1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage.
Each year in the United States, there are about 3,500 Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUID). These deaths occur among infants less than 1 year old and have no immediately obvious cause.
Sometimes, in the midst of something deeply painful, reading someone else’s story brings an odd comfort in the sense that you know you are not alone in your pain.
We want you to know that if you have lost a baby, you are not alone. It is lonely, it is horrible, it is painful, it isn’t fair and we are so, incredibly sorry for the hurt that you carry. But you are not alone. Six of us are sharing our stories here for you. Because you are important, because your loss mattered, because you matter and it’s important to us that you know that you are not alone.
We don’t write our stories so people will feel sorry for us. We write so anyone who will listen knows about our children. We share so you don’t feel so alone in your loss. We are telling our stories so that it becomes okay for others to share theirs.
My husband and I had been married for about a year and decided we felt ready for a baby. We stopped preventing pregnancy and we were pregnant within just a few months; shocked but so incredibly elated. The verbal planning began. Talks of who that baby would look like. Hopes that her or she would be healthy. So much excitement and so many dreams all wrapped into one very fortunate feeling couple.
So we sat in the ultrasound room. I saw panic on my husband’s face for the first time in my life, literally. He continued to hold my hand and tell me everything is going to be fine but that was just him trying to be strong for me. Inside, he was as worried as I was, I knew it.
The ultrasound technician did her thing and after about one eternity-feeling minute of solid, gut wrenching silence I just knew. “I am so sorry, there is no heartbeat, Melissa”
The tears. Oh, the tears. The disappointment. The embarrassment. The anger. The confusion. But more than anything, pure, utter, aching sadness.
After talking with our doctor we learned that I had a “Missed Miscarriage”. The fetus was still in full placement, nothing had been passed, the tiny baby’s heart just failed. The amount of support and guidance I received from my doctor and the staff was remarkable. We were given a choice to wait for the baby to pass “naturally” or to have a d&c. It didn’t take long for me to make that decision for several factors that were present in our lives at that point so I chose to have a d&c the next day. That night, laying a wake in bed I couldn’t fathom that this baby was still inside of me, not alive. That feeling of loss was like nothing I have ever felt up to this day.
At this point in my life, I have to be honest, there is nothing hard about it until I revisit that day. When I go through the story, I ache. I cry so hard thinking about that look on my husband’s face, or the shocking sorrow that ran through my body. But I don’t look back and feel a daily void because of that loss. It may sound heartless, but it’s how I feel. Not because I didn’t want that baby, I wanted that baby so incredibly bad. But because I wouldn’t have my two healthy, wonderful children I have now without having gone through that experience.
As I stated above, we told hardly anyone about my pregnancy. Oddly enough, we began telling everyone that we were close to after the loss because we needed the support. Others just listened. I truly don’t think there is anything a person can say at a time like that in order to make you feel better. But a hug? Or a shoulder to cry on? It filled me up to the brim.
I lost my first baby at 20 weeks and my doctor didn’t know why it happened. My water just broke and I went into labor while hosting a small house-warming party with family and friends. I was rushed to hospital completely naive to the fact that I was losing my baby. Then one year and four months later I was pregnant again when the same exact thing happened. This time, I was getting ready for work in my bathroom. And I just knew. The hardest thought to comprehend was that no matter how fast I got to the hospital they weren’t going to save the baby. It was just too early. After seeing a new specialist I was finally diagnosed with having an incompetent cervix. In many cases this means that future pregnancies could go full-term by having a simple stitch in the cervix known as a cerclage.
When I lost my first baby I wasn’t far along enough to require a death certificate. The organization that I worked for didn’t even recognize it as a death in my family thus not giving me time off without using up my vacation days. I carry those thoughts with me as, legally, it makes you feel like your baby wasn’t a real person because they aren’t legally recognized. To me, a baby is a baby the second you find out you’re pregnant. They have a name and a future and it was inexplicably taken from me and my husband. As the months and years have gone by I’ve made peace with it but there isn’t a second that goes by that I don’t wish they were here with us now.
No one really knew what to say to me but I had a great friend who came by almost daily to bring me coffee, trashy magazines and random treats. We’d just sit and talk about nothing and for me that was the best thing at that moment.
The minute you read the pregnancy test you start planning, hoping and dreaming. So no matter how many weeks along you were the loss is no less devastating. And when you are ready, be open about your loss. You will be amazed by how many want to share their story with you too and we all will feel a little less alone in our grief.
