about the size of a pregnant belly. For me, every time I heard the question (which was asked weekly if you can imagine) it was a knife in my heart. But I would laugh it off. “Oh no, we just carry heavy in my family.” Weeks later my mom called me and said, “Amy, you have to grieve this.” It was so nice to feel as though I had permission. But I didn’t know how. My husband was just happy. It never came up. The whole thing he just seemed so fine with.
Months passed before I finally said anything to him. He was kind but it was different for him. He was celebrating and thankful for the one child we thought we were having. All the stuff surrounding the prospect of a multiple pregnancy and the reality of what had actually happened was never made real for him. I was the one who felt the loss. I was the one who saw red. So I put it in a box and tied a bow around it tight and placed it in the far caverns of my heart, where I put all the truths that are too hard to make sense of.
That shouldn’t be how it goes. Loss is real regardless of whether or not it makes sense. Grief is universal. It’s unique however, in how it creeps up slow or explodes all at once or will rear its ugly head when least expected. What is important is that we don’t carry our pain alone. What is important is that we are honest with ourselves and allow the range of emotion to sweep over us. What is important is knowing that we aren’t alone.
What is important is TALKING ABOUT IT. I am so thankful that the stigma around mental health is dissipating and the importance of self-care is more readily accepted. We need to nurture our feelings. Sad is OK. Grief is as real as it is painful. But if we don’t talk about it and we do keep it to ourselves it festers like a poison and we get sick.
I lost a baby. I may have lost two. A baby that was never meant to be, but was lost all the same. I feel confused about that, genuinely conflicted as to how I am supposed to feel. I don’t even know if I’m sad. That’s the honest truth. I still struggle with whether or not that response makes sense…if it’s OK. Guilty though, that feeling I am familiar with. I have felt a lot of guilt that I felt a sense of relief. How would I ever have managed 4 children under the age of 2?! How terrible am I? I wonder this more often than I should.
I didn’t loose the baby I was expecting. I came through the experience still having the blessing of our healthy second child. Regardless of right or wrong in how I felt or didn’t feel, that entire experience was traumatic for me. It will remain a traumatic memory for me. But I kept it wrapped so tightly, sharing it with a select few as if it were a story that had happened to someone else. Now, years later I am beginning to make sense of it. I’m learning to accept the emotional ramifications of what has happened instead of dealing with a trauma unprocessed. Writing through my pain, penning through my thoughts – it has always been so liberating. Without pen to paper nothing has ever made much sense.
The more vocal I become about the realities of hardship, the more likely someone else is to bring their pain to the surface. Being open is freeing. This story, my story, it isn’t some weird secret only known to a select few. It’s a reality of something that happened in my life and within my body.
We often sit in silence, smiling at our pain thinking that is what we are supposed to do. In some cases what we have to do to carry on. I encourage anyone that might read my story that is struggling through a loss or the confusion it has left you with to share your story. Share in a way that you feel safe. Share in a way that you might feel free.
You are never alone friends.