Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Empty (part 2)

After losing the baby in October, we still felt pretty strongly that there was a baby waiting to come and that we were ready for another. It was hard and scary even thinking about getting pregnant again, but after waiting about a month we felt like it was the right thing. I didn't feel the same excitement and anticipation about wanting to take a pregnancy test as soon as possible. But over Christmas while we were in California I dreamed that I was pregnant again so when I woke up I decided I might as well take a test to confirm it. I was trying to feel hopeful that everything would be okay this time, but when I saw those positive lines I couldn't help but cry. I felt scared and hopeless.  I tried telling myself I was just being paranoid and anxious and still recovering from the recent loss, but I think deep down I knew things weren't okay. Every time I talked about my pregnancy to someone I would say something like "...but I don't think it's gonna make it.", even realizing how negative that sounded.

We went back home to Utah and I had the morning sickness, the fatigue, the hormonal upheaval (all signs that things are moving along like they should be), but along with it I had a couple dreams that things weren't right. I woke up one night when I was about 8 weeks along with an awful ache in my arm, and I immediately recalled that same feeling from October. I felt this overwhelming sense of dread and despair. By the morning I realized that my pregnancy symptoms had mostly faded and I think then I knew. I cried non-stop for over a week (all while trying to pack up our house to move cross-country). I mean honestly I was surprised I didn't run out of tears. I don't even know where they kept coming from. I was not ready to call the doctor and have them confirm what I already knew. I told God, please not now, I cannot do this again, not right now, especially not with everything else going on. It felt like I was losing my house, my friends, my sense of stability, and now also losing this baby. I just cannot go through this, not while Matt is gone. I can't do it alone. My prayers changed from asking for the baby to be healthy to asking for peace and strength.

So I kept my scheduled ultrasound appointment for the following week. Matt was already in Connecticut, so I went alone and laid on that same table where we once saw little Mariah kicking and swimming around. The ultrasound technician told me I was measuring on track at 10 weeks, but all I could hear was the silence. Of course I wanted a miracle. I wanted to see a little heart beating that would continue to beat long after mine has stopped. But, there was no heartbeat. Even I could see that what should have been a baby did not look like a baby. I felt like I had already known so I just stared off into space and tried to keep it together. The ultrasound tech pointed to a picture of a healthy 10 week fetus and said, "This is what it's supposed to look like." Thanks.

 My doctor needed to see me so I went and sat in the prenatal appointment room where I had listened to Mariah's heartbeat and had my growing belly measured so many times before. The doctor gave me my options for taking care of this non-viable pregnancy:  take a ton of pills (used off-label) to induce miscarriage at home, or opt for a D&C. I actually laughed at how awful this whole thing was. On top of finding out you're losing another baby, now you're supposed to pick if you'd prefer taking pills that as my doctor explained would cause extreme blood loss, severe contractions, possible vomiting (and may not even work), or you can choose surgery with general anesthesia and still have continued bleeding and possible complications. ha. ha. ha. And that's not to mention the serious risks and side effects. I told him I'd get back to him on that.

I knew Matt was anxious to hear the news, still hoping for something good. I couldn't even call or talk to anybody for awhile because it felt like telling people would make it real. I just couldn't believe I was going through this AGAIN. SO SOON. I was of course grieving for another pregnancy lost, but I was now feeling the fear about myself too. Maybe something is actually wrong with me. Maybe this is just the second in a long string of losses. Maybe it will be months, years, or longer until we have another baby. I don't know.

By the time I got home I knew there was no way I was choosing either of those crap options. I called the doctor back and he told me I could wait it out for about a month without risk of infection and that usually bodies know how to take care of things on their own if you give it time. Fine with me. I definitely felt the best about just waiting it out. Kind of funny because going through natural miscarriage a few months earlier I knew it would be no walk in the park but it just felt right in this case. For myself, I needed to have the pregnancy end the same way I would have tried if I had carried it to term: with as little intervention as possible. I think partly I needed to regain some trust in the process if I knew my body would take care of things on its own.

Having Matt gone was really, really hard. I was so grateful for Mariah for getting me through that week. If I didn't have a toddler that needed to be fed and changed and bathed I don't know what I would've done with myself.

More tears kept coming long after I thought the well had dried up, but finally and slowly I started to feel the peace I had been praying so fervently for. I finally understood there was nothing, nothing I could have done to prevent either of these losses. 

