October 15th is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day. It probably would have made sense for me to post about my miscarriage on that day but…I didn’t. Happily, I didn’t even remember the date until I saw it on Facebook last night. You see, I had a miscarriage 16 years ago and when it happened, I felt as though I’d never get through a day without remembering. But I can now. And for that, I am grateful.
Let me start by saying that — in case you need to hear this — it wasn’t your fault. It can happen to anybody, at any time. In fact, about one in four pregnancies in Canada ends in miscarriage. I didn’t know that until it happened to me and I started researching incessantly, trying to make sense of the guilt and shame I was feeling.
I think that’s the worst part; no one ever talks about miscarriage and so we have no idea that it’s normal and so are we. I know for a fact that the first time I felt OK afterwards, was the night my aunt called and shared the story of her own pregnancy loss. So, in the hopes that knowing what happened to me might help you, I am going to tell you a sad story. But there’s hope at the end of this one because yes, losing a baby sucks — but eventually you’ll think about it a little less often and hopefully, one day, you’ll start to feel better.
A magical pregnancy
December of 2003 was a wonderful time for me, I was young, hot, newly married and I had a great job. I was very happy. To top off my fairy-tale life, I peed on a stick and it turned blue! I was pregnant! Squeeee!!! I was also incredibly freaked out and nervous. Having a baby is like adulting on steroids and I didn’t know if I was ready.
I felt pretty gross in those early days, tired, pukey — the usual first trimester stuff. In late January, when I was about eight weeks along, my husband and I went on a gorgeous winter getaway. We enjoyed the sparkling Muskoka scenery and had in-room massages, snowshoed in a winter wonderland and even went for a snowmobile ride. It was luxurious and relaxing, in that marvelous life-before-children way.
But the morning after, something weird happened — I woke up feeling great, for the first time in weeks I didn’t have a trace of morning sickness. “Hooray,” I thought. “I’m over the first-trimester hump!” Back at work that week, I continued to feel better. I found out one of my co-workers was also pregnant and was due a few weeks before me. She was starting to show but my belly remained flat. I chalked it up to this being my first pregnancy. I was wrong.
From magic to miscarriage
One Friday afternoon I found some greyish discharge in my underwear. My heart stopped for approximately one second and then panic took over, pounding every blood cell in my body through my veins at triple time. My heart worked with such ferocity that I could feel my pulse in my eardrums. I was at work, so I slowly walked back to my desk, trying to look calm and Googled “greyish discharge + pregnancy,” while I silently lost my shit. Up until that moment, miscarriage was not on my radar. After all, I’d followed every rule What to Expect When You’re Expecting had thrown at me. I hadn’t had deli meat, coffee, unpasteurized cheese, sushi or alcohol. Other people lost their babies, not me. Bad things don’t happen in fairytales.
I rushed to my doctor and she checked for a fetal heartbeat. Nothing. Since I was only 14-weeks pregnant she urged me not to worry and sent me to the ultrasound clinic down the road, just to be safe. The clinic was a dreadful, underfunded joint in a giant room that didn’t even have walls. Instead, someone had strung up thin blue curtains to separate one patient from the next. As I walked through the maze of fabric, I was reminded of sheets hanging on my mother’s clothesline. I don’t know why I was thinking about laundry, I guess I was just trying not to think about what could be happening.
As I lay down on the ultrasound table, I covered my naked-lower-half with a crisp paper sheet. I stared at the ceiling and prayed silently while an unsmiling Russian technician barked orders at me. First, she pressed hard on my jelly-covered belly with her wand, saying nothing but an occasional “harumph”. Then she used a gigantic condom-covered probe to study my nether regions. It was humiliating and terrifying and I just wanted her to say something. Instead she got up and left the room, without a word.
No happy ending
I lay there, cold, confused and with that damn probe still inside me. I searched the black ultrasound screen for clues but I had no idea what to for. Finally, after what felt like an hour, the technician returned with a doctor who kindly told me I could get dressed.
That’s when I knew my baby was dead.
The doctor told me they hadn’t been able to find a heartbeat, that the pregnancy wasn’t viable, that miscarriages were natural and very common. She called it a missed abortion and asked if I’d noticed any changes in my pregnancy symptoms lately. Apparently, the baby had died six weeks earlier but my body had been holding on, refusing to let go of the fairytale until now. She urged me to go home and rest because nature would likely take its course over the weekend. If nothing happened, they’d do a D and C the following week. I think that’s when I broke down, my sobs echoing throughout the clinic, the thin curtain walls doing nothing to keep the news of my pain from the person in the bed next to mine.
I don’t remember how I got home, or telling my husband but somehow, I did. I We lay in bed that night and cried and cried for a baby we’d never meet. And when I finally stopped crying, the guilt washed over me. I hadn’t wanted this enough, I’d been so nervous. Then, I counted back to our weekend getaway and became obsessed with that snowmobile ride. Surely, that’s what had caused this. It was all my fault.
I lay on the couch for the whole weekend, waiting for something to happen, while my eyes leaked salty tears. I felt fine. Maybe they were wrong? But by Sunday the waiting was over and I started experiencing intense pain while in line at the grocery store. By the time I got home I was gushing fluid and running to the washroom every few minutes. My mom and dad came to see me (because they’re awesome like that) armed with heating pads, Advil and hot water bottles. Finally, the last contraction came and emptied my baby from my body. I saw him there, in the toilet. A small pink ball, about the size of a lemon. It didn’t look much like a baby but when I looked closely, I could make out tiny hands. I knelt down on the floor and held him in my palm, keening for this life that would never be.
My husband and mom came in and held me. I remember my mom asking if we’d like him to baptize him. She blessed his little body, this little collection of non-viable cells I held in my hand, with the sign of the cross. And then we sat there together for an eternity, huddled on the cold, hard bathroom floor as we said goodbye.
That was Valentine’s Day 2003. It would be years before I could look at a Valentine without tearing up.
Happily ever after — sort of
Luckily, a few months after my miscarriage I was able to get pregnant again and over time the sharp stabbing pain of grief ebbed into a slow, sad ache. I was damaged though. Sure, I was healthy and strong but I was depressed too. I spent my entire pregnancy on edge, anxious and panicked — freaking out over heartbeats, convinced I would kill this baby too. Like many women, I blamed myself.
Now, years later, I don’t think about my miscarriage very often. And I’ve mostly forgiven myself. But every time I fill out a health form at the doctor’s office I’m reminded that I’ve been pregnant four times, even though I only have three children. And while I do sometimes wonder what he would have looked like and why he was taken from me, I know that without that terrible loss I might have taken my healthy pregnancies and kids for granted. I still don’t care much for Valentine’s Day because it will always remind me of the day I lost my youthful invincibility and learned that miscarriages are a natural, normal part of life — and that life isn’t a fairytale.