Managing Miscarriage: My story of pregnancy loss & my favorite pieces of advice
Updated: Apr 23, 2019
Disclaimer: I am sharing my story b/c I know it may be helpful to someone out there. But, if you’re in a season where reading about pregnancy loss might trigger some tough emotions, please feel free to skip this post and rejoin me for my next entry. I completely understand.
Also, readers: It’s long. And I don’t apologize for that. I believe the person who needs to read this will appreciate the detail.
August 2, 2018
I’ve been writing this in my mind for many months, wondering if I would have the courage to actually share it, but needing to write it regardless. Today is the day my baby was due. Oliver’s little brother or sister. Well, I will say ‘sister’ because Max and I knew it was a girl, just as we intuitively knew Oliver was going to be a boy. But, instead of welcoming a sweet little baby into our family today, I’m here working at a coffee shop, still carrying around some extra weight, still wondering what’s next for our family and still needing to heal a little bit. Sometimes I am hard on myself, telling myself to get it together, this happens to so many women and is not as tragic as other losses I have seen friends and acquaintances go through. And I do have it together - most of the time. But I’ve realized it is a process. And, on this day, I hope to find a turning point. A new path on the road that I can take that will bring me to a place of more acceptance, clarity and understanding. But for the past seven months, the road I’ve been on has been a bit uneven.
I’m writing this for two reasons:
1) We need to be more comfortable discussing miscarriage. Too many of us are dealing with this type of loss alone. And that’s just not necessary. The chance of miscarriage is anywhere from 10-25%, which means there are A LOT of us out here walking around with our own stories. I want women to feel welcome to reach out to one another for support and to know it's okay to share their experiences. I want us to avoid walking through this type of loss alone by connecting with one another.
2) When I was going through my miscarriage earlier this year, I was literally googling “how to get through a miscarriage” because I felt completely stuck. There were a lot of articles that essentially said the same things – allow yourself to grieve, cry, talk about it. Those things are all very necessary. But I kept thinking ‘How do I actually do that and is there anything more I can I do?'. So I asked others to share their advice of what got them through their losses. I tried different things myself. And I’ve kept a list of ideas. My intention is to write the article that I needed to read.
I have been very open with my journey to motherhood, most specifically here and here. But for new readers, here’s the gist: I met my husband, Max, when I was 37. Shortly thereafter, I found out I have a unicornuate uterus (which basically means I was born with half a uterus and only one working fallopian tube.) It took us about a year to conceive the first time and that pregnancy ended quickly at around 6 weeks. The next month, we conceived the biggest miracle of our lives and, at the age of 40, I delivered our sweet Oliver. The happiest ginger baby you’ve ever met.
As an advanced maternal age couple, Max and I knew that if we wanted to try to have another baby we’d have to start sooner rather than later. So, when Ollie was around 7 months old, we started trying for number two. And, about 5 months later, I was pregnant again. My pregnancy with Oliver had been wrought with uncertainty, fear and caution. But now, after my wee uterus proved it could stretch to hold a healthy, full term baby, I felt more confident. We went to an appointment to confirm the pregnancy. And then returned at 7.5 weeks to have an ultrasound, where we saw our little nugget with its healthy heartbeat and were instantly attached. The next ultrasound wouldn’t be until week 11. Our OB remarked that, after seeing a heartbeat, it’s 95% likely the baby would make it. We felt cautiously optimistic and started making plans. I ordered an adorable “I’m going to be a big brother in August 2018” shirt for Oliver to wear at our family Christmas gathering to share our news. And, when our good friends sent us a photo of their holiday fireplace, which included an extra stocking, we countered with our fireplace and our new little stocking, awaiting it’s monogrammed name. We were due 2 days apart! I started a list of baby names. We began planning to move Max’s office into the guest room and make a ‘big boy’ room for Oliver, so we could eventually have our nursery ready for our new addition. We cautiously told close friends. And I ate my way through those couple of months, as comfort food was the one thing that helped my round-the-clock tinge of nausea. We started to work our lives around the August 2nd due date.
