Baby #4 – Our Story of Loss
We found out we were expecting baby Parsons #4 on August 15, 2014. We were a bit surprised at the news, but just like all the other 3 babies, we were very excited. I am not the type who can keep a pregnancy secret for the first trimester. I pretty much announce it immediately. I can’t help it. This time was no different. We told the kids, and the news was out. Our expected due date was April 26, 2015. Perfect timing – only about 2 weeks of school left and we’d be snuggling a newborn all summer. Just relaxing, a slow time for me work-wise anyway, no buses to catch each morning – it was going to be perfect.
I called and got an appointment with the midwife group I used with J, and they told me to plan on coming in for my first appointment at 12 weeks. In the meantime, I settled into bouts of nausea and being tired, all typical first trimester symptoms. I wanted to make sure the date I had figured matched up with an ultrasound, so I scheduled a really quick dating scan at 8 weeks. All looked good. Strong heartbeat, viable pregnancy.
Our first appointment with the midwives fell over Fall Break, and so the entire family got to attend. My labs were drawn, we chatted about my medical history, all the routine first appointment stuff. My history in regards to pregnancy is one most women would love to have. Three pregnancies, all easy, uncomplicated, and the same with the births. No miscarriages, babies all full term, no NICU stays, literally nothing out of the ordinary. Growing and birthing babies is one thing my body does very well. The last thing we tried to do at that initial appointment was detect a heartbeat. We were having a hard time finding it, but that isn’t really unusual that early on. Sometimes the baby is still so small, it’s hard to hear. With a history like mine, and an ultrasound from a few weeks prior verifying a viable pregnancy, you just don’t worry. We’ll definitely catch it next time. See you in 4 weeks. A few days later, my lab results came back – nothing out of the ordinary. Everything looked great. And so life went on…..
My next appointment was November 11, 2014, and I was 16 weeks pregnant. I hadn’t felt movement yet, but I knew it was coming. Soon. By around 17-18 weeks, I would definitely be feeling flutters. I happened to decide to call my friend Y to see if she wanted to meet me for the appointment and have lunch afterwards. She was at J’s birth with the same midwife group, and I thought she’d like to see their new location. She agreed, and met me there at 10 am. I had J with me too, and we all filed into the room for our appointment. J played with toys on the floor, and I had Y video the part where we’d get to hear the heartbeat. A and L had been upset that they hadn’t gotten to hear it last time, and I wouldn’t let them skip school today. The midwife’s assistant put the Doppler on my belly and tried to get the heartbeat. She’s very good at what she does, and she still couldn’t hear it. So the primary midwife tried. She couldn’t hear it either and suggested we get an ultrasound that day. Even though they didn’t really let on, I knew this meant there might be a problem. Midwives don’t usually order non-routine ultrasounds, and especially not insisting it be the same day. Not unless there was something wrong.
But in my mind, I just couldn’t go there. Just couldn’t. I told myself there was a sensible explanation. It would all be fine. I always have healthy babies. Always.
So my friend, J, and I all three had lunch and did a little light shopping while we waited until 3:30 pm for the ultrasound appointment. I tried to keep my mind busy. I wondered if we’d be able to tell the sex of the baby today. We had planned to do an ultrasound at 19-20 weeks and do a big gender reveal in conjunction with J’s birthday party. We already had that printed on his birthday invitations. Now I wondered if I found out today, if I could keep it a secret that long.
The ultrasound tech wasn’t as good at keeping her concerns off her face as the midwives had been. She quickly set up her equipment, typed in my information, and put the jelly on my abdomen. As soon as the picture showed up on the screen, I knew something was wrong. The baby should be much, much bigger than that. It was still just a tiny, tiny, oval with an indention at the neck so you could tell the difference in the torso and head. There was no heartbeat. No movement. Just a small, gestational sac with a tiny, perfect baby lying horizontally at the bottom. The ultrasound tech was short, but professional. She wished me condolences and asked if I wanted a picture. I said I guess I did. I was able to hold it together long enough to pay her and get outside. Then I really lost it. I’m so glad Y was there with me. I cried on her shoulder in shock. How was this really happening? The baby measured 9 weeks, 5 days. That meant, I guess, that it had been almost 7 weeks since the baby had died. I had no physical symptoms. Zero. No cramping, no bleeding. And I wasn’t crazy – the ultrasound confirmed it. Everything was still there, my body was taking care of it just like it should – except the baby wasn’t alive anymore.
I was in tears as I called to tell my husband. How do you make a call like that? What words should you say? How do you tell your husband that the baby you’d been planning about, talking about, debating on names for – isn’t coming? I managed to get out the words, “there was no heartbeat”, and he left work immediately to meet me back at the midwife’s office. I had to call my mom too, and mother in law and squeak out those words again, between sobs.
I didn’t get out of the car at the midwife’s office until my husband arrived, about 10 minutes after we did. Y went ahead and left, so we could talk with the midwife privately about what our options were. As soon as I walked in, she ushered us to a private room. She hugged me and let me know it was ok to just let it out. She even made me some herbal tea to sip on while we talked.
