Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What To Expect When You're No Longer Expecting

There are many things in life that we as people just don't talk about.  For some, it's a matter of pride; Others, a matter of tact; And then there are the things we don't speak of because they are just so surprising and horrible that it is too difficult to talk about.  I understand the reluctance to converse about many of these things.  However, in other arenas I think it is important to speak out because it would eliminate that feeling of "alone" in some situations and better prepare people in others.

As most of you know, I recently experienced having a miscarriage for the first time.  As with many things, I was not prepared.  Of course we all know that this is a horrible experience, whether we have gone through them or not.  I don't think anyone is under the assumption that they are a walk in the park.  However, nobody ever really talks about it.  What it's like, what we go through physically & emotionally.  And I get it - it's a touchy subject.  Some women might not want to talk about it because it's too painful, and we don't ask them about it for fear of upsetting them.  I have to say that this is doing a big disservice to women.

I was absolutely dumbfounded by the number of women who reached out to me to let me know that they had been through this, some of them several times.  While I have only exchanged experiences with two of them, I have a feeling that many more have had similar experiences.  And had I known what I was in for it would have helped me immensely. A friend of mine gave me a heads up that things were going to be a bit more intense than I was prepared for, and if it weren't for that I might have thought that I was dying.  And so, I am choosing to share my story with you, in case it can help prepare you in the future.

**If you are currently pregnant, just stop reading here.  I don't want to cause any undue stress to you - this is a very happy time in your life and you should be focusing on happy thoughts and staying away from stories like this.  Feel free to bookmark this and come back later.  Also, if you just don't want gory details, stop reading here.  You have been warned. **

We made our public pregnancy announcement to the world on a Sunday.  We made it to the 12 week mark, and while nothing is a guarantee in pregnancy we felt confident now that we were past that threshold.  This was our third time around, I was already showing and wearing maternity clothes, I couldn't keep it a secret any longer if I wanted to.  And besides, most of the people I saw every day already knew.  So we made our announcement and received tons of well wishes on Sunday afternoon.

On Monday morning I started bleeding.  I had had some spotting on several occasions with this pregnancy, and every doctor assured me that it was common.  My cervix was still closed, many women have spotting, some even have what seems like normal periods and never know they are pregnant.  But Monday's bleeding was different.  I felt different, this looked different, and a part of me knew right then and there.  I spoke with my doctor, even went to the ER, and was assured that everything would probably be OK.  I had an ultrasound scheduled for Thursday anyway so at the very least we'd have more answers then.

Tuesday morning the bleeding was more intense.  I called my doctor and he had me come in for an ultrasound.  I don't know if I will ever stop hearing the tech whisper to me, "I'm sorry, but I can't find a heartbeat".  She said something about speaking with a doctor but in all honesty my ears were ringing and I stopped paying attention to her.  I didn't have to hear it from her.  When we saw the baby on the screen, I could see that she was motionless.  There was no familiar flicker of a heartbeat.  Even at 6 weeks, I could see the flash of a tiny heartbeat inside a little blob that resembled a bean more than a baby.  But on Tuesday, she was still, there was no flicker.

The rush of emotion was immediate and paralyzing.  I was not surprised, yet I was in disbelief.  How could I let this happen?  How did I not know sooner?  How could something stop growing inside of me and I didn't notice it for 4 weeks?!  What am I going to tell K?  All the things that I had to stop ran through my head then as well.  Ridiculous things that I couldn't believe came to me in that moment.  I don't have to put K & R in a room together.  We can stop looking for a minivan.  I can give my maternity clothes back to my sister.  But could I?  Will I fit into normal clothes?  I had been wearing maternity clothes for weeks because my regular clothes did not fit anymore.  How long will it take before I can wear normal clothes?  How long do I have to walk around looking like I'm pregnant?  Will people ask me about my baby?  Can I handle having to tell people that I'm not pregnant?  Oh my God, Thanksgiving.  How am I going to get through Thanksgiving?  My family all knows that I'm pregnant and they're going to be happy and excited and I'll have to tell them all this horrible news.  And if they know ahead of time there will still be this awkward silence that nobody knows how to fill.  I have ruined Thanksgiving.  Maybe next year will be happier.  Can we try again?  Do I want to try again?  What if this happens again?  What did I do differently this time?  What if I can't get pregnant again?  What if R was it?  I'm not ready for R to be it, that was the point of Baby #3.  And now there is no Baby #3.  There is no baby #3. There is no baby...There is no baby...