On January 10th, I went to my next check-up. I didn’t feel nervous. In fact, I even told Max he didn’t need to come, since he was busy at work and there would be many more appointments he could join in on. My OB told me this time we wouldn’t do an ultrasound, just a heartbeat check on the doppler monitor. We chatted about my pregnancy thus far, how I was feeling and I went through the list of questions I had prepared. When it came time for the heartbeat check, she mentioned it can be tough to detect it this way before 13 weeks, so we would just move to an ultrasound if that’s the case. Sure enough, as the doctor searched my belly for a rhythm, it just wasn’t picking anything up. “No problem at all”, she said, a bit over-enthusiastically. “This is super normal.” She sent me down the hall to wait for an ultrasound. At this point, I still wasn’t feeling too worried, but rather relieved that I was going to have an ultrasound and actually see our baby and its little heartbeat again. But when I walked into the x-ray room, the ultrasound tech said “Are you freaking out?”. It was then that my own heart started beating faster. And it was then I knew that I should be worried. “Well, I wasn’t, but I am now.” I replied. As she got the test set up she talked about the weather and other nondescript topics. And then, it happened. My worst thing. As she found the baby and it popped up on the screen, it was just a picture. No beautiful music of a racing heartbeat, like we had heard the last time. She sat back and just looked at me with pain in her face. “I’m so sorry”, she whispered. No, no, no. I kept shaking my head. Suddenly, the small room felt like it was closing in on me. And I couldn’t catch my breath. I didn’t know what to do. I started sobbing and the tech hugged me. I was cursing myself for not asking Max to come. I felt helpless and paralyzed. She left the room so I could call Max. “We lost the baby”, I managed to cry out when he answered. “I’m coming.” he said. But I told him not to. It was a long drive and by the time he arrived, I’d be done. I told him to meet me at home.
And then I was sent back to the original patient room to await the return of the OB to find out what was next. They literally left me in there for 30 minutes. It felt like they could have possibly put a rush on her return given the circumstances. It felt like an eternity. I just sat there, trying to get my head around the news and accept that, in a sheer moment, the trajectory of our lives had shifted. The doctor finally made her way back and told me how sorry she was and that it was important I know this wasn’t my fault. I asked her what happens next. She said I have 3 options: 1) I can let the miscarriage happen naturally 2) I can speed it up with medicine that causes lots of cramping or 3) I can have it surgically removed via a procedure called a D&C. She said since my body had rid itself of my first miscarriage unaided, it would likely be able to do that again, which I took as encouragement of going that route. So I said I’d try that for now and she said I could change my mind at any time.
Then I drove home. Loud crying. Ugly crying. When I pulled into the driveway, Max was standing there at the door. He met me as I got out of the car and let me collapse into him. “I’m so sorry.” That day was a blur. I literally didn’t know what to do next. I sat in bed staring. I agreed to go to the Whole Foods Bar with Max, usually our happy place. We talked. About what, I can’t really remember now. But that day turned into nearly a week of waiting. I called it purgatory. Knowing I was still carrying my baby who no longer had a heartbeat was actually breaking my own heart. I sort of walked around in a fog, waiting for my body to kick into gear. And finally, about 5 days later, the bleeding started. (Possible TMI ahead - proceed with caution.) This is what had happened the last time, so I thought this was a good sign and cried with both relief and grief. I bled for the next 5 days and it seemed to be slowing down so I thought perhaps that was it. Although a nagging voice in my head said that it seemed too insignificant.
And that voice was right. Late on a Friday afternoon, 10 days after my initial appointment, I found myself in bed with pains that I could only compare to labor. Oliver was napping at the time, so I messaged Max and encouraged him to get home soon as I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. The next part was traumatic and I’m going to leave out the details. But the miscarriage happened a couple of hours later. And it’s one of my worst moments.