In some ways it was nice to have the distraction of a major move to keep me busy and focused. Matt came home and we had a few days where we finished packing and sent off our stuff, then he went back to CT to continue working and living in a hotel, and Mariah and I went back to CA to be with my family while we waited for our new apartment to be ready so we could join Matt at our new home.

At 11 weeks pregnant I still wasn't showing any signs of letting go of the pregnancy. I was still having touches of morning sickness come and go. Another week went by. I started looking into things that might help my body let go. I saw a chiropractor, went to an acupuncturist, and got a massage. Another week went by and still nothing. I was a little worried that my window for avoiding infection was closing. I started taking herbs (if you're curious: black and blue cohosh, dong quai, and chaste tree berry) that for a few days gave me nothing but headaches. Then, in a few days came the cramping and then the bleeding, just in time to head to CT. They don't teach you in school how to change a toddler's diaper while you're also starting to miscarry in an airplane bathroom. Thankfully by this point, I was feeling more relief than sadness.

We came home to our new apartment, and we were snowed in the first day while the cramps got worse and worse. I was so grateful my mom had come to help us unpack and get settled, I do not know how I would have gotten through the week without her. The next day, Valentine's Day, the cramps were becoming contractions. I was surprised at how much it actually felt like being in labor. The contractions started coming stronger and more frequently, but there was no adrenaline and happy anticipation of the new baby to come. I realized there was no reason to put on a brave face for this, it just sucks and it's okay to cry it all out. By the late afternoon when the contractions had gotten nearly unbearable my body finally let that pregnancy go. There was the sac that was supposed to be nourishing a healthy little baby but instead had utterly failed us both.

If I had to go back and choose again, I would do the same thing. It was hard. Really really really hard, but I think it was the best thing for me in this situation. I'm feeling hopeful that the next pregnancy will "stick" only because I don't know how else to feel.

It's a strange mix of wanting other people to know what's going on but also not wanting to talk about it. I'm not embarrassed or ashamed about going through these miscarriages, but maybe I do feel a little embarrassed by how downright depressed I've been. I see other people going through things just as, and many times even more, difficult than this and I wonder how they can be so strong. How are they so brave and faithful? Maybe I should have waited to write this until I've come out alive on the other side with another babe in arms but I don't know how long that will be so here it is. I still feel very empty. I'm still healing. I'm hopeful that in a few years this will seem like such a small bump in the road. Right now, I'm grateful that Matt is my partner in this, I'm grateful for Mariah and the joy she brings, and I'm grateful for the peace I feel about our family. I've never been more grateful for the knowledge that families are eternal.

"Miscarriage itself is remarkably common, happening to roughly one quarter of all known pregnancies. But you’d never know it until you mention your own. Miscarriage, like early pregnancy, is still a largely private affair. Unlike births and deaths, it has no rituals to mark it. Even close friends can feel at a loss with no script to follow. Co-workers rarely hear of false starts. One’s life moves on as if it never happened. This quietness in the face of something that feels, to some women, so physically and emotionally overwhelming can be confusing." - found here

So I'm just throwing this all out into cyberspace thinking maybe one day somebody else will stumble upon this and know they're not alone either.

Lost (part 1)

Well, I've been in a bit of a rut lately. It feels a little out of character to share all this, but I'm starting to discover that letting it out is sometimes easier than holding it in. So, we're about to get real here. I wrote this several months ago.
In October, right around Mariah's first birthday, we found out we had a new baby coming to join our family. I was elated. Like, cried tears of joy, danced around the living room, drove straight to Matt's work (see pic below) to break the news happy. We had been thinking about this second baby since before Mariah was even born and had felt ready for awhile. Yep we were one of those couples that starting talking about getting pregnant again when Mariah was only a few weeks old. So when we found out we were expecting again we talked constantly about the new baby. Suddenly every thought that passed through my mind was about what our family would be like in 9 short months.

Then, things changed. There were two small spots of blood. So small, if I had been in a hurry I might not have even seen. I had heard that a small amount of bleeding in early pregnancy is actually pretty common, and nothing to worry too much about. Still, I couldn't sleep all night long. I knew. Something was wrong. 

Miscarriage is one of those things that I think people don't like to talk about. I actually wouldn't even say the word while I was pregnant for fear of cursing the baby. I'm superstitious like that. Pregnancy loss is something that I had always silently begged to never happen to me because I didn't know if I was capable of dealing with it.  Still, I guess I had never given much thought to why people don't talk about it. Now I guess I understand a little bit of why. It's really sad, it's really messy, and there's usually no explanation for why.