When I pulled myself together we spoke with the doctor about my options.
  • There was a pill that I could take to move everything along quickly.  It would be fast but it would be intense.  That really didn't seem appealing.  
  • I could have a D&E/D&C, a surgical procedure that would take care of everything.  That didn't sound fun either, as I tend to think that surgery is the absolute last course of action for most situations.  
  • I could let things just happen naturally, my body knows what it needs to do and it will do it on its own time.  Okay, that seems like the way to go and the doctor agreed.
I specifically asked how bad things would be.  I've had an image in my head of what a miscarriage would be like, and it's basically hemorrhaging and somewhere along the lines a baby comes out as well.  I was assured it wouldn't be that horrible, that I would have some cramping and what would be compared to a light to heavy period for 1-2 weeks.  Okay, that doesn't sound all that awful.  They offered me a prescription for Motrin and sent me on my way.

The rest of Tuesday and most of Wednesday was exactly as they described.  Crampy & period-like.  Annoying, but completely manageable.  However, Wednesday night things changed.  My cramps turned into mini-contractions.  Anyone who has been through labor knows that early stage where you're just starting to feel an arc to it;  There's a build-up, a peak, and a release.  And when I thought about it, it made sense - my body has to do a very similar function as in labor, so it's not that surprising that the cramps would feel contraction-like.  I caved and took some Motrin and sent myself to bed.

At 4:30 in the morning I was jolted awake by labor pains.  Not labor-like pains.  Labor pains.  My last birth was a natural one, and I was feeling exactly the way I was with that.  The contractions were getting closer and closer together and more and more intense.  I felt a huge pressure inside my uterus and felt the urge to push, so logically I went into the bathroom.  Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience, and I am thankful that my last birth was a natural one so at least I knew I could make it through transition.  Little did I know there would be 3 equivalents.

The first was right away.  The contractions came back to back with zero let-up.  It was almost unbearable and I was very confused.  It made sense logically, but I did not expect this and the doctor at the ultrasound did not prepare me for it to be like this at all.  The pressure inside me built up and there was an undeniable urge to push so I went with it.  What followed I can only describe as an eruption of fluid, blood, tissue, and God knows what else.  Definitely not a light period!  It felt very similar to that point in childbirth when the baby's body finally slides out of you.  Effortless at that point and you feel a drop as the baby and fluid and blood pass through.  It was squishy and warm and emptying.  I felt immediately lighter, the pressure was gone, and while my cramps were still worthy of contractions they were no longer on top of each other, so I had time to breathe for a while.  However, I was concerned and bound to the toilet because whatever was flowing out of me did not cease.  In fact, it flowed straight for well over an hour, all the while my contractions building again, this time more intensely than the first time.  Of course I was curious as to whether I'd be able to discern a fetus so I did search a little bit but nothing was identifiable.  Anything solid looked more like a can of jellied cranberry sauce and was much too large to be an 8 week old fetus.  And I was not convinced that the baby had passed anyway so I didn't look too intently.

The second transition came while still in the bathroom.  This was more intense than the first one and it was more of the same.  Relentless contractions, one on top of the other with no let-up, pressure followed by the urge to push, followed by an eruption.  Again, the contractions ceased for a bit but did not disappear.  I knew we weren't done yet.  However, whatever was flowing freely out of me before had ceased, at least long enough for me to get myself back into bed.  I wanted to lay down for a bit because I was feeling woozy and my vision was starting to blackout.  It did feel good to be in bed, but I should mention that sometime between the first and second transitions, my son decided to start vomiting in our bed.  So while I was going through all of this, poor Wifey had been tending to him, and when I got back into bed finally, he was vomiting again.

My third transition came while I was laying in bed.  My son had finally gotten to sleep, but unfortunately I woke up my daughter with "the moan".  Anyone who has ever had a natural birth knows what "the moan" is.  It just happens, it is involuntary, I believe it is your body's way of dealing with the pain.  I did not want to scare her so I tried my hardest to keep it together.  She was confused and concerned for me so I assured her that I was okay and that I just had a really bad belly ache.  She climbed into bed and tried to cuddle with me to make me feel better, but it was impossible since I had started writhing with the pain.  I was struggling to remember anything from the birthing classes I took with my last pregnancy.  I just wasn't in the right state of mind to be dealing with labor; it was unexpected, I was in no way prepared because I never would have imagined that a miscarriage would be labor.  If I had, I would have spent the rest of Tuesday & Wednesday brushing up on getting through the pain.  At the peak of transition I had that urge to push and all I could think was, "Not in the bed!".  I don't know how, but I made my way to the bathroom.  This final eruption was the worst of all of them, and in fact the elimination part here was painful for me, but the contractions & cramping stopped immediately after.  I am convinced that this is when she left me.  I did not have time to look for her because I started to blackout immediately.  I rushed to get into bed but knew I had no time so I laid down on the bathroom floor instead.