But the bleeding wouldn’t stop. I knew it was a part of the process but it felt like too much. I texted with a friend who had also miscarried at 12 weeks. I called the after hours nurse line for my OB office. After a couple of hours, it was clear that I needed to go to the ER. Max called a couple of neighbors to come watch Oliver, who dropped everything on a Friday night and did so in 2 shifts. (There are so many places to find gratitude in the midst of loss, this was one.) And he drove like a bat out of hell to the ER downtown. He had to bring me a wheelchair b/c I was bleeding too much to walk. We waited for ages and ages and considered leaving for another ER. Finally, we were dropped off in a room to wait some more. I don’t think it’s necessary to share all of the hard details here either. But the ER visit included 5 more hours of hemorrhaging, sporadic attention from medical staff, two near blackouts, a gruesome pelvic exam, an ultrasound and a lot of fear as to what was happening to me. They finally concluded that basically there was some tissue stuck and my uterus was trying to clear it out and would continue bleeding indefinitely so I would need to have surgery to remove it (the D&C I probably should have just had in the first place). I still don’t know why it took hours to get me over to labor & delivery. But finally, after 5 hours (and a very assertive husband), someone came to pick me up to take me a few buildings over (I was rolled through the buildings in the bed, since I couldn't even get into a wheelchair at that point), where they welcomed me with open arms, ambient lighting and lots of much-needed attention. They said, “We’ve been waiting for you for several hours”.
They got to work and, before I knew it, I was meeting the anesthesiologist and my doctor. Before they whisked me into the procedure, the nurse gave me a stuffed teddy bear. She said, “I just want to take a moment to pause and share this with you.” I read the note and dissolved into tears (I still do any time I read it.) Finally. I felt seen. I felt accompanied. I could picture lines and lines of women who had experienced this type of loss before me giving me a gentle nudge of encouragement. And I held that little bear through surgery and for the days that followed. Another reason for gratitude.
The surgery took all of 4 minutes. I was okay. But I had lost so much blood (my doctor estimates 1/3 of my blood), that I had to stick around a while to see if I would need a transfusion. I was right on the borderline of having acceptable hemoglobin level, so they eventually sent us home with strict orders for me to take it easy. My red blood cells needed to be replenished and it would take 4-6 weeks.
And so we went home. My in-laws had dropped everything and driven the 2.5 hours to our house, arriving around 1AM to relieve our neighbor and spent the weekend helping us with Oliver, meals, and house duties. I was incredibly grateful. I felt like a shell of a person. And I experienced what I think was real depression for the first time in my life. I think it was probably a combination of hormones and the processing of the traumatic events. But I felt so so sad. And fat. I was first-trimester-ate-everything-to-survive fat. But fat without a baby. And I was forbidden from doing physical activity for weeks. It felt cruel to have that on top of the loss. I spent several days in bed. Lots of quiet tears. Lots of chats with my Mom. And some girlfriends. And Max. And my therapist. I just didn’t know how to move forward. So I didn’t.
Eventually, I had a little ray of light sneak in. I remember having a really good session with my business coach, who doubles as my life coach too. I felt a little twinge of excitement about working again for the first time in a while. And I spent a weekend in St. Simons Island with my Mom. I had called her on a particularly tough day and just said, “I need you to come.” And she did. I needed to get out of my day to day, I realized. A little escape to a place that makes me happy with one of the people who I could just me with. Even if that was incredibly messy.
After that week, things slowly picked up for me. I eventually was able to work out again. And that helped immensely. I focused on things that felt uplifting and purposeful.
Max and I decided to resume trying for another baby after a little while. And I got pregnant again at the end of April, but lost that pregnancy as well. This time it was what they call a chemical pregnancy, lost before it really began. And I am grateful it was quick if it had to be a loss.
So, it’s been a rough year in this way. And it’s left me with more questions than answers. But there have also been rainbows sprinkled in here and there. Friends and family who stepped up and supported me, even some unexpected new friends. An enormous dose of love and gratitude for what I do have – my amazing husband who has loved me through various states of unattractiveness and hardship, and for my beautiful son, who now seems even more of a miracle to both of us, I just think he is full of magic. I also have a deeper gratitude for the work I get to do, it now feels more purposeful than ever – helping other women navigate all of the seasons, some better than others.
As I’ve approached the August 2nd due date, I’ve found myself feeling angry and sad again. And I’ve learned that grief isn’t linear. It pops up here and there. And so it’s okay. I’m going to keep walking through it when I need to. And looking for the purpose in it. Starting with the writing (and possibly the sharing) of my story. I don’t know where it goes from here, but I know it has changed me and I am stronger because of it.
