In 1988, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the month of October to help spread the word about Pregnancy + Infant Loss Awareness, as one in four women will experience what it feels like to lose a child.
Ethan and I had been married for just over a year when we found out that I was pregnant. It came as a complete shock. We knew we wanted children, but we had planned on waiting until we have both finished our college degrees.
A couple of days after Christmas, Illinois had a huge snow storm. We were snowed in and spent two days cooped up watching tv. For doing absolutely nothing, I remember feeling strangely tired. It hit me a little later on that this wasn’t my “normal” and something was up. I thought maybe my body was fighting off a cold, as we were in the middle of cold and flu season. I then took my period into consideration. I wasn’t late yet – it was close – but this wasn’t right. I had a gut feeling that there was more to this exhaustion.
New Years Eve rolled around and because we were finally home and able to spend the evening with friends and family, that’s what we did. We went to dinner with Ethan’s best friend and spent the rest of the night at a bar downtown so we could ring in the New Year. In my head, I knew I was pregnant. I was certain of it, even without taking a test, but I didn’t want to say anything to anyone… including my husband. Ethan and I weren’t planning on having kids for a few years, so what if he was mad or upset? I felt a lot of worry. If we were going to start a family, I wanted him to be happy about it.
The next day, I told him that we may want to consider running to grab a pregnancy test. We purchased a box of tests and made our way back home where I went straight to the bathroom and took the test right away.
There it was. A faint pink line.
It’s not that I didn’t want to have a baby or I wasn’t ready to be a mom. I mean, even three years ago I had a lot of growing up to do, but that wasn’t my main reason for feeling panicked. I had so much on my plate – I was a full-time biology student, working full time as a barista and honestly, I was still trying to figure out how to be a decent wife.
I was excited but was still having an “Oh shit” moment in my head. Ethan seemed like he was having the exact same thoughts. We had nine months to prepare and come September, we’d be welcoming a baby into our home.
After discussing it, we decided we didn’t want to tell anyone for awhile, so that was our game plan. I wanted to make sure I could go to the doctor to check on the baby before announcing. I’m not sure how it works with other doctor offices, but we weren’t able to have an appointment with my OB until the second trimester, so we had lots of time to let this news sink in.
After the holidays were over, we made our way back to North Dakota. Per Tricare requirements, I had my pregnancy confirmed by a blood test and was referred to a doctor downtown. The countdown had officially started until my first prenatal appointment.
I worked at Starbucks and was typically pretty caffeinated, so as soon as I ordered decaf, the jig was up. My manager instantly asked if I was pregnant and my face couldn’t hide it. Before I knew it, everyone at work knew simply because I was drinking decaf.
I was fairly close with my store manager. She had the biggest heart and was one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met. She was also pregnant, due only three months before me. We talked about our favorite place to look at baby clothes, our favorite baby products, whether we wanted to breastfeed, etc. It was really nice to have someone there that was going through the same thing.
Time had passed and the last week of February rolled around. It was time to go to the doctor.
The doctor grabbed the doppler and searched for the baby’s heartbeat. He kept moving it around, saying that the baby must be stubborn because he’s having a hard time finding it. He said my dates could be wrong so I may not be as far along as I thought and we’ll have to do an ultrasound – in two weeks.
What? I couldn’t wait that long.
He told me to schedule an appointment with radiology and we’ll have an ultrasound done in two weeks. He gave me a bag full of reading material, a chart to see how my baby is developing, some formula samples (and they say breastfeeding is pushed on people – *eyeroll*) and we were sent on our way. I left that appointment feeling very uneasy. I knew my dates weren’t wrong. I’ve always been very in tune with my body and I knew that wasn’t a possibility. Something else was wrong. But then I thought, “He gave you that bag full of things to prepare for a baby. Maybe things are really okay.”
Those two weeks went by so slow. It was almost unbearable.
Finally, it was time for our ultrasound. I was ready for some answers.
As soon as it started, the tech informed me she couldn’t tell me anything that she sees. All information would be given later on after the radiologist and doctor are able to look at the photos and determine where we stand. I was so anxious and nervous for this appointment thinking I would finally know what is going on, only to find out that I’d have to wait even longer. But, knowing that she didn’t say “Here’s the heartbeat” told me everything I needed to know. I was devastated.
Days passed and I still hadn’t received a call. Around 14 weeks, I was starting to have some cramping. I was trying my best not to panic because I was at work, and everything I had read stated that cramping is normal because your uterus is stretching to accommodate the growing baby, but I still didn’t technically know if my baby was even alive.
I called the OB on call and asked if he could tell me what the report said because I still hadn’t heard anything. There was a long pause and then he told me that my baby had stopped growing at 5 weeks and 6 days. I could hear the sadness in his voice when he told me he was sorry and I started to cry.
I told him that I was cramping pretty bad and I didn’t know what to expect next.
He explained that I experienced a blighted ovum, or an “embryonic pregnancy”. This happens when the egg is fertilized and attaches to the uterine wall, but the embryo itself doesn’t develop past six weeks. Many people don’t even know they’re pregnant when they experience this because the body miscarries right before a menstrual cycle so they think it’s just a period, but in some cases, their body will go on for weeks (months, in my case) thinking that they’re still pregnant.
I was shocked that my body didn’t recognize what had happened and had been acting as if I was pregnant this entire time. The doctor said he expected me to start miscarrying naturally within the next few days because of the cramping, and he was right.
