Before sharing this moving story, I want to take a moment to express my sincerest gratitude to my friend for sharing her story. She is extremely brave, and her extraordinary strength to be so open and honest about her path, is something I admire more than I could ever express. I know that too many of us have experienced love and loss, but none quite like the love and loss you have for the baby you never got to meet. I know that my friends experience and story is sure to bring some understanding, compassion and companionship to so many people. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing!
My Double Rainbow Baby
Trigger warning: Pregnancy loss.
I never expected that having a baby would be one of the biggest emotional challenges of my life. I knew what the chances were of having a miscarriage, having heard the statistics. I even suggested to my husband that we start trying to conceive sooner than later just in case it didn’t go as planned. But, I never could have predicted what it would feel like to actually lose a pregnancy.
My husband and I married in the summer, honeymooned in the fall, and by Christmas I was pregnant after our first try. We were both surprised it happened so quickly, but also very excited. After a lot of consideration, we decided to tell our immediate families even though I was only a few weeks along. We figured they would figure it out, anyway, once they noticed I wasn’t drinking my usual whisky cocktail, and neither of us felt comfortable lying or making up some sort of story. Plus, if anything did happen, we hoped we would have the support of our family to help us through it. So, I put copies of the first ultrasound picture into frames that read, “Love at first sight”, wrapped them in festive paper, and brought one to each holiday get-together. Since my parents are divorced, we had three Christmas events that year, and the first two went really well. My mother-in-law was overjoyed and even teared up, and my dad’s reaction was the same. I felt so full of love and joy, and was looking forward to seeing how my mom would react. Since my siblings were already at my dad’s house when we shared the news, they were also waiting with anticipation when my mom opened her square shaped present. Her reaction? “Oh, so I’m the last one to know? Have you told anyone else besides family? I wouldn’t tell anyone else just in case you miscarry.” Ouch. Instead of a congratulations, we received a guilt trip and a reminder of the terrible thing that my already anxious brain was trying not to think about. Being pregnant and hormonal, I was already feeling emotional, and that reaction really hurt. A week later, I went to get another ultrasound, estimating the baby to be eight weeks along. My baby only measured seven weeks, and no longer had a heartbeat.
This feeling of loss was not like anything I had ever experienced. It felt like losing hope. My dreams of holding my baby for the first time, playdates, and family vacations, were crushed. Irrationally, I blamed my mother, as if her words could have caused it to happen, but mainly I blamed myself. Over and over again I was told by doctors and nurses that I didn’t do anything wrong and there was no way of preventing a miscarriage from happening, but in my heart I didn’t believe them. I couldn’t help but think back through the past two months, and scrutinize everything little thing I did. Where did I go wrong? Why did this happen to me? Back in the doctor’s office, we discussed the next course of action. I could choose to wait for the pregnancy to pass on its own, use a medicine called misoprostol to speed up the process, or schedule a Dilation and Curettage (D&C). My doctor said that waiting was a bit more risky, and having the D&C would be more expensive, so I chose to take the Cytotec (the brand of misoprostol). She told me to expect cramping similar to a really bad period, and recommend that I take Ibuprofen as soon as I got home. I went to the drug store to buy the largest pads I could find, and that night I laid on the couch and watched television, bled a ton, and sobbed (with only mild cramping). Unfortunately, at my follow-up ultrasound, they saw that the gestational sac had not passed, so they gave me the same list of options. I just wanted this nightmare to be over! This time I decided to schedule a D&C. My husband and I went to the hospital, but not for the reason I had once hoped for. My procedure went well, and I was up and walking around the next day. The emotional pain took much longer to subside than the physical. My heart hurt, and I was secretly angry at every other couple I knew who were having babies. Even though I tried not to be. There was even a couple who named their beautiful baby girl after me, and instead of feeling flattered, it made me even more bitter.
