Baby Bitt 1, died September 25, 2013 (8 weeks)
Baby Bitt 2, died April 19, 2014 (12 weeks)
From the time I was a little girl, my life goal was to be a mother. I dreamed of being married – but never of the wedding – and of being pregnant and later being a “mommy”. I have always loved children and started babysitting months before I was legally of age. I was soon a favorite babysitter in my neighborhood, with children congregating wherever I was. It was fun to play and care for all of my neighbors, watching them learn and grow. Pushing babies in a stroller, reading bedtime stories, brushing teeth and picking out pajamas, playing games and cooking meals. As a teenager, I loved it as my job, and I longed for the day I would build my own family.
As often happens, though, with the best made plans and dreams, life has taken a different road. Instead of having an earthly family, I am blessed instead to have 2 angel babies looking out for me, when I should be looking out for them. It has been the hardest struggle to feel like a failure in what I have wanted the most all of my life, and I still wrestle with the doubts, the anger, the jealousy, the sadness, the grief of dreams lost. I am constantly learning that this is okay and that I can feel all of these things and more, but also that life hasn’t stopped just because my world stopped twice.
I cried when I read that a friend’s cousin had lost a baby at 3 days. I cried when a friend gave birth to a stillborn at 24 weeks. I cried when a coworker told me her daughter had just given birth to a stillborn. I remember telling her “I think I would rather never get pregnant than face losing a child.”
God has a twisted sense of humor.
After a lovely February wedding, my husband and I started the journey of our lives. We had known from the beginning that we wanted to have children. In fact, he brought it up first, which was a welcome change of pace from my string of confirmed bachelor boyfriends. So, after the wedding, following directions from my neurologist, I got off of all of my medications. I had done the research and found they could lead to deaf-blindness, cleft-palates, CP – the whole gamut. As a special education teacher, I love my students, but if I could prevent my own children from facing these challenges – even if I experienced some pain in the meantime – it would be totally worth it. The doctors all said 3 months to get all of the medication out of my system, so we chose to wait 4 months. Better safe than sorry, right?
So, fast-forward a few months to July. Though neither of us said the words, we knew we were ready to think about babies and finally felt it was safe. We weren’t “trying”, but we knew whatever happened, we were ready.
During July and August, I decided to rip out my flowerbeds, run, and swim everyday – more exercise than I’d ever had, especially with temperatures over 100 – and, in all this activity, I hurt my knee. I finally gave in and saw my doctor – it was getting hard to walk and my coworkers expressed a lot of concerns. My doctor said I needed x-rays, a steroid shot, and to see a specialist. I talked with her about my weight gain and she chalked it up to getting off the appetite-suppressing Topamax I had been taking for 4 years. However, she also noted that maybe I was pregnant. This hadn’t really crossed my mind, but she drew some blood to eliminate that and other possibilities.
A few days after the shot, my knee was still not better so I decided to follow through with the x-rays. Knowing they would ask if I was pregnant, I took a test that morning. It was negative. I tried not to feel disappointed and at the same time that I felt almost relieved (believing) that I could safely get x-rays.
Imagine our surprise when, the next day, my doctor called to say I was pregnant! I made the nurse say it a few times because I was in such disbelief. After my negative test the day before, it was hard to believe that a blood test from a week ago would say otherwise, though it explained my needing to use the bathroom every 90 minutes during the night. There was much excitement as we rejoiced in the greatest love we had ever known – the love of our tiny baby. We called our families right away, but agreed not to tell anyone else except our bosses; after all, new babies mean doctor’s appointments and missed work, so they should know. We feared things not working out and disappointing a lot of people.
A couple of weeks later, at about 6 weeks, we visited my new OBGYN, as my previous one no longer delivered babies. She answered our questions and then showed us the greatest miracle – there was the little baby!!! The flashing heartbeat. It’s tiny body. A photo, which I carried in my purse for weeks – the best secret I had ever kept! Due April 14? Or 21st? Maybe May 3? Doctors and nurses and ultrasound couldn’t agree.
It was hard not to tell everyone, but we continued to keep our secret, counting down the days until we could tell the whole world.
We never got there. The next Monday, while at work, I noticed some spotting. I didn’t want to panic, but I called my doctor right away. After all, pregnant women aren’t supposed to see red blood, right? My doctor sent me to the emergency room. I remember crying in my assistant principal’s office as I told her I needed to leave. She’s experienced the loss herself, as well as the loss of a granddaughter, and cried with me, praying it wasn’t what we both feared. My students begged me to stay and continue talking about simple predicates, not knowing what was going on. I wish I could have.
Thankfully my husband and I worked together, so he took me to the ER. We were admitted right away with questions of “How much blood? How many pads?” Well, none, but there’s still blood. Isn’t that abnormal? I was feeling better knowing there wasn’t “a lot” by their standards until my doctor’s first words to me were, “If this isn’t a miscarriage now, your chances have just increased by 50%. About 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage and bleeding increases the likelihood.” While I know he had to be realistic, this was not what I needed or wanted to hear. Thanks for being so comforting, doctor.