The bleeding was horrible. It was so bad that I called my doctor to ask what was considered abnormal when miscarrying and he told me it would be bad for a few hours and then it would lighten up.
After those first few hours of letting my body naturally miscarry, it finally eased up. I was feeling somewhat okay and just wanted to do something to get my mind off of everything. Ethan and I went out to dinner because I wasn’t in a lot of pain anymore.
*Warning: this is where it gets graphic – but it’s real life. So many women deal with this and it doesn’t need to be censored.
We made it to Longhorn Steakhouse and we were sitting down to eat when I suddenly felt a gush of blood. I told Ethan I needed to go to the bathroom. On the way there I realized I had blood nearly all the way down to my knees. I have absolutely no idea how I didn’t realize I had been bleeding excessively, but I didn’t.
In the bathroom I started to panic. I couldn’t keep up with the amount of blood that was coming out and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t even get a new pad in my underwear because it was too much all at once. The cramps were intensifying and the blood just would not stop.
I slowly walked out of the stall when I heard someone exit a stall a few rows over.
“Do you work here?” I asked. I was completely out of breath from panicking.
She was obviously very startled when she looked down at the blood on the floor but she answered yes.
I explained that I was having a miscarriage and my husband is sitting at a table about fifteen feet from the bathroom and I needed him. I didn’t even know what to say to her. I was embarrassed, unbelievably sad and in shock that this was happening to me.
They immediately sent a woman into the bathroom to clean up after me. I repeatedly apologized and asked if she wanted me to wipe it up. There was blood on the floor, all around the toilet and bloody shoe prints from my feet.
A paramedic that had been dining there came in to make sure I was okay and asked if I needed an ambulance. I declined and said it’d be quicker to have my husband drive to the hospital. She told me she has been through the same thing and she was terribly sorry. I held back my tears while she hugged me.
Ethan brought me my coat to cover myself, waitresses gave me a bag of towels to sit on so that I didn’t ruin the seats in our car and we went to the hospital.
As soon as we got in the car, everything increased dramatically. The cramps, the blood loss, my panicking – I remember yelling at Ethan to drive faster because it was only getting worse.
Ethan dropped me off at the door and I hurried into the Emergency Room. I was quickly given a wheelchair and wheeled back into a room where I stood up and had one nurse holding my arm while another helped me take off every single article of clothing I had on.
Everything from my boots, socks, jeans and underwear were covered in blood.
One nurse gave me a shot in my thigh to slow down my bleeding while the other attempted to get the blood out of my clothes with peroxide. I had to sit without pants on – not even underwear – and keep large gauze pads positioned underneath my butt and on the floor. They wanted everything to come out freely so they were able to gauge exactly how much blood I was losing and whether the shot was effective. I remember feeling so gross and embarrassed.
I don’t remember a lot of what happened after that. The shot was ineffective and before I knew it I had my feet being held up, a speculum placed inside of me and the doctor was reaching in and throwing blood clots onto the floor while telling the nurses that I was hemorrhaging.
We were in a fairly small room and suddenly there were around ten people in there. Someone needed Ethan’s signature for insurance, others were watching me have my legs wide open while having blood clots taken out so they could learn about what exactly was happening and why, nurses were on stand by and holding my hands and I was stuck laying there watching everyone watch me.
Due to the hemorrhaging, I had to stay overnight to be monitored. There are few things more difficult than being admitted to the maternity ward after suffering a miscarriage. It was so hard not to feel bitter towards the women I saw about to have their babies when I just physically let go of mine.
After being released the next day, I was ready to move on. I didn’t want to dwell on what had happened. I was beyond sad, but mentally I could not allow myself to focus on the loss of our baby. I had another ultrasound to double check that everything was being shed at an effective rate, which the doctor said it was, and I was discharged.
Weeks passed since the initial bleeding occurred. Every so often, I would get the most intense pains in my lower stomach that had me doubling over. I kept telling myself that it was fine and it was just my body healing. But finally, nearly a month later, I knew something wasn’t right.
I experienced this severe abdominal pain again, this time while driving, and I called the OB that was on call. I told him what had happened and he advised that I get to the emergency room and prepare myself mentally for surgery – a D&C. Dilation and curettage is a procedure where the lining of the uterus is surgically removed, typically to diagnose and/or treat things like heavy bleeding or to clear the lining after a miscarriage.
I called Ethan crying and explained what I was told while he left the house to meet me at the hospital. I had been trying so hard to let go of what happened but it was impossible with this recurring pain reminding me of what we lost.
When I woke up after the surgery, the doctor explained to me that my body was unable to completely expel the remaining pieces of the uterine lining, which was causing my prolonged pain. I finally felt relief that I could move on and come to terms with what happened to us.
Before having a miscarriage, I never thought it would happen to me. And I had no idea that this was so common. In fact, 50% of first trimester miscarriages are due to a blighted ovum.
I wrote all of this out to say “I understand how you feel and I know what you’ve been through” to every woman that has dealt with losing a baby.
There is too much shame and embarrassment surrounding miscarriages and there shouldn’t be. If we all talked about it, it wouldn’t be this way. We need the support and love after going through an experience such as this.
To every woman that has lost a baby – my heart goes out to you. It is beyond difficult. It never gets easier to think about and the pain will always be there, but I hope you find comfort in reading this and knowing you are never alone in your struggles.