Miscarriage: A Personal Journey Through Love and Loss
My Tale of Love, Loss and Infinite Joy
It was just before Christmas, 1999. Our first child was only six months old. We were young, only in our late twenties, and looking forward to spending the impending holidays with our new daughter.
Kelsey was a magnificent child, full of smiles and radiant joy. My husband was in graduate school, and while we didn’t have much in the way of financial security and possessions, we did have a great love for one another and an amazing, infinite love for our precious little girl.
A few months after her birth in early June, I began feeling very tired. I chalked it up to the physical demands of being a new parent, with the sleepless nights and constant attention during waking hours that a newborn commands. Surely it would pass, I reasoned. Imagine my surprise when, at my next doctor’s appointment, they informed me that I was once again pregnant! How could this be? Of course I knew how it could be, it’s just that we were not planning for a second child. Our first was only six months old!
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My husband and I didn’t know how to react. We had always planned on having more than one child, but not in such close succession. We were still adjusting to life with our infant daughter and to the financial burden that daycare and diapers put on our small family. Anxious tears were shed, but in the end, we decided that we would make the best of it. What choice did we really have? Abortion and adoption were never options for us. We do not judge those that make those choices, it’s just that they were not the right choices for us. We resolved to make the best of the situation. Surely God had a plan for us and this child would bring something special to our growing, loving family. An ultrasound was scheduled for the following week to determine an approximate due date so that our planning could really begin. I was 13 and a half weeks pregnant and due in June, within days of or daughter’s birthday. The reality of situation had begun to sink in and our initial shock and apprehension were beginning to give way to genuine excitement. Then the phone rang.
Our physician had phoned to inform us that our ultrasound had revealed a birth defect called a congenital cystic hygroma that is characterized by large fluid-filled sacs predominantly in the neck. These are the result of a mutated lymphatic system. Often, the hygromas progress in size with some even outsizing the fetus itself. While the extent of the defect varies from person to person, congenital defects often claim the life of the fetus. Those that survive can have significant disability. There was no way of knowing the extent of chromosomal abnormality that would exist for our child without an amniocentesis. Our physician scheduled one for the week before Christmas.
The ultrasound technician explained to us that we would be having an ultrasound to determine the position of the fetus and allow the physician to safely conduct the procedure. She hooked me up to the ultrasound machine and used her Doppler to locate our baby’s heartbeat. Within seconds, she excused herself and asked another doctor to enter. The doctor looked at the screen briefly, before announcing, without any emotion, “I’m sorry, but your baby has died.” With that, she left the room.
We were in the midst of an emotional rollercoaster ride and I wanted off! I couldn’t stop the tears, but I wasn’t certain why I was crying. I’d been crying a lot in the preceding week. Tears of frustration and fear at learning that we were to become parents again at a most inopportune time. Tears of guilt for questioning whether or not I was ready for another child. Tears of joy once I had accepted the blessing of the situation. Tears of a hormonally challenged woman who was breast-feeding one infant while pregnant with another. And of course, tears of devastation that the child I had come to accept and even desire, was not to be. The child conceived out of immense love with the partner that remains by my side to this day, would never smile or laugh at me, never hug or kiss me and never call me, “momma.”
We met a short time later with a genetic counselor that was much more compassionate than the abrupt, emotionally stunted doctor had been She told us what our options were and how we might cope with our loss. We opted to arrange for genetic testing and to determine our baby’s gender so we could give our child a name and imagine what he or she might have become. That might not be the healthiest solution for some, but for us, it was important.
On December 21, I entered the clinic to which I was referred for the D&E. Imagine my surprise at arriving at a clinic that specialized in abortions! I was mortified. I was angry. I was tremendously embarrassed. My feet were as heavy as my leadened heart and I had to forcefully put one in front of the other to make my way into the clinic. I felt compelled to tell the receptionist at the front desk that I was not there for an abortion. My child was already dead. I wanted there to be no mistake that I was not like the teenage girls that filled the waiting room with their gal pals and boyfriends, leafing through magazines, laughing and talking as if sitting in the lobby of a movie theater instead of an abortion clinic. For the first and only time in my life, I judged them…harshly. I wanted my child. I wasn’t there, cloaked in a cavalier, dismissive attitude. I wasn’t about to having my living, breathing fetus sucked out of my womb. I wanted to run, and scream. I focused all my energy into sitting in silent, yet fervent prayer that somehow I would find this was all a dream, a gross mistake. But it wasn’t. That much became abundantly clear as I lay on the table, humiliated legs draped over the cold stirrups, quietly wincing as the eight inch needle repeatedly penetrated my cervix. I grasped my husband’s hand, but said nothing. I just stared at the ceiling with the laminated naturescape taped there as if it had the ability to transport me to some tropical island and make me forget that soon, my body would once again be my own.
The technician left the room to allow my cervix to go numb. It didn’t matter. There really isn’t anything short of general anesthesia that can mask the pain of having a vacuum shoved into you while the child that once lived there is sucked out, tearing the placenta and umbilical cord from the uterine walls to which they have been attached. Intellectually I knew that my child was dead. But the sound of that machine, evacuating it from my womb was excruciating and it seemed to go on forever.
It was a couple of days before I could leave the house. The cramping and bleeding was excessive, masked only by the pain in my heart. But Christmas was only two days away. There was shopping to do and family to see. I had no interest in any of it, but I didn’t want to focus on the sadness of the season. Afterall, it was our daughter’s first Christmas, and we were more blessed than many to have a healthy, gorgeous child to focus our love and energy on. So I pulled myself off the couch on December 23 to venture to the mall with my little girl, and finish our holiday shopping.
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I stopped at a kiosk that sold pewter ornaments and chose a teddy bear upon whose over-stuffed belly I had inscribed our child’s name, Jacob Michael. When the smiling clerk handed the finished ornament to me, she smiled at my daughter, bundled up in her stroller and asked sweetly, “Is this Jacob Michael?” Her question took me by surprise. “No,” I whispered, sadly, fighting the tears that had welled up without warning, “He died.” And with that, I hurried off in an attempt to hide my pain from her.
Each year since 1999, I unwrap Jacob’s pewter ornament and hang it on our tree before any others. When the season has ended, I remove all others, leaving him up until the very end before wrapping him lovingly in tissue and returning him to storage. As most people who have suffered a miscarriage will attest, the pain of that loss subsides significantly over time. I rarely think about Jacob now except when Christmas rolls around. I do wonder what he might have looked like or become had he not had the birth defect, but I don’t dwell on it. There’s no point. I have found a way to incorporate him into one of my holiday traditions, so he’s there with us.
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Like my favorite stories, this one has a happy ending. Nearly five years later, I gave birth to another daughter. Ashleigh is the most incredible child you can imagine, full of life and joy. She is gorgeous beyond imagination. She speaks Spanish and is a soccer goddess and she is only 11! I know that my husband and I are blessed beyond reason with our two incredible daughters and I know that if Jacob had been born, we likely would not have had Ashleigh. Life is a trade-off, I guess. And while I didn’t make a choice to trade one life for another, some higher power made that choice for me. And instead of pain and melancholy, all I feel now is gratitude and joy. I can’t imagine my life any other way and I know I have an angel looking out for me and for all of us, which is a great source of comfort to me. Especially at Christmas time.
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