Two years ago I was pregnant for the first time and so excited. My husband and I were driving to a family reunion when we picked out names. A few weeks later we sat in the ER being told our baby stopped growing at 6 weeks and there was no heartbeat.
The whole rest of that day was a giant blur. I remember eating at McAlister's, and my best friend and her mom coming over. I sat on the couch sobbing while holding my cat. We had this huge pile of baby stuff already from our niece, and I just couldn't stand to look at it.
That first day was awful, but we had a steady stream of support. My husband and I weren't alone until about 2 am the next morning. We laid there holding each other and that's when I absolutely lost it. I could barely get words out, but I remember saying "I'm sorry". "For what?" he asked. I said, "I feel like I failed you." I knew that guilt and feelings of failure were common for a woman after child loss, but I didn't understand why until I was the one experiencing it. I talked to a friend about it and said, "I felt like I let him down because I was carrying his happiness." "You are his happiness," she responded. That hit me. I needed to hear that, even though it left me in a puddle of tears all over again.
I have a tendency to act like everything is fine and move ahead without addressing issues. I can’t recall the number of times I broke down crying that month, and in front of people, which isn’t like me. I bawled my eyes out sitting in the passenger seat of my best friend’s car. I felt bad because I knew she had no clue how to help or what to say. So few people know what to say or do for a woman losing her baby. I found what I needed most was just to be heard. I had anger and sadness and bitterness that needed let out. I was trying to grieve someone I hadn’t even gotten to meet, and the hormonal drop definitely did not help.
The part that sucked the most was work. I was in the middle of two major projects at work when this happened. I remember texting my boss the news that Saturday evening and saying I would be back as soon as possible. I didn't want to sit around and overthink. I was off 6 days before going back in on Tuesday. My email notifications had been crazy and I felt like I was drowning at work. So I went in to not fall further behind. That was a huge mistake because I think people saw me back at work and assumed that the miscarriage was over. Management was less than thrilled to hear I'd be taking more time off in the middle of these projects. I couldn't help it though. Sitting there at work that day I felt the worst pain of my life. The pain was so bad I cried the entire drive home. I passed the baby 30 minutes later.
I think it's hard for anyone who hasn't experienced miscarriage to grasp what this feels like from the woman's perspective. My husband told me that I had it worse than him and I remember telling him that I didn't because this was his baby too. A couple of weeks later I fell apart and I told him that yes, I did have it worse than him. Fathers feel grief, but they don't feel the cramps and see the blood. They don't lose their dignity buying adult diapers and having who knows how many people examine them, and have to hear their baby be referred to as a medical issue.
The thing about a first-trimester loss is a lot of people either expect you not to care, or to at least move on quickly. We had picked out names, talked about how our lives would change, and started shopping around for cribs. Family and close friends knew we were expecting because we don't believe in the 12 week "rule". I think it's absurd to say there is a safe zone. I know statistically that is when the chances of loss drop drastically, but I was 18 when my sister was stillborn at 22 weeks, and losing her gave me a different perspective on the value of life. We were excited about our baby and we wanted to share that.
Life was getting back to normal, but I still had these moments that hit me out of nowhere. Standing at the checkout behind a woman with a cart full of baby shower decorations was absolute torture. Facebook pregnancy announcements were another blow. Two people I know were due the same week I was. Every time I see pictures of their kids it still hurts a little and I catch myself wondering “what if…”, but thinking that way won’t change anything.
During the couple of months right after the miscarriage, I ran into two people who knew I was pregnant but didn’t know I had lost the baby. “You’re not showing yet? Wow! You’re what, 14 weeks now?” An innocent comment, but ouch. And then came “Congratulations!” from someone else. I assumed everyone knew about the miscarriage at that point, so I was confused and asked, “On what?” “On the baby…” she said while looking at my stomach. I would have been 18 weeks then, and my stomach was as flat as ever, no baby inside. I wanted to scream. I didn’t want to feel like I had to introduce myself as “Mikayla, the woman who just lost her baby,” but it almost felt unavoidable.
So many people make well-meaning comments like “it’s for the best”, “there’s a reason for everything”, and my absolute (not) favorite, “You’re still young, so you have time,” as if having plenty of time is a guarantee the next one will work out. A Dollar General cashier got off the phone with her obstinate son and asked me if I had any kids yet. “One in Heaven,” I said. She looked mortified and so sorry she had asked. I knew she was trying to be funny and joke that kids are a pain, but I just couldn’t play along that night. I didn’t say what I did to be clever or seek sympathy, but saying “no” would have felt so dishonest.
A couple of months later I was pregnant again. I knew before I even took the test because my symptoms were so strong and exactly mimicked my first pregnancy. We were happy, but there was this dark cloud of cautiousness following us the whole time. Pregnancy after loss is so different from “normal” pregnancy. I remember crying for most of the day before our first appointment. I had convinced myself we wouldn’t hear a heartbeat, but we did. 186 beats per minute.
I remember suddenly not “feeling pregnant” anymore because my symptoms had stopped. I prayed for a sign that our baby was ok, I even prayed for morning sickness. Well, I got my wish. I was sick for 31 weeks, which I have to laugh about now.
When 22 weeks rolled around I was having nightmares about losing her. I woke up one night with tears already streaming down my face. I was shaking so bad. I didn’t want to wake my husband up because nothing was physically wrong, and I could barely get words out to explain. I buried my face in the pillow and muttered “It’s ok. It was just a nightmare. She’s alright. This is a different pregnancy. This baby is ok.” I went to the bathroom and posted in a Facebook group for pregnancy after loss because they get it. There are women who have lost babies at all stages, even toddlers. I’ve never met a more supportive and understanding group of people before. They were what helped me through my 40 week anxiety attack.
Toward the end of my pregnancy, Facebook memories were popping up from when I was pregnant the first time. There’s a picture of us from the family reunion that summer, and I look at that with such mixed emotions. I see a young, happy couple, hiding the best secret in the world, but I also feel sad knowing that pure joy didn’t last long and we were changed forever. I said something to my husband about it and he said, “I try not to think about the first baby because it makes me sad.” I think we forget men feel the pain of child loss too. We don’t think about them as much because like my husband had told me, the women have it worse.
Each week of that second pregnancy we were holding our breath. We kept waiting for the rug to get pulled out from under us. I think at 30 weeks I calmed down a bit because everything felt so real, finally. We had almost everything we needed and I’d said her name about a million times to help me grasp the idea that we would be bringing home a real, live baby. My last anxiety hurdle was the hospital. I was delivering at the same hospital where we were told we lost our first baby. I hoped and prayed I wouldn’t go into labor during the overnight hours when we would have had to enter through the ER. The idea of going through those doors again scared me, even though I knew it wouldn’t necessarily mean the same outcome. I did end up in labor all night, but waited until 7 am to wake up my husband so we could go through the maternity ward entrance.
At first, I think he thought I was joking. It was my due date and I was so ready to have her out. But I’d been up all night timing contractions and when I told him the times he realized I was serious.
Later that day, one year and 15 days after receiving heartbreaking news in that same hospital, we welcomed our healthy baby girl to the world. She is our rainbow after the storm. It’s a storm I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but I want to share that there is hope and there is healing.