After several months, the grief lessened, and my husband and I decided to start trying again. This time, we didn’t get pregnant on the first try. Or the second. Or the third. But, we finally succeeded, and we decided to wait to tell our family this time around. I was only a few weeks along when we went to a party and I overheard someone ask my mother-in-law if she had any grandchildren. She responded, “No, but I’ve been waiting!” She’s been wanting a grandchild since before we were married, and I knew she was joking around, but stung a bit. It made me feel like a failure. I felt like I let our whole family down when I miscarried, and I really hoped this pregnancy would stick. A couple weeks later my husband took me on a trip for our anniversary. We were having a great time, until one night I started bleeding and continued to bleed the next few days. I had a sinking feeling I had lost another pregnancy, and it was confirmed when I went in to get an ultrasound. Again, the fetus was 7 weeks along, and again, my husband took me to the hospital for a D&C. Our doctor told us that even though two miscarriages was still considered normal, we had the option of having the tissue tested for genetic abnormalities. We decided to have the test done, and found out the second baby had Tetrasomy 21. We were referred to a specialist, who told us it’s a very rare disease and if we were to get pregnant again, there would be about a one percent chance the baby would have the same abnormality. She also told us that the test was able to determine the sex of the baby, and asked if we’d like to know. I quickly snapped, “No!” surprising myself and I think the specialist, too, and I started to cry. For some reason, knowing the gender would have made the loss even more real to me, and I didn’t feel I could handle any more heartache.
Several more months past, and we were approaching yet another new year. I still felt raw, but I was ready to try anything to have a successful pregnancy. I went to an acupuncturist several times, spoke with a psychic, read a book on Fung Shui and put objects that represented family and health in the appropriate areas of the house, prayed a lot, re-read the book The Secret and wrote in a gratitude journal every day. Then, when I became pregnant for the third time, I took baby Aspirin and progesterone, even though our doctor told me it wouldn’t make any difference. Whatever it was, this time I went in for my first ultrasound, and the baby measured seven weeks and three days! And had a strong heartbeat! We were past the 7 week mark, and something inside me said it was okay to start privately celebrating. Christmas rolled around again, and we told our families the good news. I printed new ultrasound pictures for everyone, and the pregnancy was going really well. Until her growth started to slow down. Around 24 weeks, the doctor told us I had a condition called intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), which meant our baby wasn’t growing at a normal rate. She told us that I may need to be induced soon, and if that were to happen, our baby would be given steroids to help her lungs develop. We would take it week by week, but I’d be lucky to make it to 28 weeks.
Again, I prayed and journaled and set out more objects that represented ‘health’, and my husband and I made sure to complete all the new parent classes as soon as we could, and finished painting and setting up the nursery. Each week, we went in for an ultrasound, and each time our doctor was comfortable enough with her measurements to let us go another week. Then one Monday morning, our doctor told us to pack our bags and be at the hospital by 8:00pm that night. I had made it to 37 weeks, and it was go time. That whole day was surreal. We cleaned the house, finished packing our hospital bags, ate a nice steak dinner, and then moseyed our way to the hospital. At midnight, the induction began. I was given two rounds of Cytotec, had a cervical ripening balloon inserted to help with dilation, was given more Cytotec, then started on Pitocin. My husband, doula, and I walked around the hospital and danced, I had my amniotic sac ruptured, and I also had acupuncture to see if that would help speed things along. I had been having intermittent lower-back contractions for more than two days, and the nurse told me that if I decided to get an epidural, they would be able to increase the amount of Pitocin, and I agreed. Finally, on Thursday afternoon (after an hour and a half of pushing) our small but perfectly healthy baby girl was born!
This experience has taught me that I am stronger than I realized. Every tear, every worry, every pain (both physical and emotional) has been completely worth it, and I feel exceedingly lucky. I am very grateful for my husband, my family, and my friends who were there for me through this. In my opinion, pregnancy loss isn’t a topic that is brought up very often, and some might be uncomfortable with the subject. If you have someone in your life who has experienced a pregnancy loss or something similar, just know that even a few nice words or a kind gesture can make all the difference. It did for me. And if someone tells you they are pregnant, your best bet is to just say, “Congratulations!”