As you probably know, October is infant and pregnancy loss month. So many mamas have suffered loss (1 in 4 to be exact) and so many suffer in silence. It is our hope that in sharing these stories we can give mamas a voice to share their experiences and bring comfort to women who feel isolated and alone in their own losses.
So I rarely talk about this, because it’s sad and it sometimes makes people feel uncomfortable. However, as women we are doing ourselves a great disservice by keeping quiet. We need one another and there is so much comfort in knowing you aren’t alone. So today, I’m sharing details I’ve never shared before in the hopes that someone else may find some comfort in my words.
It’s been almost 8 years since my first miscarriage. We struggled to conceive Cole, so when I found out I was pregnant when he was just a little over one-year-old, we were ecstatic. Unfortunately, I lost the pregnancy around 8 weeks. I remember crumbling into a ball of tears on my stairs as I headed down to tell my husband what I suspected was happening. As if somehow, if I never arrived at the bottom of the staircase, it wouldn't actually happen. I have always thought of that baby as a boy and I has always thought we would have named him Blake (pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever put his name into words).
Two short months after my miscarriage, I found out I was pregnant again. This time I was much more cautious and expected the worst. And again, unfortunately lost the pregnancy.
I vividly remember ordering a “Big Brother” shirt for Cole online just a few days before I discovered I was miscarrying and having the most terrible feeling of dread when that package arrived. I quickly and tearfully shoved it into the closet, without even opening the box. I have pictures of positive pregnancy tests from both that I cannot seem to delete. Every so often, I stumble across them and am hit with a wave of sad memories. Remember how difficult and empty those days felt. I spent a long time feeling like I had done something wrong, or that my body was broken. I even got a few "you miscarried that second time because you got pregnant too soon after your first miscarriage" comments, which is not only so hurtful, it's completely inaccurate.
After lots of tests and some more fertility treatment, we were blessed with a healthy pregnancy and what I like to think of as my double rainbow baby, Reid. He was born on my 28th birthday, which I like to believe was some kind of destiny. And Cole did get to wear that “Big Brother” shirt, and so did Reid when Molly came along just 16 months after him.
I am 100% certain that Stroller Strides got me through those losses. I really don’t mean for this to be a plug for my business. I had been a pretty lonely stay-at-home mom to Cole for a whole year, but had found Stroller Strides just a month or two before my miscarriage. I’m really not sure how I would have handled the losses without the support of those mamas. Even without sharing my story with many, I just needed a place where I felt surrounded by cheerful, encouraging women. I truly hope that I can offer the same kind of support and healing to other mamas going through difficult times.
Oh were to begin…I’m not very good at writing or telling stories. My husband says I take soo long to get to the point. So bear with me. I guess I will start with the beginning.
My husband and I had been married for just about five years and we decided to start our family. Four months later we were very happy to find out I was pregnant, and I had a very uneventful pregnancy and labor with our now 7 year old Lilly. When she was about two we decided to go ahead and try for that second child, figuring it was going to be easy enough to conceive again. About 10 months later, and after thinking it was never going to happen, we were finally pregnant again! Everything was going great; Lilly was going to be a big sister!
We started picking out names, my belly growing, and I was feeling good. My 16 week appointment came and I had to go on my own, as I had just taken Robert to the airport that morning for an Army board. So off Lilly and I went. She was all excited because she was going to be able to hear the baby’s heart beat just has she had a few weeks ago.
The doctor comes in and all my vitals are good, and now the fun part to hear the heart beat--only she cannot find it.
She messes with the machine and tries again. Again nothing. She states she going to get their mobile ultrasound machine just to see why she can’t find the heartbeat and leaves with a smile on her face. My stomach starts to sink as I try to stay calm. She comes back and starts to look for the baby, she finds it and Lilly gets all excited she can see the baby inside my belly! But again there are no heart beat waves on the machine, and no noise. This time, her smile fades and tells me she is going to get the head doctor on duty. I know what is happening my heart sinks and tears are forming. I try not to lose it as Lilly is still in awe of seeing the baby.
It seems like hours but they finally came back and confirm that I have lost my baby. They apologize and start talking about my options…I’m not really listening still trying to comprehend how this happened, how I’m going to get ahold of Robert who is now on the other side of the US. They ask if I’m going to be ok, as I’m just sitting there holding Lilly, I tell them I’m going to have to be.