The nurses made me comfortable and assured me they had both experienced bleeding throughout their pregnancies. It could be just fine. I wanted it to be just fine. It had to be just fine.
After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, we went in for the ultrasound. While the technician said she couldn’t tell us what she found (that was the doctor’s job), she paused for the heartbeat to echo in our ears. Our little baby was still there. Relief.
Tears. Joy. Peace.
We were eventually discharged from the ER – a Rhogam shot, hormone supplements and bed-rest were ordered. It became even harder not to tell people, as I missed almost a week of school. But, as we grew more scared, it became a potentially bad secret, not a good one. I felt better on Sunday – good enough to go for a walk in the sunshine. It felt amazing not to be trapped in my house, on my couch. And the bleeding had almost stopped!
Good news. Or so I thought. Monday it was back. My doctor and Dr. Google told me not to worry – lots of women experience bleeding and go on to have healthy babies. Tuesday was worse, but I went to school and made it through the day. On Wednesday I woke up in the worst pain ever – I know now I was experiencing contractions. Stubbornly, I went to school anyway – gotta save those sick days for the baby, right? Wrong. As I sobbed during my lunch hour, having successfully made it through the morning, I felt an even sharper pain and ran to the staff bathroom. I felt a gush and suddenly the pain was gone. And I looked down. I will never unsee that image of my tiny, tiny baby. I will never forget the pain. I would have kept the physical pain to not have the emotional pain. And I will never go in that bathroom again.
Dazed, I sobbed as I walked down the hallway of my school, thankful for once that no one was around, but at the same time wishing someone was there to grieve with me.
My AP was out. My work-mama wasn’t there. As the secretary held me and called my husband, all I could say was “It’s gone.”
A few hours later the doctor confirmed what I knew. The only bright spot was that everything had come out – a natural miscarriage. No need for surgery. She sent us for blood tests, armed me with strong pain meds, and sent me home to rest for the week. Nine missed days of work and thousands of dollars for a baby I would never get to hold.
Surprisingly, those first few days were the most hopeful for me. Friends and family sent their love and flowers. The worst was over right? I didn’t have to wonder anymore if it would be okay. I knew the ending of this story.
But then it hit me – all those plans and dreams I’d had – even for 8 weeks – were gone. I didn’t need to decorate the baby room at Thanksgiving. There wouldn’t be presents for the baby at Christmas. I didn’t need to plan lessons for the 2 months I would be out in the spring. I wouldn’t miss my friend’s wedding in May (another bright spot?). There was no baby any more. The thing I wanted most in life was gone.
A month later, I sobbed in my orthopedic surgeon’s office as he told me I didn’t need knee surgery. He said, “This is a good thing. You will be glad it’s not that major.”
Wrong. My only hope in losing my child was that it was because I needed to get my knee fixed so I could chase my babies around. Even that hadn’t worked out. As I cried, he said, “Maybe you should get some counseling.” I thought, “All I need is time.”
Days turned into weeks turned into months. I knew I should feel better, but Facebook told me everyday about some new person’s baby bump. Every person at the grocery store was pregnant. My coworkers were pregnant. My best friend was pregnant. I was pregnant – and then I wasn’t.
Nobody wants to hear that – I didn’t want to think it or feel it. Some days I could pretend just fine; other days I would cry in my classroom during my break, wishing I could go back in time and do something differently. Was it the steroid shot? The medicine I was taking before? Did I not rest enough? It didn’t help to know it wasn’t my fault. My baby died inside of me! How is that NOT my fault? It didn’t help to hear the thousands of stories of people going on to have healthy children. Sure, getting pregnant is a miracle and if it happened once it will likely happen again. But I didn’t want another one – I wanted this one. My first baby will no longer be my first; it will be my second. Or worse.
About November, my crying days went down dramatically. I stopped hating every pregnant woman I saw. But mostly I was counting down the days until we could try again, or the days until I would see my family for Christmas break. I needed a break. An escape from the pain. To be somewhere that didn’t remind me of the child I lost.
During my Christmas vacation, my family and I watched Up! I have seen that movie many times and watched many a grown man cry at it, but I never have. I always only saw the happier story. This time was different though – as the beginning scenes unfolded, the event that stood out the most was Ellie’s miscarriage. A miscarriage. In a Disney movie. I couldn’t believe it – and couldn’t believe it never registered before.
Miscarriages do happen – all the time, everywhere. The more people I talked to, the more I found out how many have faced this. And, honestly, I was shocked. Because no one talks about it. Until it happens to you. And I wish people would. I have never felt more alone than I did sitting in that bathroom. Or in the weeks after watching my friends lead happy lives and get pregnant while I was suffering and grieving. When people finally reached out and said, “Hey – it happened to me too!” I started to feel like maybe it would get better. Like maybe I wasn’t alone. Like maybe the pregnant women I’ve been resenting dealt with the same thing and it was finally their turn to feel the joy of all of the women they had been jealous of. You never know someone’s story just by looking at them.