Even after the scare, I tried to put it out of my mind, took Mariah with me on a plane to California the next day, and happily, maybe foolishly, shared good news about our growing family. The next night I dreamed of blood. Lots of blood. I dreamed I lost the baby. When I woke up it scared me that I had dreamed that, but I did my best to block it out. That night, it started coming true.  I knew. I was so scared. I fell to my knees right then and prayed to God to please save this baby. Please, please, please let this baby be okay. We are so ready, we want this baby to come so much. I cried until my tears ran out for the baby I was losing. I called the on-call doctor. She said not to be worried, that things actually sounded like they will be fine. But I knew better. 

I felt angry at my body, I felt out of control, I kept thinking maybe the baby is still okay, none of this makes sense. I called the doctor again on Monday morning and was told to go to the emergency room. The ultrasound tech there was very, very quiet. I didn't want to ask. I finally said, Do you see anything? She said, "No, I don't see anything. I can't find it. There's nothing here." It was already gone.

And just like that, my baby was lost. There was a baby in there, I didn't see it but I knew it was there. And then, it was gone. I don't know where it went. In a spiritual way, I feel like I actually knew that baby. He is still real even if I won't ever rock him to sleep and cradle his head and wake up to his cries in the night.

I keep thinking, why is this so hard? What makes this so sad? Why isn't there a name for this grief? This ambiguous sadness, of not even really knowing who or what I lost. I want to put a label on it, then put it in a box, and bring it out to examine when I feel emotionally capable, which might be in a few weeks, months, or years. But that's not how it works. So I tell myself that I'm fine. I'm fine. And some of the time I am. But that's not how it feels. It feels like I had a baby that was a part of our family and now it's lost.

Somebody told me, "It will hit you at the strangest times." It hit me when I got off the plane to come home, and I see a guy holding a sign that says "Mama Bear" to welcome his pregnant wife. And all I can think is: I lost my baby. It feels like my heart was ripped open, and time is slowly stitching it back together but the emotions are still trying to rush out before they get closed in on. Another reason why it's hard to talk about. I don't necessarily always feel like having a total emotional breakdown in front of every person who asks me how I've been or when we're thinking about having another baby. But the weird thing is, sometimes I do. 

I have gained some strength over the last few months from sharing the burden when the time seems right. When close friends have lightheartedly asked when Mariah gets a new brother or sister, instead of smiling through gritted teeth and pinching myself so I don't cry, I've just shared what's up. I guess I don't mind when people ask personal questions as long as they're comfortable getting a personal answer.  A friend that I've known for a couple years shared with me that she lost three pregnancies in between her first and second child. I had no idea. Another friend was able to talk with me about the miscarriage she had before her first baby was born. It's so, so very common, of course I wonder why it's still so hard to talk about. 

When I started to open up in the smallest way, I realized that I've just joined the sad club of grieving mothers. Some are still grieving and when you mention your own loss they immediately tear up and hug you and let you cry. Some think about their own loss as just a distant memory that time made right. I don't know how I'll feel in a few more months or years which is partly why I wanted to write things now, while I'm still feeling the sharp pain of having lost a life that was supposed to mine. 

The day I went to the hospital, when the needle that drew my blood was removed from my arm, it hurt really bad. Later that day, I complained that my arm was still hurting. Over the next few days, it seemed to get worse, not better, like the center of the pain had started to spread through my whole arm, to the point where I avoided even using my left arm because it hurt so bad. In some ways I didn't mind having the physical pain to focus on because it was more manageable than all the emotional garbage. Several weeks later, I read something in an article that said one of the most common complaints from women during pregnancy loss or infertility is of arms hurting. It's a psychological thing, of arms aching to hold the child that will never be; it's called "empty arms syndrome". Oh good! I thought, my arm was probably fine the whole time I'm just crazy. But, I'm crazy in the same way that a lot of other people are crazy so I guess that makes it normal.

Somebody shared with me that the one positive thing that came out of having a miscarriage was increased empathy. At the time my thought was "Well I'd rather keep my baby and have less empathy and just call it good" but too bad that's not the way it works. I'm not quite to the point where I can say I'm GLAD this happened, but I guess I can say that increased empathy has been a real result, on a deeper level than I expected. That's another thing about going through personal tragedy. Suddenly I look around and realize how many other people are also probably in pain. It makes you want to be just a little more kind and a little more patient with the world. There's enough hurt going around for everyone.

I came across this at just the right time:

"The truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection."