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We Need to Start Talking About Miscarriage

08/31/2015 05:27 EDT | Updated 08/31/2016 05:59 EDT
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I knew it was gone the moment I saw the blood.

It. It? I don't know. The pregnancy? The fetus? Am I allowed to call it "the baby"?

Him. I thought it was a boy. I'll never know for sure.

*

The morning after it happened, I got an alert on my phone from my pregnancy app, just like I did every Saturday. It was a short but cheerful message that said "Congratulations! Today you are 10 weeks pregnant, and your embryo has graduated to a fetus! Your baby is now swallowing and kicking, and all the major organs are fully developed. More minute details are appearing too, like fingernails and peach-fuzz hair. If you could take a look at your baby this week, you'd be able to see the clear outline of his spine."

Later that evening I did see the spine. I held it in my hands after it fell out of me like a soft egg in a rush of blood and I saw the spine.

*

Missed Miscarriage. Or "silent" miscarriage. That's what they're calling it. I hate both of these terms. It was loud and clear.

*

The night before the bleeding started, I was eating dinner on our patio with my husband and two of our friends when I suddenly felt a rush of liquid come out of me. I winced and excused myself, hurrying to the bathroom, not entirely worried but definitely weirded out. When I sat down on the toilet, I was relieved to see it was just water. Or at least, a colourless, odorless liquid that looked like water. My underwear were drenched, but nothing else happened, and I didn't think anything of it. Must just be a pregnancy thing, I thought. I changed and went back outside and had vanilla ice cream with peaches for dessert. I didn't realize at the time it was my water breaking.

*

"What about a miscarriage? What do I look for?" I asked my doctor as I was leaving her office the morning I discovered I was pregnant. She never once brought it up. I almost forgot to.

"Oh, right. Yes, that could happen. It does happen." She seemed uncomfortable. "There's about a 20 to 30 per cent chance it will happen. Call me if you have intense cramping with bleeding at the same time. Some spotting is normal, as is some cramping. But they shouldn't happen together."

Later when I told my girlfriend how much that stat had terrified me -- 20 to 30 per cent -- she laughed it off. "No, that means there's a 70 to 80 per cent chance it WON'T happen! You have to think of it that way." So I did. I knew friends of friends who'd had miscarriages, but it wouldn't happen to me.

*

I didn't sleep at all that night because of the pain. It was a pain I thought I recognized; I figured it was some combination of bloating, gas, or constipation, all of which are very common during pregnancy (fun). I have a bad stomach on the best of days, so it must just be that. But there was never any relief all through the night, and the pain intensified as the hours went by. Still, I didn't worry. I didn't know that was what "cramping" felt like. Nobody told me that's what it felt like.

*

We got pregnant on our honeymoon. Not exactly the plan, but a very welcome surprise. I had a few hints in the weeks that followed: sore breasts, tired, moody, bloated. Most of these early pregnancy symptoms are no different than regular PMS symptoms, so I didn't think much of them. Then one night I smelled something vile in our kitchen and went on a rampage trying to locate the source. My husband finally discovered that it was a bottle of Goo Gone hidden deep in one of the cupboards. "How can you even smell that?" he laughed. "Get it out of here!!" I shrieked. I caught my breath while he took the offending bottle outside, and in that moment I thought, "Holy shit. I'm pregnant." The next morning I took an at-home test and the plus sign appeared almost instantly. Bright blue.

*

"Missed" miscarriage, I guess, because nothing "happened" when he died several days earlier, alone in my uterus. There were no symptoms for a week or two after his heart stopped beating and he stopped growing. The pregnancy app doesn't send you a text that says "PS, your baby is dead."

*

Once we got over the initial shock of the unplanned pregnancy, we were both so excited. We told our parents, his sisters, my brother, a few close friends. As the weeks sailed by problem-free, we told more people. We joked about whose reaction was the sweetest, the funniest. We started thinking of names. We had expectations. We made plans. We built an entire future in our minds.

*

Cramping.

Even though it's a term I use every month, for some reason I thought it meant something different in the context of a miscarriage. I didn't think to look for the dull, relentless aches that come before menstruation. "Cramping" somehow took on a new meaning in pregnancy; I redefined it as something sharp, sudden, stabby, fast. Something really different than anything you'd ever felt before. Something that, when it happened, you would know right away: "This is happening. This is the thing."

*

In the cab on the way to the doctor's office I felt numb. I rubbed my belly and said, "Hang in there. Hang in there. Hang in there." My husband kept telling me not to worry until we talked to the doctor. I wasn't worried. I knew it was already gone.

*

"These things happen."

"It wasn't meant to be."

"Think of how easily you got pregnant; that's what matters."

"Next time will be better."

"It's just the universe protecting you."

"So many women have gone through this."

"Better it happened now than even later."

*

I was texting two of my girlfriends the morning the blood came, as we do every morning as soon as we wake up. "I had the craziest pain all night," I wrote. "Seriously didn't sleep at all. I'm sure it's nothing alarming but God, it was awful." They texted about what they ate for dinner last night; what their toddler did this morning; what patients they would see at work this afternoon.

