I shivered in the cloth gown on the exam table as I waited to have my routine sonogram. I felt frustrated after spending more than an hour in the waiting room. I felt exhausted and nauseated like I had for the last two months; and I felt desperately hungry for a veggie sub and a chocolate milkshake. But as soon as the image of my uterus came up on the screen, all that disappeared. I saw my baby, and I knew that he or she was too small. My husband squeezed my hand. The ultrasound technician couldn't find our baby's heartbeat, and neither could my doctor. The whole world was suddenly ripped out from under my feet.
My nausea came rushing back as my doctor led us into another room to talk about options for removing our baby. Before I could even begin to wrap my head around our loss, I found myself scheduled for surgery first thing the next morning. The day and night passed in a blur of tears and disbelief. We had thought everything was going well with the baby. I hadn't had any symptoms to suggest that I was having a miscarriage. I didn't really believe that this could be happening to me. But that night before the surgery, I started to bleed, and it finally hit me that my pregnancy was over.
The surgery itself was much easier than I expected. I woke up to find my husband, my brother, and some friends at my side. I didn't even need the painkillers. I just needed to prove I could pee before the nurse would let me go home. But I wasn't prepared for the emotional toll.
Seven months later, I still cry for the baby we lost. I still feel a vast hole where my child used to be. I still try to avoid seeing people who might not know that we lost our first baby. I feel sick when I have to drive by the protesters on State Street holding up pictures of aborted babies. I am now four months into a new pregnancy, and although I am thrilled to have another baby growing inside me and I am now out of the danger zone of the first trimester, I feel fear every day that I could lose this baby, too.
Miscarriage is hard whenever it happens. But for women who suffer loss in their first pregnancies, subsequent pregnancies can be emotionally difficult. We are forced to realize that pregnancy does not necessarily result in bringing home a bundle of joy from the hospital nine months later. Later pregnancies can feel unreal, even if the physical realities are hard to ignore.
I didn't know that this could happen to me. I thought I was too young, too healthy. I didn't realize that up to 25 percent of confirmed pregnancies end in loss. I had never heard of a "missed miscarriage," which is characterized by a lack of symptoms of a baby's death. I didn't have any clue how painful the question, "Do you have any children?" could be to hear and how hard it could be to answer.
"God needed another angel in heaven"; "At least you won't have to care for a handicapped child"; "You still have time, and at least you know you can get pregnant"; "It happens all the time"; "This baby just wasn't meant to be." I've heard these phrases dozens of times from well-meaning friends and family, but it's hard to take comfort in any of them. Nothing can diminish my love for my child, and my heartbreak over what is a unique loss, not a statistic.
I was shocked after we lost our baby that so many women I know shared that they, too, had had a miscarriageor more than one. Even women who had lost their babies 20 years ago cried with me. Even women across oceans and continents shared my pain through e-mails and online forums.
But why doesn't anyone talk about it before it happens? Why is there a veil of secrecy behind which we can only share our grief with others who have experienced the same grief? When I found out that our baby was no longer alive, I felt alone in the world. Indeed, there were people who seemed frightened of me, as if I had a contagious disease. And there were others who just never said anything about our baby at all. How was I to realize that a large percentage of women I know had suffered a similar loss? This wouldn't have made my loss any less devastating, but I think it would have made a difference. It would have helped me to realize that I should not blame myself.
How To Help Yourself Heal
• For some people, seeing their baby's body helps give closure.
• Make a memory box with your sonogram photo and other mementos of your pregnancy.
• Write a letter to your baby.
• Give your baby a name.
• Plant a tree or another long-lasting plant in honor of your baby.
• Have a church service for your baby.
• Cry when you feel the need to cry. Suppressing it makes it worse.
• Make an album of your all-time favorite photos to look at on a bad day.
• Keep a journal.
• Talk to your partner.
• Talk to other people who have lost a baby.
• Follow your instincts. If you need to stay busy, do that. If you need to take some time off, do.
• After a brief junk-food binge, eat healthy foods to help your body recover.
• Get fresh air and exercise.
How to Be There for a Friend
• Write a note or make a phone call to say you are sorry about the loss as soon as you hear about it.
• Stick to something simple like, "I'm so sorry to hear about your loss."