The Things That Helped:
On the first day I found out my baby no longer had a heartbeat, I stumbled around on my own for a day or so. Then I just intuitively knew that I am better when I feel connected to others. So I started reaching out- which wasn't always easy or comfortable. I sent emails to friends who I knew had also experienced pregnancy loss. And I even posted a message in my local Mom Group on Facebook, hoping that I hadn’t overshared. But I was met with so much love and camaraderie. So many women telling me they too had gone through this. I collected all of their pieces of advice, I took advice from my therapist and also a pregnancy loss coach. And I tried some things that just felt right to me.
And now I have this list, that I keep adding to as I continue to discover new things: So, if you or someone you know is going through or has experienced pregnancy loss, here is a little curated menu of things that might help:
1. Talk to a therapist. I got so much value out of speaking to my own therapist soon after I lost my baby. I was able to just let it all out, to share the specific trauma I went through without worrying about reactions and to get some expert advice on how to wade through a very murky time. Many of the suggestions on this list came from my therapist, I really appreciated that she gave me both emotional and practical advice.
2. Allow your heart and head to marry up. Speaking of advice that came from my therapist, she told me this right away. I was referring to my baby as “it” and being very clinical with my words, but sobbing as a Mom who had lost a child. She gave me permission to think about it from a mother’s perspective, even though I was comparing my loss to the seemingly more significant losses I have seen friends and acquaintances face. It felt like a relief to acknowledge my loss in this way. She also encouraged me to name my baby, if that felt right. So I chose one of the girl’s names we had on our favorites list. Privately. And the name is a little symbol that I see pop up here and there and gives me comfort.
3. Write your story. My therapist also encouraged me to write out my story. Possibly for a blog post later on. But first for my eyes only, so I could really express all of the various parts of it. At the time, I was feeling conflicted with where to go from there in terms of our efforts in having a second child. She told me to write it with different endings and see which version resonated the most with me. I love this. Not just for this specific scenario, but for any tough decision or life choice we are facing.
4. Do something creative. And the final piece of advice from my therapy that I will share is this one. My therapist encouraged me to do something creative, which would allow me to use a totally different part of my brain and express my feelings in a new way that might give me a sense of release. So, for example, you might draw, paint, do pottery, color, sew, build something, do an art project with a child, do some photography, whatever sounds good to you.
5. Tell people- even if it makes them uncomfortable. I have chosen to talk about my pregnancy losses. With family, friends and even people I don’t know. For me, that first day of silence was just too much. Connection and community are two of my core values. It was the worst thing that had happened to me, why would I pretend it didn’t happen and that I was okay when I wasn’t? And people were incredibly supportive and thoughtful. A neighbor (and member of my Mom Group) left flowers at our door. Another friend sent us a restaurant gift card, stating that they just didn’t know what to do, so they did this. Many friends texted and called. My parents and sisters stayed in touch daily. A friend of my sister’s sent me a beautiful letter about how she got through her own miscarriages and a bottle of essential oils that she had found helpful. Another sweet friend met me for lunch. Some people sent cards in the mail. Another friend brought me a little succulent plant and cookies. A friend I didn’t even know very well at the time did- and still does - send me rainbows she encounters often, as a symbol of hope. Every single gesture helped me to heal. And made me realize I didn’t have to do it alone. You may not feel comfortable being as open as I am and each person has their own way with communicating difficult things. But I just want you to know that, it’s okay to share if you want to. It’s more than okay.
6. Find a girlfriend who has been there. I love my husband more than anything. And he’s super supportive and communicative and 100% there for me. But there came a point in the experience where we went from both grieving our loss together to him then grieving for me. It felt lonely sometimes. But I realized that I experienced this entire thing in such an inherently different way than he did and there was no way he could be in the same space as me. So I found a few girlfriends (sadly this was quite an easy task) who have also had miscarriages. One of them especially stepped right up and became a huge support system. Since January, she has continued to send me texts and Voxer messages every single week. She’s processed it with me. She herself has had 4 miscarriages and is actually about to have her 3rd baby. Her friendship this year has been so critical to my healing and I will always be grateful to her. Think about who might fill this role for you. And, if you don’t have someone, drop me a message. I’d be happy to chat any time.
