It’s been three days since my world was turned upside down. It’s almost certainly “too soon” to sit down and write about it, but this is the only thing I know how to do when I’m grieving.
I had a first trimester blog post in the works (you can read my previous pregnancy update here) but never got around to finishing it. Here’s some of what I wanted to share. (Note: We find out the baby’s sex this week. For ease of writing, I’m just using “he” throughout this post because it feels more natural.) The post is extraordinarily long, so I’ve divided it into three sections to make it easier to read.
My Miscarriage Story
The first 12 weeks of my pregnancy were really, really hard. A lot of people romanticize pregnancy, and I completely understand why, but I was overwhelmed by how poorly I felt. I was always nauseous and so sad all the time. I was fatigued beyond belief and took more time off of work than I ever thought I’d need. I cried a lot and didn’t leave the house much — and I was terrified of loss.
At six weeks pregnant, I woke up to bright red blood in my underwear and lost it. I rushed to my OB’s office and found out that bleeding during pregnancy isn’t always a sign that something is terrible — sometimes it just happens. I was relieved but didn’t let out a sigh of relief until we heard the heartbeat at eight weeks. At that point, my midwife told me that the chances of us losing the baby were slim-to-none — so we told everyone in the world and prepared to announce it on social media.
Besides feeling like crap and having the bleeding scare, I had an uneventful pregnancy. Every time they checked, the baby’s heartbeat was strong and he was the right size. We were so proud of our little bean. At my 12-week appointment, they checked for the heartbeat with a portable monitor and couldn’t find it. I was so scared (a reoccuring theme in my life!) but my nurse said they’d do an ultrasound because the baby was probably just hiding.
When the ultrasound tech pulled up the screen, we saw something I will treasure for the rest of our lives. A tiny little baby — we could see his miniature arms and legs — wiggling around like crazy. She tried to measure him, and he would. not. stop. moving. I was so proud of my little rebel.
At the end of the appointment, the doctor came in the room, which was weird — I knew he was busy and didn’t expect to see him until I was much farther along. He told me that the ultrasound tech let him know that there was an “area of concern” near the baby’s skull. He reassured me that it was probably nothing and he was probably just in an awkward phase of growth — the chances of something being wrong were exceedingly low. Still, he referred me to USF’s high-risk pregnancy center, mostly for my peace of mind.
I cried on my way home that day because I was so scared for our baby, but I quickly became optimistic. I Googled (pro-tip: never Google when waiting for medical news) and realized that we had a 99.9% chance of a healthy baby. I talked to other moms who had gotten scary ultrasound results and then realized everything was fine. And I still felt pregnant (read: miserable), so I refused to lose hope. I told my baby that he’d be in big trouble one day for scaring us like he did.
On Thursday, June 20 at 9:30 a.m., I walked into USF with Vagner and my parents. I didn’t particularly need my mom and dad there but figured they’d want to hear about their grandkid. In light of how the day turned out, I’m so glad that I thought to invite them.
They took us back into the ultrasound room and a nurse started my scan. I chatted with my parents and Vagner but then realized that she was pushing down really hard on my stomach. It hurt. This was my first regular ultrasound (possible TMI, but early ultrasounds are typically vaginal because it produces a clearer picture), so I thought it was just a part of the process. She called in another nurse to help her and I let them do their thing.
A few minutes later, the doctor came in. She had the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen, and I am grateful for her in light of the news she delivered. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Ayana, I am so sorry, but your baby was very sick and is no longer living.”
I screamed. “NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO” was all that I could think to yell at her. It was completely incomprehensible.
They took us into another room to wait on a genetic counselor — she was also so kind and told us that it looked as if the baby had a large encephalocele, which basically means the skull didn’t form correctly and his brain tissue was outside of his head. Once I was able to catch my breath, I was full of questions. What happens next? How do I get the baby out of me? (I know that this may sound callous, but a friend who miscarried told me that she felt like a coffin once she realized there was a dead baby inside of her, and I agree. It was a jarring thought for me.) Will I ever get pregnant again? What did I do wrong?
The answers to those questions, in order: They recommended a D&C with genetic testing of the fetal remains to find out what went wrong. The overwhelming odds are that it was just terrible luck — someone has to be the 1 in 10,000 — but the tests will let us know whether we are carriers for a rare condition called Meckel Syndrome, which takes the chances of encephalocele from 0.01% to 25%. Most cases are isolated and just happen, but this will provide some peace of mind. She told me that she was not particularly worried for future pregnancies and that there is nothing that I could have done differently. She said, “This is not your fault.” I will cling to that sentence for a very long time.
I left USF with my family and went to my OB’s office, where they told me again that they recommended a D&C, which is basically going under general anesthesia and letting the doctor remove the baby during a quick surgery. They told me to prepare for bleeding and cramping in the days following the procedure and sent me to the hospital to get checked by doctors and prepare for surgery. I made Vagner take a glamour shot of me because that’s the kind of person I am when I’m having a terrible time.