After “trying” just 2 months, I knew I was pregnant again! Days before I should have, I took a home pregnancy test and got what I hadn’t before – a positive!!! I took two more, before I could be convinced, sending a picture to my husband. The joy I felt was unmistakeable. This time it would be different. Things were going to work out.
I called my doctor immediately and was told – you can’t come in for a few weeks. It’s too early – you would just be disappointed. I asked about supplements, given my previous miscarriage. The nurse told me not to worry, everything would be fine.
After weeks of feeling (thankfully) ill, we finally went to the doctor on March 22. This time we had told everyone. After the sadness of losing the first, I just wanted to feel the joy of people celebrating life with us! And, God forbid, we lost this one, we would have the support we so desperately needed and missed the first time.
Feeling hopeful, we walked into the doctor’s office. After looking around, she asked the fateful questions, “Are you sure you have your dates right? There is no heartbeat.” She tried to assure it was too early (it wasn’t – I should have been 7.5 weeks at that point) and scheduled to see us in 2 weeks.
April 2nd. No heartbeat. No growth. Nothing. My doctor’s words were, “I have no hope,” but she sent me to an imaging center to have them confirm the miscarriage. I was devastated and spent the next day in bed, crying for yet another dream lost and a life I had yet to lose. Two days later, I faced another ultrasound. I told the technician, “I’m just waiting for confirmation of what I’ve already been told. That my baby has died.” She tried to comfort my tears as she began the scan. Soon, she asked again, “You are here because you miscarried? Are you sure? Are you sure your dates are right?” As anyone trying to conceive knows, dates become the most important thing in the world. I knew the day we conceived. I knew the day I got my positive test. I couldn’t forget those days. I asked her why, and she paused the machine so I could hear the heartbeat. And I cried. She said, “There’s your baby. It’s tiny – measuring smaller than the 10 weeks you are thinking. But alive!” I was shocked. After spending 2 days mourning my child, there it was – still alive and beating. I thought, “God wouldn’t be so cruel to take this child twice. This one is going to stick – it is going to be ok.”
Again, I was wrong. After more days of bleeding, countless doctor visits that still showed no heartbeat, and words of warning, on April 19, as I weeded my front yard, I felt it. I ran inside and saw the blood that had virtually disappeared. And I cried. My husband asked if I was sure – there was no doubt in my mind. I was just waiting for it to get worse; for the pain to start, and then to stop. He left to play poker, leaving me alone in pain and agony. As the bleeding got worse, I lay in bed and cried, wondering how I could get to the ER alone and how long it would last and why it had to happen again.
I sat laying in the bathtub and cried, wishing someone were there. That I wasn’t alone. And that I didn’t have to lose this one too. And then, it was over. My tiny child and all my hope were gone.
My family jokes about Easter being rough on us. I got stitches one year. My dad hurt his arm in another. My brother broke his arm. My sister broke bones around her eye with a softball. I miscarried my second child. Easter may be about resurrection and new life, but it is tainted in my brain with pain, sorrow, and loss.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 1.5 years since I said goodbye to baby #1 and soon it will be baby #2’s anniversary. My life has changed in innumerable ways. The miscarriages led to more loss than just these two perfect angels. I lost friends – friends who couldn’t understand my sorrow when they were so happy with their own pregnancies and babies. We couldn’t find common ground. I couldn’t stop the hurt and jealousy I felt watching them or the sadness of not being part of their “club”, even though it wasn’t my fault. They couldn’t understand why I couldn’t be happy. I lost my husband, our “shared” dreams were really not shared, as I learned through the second miscarriage, and I realized that I would rather face tough times alone than expect someone to be by my side and then leave when I needed support the most. I changed jobs, to avoid my now ex-husband, but also to avoid the room where I miscarried and the knowing glances of co-workers and the inevitable choosing of sides. I moved out of my house which became a reminder of broken dreams, a miscarrriage, pain. I am not good with change and it has been more difficult than I could even imagine to adjust to an entirely new life. I struggle daily with finding peace in this journey I have created and in failing in the things I wanted most – a family with babies and a husband.
It doesn’t matter that failure isn’t entirely my fault; all I can see is that I don’t have what I wanted and I blame it all on myself. I don’t know if I will ever have children on earth. The idea of being pregnant has become a scary, heartbreaking one, and honestly, it terrifies me. The thought of the joy, followed by the pain – physical, emotional, mental. I’m not sure I am strong enough to handle that again. Part of me wants to be, and part of me wants to just let the dream go and be strong enough in myself to go through life on my own. I have my students and they are my children, and maybe that is enough. Will I ever know for sure?
One thing I am sure of is that I am a mother. I know this in my heart. I think about my babies everyday, even if I cannot take care of them in the way I wish. I wear rings for their due dates to think of them daily and remind me of the greatest love anyone can know – the love of one’s children. I am a mother. An angel mother. And I hope that, as I continue on this journey of life, I can make my babies proud as they wait for the day I get to hold them in heaven and finally tell them in person how much I love them and wish I could have held them everyday on Earth.
I am a mother. And no one can take that away from me.
You can email Carol at: firstname.lastname@example.org