Today we have a guest post by Jessica. Please welcome her.
The pause was pregnant. And I…I was not. Not anymore.
Even with my lack of medical training, I could clearly see that what had been my baby, a little peanut-shaped being with a flashing pinprick heartbeat, was no longer there. Instead, what looked like oblong breakfast sausages hovered around the perimeter of my uterus.
The doctor’s face was troubled as she adjusted the ultrasound equipment. She gently moved the probe from side to side, searching. Finally, her words broke against the forming numbness in my mind and heart. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but you’ve had a miscarriage. It looks as though the baby died about one and a half to two weeks ago.”
Miscarriage. Spontaneous abortion. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s an unexpected end to a promising beginning. The very possibility of it causes some couples to wait fearfully until the second trimester to share their joyful news. The scarring ‘what-ifs’ it leaves can cause paralysis for every subsequent pregnancy. And for those who’ve never walked through miscarriage, it can be a mystery as to why their friends are so shaken.
After a successful first visit to the OB and another visit where we got to see our grainy little black and white Peanut on the ultrasound machine, we were riding high. We were walking in faith, reading ‘Supernatural Childbirth,’ and generally just giving God glory for blessing us with a child. And then…
I had a spotting episode. Knowing from “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” that these can be normal, I still decided to call the doc. (Due to my unusual anatomy, I’m automatically in the high-risk category.) She told me to come in immediately. I did.
Symptoms of a miscarriage include spotting, cramping and sometimes nothing at all – which is where I fell. The only ‘symptom’ I noticed was a lightening of the nausea that had been my first clue I was pregnant. Writing it off as evidence of reaching the second trimester (with thanks, no less!) and the ‘safe zone,’ I was totally unprepared for this to happen.
I made it back to the church I both attended and worked at, one short block from the doctor’s office. My pastor saw on my face that something was wrong. After a brief, teary explanation, he called my husband, N. His boss, also a good friend, drove him over. We held each other, shocked and sobbing, in the office until N was able to drive us home.
The doc had prescribed a medicine to help my body break down and pass “the tissue” a little faster so that I wouldn’t require a D&C. As this process could be a bit painful, she also prescribed some pain meds.
I don’t remember how soon the cramping started after I took the first pill. I just remember being thankful for the pain pills.
There’s blood and then there are blood ‘clots’. We’re all familiar with the blood we pass during our monthly menses. Blood clots are a horse of a different color – rusty red clumps that can range in size from golf balls to small grapefruit. If you’ve had a baby before, these will not be a surprise to you. But if your first experience with the close of a pregnancy is a miscarriage, they may take you by surprise.
We sat on the couch, trying to make sense of the unexpectedness of our tragedy. We prayed, cried, sang songs, read through parts of the Old Testament book of Job. A song that we frequently sang in our church became more real to us as we struggled to make sense of ‘He gives and takes away. He gives and takes away. Still my heart will choose to say, “Lord, blessed be Your Name.”’
The first day was one of relative quiet as we mourned our loss. Our pastor sent out an e-mail to our church, asking folks to keep us in prayer and give us some space while we healed. This was great in that it saved us from having to answer repeated hard questions over and over again. Several families banded together and provided us with meals for the next few days so that we didn’t have to think about food. Flowers and cards were delivered to the house and were so very appreciated.
And then, on the second day, the phone started to ring.
The first call was great. The gentleman spoke to my husband and prayed with us. The second call…well, that was a different story. A sweet lady, the mother of three healthy children, was attempting to give comfort and failing miserably. She meant well. She really did. And we knew that. But after I finished the call worse off than when I’d started it, N unplugged the phone.
Things not to say to a woman (or her husband) who has just lost a child:
“Are you going to try again?” I heard this one from my mother.
“You can always try again.” I heard this one from multiple well-meaning, but clueless individuals. This is a true statement, but it glosses over the pain that is being felt now.
“You’re young and healthy.” Yup…and look what good it did me.
“God has His reasons.” Or, “God needed your little one in heaven.” Excuse me? I think we all need to go read the book of Job again. At least his ‘comforters’ knew to be quiet for the first week or so! Let’s not malign the character of God by putting words in His mouth.
“Tomorrow is the day that I have chosen to step back into real life.” These were the first words I wrote when journaling as I was looking at going back to work a couple of days after our loss. My boss was a bit surprised and offered me more time, but I didn’t think that sitting still and mulling over the unchangeable would be beneficial. There was work to be done and I needed something to keep my brain and hands occupied so that I didn’t sink down into despair.
Journaling can be extremely helpful as you heal. There’s something intimate in the act of touching pen to paper and pouring out your inmost thoughts, coaxing emotions, worries, and doubts out of hiding. Journaling can also help you put a face to any fears that may linger afterward, as you can see the recurring topics when you re-read your previous writings.