She spoke softly and was supportive of whatever it is we decided to do. We could choose to do nothing, and let nature take its course. But we really didn’t know how long that would be. It could be as soon as a few days, or it could be a few weeks, or a month….the ultrasound tech hadn’t indicated any separation of the placenta (albeit very small) from the sac though, so we couldn’t really be confident that it would be in the next few days. I hadn’t had any cramping or anything, so we really assumed it would be a bit longer than that. Or, we could induce the process with medication. Without going into too much detail, that didn’t sound too pleasant. Or, we could go the surgical route and opt for a D&C (dilation and curettage). That could happen in the next day or two, but would mean outpatient surgery, general anesthesia, and the bills that come with that. We went home to discuss it. The midwives were great to suggest we not decide on anything until the next day. We had planned a trip to Colorado for the week of Thanksgiving, leaving on November 23 and returning November 28. That was 11 days away. I really didn’t want to let things happen on their own, and have it happen during the trip. But looking at the calendar, I knew that was probably likely. I knew the kids would be upset at this news, but I also wanted them to be able to enjoy their upcoming big vacation, as well as the rest of the Christmas holiday season. I knew I couldn’t be 100% mom to them if I was walking around wondering if today would be the day. That would be a tough burden to bear. Plus, it had already been 7 weeks. Most miscarriages, though not all, happen by then. Usually by 4, or at least 6 weeks. The next day, we called the midwife and she contacted an OB and scheduled our D&C for the next day.
I spend most of Wednesday, the day after we found out, just crying. I stayed in my pajamas, drank herbal tea, and just bawled all day. I would have times of feeling a bit better, and I would try to rest. But every time I closed my eyes, I saw the ultrasound picture. I was an emotional wreck. I had planned to go on a field trip with Livi that day, but I couldn’t stand to be around anyone. I just wanted to stay home.
The next morning, we headed out to OKC to the hospital. We did the pre-op check in, and my mom met us there. Everyone there was great. They kept saying, “we’re going to take really good care of you.” The only annoying one was a poor guy who meant well but clearly didn’t know what a D&C was or why most women have them.
“When was your last period?”
“And you’re here for…a D&C?”
“Do they know why you haven’t had a period since July?”
“Because I was pregnant, and I have lost the baby, and that’s why I’m having the surgery.”
It was hard to say that out loud. I had already hired a doula for the birth, and I had contacted her Tuesday, as soon as we found out about the loss. She actually called while I was in the parking lot of the midwives office and talked to me while I waited for my husband. She was able to come meet me at the hospital too, while we were waiting to go in for surgery. She is such a calming presence. I was glad she was there. She brought me a teddy bear to take into surgery with me, “so I wouldn’t leave that room empty handed.” I cried and thanked her, and I took that bear right into the OR with me. I don’t know that they did with it when I was under anesthesia, but it was right on my chest when I woke up in recovery. Now that bear sits next to that last ultrasound picture we got, and a canvas a friend sent that reads, “Heaven holds me.”
After the surgery, the recovery was really quite easy. I was told to take it easy for 2 weeks, and I did. I spent some of that time on vacation in the beautiful mountains of Colorado. I drank hot tea and got a massage, and played with the kids in the snow. It was great.
My doula and midwife team made sure to emphasize to me that it was important to process through all this. Not to “be ok” too soon, when I wasn’t really ok. I took their advice. I let people know what was going on, instead of hiding it. I received so much love and support – from facebook comments, message, texts, calls, flowers – it was so heartwarming to know so many people cared about us and our heartaches. I make the display for the kitchen of the bear, picture, and canvas, and then I used the only other ultrasound picture I had to make an ornament for our Christmas tree. I really think our ornaments tell a story, and this baby is forever a part of that story.
I wasn’t sure how to make the dates on the ornament. Date of conception? Date we found out the baby was coming? Date we assumed the baby died? Date we found out? Due date? How do you make a memorial to a baby you haven’t really met, but you carried in your own body? I decided on putting the date we found out we were pregnant to the date we found out of the loss. I know there were 7 weeks in there that the baby was gone – but in my mind, the baby was still there during that time. The date that will be hard to get through every year will be that one – Nov. 11th. I also ordered myself a necklace to wear in remembrance. It’s beautiful. I don’t need to wear it everyday, but sometimes. On the hard days.
I recovered easily physically from the surgery, and just had to wait it out to see when my regular cycles would start again. Everyone is different. Some women take a few weeks, others 6 weeks, others a few months or more. I joked around with some people that all I wanted for Christmas was my period – not very many have that on their Christmas list, right? Ha! Anyway, I ended up waking up to find my wish came a day early, on Christmas Eve, which for me was 5 weeks and 6 days after my procedure.
I struggled with whether I should post this on my Arbuckle Birth website or not, but I think it’s important to share. So many women have suffered loss, but most of them don’t talk about it. Maybe it’s not proper, but I suppose if you don’t want to read about it, you can just not read this. Some women need to read it. They need to know they aren’t alone. They need to know that miscarriage can happen to anyone. It isn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything to cause it. We all wonder that, even me. I teach childbirth classes, and I know a LOT about birth. But going through this, I wasn’t a “birth instructor” I was a mom. Just like all the other moms, I wondered – was it something I ate? Or drank? Or breathed? The answer is most likely “no”. I still have the video that Y took at the fateful appointment, when the midwives couldn’t get the heartbeat. I can’t really stand to watch it. But I can’t delete it either.
One in four pregnancies end in loss. Every October is Miscarriage and Infant Loss Awareness Month, which didn’t mean near as much to me this past October as it will this next year. If you experience loss, know you aren’t alone. Reach out, ask for support, and take the time you need to process through it all. I had chosen an amazing birth team, and even though this wasn’t how I had planned on using them, they were nothing but 100% supportive and caring of me as I walked this difficult road. I rely on my faith to help me through times like this. I don’t know how I would deal with it any other way. I know that God will work out things like this for good in the end. I just don’t know how that will all work out yet. But it will. He will.
Miscarriage and Infant Loss Resources:
An Empty Cradle, A Full Heart: Reflections for Mothers and Fathers after Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or Infant Death by Christine Lafser