I sat down on the toilet and I wiped and I saw the blood. It was brown.

"I'm bleeding."

Silence.

Then, from my friend who is a mother: "It's nothing. I'm sure of it. But call your doctor. I had spotting too. It's definitely nothing." Then, from my friend who is a doctor: "I wish there was something I could say to reassure you." But I couldn't read their messages through the tears. I already knew. This is happening. This is the thing.

*

I took a shower before waking up my husband. I figured I would be a mess and that I might actually die so I should have one more shower. I figured I should do my hair before my life ended. I sobbed and sobbed while the water scalded my back.

*

We'll turn the guest room into the baby's room, and the office into the new guest room!

We'll go to New Zealand during my mat leave!

The middle name will by Joy or Rose if it's a girl!

I'll speak only in French to the baby, starting today!

I'll take prenatal yoga classes!

We'll tell everyone in just two short weeks!!!

*

"It doesn't look good." My doctor, after I described the cramps, the blood. "But go and take an ultrasound next door, and we'll know for sure." I watched the blood drain from my husband's face. I nodded. It was already done.

*

You get pregnant and then you have a baby. That's what's supposed to happen. That's the only story we're allowed to share. "I got pregnant and it was funny / messy / great / uncomfortable / long / whatever, and then I had the baby." You get pregnant and then you have a baby. The end.

*

In the ultrasound office I had a different technician than the last time. She inserted the wand inside me. She didn't move it around as much as the last time I was here -- just 2.5 weeks ago -- when I saw the heartbeat for the first time. That time the wand moved side to side and up and down and back and forth -- taking measurements, taking pictures. There was no reason to move it this time; I could tell she didn't see a heartbeat as soon as she put it in. She left to get the doctor. We waited. I concentrated on breathing. "Whatever happens, it's going to be OK." said my husband. We both knew he was lying.

*

We had to call everyone who knew. I felt terrible for everyone. I felt like I had disappointed them all. I caused this. I took away their baby. The baby they were all waiting for, desperately in some cases. We teased them with hope and then we took it all away.

*

"We'll give you a moment." The ultrasound doctor and the technician left and I got off the table and fell into my husband's arms. I cried and I said, "No, no, no..." over and over into his chest. He cried. We couldn't breathe. He rubbed my hair. I looked back and saw blood all over the table where I had been laying moments before. It was bright red against the white sheet.

*

My doctor said I had to make a decision on how to get it out of me. "Get it out?" "Your cervix is still closed. The baby is still inside you. Since it has been dead for a week or so, and you're already so far along, it likely won't come out on it's own. You'll need to decide how to remove it." I told her I needed the weekend to think about it. "I'll be on vacation next week but you can follow up with my replacement." OK.

Just before we left, she added that "there is a chance it might come out on its own. If it does, it might be painful and there might be a lot of blood. And tissue. You might see... everything. You should buy some pads to be safe." OK.

*

We left the doctor's office and decided to go to the cottage, as planned. We didn't know what else to do. We were supposed to head up there with three of my best girlfriends for the weekend, so we did. We didn't know what else to do.

*

I googled "DNC" and nothing came up. I also couldn't remember the name of the drug my doctor had mentioned. Miso...something. I texted my doctor friend. "It's D AND C. D&C. It stands for Dilation and Curettage. And the drug is called Misoprostol. Which are you going to do?" I don't know. I don't know.

*

Everyone did their best to make me feel better that night. It worked until it didn't. I excused myself to the bathroom at one point and temporarily lost my mind, as quietly as possible. I was so overcome with grief I actually fell to my knees on the bathroom floor, like people do in the movies. I felt like I was in a movie. How was this real life? Why did this happen?

*

"Let's have a chat. You can sit up." The doctor at the ultrasound office. I was covered in goo and there was blood between my legs and I was wearing a robe that wasn't tied tightly enough at the back.

"You're 33? And this is your first pregnancy? I'm sorry, dear, it didn't work out. See here?" She swung the monitor to face me so that I could see what she was looking at. "It should be measuring longer than this at 10 weeks, so we think it stopped growing around eight weeks. As you can see, there is no heartbeat." All I saw was a slumped figure lying motionless in a heap at the bottom of the screen. My uterus. The corpse. Two weeks ago I looked at this exact same screen, with this exact same image, but the baby was floating in the middle. The heart was beating furiously. We could see little arm and leg buds. A giant brain. Now it was just lying at the bottom, like a dead fish. I hated that she showed me.

*

Everyone says there's nothing you could have done. You will never believe them. What if I drank too much. What if it's from working out too much, or too hard. What if I had too much caffeine. It's because I didn't start the pre-natal vitamins until after I found out I was pregnant. It's my thyroid. I'm too old. I waited too long. It's because of me. That's all you'll think.

*

My stomach hurt a lot that night. I drank wine and I took Advil and more Advil and more wine and used a heating pad. I wasn't expecting the physical pain. No one told me it would be this bad.

*

When I later recounted the story to friends and family, I sounded like a news reporter. Here is what happened, here are the facts, first this, then this and finally this, and now I'm fine. I still worry they think I am a robot, and wonder why I didn't cry. I haven't been able to cry in front of anyone.