7. Trust Your Body Again Online Course. Mellissa Reeves has a podcast called Motherbirth and has had her own incredibly painful, yet resilient journey with pregnancy and baby loss. She offers an online course to help women navigate through pregnancy loss and learn to trust their bodies again. Mellissa also offers one-to-one coaching, which I took advantage of and really benefited from her insights and suggestions. I highly recommend connecting with her at some point in the process if this sounds like something that you could benefit from.
8. Commemorate the Loss with Art. One of the women I shared my story with said she had had 3 miscarriages and one thing that helped her was having a piece of artwork made to commemorate them, which helped her healing. I loved this idea, so I reached out to my favorite artist, my Aunt Kathy. I updated her on my sad news and asked her if she would be open to creating an art piece to represent this part of our family in a subtle and uplifting way and I sent her a quote I wanted her to use. She was extremely gracious and accepted the task immediately. The art was completed right before my due date, which was perfect. She even added a butterfly to represent my loss in May. And I just couldn’t love it more. It’s quickly become one of my most treasured things. Our sweet family tree.
9. Calm down with The Comeback. As you can tell by the nature of this article, I am a do-er. I like to make to-do lists, check stuff off and get stuff done. I hate limbo. I get uncomfortable staying still in life for too long. And even the week that I was still carrying the baby with no heartbeat, I was making lists and preparing for my comeback. My plan was to come up with a healthy food plan, dive back into working out and plan some activities or travel that would get me back out there and move me beyond this pain. Bring it on, I thought to myself. Let’s do this. One of the girls who gave me advice mentioned she had tried to come back too soon, especially in terms of physical exercise and her body hadn’t been ready. I filed that away and remembered it when I too hit a brick wall after my traumatic hospital experience. I was not even allowed to go for a walk for many weeks due to my low red blood cell count. And mentally I wasn’t able to move on either. Another insight I took away from Mellissa’s coaching was that it is okay to not move on yet. Period. It’s okay to just be with your grief for a while. I received a few messages from friends and family after the miscarriage acknowledging what a tough experience it must be but how ‘I could hopefully move forward now’. And you know what, I just couldn’t yet. So I encourage you to sit in the pain as long as you need. And I found out that grief isn’t linear either. It can pop right back up when you least expect it or think you’re “over” your loss. So welcome it back and be with it again. It’s way better to go through it than around it. And, it eventually even settles in to become a sort of new part of you, giving you a depth and understanding that you didn’t have before.
10. Plan a little Getaway. After several weeks of feeling depressed, I finally decided I needed my Mom and I needed to just get away for a couple of days. Our little getaway to St. Simons Island (where Max and I got married last year) was the perfect spot for some healing and being. It was just what I needed. At home, I kept feeling this void everywhere. I had been in this sort of pregnancy routine, eating certain foods that I only ate while pregnant, planning for the baby, thinking about the baby, organizing my work to anticipate the baby, getting emails each week that told me how big the baby was. I needed something to just sort of snap me out of that routine. New scenery and activities that could fill some of my thoughts instead of thinking about what was no longer there. If it’s possible to go away, even for a night or two, I highly recommend it.
11. Continue to Mother. Mellissa Reeves talks about this in her course. How, when we are pregnant, our body and mind have been preparing to mother. Then the sudden loss creates a feeling of inertia and we still feel this subconscious need to complete the cycle. To mother. I was confused by this at first. What did that mean? My baby isn’t here, how can I continue to mother her? But Mellissa says it can manifest in different ways for everyone. It could be as simple as naming the baby. Or it could be sharing your story. Or helping others. Or an activity that commemorates your baby. I decided to use my due date of August 2nd to try this out. I wanted to do some sort of volunteer activity that would help children. I found an opportunity with a local Clothes Closet for foster children. When these children are removed from their homes and taken to a foster family, they often have no belongings. So this organization provides clothes for them to take with them. My heart broke in two just reading about it. I went to Target and bought several school uniforms, socks, and underwear and dropped them off at the closet. On my baby’s due date. I didn’t have my baby that day as I had dreamed of, but I was able to take that mothering energy and be there for other children who needed it. I was so touched by this service that I’ve contacted them and signed up to become a volunteer to work at the closet each month. I’m so grateful for this opportunity, it’s been powerful in its healing for me. I encourage you to find your own outlet to continue to mother.