While trying to have a second child, we experienced three miscarriages – each stunning and devastating in their own ways. The first came on our second round of IUI when we discovered the pregnancy likely wouldn’t continue at a 7 week ultrasound. The second came after 5 rounds of IUI and on our 3rd round of IVF. It was a complete gut punch. At 7 weeks, we had a successful confirmation of pregnancy ultrasound – our baby had measured perfectly in all parameters. Because our RE knew that our OB wouldn’t see us until 10 weeks, she decided to have us in again at 9 weeks just to see our baby again. At what we thought was going to be our last of countless visits to the infertility clinic – and before which we had already let ourselves start daydreaming of how we would announce to our son that he would at long last be a big brother – we got the shattering news that our baby wouldn’t make it after all. We found out later that she had Turner’s Syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality that some babies survive and go on to live beautiful, full lives. We tried one last time – our fourth and final round of IVF. After the thrilling news of a positive pregnancy test, we tried to stay cautious. But joy seeped into every moment…until we were hit the news of a blighted ovum. Our 2 1/2 year long trek to expand our family came to a screeching halt. We had lost three babies (yes, I still consider the blighted ovum a baby because it was for those weeks and so long before that a baby in my mind) and had to completely refine our idea of what our family would look like.
I know intellectually that I did nothing to cause my losses. I do. But knowing something and feeling something are two different things. I’ve had a million “what ifs” pass through my mind. What if I hadn’t worked out before my retrieval? What if I had eaten entirely organic? What if I had gone to acupuncture at this clinic instead of that? What if I had waited one more month between cycles? What if I had watched funnier movies after the embryo transfer? (True story.) What if I had eaten more pineapple? (Again, true story.) What if, what if, what if… That coupled with the feeling that I’m the only one truly mourning these sweet babes. My husband was hit by the losses, no question. But it still feels like he, my family and my friends aren’t quite able to see these three as the lives I felt like they were and were still growing to become. It’s the most isolating experience (times three) imaginable.
One of the most incredible things I had friends say was simply, “I have no idea what to say” and simply let me cry. These wise people didn’t try to bolster me with empty promises that it “would happen someday” or that it was nature taking its course (yes, that was actually said to me). They just sat as long as I needed them to and cried with me knowing that no words could ease my grief but that just by being there with me was the support I needed.
And smoothies. When I couldn’t eat because of the pain and grief, I could still take in a smoothie. To the couple of kind friends who dropped by with a Jamba Juice and then texted me it was waiting for me on the doorstep (they knew I couldn’t handle a visit), you quite possibly saved my life.
You won’t feel like it and you likely won’t want to but you will survive. I don’t know how your story will play out, whether there will be another pregnancy soon or down the line or whether you’ll have another loss. But your story will play out. Your life will keep moving. But that doesn’t mean you can’t grieve. Whether it’s a loss at 7 weeks or long after your baby has been welcomed into the world, you can grieve. You can mourn the loss of your beautiful baby. Because whether or not that baby was with you long enough to physically grow hair or tiny hands, they had grown fully formed in your heart. So don’t rob yourself of the chance and the right to be sad. Don’t ever let anyone downplay your feelings. You will be okay. You will survive. You just don’t have to feel like it right now.
For weeks before it happened the first time, I knew. I had a gut feeling that something was wrong and I waited on pins and needles for my next appointment. On January 2, 2013, I went to my 20 week appointment and my practitioner couldn’t find the heartbeat with the handheld device. She said “The baby must be in a tough spot to reach,” and got the in-room ultrasound. Our sweet Hattie was not moving and she couldn’t register a heartbeat. I called my husband in a panic and paced with our then youngest in a stroller until he arrived so we could do the larger ultrasound together, only to confirm what I already knew. I prayed and begged and hoped for three days, until we went to the hospital for one last ultrasound, then to start the delivery process. I delivered Hattie on January 5th and we spent 6 hours holding her before letting them take her to the morgue. I got pregnant almost immediately after that loss, but then on June 23rd, I started bleeding, the process began again, and on June 24th, 2013, I delivered Emerson, just as quiet as his sister had been and just as small.
The hardest parts then were all the things that had to do with death and trying to reconcile that this was all being done for my child. My child. We went to the funeral home to make arrangements. Weeks later, finding the strength to walk into the funeral home and sign “Mother” on the form to claim her ashes, may have been the hardest single moment, but I only got to be her mom for 20 weeks, and I was going to be there for her – it was my job to bring her home, the only way we were able to. Then, when it happened again, it was surreal that all of that pain was not only doubled, but new and fresh all over again. Now, the hardest part is that it’s always there, it never goes away and it still hurts, sometimes as freshly as it did then, and when it hits you, it literally takes your breath away.
I’m so fortunate to have such a supportive village behind me. Friends brought meals, sent emails, just did things to show me how valuable I was in the midst of something that broke me down so much. But, what made the biggest difference was when people came to the funeral we held for both of them. We buried Hattie’s ashes with Emerson’s little body, just two weeks after his delivery. I remember being the last to arrive, because I was dragging my feet, not wanting to go. When we walked up to the plot, twelve people, our friends and family, were waiting there for us, supporting us and showing us how important our children were to them. The image in my head of them all standing there is a kindness I will never forget.
If you have lost a baby, I very much want you to know:
that you are not alone.
that your every feeling throughout this painful experience is completely justified.
that you may hurt for a long time, but your life doesn’t have to stop every time the pain comes.
that the days you feel weak do not mean you are not a strong woman. You are a strong woman.
that you can and will be okay someday and that’s a good thing. Being happy again is not a betrayal to the baby that you lost.
that your friends want to help you and you should let them.
that your loss is not your fault. Your loss is not your fault.
