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I’ve heard countless stories of heartbroken families that have experienced miscarriage or the death of a child. My heart breaks to imagine what that grief must feel like but I’m not one of those people. I’ve endured my share of cruel and challenging trials in life but miscarriage is not among them.
I have two healthy sons, each conceived on the first try and each perfectly healthy pregnancies. My births were wonderful and my boys and their father are the loves and joys of my life. We’ve got all we hoped and planned for and considered our family complete.
But as life often does, we found ourselves thrown for a delightful yet overwhelming loop just 3 months ago when we discovered another blessing on the way. A child conceived of love could never be counted anything short of that, a blessing.
It took some time to adjust and I found myself really digging to find the same joy I had felt in my previous pregnancies because the timing felt so wrong. We had several very important travel plans and celebrations (some we’d waited a lifetime for) that would surely be affected and I was 2 months (irony- it’s tomorrow) from running my first half marathon, something I’d been working towards for almost 6 years after losing 111 lbs. I was angry that those things seemed out of reach or impossible. But I adore pregnancy and I trust that the universe knew the master plan, so it didn’t take but a few days to fall in love with the tiny seed of our love so perfectly tucked in my belly.
Other than a bit more morning sickness and exhaustion than I’d experienced before, this baby felt just the same as my boys. I’d been experiencing some first trimester spotting, the same as I had with my boys, but we’d had several ultrasounds and everything looked great. Baby was right on target for gestation and had a strong consistent heartbeat.
I’m basically a professional at this by now so I wasn’t surprised when the bleeding tapered off as we neared the end of the first trimester (just like before). I was a little surprised to see it return 5 days ago at just over 10 weeks but I didn’t think much of it. At the same time I picked up a late summer bug complete with body aches and a low grade fever. I still didn’t give it much thought as symptoms increased over the days to follow.
By yesterday morning I was in a moderate amount of pain (cramping and backache) and the bleeding had become heavier than I’ve ever experienced. I called my Dr. the second they opened and then waited the longest 6 hours of my life for a return call and immediate appointment. Sweaty and smelling like B.O. from feverishly rolling around in bed all day, I drove to the office on 10 minutes notice. I just desperately wanted to see and hear our healthy baby. There wasn’t enough time to arrange a sitter so my husband stayed home with boys. I buried deep the fear that I might receive horrible news all alone in a cold medical building.
Nervous tears welled behind my eyelids as I laid in that familiar ultrasound chair. I held my breath as the image of my sweet little kumquat appeared on the scream. Sure enough and as plain as day, at 2pm on Thursday afternoon, there was that reassuring flicker of a perfect little heartbeat. Tears poured over my cheeks in sweet relief. Not only was the baby perfect and healthy but there were zero signs of anything concerning.
I was given directions to be cautiously optimistic and reassured that sometimes these things just happen and they never figure out why. There was no reason to believe this wouldn’t clear itself up in a few days time. I was instructed to watch my temp and visit the ER if it should hit 101 as it can cause the babies heartrate to elevate. A feeling of good fortune and optimism washed over me as I drove home that beautiful afternoon. I imagined the day we’d finally get to hold our precious one in our arms and gave thanks once again for our blessing. I am not that woman. Miscarriage is not my burden.
I climbed into bed when I get home, hoping to catch up on rest and maybe sleep through some of the pain. Within 30 minutes the cramping became so intense that I called for my husband. I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d previously experienced a completely drug free natural labor, something I’d planned to do again this time. Was it the fever? Was I being a wuss? I thought myself crazy to be comparing these cramps to those same intense labor pains. But they were doubling me over and leaving me in writhing moans.
I thought sitting up on the toilet might help but I was bleeding so heavily now and passing so much tissue - I was afraid I might not know for sure if the unthinkable actually happened , so I sat in the dry bathtub, amongst the matchbox cars and rubber squirting farm animals wearing just a tank top. (One of the maternity items I’d excitedly purchased the day before). Once again I called for my husband and between what surely felt like contractions, I explained that we should call someone to help with the boys because I was scared and needed support to work through the intensity of the pain.
Within 30 minutes both of our mothers were there, a huge relief-the magnitude of which I wouldn’t recognize until later. I cried in pain as I described my agony to my husband. “I feel like I’m in labor. I think these are contractions”. A steady stream of blood and large clumps of tissue streamed across the tub bottom as my husband phoned the on-call Dr. line. The pain came in waves. I arched my back and I braced my legs against the cold porcelain as I desperately gripped the sides looking for relief.