A Few Quick Tips for Supporting Someone Who Is Going Through A Miscarriage:
1. I know it can be hard to know what to say. There are a couple of things that people said that I found to be somewhat unhelpful: "Don't worry, you can try again". Or "It just wasn't meant to be." I knew those things were probably true. But, at that moment, even if it's ultimately just nature taking its course, I was grieving the loss of the space and possibilities I had been holding for that specific baby. I wasn't quite ready to rationalize it or think about a next time.
2. So what do you say? My advice is to keep it simple and stay in the moment with your friend: "I'm so sorry." or even "I don't know what to say, but I am here." In my experience, it has helped me to hear something like "I'm sad with you." It somehow made me feel less isolated in my experience, as if others were helping me to carry the burden of sadness.
3. Check back in more than once. I appreciated my friends who checked in several times. They would say things like “How are you today? I’m thinking about you.” It validated for me that it was a process. Not just one day. And that it was okay to still be working through it.
4. It’s okay if you haven’t gone through a miscarriage. Many of my friends who hadn’t experienced this type of loss were almost apologetic about it, saying they just weren’t quite sure what to say. And I always told them I was just grateful that they showed up. That’s what I needed most. Connection to people who care about me. If you don’t know what to say, say that. Just say something.
5. Give them space to talk about their experience if they want to. Sometimes it helped me to talk through all of the really hard and sometimes gruesome details of my experience. Because some of the parts of my story were very traumatic for me, my therapist suggested I find a couple of people who would be willing to listen to the whole unedited version of my story. Telling the whole story a few times would help me to work through the trauma and not keep it all pent up inside, only to explode out when I least expect it. So, if you can handle the whole story, let your person know you’re available to them in that way.
Bottomline, just show up in whatever way you can. Think about what role you might play on their team. The sense of connection in a circumstance that is often kept behind closed doors can make all the difference in the world.
As I write this, it’s now October, a couple of months since I drafted the rest of this post. And I feel so much better. It felt good to have moved on from all of the significance and thoughts around the baby’s due date. And I’ve been volunteering at the Clothes Closet now for a couple of months and it’s been really special. I’ve shifted my mindset around having a baby. I’ve let go of all of the tracking and the trying and the holding on so tightly to goals, plans and expectations. I’m letting myself just be for a while. I heard my body say that’s what it needed. And it’s working. I feel more like me again. That doesn’t mean I don’t have tough days here and there where the power of the loss drops in uninvited. But it means that my loss has settled in a bit. It’s become a part of the fabric of my experience. It’s not the fabric I picked out. But it tells a story that has beauty and resilience and purpose. And, as someone pointed out to me recently, I choose to spend the future focusing on what IS rather than what isn’t. I have so much to be grateful for and I am so excited and hopeful for the future that I have with Max and Oliver and all of the people we love. There’s already so much more joy there than I ever thought was possible.
One of the most powerful things that someone has said to me through this whole experience is this: “Our children, whether here on Earth or not, call us in to be more of who we were meant to be.” I’ve whispered this to myself over and over this year. And every single time it invigorates me with purpose. A purpose that is still revealing itself as I go, but that I trust will continue to unfold and guide me.
I'm finally ready to share this. A series of things has made me feel like it's the right thing to do. I've come across several women recently, some public figures and some not, who have shared their own struggles with miscarriage and it has inspired me to become a part of the conversation. When I hear other people openly talk about this topic, I get this sense of utter relief that is difficult to explain. It feels like a sort of permission to have felt my feelings and to not always have known how to proceed. And, so I share this now without all of the answers for what is next for my own family, but with the understanding that I want to use my experience to help create connection amongst the women who come after me who have a similar story.
So, if you are reading this right now and navigating your own loss - I see you. I understand you. And I am sad with you. I offer you a figurative fluffy teddy bear now, on behalf of myself and the others, to hold onto and to help you to know that you are not alone, but you are connected to all of us.
Thank you for letting me share my story with you.
PS- If you have some additional advice to share, something that was particularly helpful to you as you went through pregnancy loss or supported someone else through it, I'd love to hear it. Feel free to send me an email. I plan to continue to carry this conversation forward.