Lesley Vance

First Ectopic Pregnancy Loss – May 2005

Second Ectopic Pregnancy Loss – September 2007

Third Pregnancy Loss due to Miscarriage – March 2008

San Diego, California

Grieving My Pregnancy Loss
How I found ways to move through the grief process

By Lesley Vance

Like most hopeful mothers-to-be I was optimistic about my pregnancy. I was thrilled to be pregnant and felt great. No morning sickness nonsense for me. My days were spent nesting, considering baby names and thinking about nursery colors. I took prenatal vitamins, napped and drank lots of water on a routine basis. During week eight my first ultrasound showed my baby’s heartbeat. It was a magical moment.

Two weeks later I began having flu-like symptoms and felt drained as if I’ve been run over by a dump truck. I thought that I had caught a virus at the gym, so I made an appointment with my OB-GYN to have an ultrasound.

“Lesley, I’m not seeing a heartbeat,” the doctor said.

“What do you mean? We saw my baby’s heartbeat two weeks ago. I’m 10 weeks along now and you should clearly see it.”

“Let me try to get a better angle. Just take some deep breaths and relax for a moment.”

Lying back on the exam table I starred at the ceiling. Smiling faces of mothers with newborns starred back at me. Is this a sick joke? I wondered.

“I’m sorry, Lesley, but I still don’t see a heartbeat. I’m going to send you over to the high-risk pregnancy center to obtain a 3D ultrasound. It will give us a better picture.”

The high tech machine confirmed that my baby had died. They called it a miscarriage. I wondered What did I do wrong? Did I take enough prenatal vitamins? What could I have done differently? I thought that figuring out “why” it happened would help me cope with my overwhelming sorrow and grief.

Over the next few months I became a recluse and fell into deep depression. I ignored friends and family by not returning their phone calls or emails. I quit playing tennis and going to book club. I was emotionally dead. All I wanted to do was sit on the sofa and stare at the TV to escape my life. Grief overwhelmed me.

I learned the hard way that getting pregnant and carrying a baby full-term is not easy. It’s actually a miracle if things go right. Each year in the United States 2,000,000 pregnancies end in loss. There are 7,300,000 women ages 15-44 who experience fertility problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The high number of ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages and stillbirths occurring each year indicate that things don’t always work out.

Experiencing a miscarriage was very difficult for me. It felt like a very silent grief, because there was little support available. I didn’t know who to talk to or where to turn. How do you grieve a pregnancy loss whether you’ve experienced a miscarriage or a neonatal death? Eventually I sought professional help.

Dr. Martha Diamond, co-founder of Center for Reproductive Psychology in San Diego said, “Experiencing a pregnancy loss is very traumatic. It’s a complex grief because everything is backwards. Instead of having a lifetime of memories as you do when you lose a loved one later in life, there is no storehouse of memories. When a baby has been lost, often the only memory one has are traumatic and it’s very difficult. Whatever you feel during the process such as sadness, grief, anger and fear is normal.”

Through my personal experience, I learned that the grieving process couldn’t be forced or hurried. It can take months and even years, but I found three things that helped move me through the grief process: tears, talking and time.

Tears helped me heal by releasing my pent up emotions of anger, fear, sorrow and disappointment. After a good cry I felt an overall sense of well-being because tears released the toxins from my body that were caused by stress. When it comes to grief and loss, tears are very beneficial.

I called on several good friends who were willing to listen as I talked about my loss. It helped me heal. Pregnancy loss was such a personal experience that it made me feel completely alone and isolated from others. Talking about it made my journey more bearable.

“You have to first be able to name what you’ve lost before you can grieve it. It’s good for people to talk about their trauma and realize that whatever they think and feel is normal. Pregnancy loss is very real and they need to acknowledge it themselves,” Dr. Diamond added.

The amount of time needed to grieve is different for everyone. Grief is a highly personal experience and hard to communicate. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

“Some people worry thinking they should have gotten over a pregnancy loss. They think something is wrong with them when they feel sad and depressed six months down the road, but grief has no timetable. It’s a process,” Dr. Diamond said.

At some point you will feel less weighted down by your grief. In the meantime take one day, and if needed one hour, at a time.

— Lesley Vance is the author of Infertility Journeys: Finding Your Happy Ending (www.InfertilityJourneys.com). She leads an infertility support group in San Diego as a volunteer for The National Infertility Association, and writes a fertility blog on her website, www.LesleyVance.com.

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