When the nurse answered my husband handed me the phone. I gathered myself between contractions and explained to her the days events. She waited patiently each time I writhed in silence. I explained that I didn’t understand what was happening. This was all supposed to be clearing up. My baby was perfect and healthy just a few hours ago. I’m not the woman who has a miscarriage.
Each sharp pain was followed by the tiniest need to push followed by a gush of blood and tissue. I cringe as I type this. It sounds awful because it was. Awful. But it’s real. I was not prepared and in NO WAY expected what came next. It’s a sight and moment that are seared in my psyche for eternity. Sometime after 6pm on Thursday, September 20, 2018, at 11 weeks gestation, in all its perfection and beauty, just as unexpectedly as it found itself in my womb, it was expelled from it. I looked down to see a perfectly intact placenta and bag of waters with a beautiful and complete human inside. Ten fingers with ten fingernails, ten toes, eyes and ears, and a teeny tiny beating heart. Our baby. I threw the phone and yelled “Oh my God that’s my baby”.
It couldn’t be real. I felt like someone else watching from the outside. I heard the wails coming from my the depths of my broken heart. There were no sounds I could make to expel the emotions overtaking me. I held short breaths and stretched my eyes wide in an attempt to see through the blur of hot tears. My eyes must be tricking me. Is that really our baby?! My God, OH MY GOD, please let there be a God...is it moving?! The next hour or so is such a blur. I don’t know what my husband was doing or saying. I don’t know where my children were. I was aware of the inhuman wails that poured from my body. I scooped up my baby, tucked so safely in its temporary home, and watched its little arms and legs sweeping peacefully through the waters. I felt it’s warmth and its pulsing heartbeat in my hands.
How could this be happening? Perfect living babies don’t just come out. Right?! Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe it wasn’t too late. Maybe I could just...put it back and we’ll go on like nothing ever happened. I held my baby in my hands and imprinted those fleeting final moments of its precious life directly into my soul. Snot poured from my face and hot tears rained relentlessly from my eyes as I laid half naked in my bathtub, holding my baby in my bloody hands for over an hour. I watched for almost 10 minutes until the tiny little umbilical cord stopped pulsing. The cord we would never cut. The baby we would never hold in our arms. The person we would never get to know.
The contents of that hour are too personal and sacred to share. That kind of grief cannot be described, it can only be experienced. I used to be a woman that imagined what that pain must feel like for the women, unlike me, who had to go through it. Yesterday I became that woman. I now belong to a club that like so many others I never imagined being a part of.
Several hours later, in a cold and sterile hospital bed, after a battery of painful and intrusive tests, at the hands of a kind stranger, we would be cleared to go home. We agreed to allow our baby to be taken and tested for genetic abnormalities. We were told that babies under 12 weeks (irony) were “ not allowed” to be taken home. I laughed at the notion of someone attempting to stop a grief stricken mother from taking her own baby home should she so desire. But I was out of fight and I relented. I held my baby one last time. I told it that it was loved and wanted and that I would carry it in my heart all the days of my life. I sobbed and hid my swollen face beneath my favorite old worn Cubs cap as we said goodbye to our third born son for the last time.
Aa I type this I’ve been awake for more than 35 hours. I’ve undoubtedly cried more in the last 24 hours than the rest of my life combined. My eyes are nearly swollen shut. My swollen breasts will never find the relief of my beloved infants suckle. There is no oxytocin high to ease the pains of my uterus as it expels the last traces of the life it held not 24 hours ago. The grief comes in waves and I desperately seek answers and purpose that do not exist. I don’t want life to go on like nothing happened. I’m surprised I didn’t crash Google with my relentless quest for information over the past few days. How big is an 11 week fetus? How many babies are miscarried alive? Can I bleed this much and not lose my baby? What are the odds of miscarrying at 11 weeks (Less than 1%)? How bad does a straight cath hurt? What happens to my baby after we leave it?
I’m sharing my story because I couldn’t find answers to those and so many more questions. Because so many women suffer in silence and carry their grief like a private burden. Because I need my babies death to have a purpose. Because I desperately search, in times like this, for a faith I’m so unsure of. I don’t know what to do with my grief and I need to get this story out of me. I want our pain and loss to be a springboard for human connection. I want other women to know that they are not weird, or gross, or alone, or wrong, or at fault. That their babies are perfect and loved and so are they.
Lake J Redwine
September 20, 2018
Conceived of love. Brother to Brecken and Hendrick. Son of Shandra and Gerald. Named for the place his family calls home, a place of vast beauty and immense power. J for his daddy Gerald whom we all call Jay, and for his grandpa John who’s birthday is just one day previous.