*

At the cottage, I wore my bikini top and shorts with a giant pad that felt like a diaper. I bled quite a bit that day, sort of like a slightly heavier period. We all went on a boat ride and I wore a black bikini bottom for the boat and I jumped in the lake every time I felt the blood coming so no one would see. I don't recommend going through a miscarriage in a bikini. It's not ideal.

*

The contractions started around 6:00 p.m. At first I didn't know what they were. It was mostly the same type of pain I'd been having all day on the boat, but I started noticing that it was coming in waves. I would get a break for a few minutes and then it would come back, really strong and really sharp. I couldn't stand up or walk anymore. I called for my husband and I sat in the recliner in the sun room and I gritted my teeth and closed my eyes and said, "Something's happening..." and he got my friend, the doctor. She touched my belly and said you're having contractions and "Are you OK?" and I said, "I think so." and I gritted my teeth and clenched my husband's hand as the next one came. I didn't know I would have contractions. Or have to eventually give birth. I had no idea.

*

The next day, after the worst of it was over, my friends "iced" me. I told them they were cruel and they told me to get on my knees and chug and it was the most I'd laughed in days. It was the best thing.

*

"I think I can stand, and I want to see the sunset," I announced a few hours into the contractions. This cottage is known for its sunsets, and I only get to witness them once a year. It is one of my favourite things to do and see in one of my favourite places in the world, and I felt it would bring me peace and comfort. We all went down to the dock. We took pictures. We laughed. I screamed through one really bad contraction, then laughed again. "It's so beautiful," I said. Then I felt a huge surge of blood come gushing out of me. "I'll be right back," I called as I hurried back towards the empty cottage." "You OK? Need me to come with you?" my husband asked, concerned. "No, I got this. Be right back."

*

Upstairs in the bathroom on the second floor I could still see the sun setting through the adjacent bedroom window. I had left the bathroom door open since no one else was in the cottage. I could hear their voices laughing down at the dock, but otherwise it was completely silent. I had soaked completely through the heavy duty pad, and as soon as I sat down on the toilet blood poured out of me. It felt like someone was emptying a two-litre bottle of blood from inside of my body. Gushing. Bright red. Death and birth at the same time.

Suddenly I felt something big and squishy fall out. It made a very distinct sound as it hit the water. I said out loud, "That was it." I didn't even know it was my own voice at first. It felt like someone else talking through me, telling me that it was the baby. This is happening. This is the thing.

*

I looked down and all I could see was blood. The blood was bright and thick and filled the toilet and it was slimy and opaque and I couldn't see through it. I reached down to the bottom of the toilet and I felt it and I picked it up and held it in my hands. Him. I looked as carefully as I could but I also tried not to see anything. I said, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." and I let it slip out of my hands back into the toilet and I didn't know what to do next so I flushed the toilet and I sat on the ground and I cried with blood all over my hands.

*

You wonder if you're too sad. Or not sad enough. What's normal? Should you just move on? Should you take more time to grieve? Take care of yourself, everyone says. How?

*

After it came out, I felt an immediate sense of physical relief and emotional despair. The pain was cut in half. I could stand, walk, wash my hands, do up my jeans. But I couldn't think of anything except, "That was my baby and I just flushed it down the toilet and I didn't even save it or show my husband and I killed it, just now. I killed it."

I yelled through the window, down to the dock, and my husband came running and he found me on the bed and I told him what happened and he held me and we cried and cried,and he said, "We have each other no matter what. No matter what." and I cried harder.

*

The rest of that night, the blood came and it came and it didn't stop. It came for two more days after that, with clots and tissue and everything that was once making a human inside of me. I've never seen anything so red, so bright. There's been an accident, I kept thinking. This isn't normal. It can't be.

*

A few days later I had to have another ultrasound to see if everything came out. If there is anything left in your uterus, your body gets tricked into thinking you're still pregnant and you won't get your period again so you can't get pregnant again. There are other potential negative side effects as well, but that's the only one I heard. Get it out of me. I want it all out now.

*

The ultrasound found traces. "We can't be sure what it is, but to be on the safe side, we're prescribing you the Misoprostol. It induces cramping and bleeding, probably similar to what you just went through on the weekend." I have to do it again. To make sure. To get it all out. 10 weeks.

Misoprostol is four pills that you have to insert yourself into your vagina and then wait to bleed some more. I can't believe there isn't a better way.

*

Since then the bleeding has tapered off. It has been almost two weeks. I have to have one more blood test to make sure my hCG levels are back to zero, which will mean I'm really not pregnant anymore, for real. If for some reason the test doesn't show that, I don't know what happens next. Maybe an operation. Maybe more drugs. I'll have to wait and see.

*

*A note from the author: Pregnancy loss is something we should be talking about more openly, honestly and frequently. I wish I had known more about it, and what to expect, before it happened to me. If you've gone through this and want to share your story with someone, please feel free to write to me, even if we are strangers. You can reach me at broadbentmeg@gmail.com. You will get through this, everything you are feeling is normal and it will get better.

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