• Don't try to explain away the loss.
• Give a living, easy-to-care-for plant in memory of your friend's baby.
• Make a specific offer of help and follow through on it.
• Offer to bring food over in the early days when your friend may not remember to eat.
• Ask how your friend is doing on a regular basis.
• Remember the date of your friend's loss.
• Offer to take your friend somewhere fun to get him or her out of the house.
• Keep making offers even if your first one is refused.
• Give your friend a bottle of bubble bath, a gift certificate for a massage or some homemade cookies.
• Listen to your friend when they need to talk.
• Change the subject if your friend doesn't want to talk about it.
• Ask how else you can support your friend.
• Don't expect your friend to grieve according to a certain timeline.
• Don't ask when your friend is going to try to conceive again.
• Don't assume that your friend is no longer feeling sad about their loss if they have conceived another baby.
"Empty Arms" by Pam Vredevelt
"Grieving the Child I Never Knew" by Kathe Wunnenberg
"I Never Held You" by Ellen DuBois
"Surviving Miscarriage: You are Not Alone" by Stacy McLaughlin
"Avoiding Miscarriage" by Susan Rousselot
"Trying Again" by Ann Douglas and John Sussman
I just finished reading your article and I have tears in my eyes. You definitely brought back memories for me. In 2005, I lost my first child, Ashlyn, when she was 12 days old. She had a severe liver infection that came suddenly and then about 8 hours later she was gone. I had to see things a mother should never have to see. I went thru the worst period in my life, a time that I barely remember, about a year spent in bed. You are so right-people act like you're contagious. Like losing a child is something you can catch. Since, I have found a wonderful man and have had another child, Brooklyn, who is almost six months old. She is the joy of my life, the center of my world. Yet I always think of her older sister. What they would be doing together, how they would act, what she would look like. The girls don't look that much alike, but sometimes I'll see a picture that catches me, Brooklyn looks so much like her. And you are right, the worst question, is she your first child? I usually don't tell the person unless I know them well. It hurts-I feel like I'm leaving her out, forgetting about her. And then I think about the people who will never get to meet her. There is a hole in my heart that Brooklyn has helped to mend, but it will never truly go away.
Anyways, thank you for sharing your story. I know what you're going thru and congratulations on your new pregnancy. It's going to be hard. I will not lie. But you sound like a strong woman. I pray God gives you the strength you need as you go through your life. Motherhood is a wonderful thing. And I know all the cliches, trust me I have heard every one, but truly everything happens for a reason. That's what I have come to learn. God bless.
I, too, had a missed miscarriage with my first pregnancy that we discovered at 12 weeks in December. Two months later and I am still in shock that this happened to me. I am so afraid to be pregnant again, but that is all that I want. Anyway, thank you for your article and your suggestions (especially the ones to friends... I know a lot of my friends are lost when trying to deal with me) and I hope that everything with your current pregnancy goes wonderfully.
Thank you for writing this. I am not a mommy, obviously, but I'm a Daddy and my first baby didn't make it to it's complete term. Everything seemed to be going so well and we were taking all of the precautions we could think of. But during a routine sonogram, so much like the one you describe, the doctor noticed something wrong. After being sent to a specialist with a better machine to see more clearly, the doctor there only needed a few seconds to say that our first baby would never live outside his/her mother. So I understand that feeling of the rug being pulled out from under you. And know too well that loss. We were left with the decision to end the pregnancy at that time or to let nature take it's course and let my son or my daughter die at birth. Which is really no decision at all.
That was eight years ago and my son's sixth birthday was last Friday. But you never forget what might have been even as you celebrate what is. Thank you for bringing a light into a dark place and making it seem not so lonely.
A friend of mine lost a child a few years ago due to preterm labor. He was born alive but passed away shortly thereafter. I attended the memorial service, and I saw the pain she was in. Her sister-in-law also miscarried after being in a car accident, but later she was able to eventually have a child. Someone else I know had several miscarriages, including twins, but due to medical intervention, she now has a son. Those are three different scenarios, three different journeys, but I am sure that all three women feel the same as you do, Kelly. No matter how long ago it happened or how, you still need support, and this sort of thing needs to be talked about more so that women who face it will not feel alone.
I wish you well, Kelly!