Trigger warning: This post discusses both the emotional and physical fallout of pregnancy loss.
Last month, I got one of the biggest surprises of my life: At age 42, after 5 years of trying, and then 2 years of making our peace with becoming empty nesters, I found out I was pregnant. Yes, you read that correctly, PREGNANT! Needless to say, this came as a huge shocker to my husband and myself. It was definitely the last thing we expected to happen. Although we were stunned, we also were cautiously excited about it.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have long to feel that way. The day that I took 4 pregnancy tests that all came out positive, I was already dealing with cramping and light bleeding the night before. The bleeding had stopped, but the cramps continued intermittently. Although I did not have that issue with my first pregnancy, I also knew that it didn’t necessarily mean anything was wrong.
A few days later, a blood test from my PCP confirmed what I already knew: I was indeed, pregnant. The bloodwork showed that my hCG level was 52. At the time, that number meant nothing to me. By my best estimate, with the help of an app, I determined that I was 4-5 weeks along. A estimated due date of January 13th, 2022. 2 days later, I had a virtual visit with the nurse practitioner for my OB. When I shared my HCG level, she asked me to come in that day to have blood drawn again. I then heard for the first time, something I would hear several more times over the next 2 weeks: “Your body MAY be trying to miscarry.” Let me explain. Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is a hormone normally produced by the placenta. If you are pregnant, you can detect it in your urine. Blood tests measuring hCG levels can also be used to check how well your pregnancy is progressing. Typically, the hCG levels will double every 72 hours. The level will reach its peak in the first 8-11 weeks of pregnancy, and then will decline and level off for the remainder of the pregnancy.
She explained that since it had been over 6 weeks since my last period, that number should be significantly higher than 52. which means the pregnancy may not be progressing. She also let me know there was a chance of it being an ectopic pregnancy. So, I went to have blood drawn again. They said they would have the results just after lunch, and would call me with the results. They didn’t call me until almost 5 PM. This type of waiting is something I would experience come to expect with this provider. When they did call, they had basically no answers for me. The number HAD increased, but only by about 30%. So maybe the pregnancy would progress…or maybe not. In the words of the NP “there’s still hope.” Somehow, that did not make me feel hopeful.
That was on the Thursday before Memorial Day. They wanted me to have blood drawn again on Saturday, and they would call me Tuesday with the results. All the time having to be aware of the signs of miscarriage, or of an ectopic pregnancy emergency. It is the worst kind of torture to sit around waiting to find out if your baby is going to die. To know that at any moment you could just start bleeding, and that would be the end of it. To try to remain positive in that situation was pure agony. But we did try.
On Tuesday morning the doctor called me himself, with basically the same information. The levels had increased slightly, but still not enough. He told me that the most likely outcome was a miscarriage. There was still the chance it was an ectopic pregnancy, and a less than 5% chance of a healthy baby. And again, there was nothing to do but wait. An ultrasound wouldn’t offer any further information this early. He did say I had options, if I didn’t want to wait it out. He said I could get an injection that would kick start the miscarriage process. Fuck, that was a lot to process! Do I go ahead and “get it over with,” or hold to that 5% chance that things would work out? I was scheduled for an in-person visit with an ultrasound 9 days from then, so he said to wait until then to recheck everything. 9 days away. The thought of living with that uncertainty for 9 more days nearly broke me.
Two days later, I miscarried. It was awful, physically and emotionally. It’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. The physical pain…the mental anguish…the hormonal outbursts…the guilt. It was unbearable. Especially the guilt. What did I do that could have hurt the baby while I didn’t know I was pregnant? Was this my fault, because when I first found out, I wasn’t that excited? Did my fear and negativity about becoming a new mother again jinx my pregnancy? And what about “God’s perfect timing?” The few people I told talked about that so much, about how God knew that 8 years ago, and 6 years ago, and 4 years ago, were all not the right time. But now, it was. Why have this happen then? Why have me get pregnant, after I’ve made my peace as much as possible with infertility, only to snatch it back just as quickly? The anger I feel over that is palpable, all the time.
A few weeks later…we are doing okay. My husband is forever the strong, stoic man. The difference in how we handle our pain has been difficult, and sometimes lonely. We feel and react to things so differently. But it is getting better. The pain comes unexpectedly, for me anyway. One minute I’m great, the next I’m either really depressed or really angry.
I wasn’t pregnant for long. And we barely had time to even process the fact that there was going to be a baby, before we found out things were going wrong. So sometimes I almost feel like I don’t really deserve to grieve the loss. But what I’m realizing, is that those couple of weeks gave me hope that I had forgotten about. It made me think about a different future. It made me wonder, who would our child be? A child my husband and I made, together. Who would that person become? It’s not just loss of a pregnancy. It’s a loss of years of what could have been. And I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t stop dreaming of who this child would have been. It rips my heart to shreds. The actual, physical pain from the emotion is sometimes more than I can bear. It is a literal aching in my soul.
But, I hope that in sharing my story, I can help someone else get through this same kind of loss. Right now, that is what would truly help me feel better. With that in mind, here are a few REAL things about miscarriage that I think need to be talked about more.
- The range of emotions and the depth that you will feel them can be overwhelming.
- It is NOT just like a heavy period. It is worse. And there will be moments when you can feel the actual tissue leaving your body. It is not pleasant.
- OB offices should have a separate waiting room for women experiencing or potentially experiencing a miscarriage. Sitting there waiting to find out if your baby is alive while pregnant mothers walk by you is excruciating.
- If you are normally a tampon user, and you don’t really know, pads will not do the trick. As embarrassing as it sounds, adult diapers are your friend!
- WHATEVER you need to get through this is okay. If you need to be alone…do that. If you need to sleep for days…do that. If you need to drown your feelings in food or wine or shopping…do that (carefully of course.) There is no “right” way to feel what you’re feeling. And never be afraid to ask for what you DO need.
- Know that you will go on. And however long that takes is okay too.
- Your baby mattered. And no matter how far along, or how happy or scared or whatever you were feeling about being pregnant, it doesn’t matter. You ARE allowed to grieve your loss.
I don’t know where we go from here. Will we try again? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But I know we’ll be okay, whatever happens. And I know that somewhere out there, we have someone that we created together watching over us. That is helping me get through each day.