The next week, after a particularly rough morning, I called S, a friend who was also pregnant. She had two lovely little girls and was due to have her third about a week after my first was supposed to be born. I asked if I could come over for awhile. It wasn’t so much that I needed to talk as I needed to be around normalcy, to feel normal family interactions and to love and be loved on by some children. To remember that life goes on despite our tragedies.
It can be easy at this point to fall down the slippery slope of despair. Grieving is good and proper and there is nothing wrong with being sad as you process your loss. The wonderful news is that we don’t have to do this alone. If you are a part of a community of faith, share your loss with some trusted friends that will love you and cover you in prayer. Understand that you are not going to heal overnight and that being sad is not a sin. Another benefit of walking in a community is being able to talk to other women who have been where you now are.
The Secret Sisterhood
While S had never walked through miscarriage, she was able to point me to D, a lady who had. I called D a few days later and asked if we could meet. A few days later, she came to my house. She told me her story, listened to my story and reassured me that what I was feeling was normal. Even ten years later, she still thought about her baby, wondering how tall s/he would be or what s/he would have looked like, remembering the due and loss dates.
It amazed me afterward how many other women stepped forward and said that they had also walked through that valley. It’s a secretive sisterhood of sorrow in some respects, as debates rage back and forth over what constitutes life and when it is that a zygote, the fertilized egg, earns the rights, privileges, and protection of citizenship. This ongoing argument limits a woman (and her husband) from feeling the full freedom to grieve. We’re told on multiple sides that “This was for the best-your body knew something was wrong with ‘it’” or “It was just tissue” or any of another of a number of asinine, unthinking remarks that denigrate and diminish the feelings of loss we are experiencing.
In February of 2006, I started waking up with nausea. After about five days of this happening, I took a home test. It came back negative. After several more days of nausea, I took another home test. It, too, came back negative. My general practitioner prescribed a blood pregnancy test about two weeks after the nausea began. My numbers came back a little high but not enough for them to officially confirm anything, so they asked me to return for another draw the next day. Sure enough, the numbers had doubled and we were officially expecting once more!
Hoo-ray? Oh dear Lord, what if? Please, please, please…
The first one and a half trimesters were a mental and spiritual struggle for me. Every ache, every pain was enough to send my brain into spasms of worry and doubt – the exact opposite of where I had been my first pregnancy. I had to continually choose where to focus my faith and it was not easy. I sang the Veggie Tales song “God is bigger than the Boogie Man” more times than I can remember. Childish? Maybe. But, it helped me to keep my perspective in order and remember where to place my faith.
After what we had gone through with losing the first baby, we had decided to only tell our closest friends that we were pregnant again. That is, until our pastor and his wife confronted us about it. “Who will pray with and for you?” they asked. “If it does happen again, who will know to surround you with love and cover you with prayer while you grieve?” N and I realized that, at least for our situation, they were right. By not telling our church family, we were cutting ourselves off from the benefits of their love and prayers. We were walking in fear of being hurt again instead of trusting in the graciousness of God to provide for us.
I am pleased to report that Cassandra Joy was born on October 23. While I still occasionally look at my friend’s daughter and wonder how tall my first baby would have been or what s/he would have looked like in comparison, Cassie provided a balm to my heart and soul.
The takeaway? In the midst of our grief, we had to consciously choose to give God glory. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.
What you can do to bless a family walking through miscarriage:
Hold off on phone calls for awhile. Send a card, tell them that you love and are praying for them and include your phone number. Invite them to call you if they need to talk or cry.
Ask if you can bring a meal over. Our church took care of organizing this and it was a huge blessing.
Respect boundaries and only stay to share the meal if invited to do so. Otherwise, it’s a quick hug, a murmured “We love you” and a return to your car.
Pray! God is the only one who can bring true comfort and healing to grieving hearts.
If you are called upon to provide a listening ear, do just that – listen. Don’t offer advice or try to fill in the blanks as to what God’s intentions were. Refer to the earlier list about things to not say. Let your friend lead the conversation and close when she’s ready. Hold her hand or embrace her. Let her know that you are present with her and not thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner the next day.
Offer unconditional love. The grieving process can be long and drawn out. For me, every ‘monthly reminder’ that I was not pregnant was a reminder of my “failure” and set me off to crying and renewed despair. Remember to offer love whether your friend is up or down and if she’s down, don’t condemn her. Remember – being sad is not a sin!
Encourage your friend to have an informal funeral or memorial. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – we planted a butterfly bush in our front yard. It’s now big, bushy and a beautiful reminder that I have a child waiting for me on the other side of eternity.
Jessica is mother to Cassie Joy (4), Sarah (2) and Rafe (11 mos). She got the two-for-one special on wombs when she was born with a uterine anomaly known as ‘uterine didelphys’. Because of this quirk, she requested to be nicknamed the Uterus Queen at her awesome OB’s office. Her request was denied. 😉