I can honestly say that I don’t know how I made it home that day. My poor husband had to hear the news on a crowded airplane among strangers, I can only imagine how he was feeling too at that moment. But being the amazing guy he is, he found his Sargent Major and told him he couldn’t do the board and needed to fly back home that day. I ended up having a D&E a week later. I don’t think I could have gone through with delivering the baby, I had the option of being induced, but my first was such a happy time I didn’t want to remember a bad one.
A few months went by and we decided we were ready to try again. I was not going to have it take as long this time so I charted everything and peed on almost every type of thing there was. Lilly at this point thought I was crazy-- always peeing on things! However, because of this I always tested a few days before my period came and twice I got positive tests back, but each time within a few days I would start to bleed.
My heart was broke and I’d given up hope of having more kids when I find out I’m pregnant again. And right at the time too when I’m about to go see the doctor to figure out why I can’t seem to get or stay pregnant. She has no answers for me as to the chemical pregnancies.
But luckily this one sticks and we are blessed with Noelle on Christmas day 2013. We could not of asked for a better gift then her!
So here we are again on the debate of having another child, we decided we will just go with the we will see what happens method, since it has taken awhile in the past. And over two years later we are pregnant again! We tell the girls pretty much right away they are over the moon! I go to my first appointment, and they are going to do an ultrasound just to make sure due to my history.
We have a baby and a heartbeat, although I feel I am about seven weeks along, they are measuring the baby at about five-- no biggie, they say and schedule me to come back again in two weeks. Those two weeks seem to go by so slow and I stop telling people just in case. I don’t want to get my hopes up too much, just in case. The first baby I lost measured a few weeks behind in the end, and I’m thinking what if it happens again.
We go in the Friday of Memorial weekend and my fears are correct. We lost the baby. Of course this time Robert is with me, which makes things a tad bit easier to take. We wait a week to see if anything will happen on its own and it does not so I go in again for a D&C. It’s hard to cope with the loss again but seeing my girls everyday makes it a little easier!
I need to know that I am blessed with my family. And we believe these things happened for a reason. Lilly is old enough to understand this time around and knows what happened. We continue to tell her that the babies are together with their great grandparents and my mom’s dog Bobo, who she adored, playing in heaven! I think it takes some of the sting away for it all. Noelle doesn’t get it, and somedays still tells me I have a baby in my belly, which is tough but I smile and say not anymore, it’s playing in the clouds.
And the tough decisions start again; do we keep trying or be happy with the family that we have. I guess only time will tell.
My boyfriend and I had been dating for 4 1/2 years when I was ready to start having children. But I felt required to check off those socially acceptable boxes first: engagement, then marriage, then baby. So when I finally became pregnant three months into our marriage I was elated. My husband and I were already picking out names. Every day I would write to the baby in my journal, signing the entries "love, Mom". I was very careful to avoid all the pregnany no-nos (caffeine, alcohol, etc).
We didn't tell anyone right away, just in case. My sister had had a miscarriage but I never really thought it would happen to me. So when I first started spotting and cramping at 6 weeks I was devastated. But even worse, there was no one I could talk to about it. My husband was very supportive. I know he suffered a loss too but it was different.
I felt guilty and powerless. My body was failing me, I couldn't even save my own child. My OB did bloodwork and an ultrasound that showed my progesterone level was low and the baby was measuring small. But I still had hope. She started me on progesterone pills on the off chance they would help. So I spent a week wondering if I would miscarry and knowing there was nothing I could do to prevent it. My bleeding/cramping got worse and a week later my blood levels had dropped significantly.
Fortunately I was able to have a natural miscarriage and it was early on at seven weeks, but it doesn't make it any easier emotionally. I was also lucky to get pregnant with my now healthy two year old son seven weeks later. But I'll never forget my first baby. I'm glad I have the journal to remember him or her by, and being able to write about it definitely helped me get through those hard times.
Pregnancy loss. The two words alone seem almost benign, but put together creates a situation that tests every facet of ones being.
Is it a taboo topic? Sure. It is uncomfortable to speak openly about such tragedy. But as an experience that affects 1-in-4 women, I am here to tell you that you are not alone. You need not suffer in silence. I have walked in your shoes, mama. And I have cried your tears.
I share with you my story of loss in hopes that it will provide you just a bit of strength, courage, and healing.