I wanted to get her.  I wanted to be able to bury her, to memorialize her, to look at her and know for a fact that it's over.  An ultrasound is one thing, seeing it with my own eyes would be another.  My ears started ringing and my arms & legs were cold and numb.  My vision was still black so I could not get up.  I was truly scared because I had no idea what was going on or what was happening to me or if this was normal.  It took a few minutes but I came back into myself.  When I was ready I stood up again, and I immediately felt like I was going to blackout again.  Something wasn't right.  And K needed to use the bathroom.  I had no choice but to flush.

I wish I could have given you more respect.  I'm sorry I abandoned you, that I just left you there.  I wish that I could have taken care of you or shown you some sort of affection.  I hope you know that you were loved and wanted and that is certainly not how I wanted things to end.  I wanted to say goodbye to you.

I feel it with every part of my being that she is not inside me anymore.  After K was born, I made reference to an empty feeling that my body had.  That was nothing like this.  When K was born, my body felt used, hollow, stretched.  The life that was inside it was now in my arms, and I guess my body was missing that, that it had ghost memories of K moving around inside of it and yearned for her to be back in there.  I still have that from time to time.  But this...there was no life in my arms.  There were no ghost memories.  There was just nothing.  I wasn't used or stretched.  I wasn't searching for the familiar movements.  I was just empty.  I just went through the childbirth experience, unprepared and in my home, and there was no baby.  That is the worst part about this.  That is what nobody told me, nobody prepared me for.  How can you go through that and have nothing to rejoice in afterwards? 

I made it to the bed and called my doctor.  We decided to go to the ER since I was so woozy and even sitting up proved to be difficult.  All of the details are a blur but the gist of it is that there was a piece of tissue stuck that wouldn't eliminate and wouldn't allow my cervix to close.  They tried to remove it in the ER but were unsuccessful so we decided to go for the D&E.  Apparently I had some extra bleeding that needed to be taken care of too - I don't know if this was before or after the procedure.  I am inclined to think before because of my wooziness & the blackouts.  I wanted things to go naturally and was disappointed that after going through all of that I still had to go for the procedure.  However, the procedure is proving to be more humane than a natural miscarriage.  I still have some physical recovery to go through, especially because of the bleeding, but if you take that out of the equation, this is a world easier than just letting things happen.  For some women, they don't realize that they are having a miscarriage until they are going through what I did Wednesday night.  I can't imagine finding out that way, and I can't imagine going through that without having first experienced labor & delivery.

Women need to know that this is what it's like or could be like.  Not to scare them, not to worry about a miscarriage, but to be prepared.  Had I known, I would have done things differently and might have even opted for the procedure from the beginning and avoided all of the pain and mess.  I don't know, maybe not.  But I would have at least known what I was in for.  I hope that this information helps someone, even if it's just to know what could possibly happen.  Every woman is different, every pregnancy is different, every birth is different, so I imagine every miscarriage is different.  But according to the doctors I spoke with after (and there were several), this is actually a fairly common and expected experience.  A miscarriage is exactly like labor and delivery, your body needs to do the exact same thing so you should expect a similar experience.

I can't express enough gratitude to everyone who helped us through this.  My cousin HR for taking me to the hospital so Wifey could stay with a sick R, for being the alcohol & donut fairy on Tuesday, and for helping us out so much with everything.  My friend JS for giving me a heads up that things would not be as simple and easy as the ultrasound doctors made it seem, and for her continued support through everything always.  My friend EM-G, for dragging herself and her two kids to my house on Friday to help me through my required complete bedrest part of recovery.  Having to take it easy is hard enough, total bedrest is ridiculous!  My in-laws for coming on Sunday to help out with the kids after Wifey had to leave to run a conference. 

I'm glad that I told people about our good news so that I'm not dealing with the bad news in secrecy, because I don't know how we would have gotten through this otherwise.  And I know that we're not entirely through this yet either.  There's still a long emotional road to conquer, but I know I am not alone.  I think it's important that we speak about this, so feel free to share your story here too if you want to contribute to the dialogue.

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