I wrote it again, because we seem to think we have control over this amazing miracle that is the process of carrying a baby. We want to believe we have control so that the next time, it can’t happen to us again. We don’t have control and that caffeinated Diet Coke you drank, or the deli meat you ate in your sandwich, or the way you twisted the wrong way in bed the other night is not the reason you lost your baby. It didn’t happen because you complained about how awful morning sickness is or wished you could have that glass of wine or hated wearing that same maternity shirt again. It was not your fault.
My first child, a beautiful little boy with fuzzy golden brown hair and wide set eyes was born March 24, 2014. We named him Miles. Mid-way through my pregnancy the doctors discovered a malformation of his heart and let us know that it was almost certainly a death sentence. We flew to Boston when I was 29 weeks, desperate for the second opinion that would disprove the diagnosis or offer us hope for treatment. While the cardiologist was kind, he instructed us to fly home to wait for him to die in utero, our nightmare was coming true. The following week Miles was born by c-section, a difficult choice we made when our doctors confirmed he was entering heart failure. The emergency surgery allowed us 30 sleepless hours with our sweet boy in our arms, barely enough time to memorize his face, beg him to hang on a little longer and whisper in his tiny ear just how deeply we love him.
In the first months after Miles’ death, my greatest challenge was simply processing what had happened. I can’t list the number of times I tried to wake up from what seemed like it had to be a bad dream. I hid away in my house and felt scarcely alive; whole weeks during that Spring and Summer are still missing from my memory. Tiny details of the events in the hospital or the funeral home would pop into my head without warning, bringing with them tidal waves of helpless emotion. As I tried to muster the strength to rejoin the world, every glance into the backseat of my car was a reminder that I was looking at an empty space instead of the carseat I’d researched and picked out and every walk around the block seemed to include the sight of an approaching stroller carrying a 6-month-old resembling the one I did not have. Every sense in my body wanted my child back and every sense I had searched for him. It took me a long time to accept that one of my titles in life is to be the mother of dead child.
Eight months after Miles’ death I found out I was pregnant again which carried me into an inferno of new questions, fear and anxieties. I waited out those nine months, eight of them with a hesitancy to even hope I could take this baby home. Swallowing my fear, choosing to HOPE when I knew there was a chance it would be crushed and allowing my still very broken and battered heart to be vulnerable enough to love the little one growing inside of me was only something I was only able to do in the final weeks of my pregnancy. On August 6th, I gave birth to another beautiful little boy with wide set eyes and on August 9th we began the beautiful journey of watching Miles little brother, Isaac, grow up in our home.
Actions speak louder than words. When I think of moments of comfort I think of the family who came to our house after Miles died and sprung into action when they saw that we had dishes that needed washing and dogs that needed walking. I think of the friends who packed their bags and bought their airfare when the email came with the funeral details. These things stand in stark contrast to the people around us who steered clear altogether because they “assumed we needed space” or told us to “let us know if we needed anything”. What I remember most as I reflect on the comfort I gleaned from others has to do with them being quietly present with me in my pain.
I’ve felt that a lot of the pain of my grief has been based on the fact that my heart is so full of love for my son, but my hands, my voice and my energy have so few means of expressing it. While it isn’t easy to do, the times I’ve found little outlets for this love I’ve felt a little release of the pressure of my grief.
Lastly, I’d encourage others to find community with parents who have also experienced loss. Sharing stories and strategies for coping can be healing in & of itself. Thank you for allowing me the forum to share mine.
My sweet Leo entered the world on March 6th, 2014. He was a wild little thing, he for sure gave us a run
for our money as new parents. He was snugly as a puppy but also was not afraid to tell us when he didn’t like something. He was the center of our universe and nothing could ever change that for us. On May 28th, 2014, my soul collapsed. My earth was shattered and I felt an unimaginable pain. Our sweet Leo was at the babysitters house and didn’t wake from his nap. How do things like this even happen? Why do babies die? Could I have done something to save him? These are questions that run through my mind daily.
The hardest thing for me is that I don’t get anymore of him. His funeral was his first day of school, his sweet 16, his senior prom, graduation, wedding, every major life event that we all take for granted was now crushed and blown off into the wind never to be seen by me. I will never know who he would have been, what kind of brother he would be to his siblings, would he love fishing as much as his dad? I never get answers. That’s the hardest part.
The best thing people have done is to not act like he wasn’t alive. I love when people talk about him, I love to hear his name and think of funny things he did in his short time with us. I love when people acknowledge and recognize that I am a mother of two.
To quote Angela Miller “You are the mother of all mothers, truly the most inspiring, courageous loving mother there is – a warrior mama through and though.” The beginning is the hardest and then you start to breathe again. If you can surround yourself with beautiful, inspiring and uplifting souls you can make it through. Do not be afraid to ask for help and do not be afraid to speak of your loss. You are a mother, always will be and nothing can take that away from you.