At 7:30 that night, they took me back for surgery. At this point, I’d already texted our family and friends to let them know, so we had an army of people rallying around us with prayers, kind words and encouragement. I will never regret announcing our baby when we did — the support of our community has literally kept me going. I am still bleeding and will probably feel weird physically for the next month or so until my pregnancy hormones are completely gone.
What To Do If Someone You Love Loses A Baby
I have to be honest — I’ve always been deeply uncomfortable with miscarriage, mainly because of my own fear that it would happen to me one day. But also, what do you say? How do you make sure you aren’t making it worse? Here’s what I know: Miscarriage is heartbreakingly common. While our specific situation was a rare one, the end result is the same — going home bleeding and heartbroken instead of leaving with your baby.
Here’s what’s been helpful this weekend, in no particular order:
- Flowers with sweet cards — our kitchen hasn’t ever looked cheerier.
- Food. I feel weird about accepting food from people — I’m still physically recovering, but it’s not like I’m sick. Vagner had to convince me to say yes, and it has been one less thing to think about.
- Encouraging text messages. I don’t always respond because it can be overwhelming, but I read them.
- Not trying to “fix” anything. Don’t play Nancy Drew. Someone sent me a (well-intentioned) message to ask if I thought that we lost the babe because I breathed in rat poison. (ICYMI, we had a recent pest problem and had to call an exterminator.) Thankfully, I was able to laugh it off, but it was a horrifying thought that briefly paralyzed me until Vagner reminded me that they set traps and didn’t use poison. Also, encephaloceles = terrible luck. Can’t forget that.
- Letting me cry. Vagner has been emotional, too, but I’m a mess even on good days and if I see you and we make eye contact, I’m going to sob. I promise that I’m not having a mental breakdown — it’s just incredibly sucky right now.
- Cleaning. My mother-in-law came over and cleaned our entire house from top to bottom and I cried. Not being surrounded by clutter is so helpful for my mental state. Again, one less thing.
So how do you support someone who loses their baby? You show up. I’ve had a lot of people offer to be there if I need anything, but I am too overwhelmed to ask for help right now. (BTW, this isn’t me asking you to drop everything and come over if you’ve asked me to reach out for help — we’re good right now. But in general, it’s really freakin’ hard to tell people that you need something.) Just check in. Ask them how they’re feeling. Ask if they want to talk about the baby. Give them hugs.
Questions From My Followers
To end this manifesto — I asked my audience whether they had any questions. Here’s what I’ve got.
Will you call your next baby your “first”?
This is something I talked about with Vagner earlier today! Answer: it depends who’s asking. If I’m in the grocery store with a healthy babe on my hip down the road, I’m not going to bum out the cashier when they’re looking for small talk. Otherwise, I’ll be honest. The next baby won’t be our first child. We never met this one, but we loved him for nearly three months.
Did you have any inkling before the ultrasound?
I kind of answered this already, but to reiterate — I was worried they’d tell us that our baby would have developmental issues. It was not an option in my head for the baby to be dead until he was.
Is it hard for you to be around pregnant women and babies?
Yes and no. Of course, it’s a reminder that my life is profoundly unfair right now, but everything is a reminder that life is unfair. I almost cried at Starbucks because I was able to order regular coffee instead of decaf. I’m still so excited for you if you’re having a baby — my loss doesn’t preclude me from celebrating your joy.
What do you think about starting to try again?
I think that this will vary from person to person. Because the first three months were hellish, I’m not exactly inclined to go for it right away. Additionally, I want to make sure that Vagner and I both get the therapy we need so that we’re emotionally ready. Lastly, we want to go on a trip with some of the money we’ve been saving for the babe, and I hated traveling pregnant, so we’ll likely wait until fall/winter 2019 before we think about it.
What makes it painful?
I assume that this means physically. Even with surgery removing the baby and placenta, my body is still getting used to not being pregnant – hence the bleeding and cramping. Honestly, the pain isn’t worse than a bad period, but it’s a tangible reminder of what we lost.
How do you recover?
If you find out, will you let me know? Honestly, I think that the answer here is time. I’m in less pain physically and emotionally today than I was yesterday, and I’ll feel better tomorrow. As I mentioned previously, I’m big on therapy and won’t be processing this alone.
Is there anything that seems helpful but isn’t?
“God knows what he’s doing.” Does He? If so, why did he give me a sick baby who was destined to die in my womb? I’m being incredibly honest here — right now, when I think about God’s plan, I wonder what I did to piss Him off. I think that it’s better to offer prayers and just say, “this sucks.” Because it does.
How can I help?
Check on me in two weeks — heck, two months. It will get better, but it will also get worse. I am trying to feel it all deeply and allow myself to process, come what may.
Thank you again for your unending support during the worst week ever. We are broken, but we are surrounded by people who know how to fight for us. I am grateful.