Have you ever had a memory that stands out so vividly in your mind and heart that just thinking of it transports you to another time? A memory so powerful that awakens every single one of your senses and brings you back to that exact moment in body, mind and spirit? I’ll admit, I have a memory that rivals a certain lovable blue fish, but I can recall the day I found out that I was pregnant for the first time with such clarity and intensity it is as if it was just yesterday — cliche as it may sound.
I was out of state at the time attending training for the company I was working for. As I sat through the seemingly endless HR presentation I remember feeling slightly off, and having the urge to tinkle what seemed like every 20 minutes. On a hunch, I visited the corner drug store during our lunch break for a snack and to pick up a pregnancy test. I somehow managed to keep my cool throughout the rest of the work day knowing the little box I carried in my bag had the power to change my life forever. When I arrived at my hotel room, I headed straight for the bathroom.
Just a few minutes later, there it was. A faint, blue plus sign.
I immediately Face-Timed with my only mom-friend at the time to confirm that my eyes were not deceiving me, and then with my husband to give him the good news. I was bursting with joy, and fear, and disbelief. At the time, we were not necessarily trying to get pregnant, but we were not taking any measures to avoid it either.
On this beautiful spring day in May, everything just seemed to sparkle a little brighter.
Two days later, I returned home, and began the parade of doctors’ appointments. After my confirmation exam with my OB, I went in for the dating ultrasound that takes place at 8 weeks. The sonographer noticed that the baby’s heartbeat was a bit slow, but likely because the fetus was younger than expected. “Come back next week and we’ll check again,” she said. So we did.
At 9 weeks, we got the green light that all looked well. It was at that point we decided to let our family know the exciting news. After having been together for so long (7 years), our families were thrilled about the prospect of a new addition!
Three weeks later was our 12 week ultrasound, aka nuchal translucency screening. Hubs and I were so excited to sneak another peek at our little nugget! While I lay there basking in the blue glow of the sonogram screen, I noticed our technician became quiet and began taking picture after picture. A short while later the doctor comes into the room looking grim.
This is where my memories become a little fuzzy.
She launches into a long, drawn-out explanation using multi-syllabic words I have never heard before like holoprosencephaly and cephalic disorder; ultimately ending with the words “not compatible with life outside the womb”. It was if a bomb had dropped. The only thing I could focus on my breathing — in and out, in and out. At that point, I was presented with a variety of options. While I respect a woman’s right to choose, I knew that ending my pregnancy at that point was not the way I wanted to go. I needed answers and I needed them now.
First came the transabdominal Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) of my placenta (ouch!), then an amniocentesis (ouch, again!), along with multiple visits to genetic counselors in order to retrace both my husband’s and my family medical history going back several generations, as well as “viability” ultrasounds every other week just to check and see if our little one was still with us.
The CVS results were inconclusive, but did tell us that our precious one was in fact a little girl. It wasn’t until the amniocentesis that the amazing doctors at John’s Hopkins were able to give me a clear answer to this terrible riddle. It’s called tetraploidy.
At conception, as my husband and my genes came together to create this beautiful little life, something went amiss and she ended up with 92 chromosomes instead of the normal 46--23 from Mom, 23 from Dad. To put that into perspective, those children born with more mild chromosomal disorders experience a genetic mutation of one single chromosome.
The prognosis was dire.
My team of doctors insisted that nature would take its course and that I was likely to miscarry naturally. However, week after week, ultrasound after ultrasound, our little lady’s heart continued to beat on. The power of my placenta, that beautiful tree of life, was acting as my daughter’s life support.
My husband and I insisted that as long as her heart continued beating what would soldier on; for her.
It was at the 20-week mark of my pregnancy that we received the irrefutable evidence we were searching for. As lay there for my bi-monthy ultrasound, we saw that her brain was gone; hydroencephaly had won. After consulting with our medical team, family, and priest, we moved forward with the option to induce labor. As painful as it was to come to that decision, it also brought relief that all of our suffering would be coming to an end.
On October 5, 2012, during pregnancy and infant loss awareness month, Gabriela was born still. We spent hours cradling her, kissing her, memorizing her face. She was a spirit much too precious for this world; and for four beautiful months, I was her home, her life's blood. We were one.
To read more of Melisa and Gabriela's story, visit Uplifting Anchor.