Rachel’s Story (Part 1)
What follows is my account of a late miscarriage that I had in April of ‘07. I was almost seventeen weeks along and went in for a regular appointment. I had had no signs of miscarriage. The afternoon was one of the worst of my life. In May of ‘08 I gave birth to a beautiful daughter. I am putting this out there because I know how painful it is to move through what seems one of the lowest lows of life—miscarrying. All too often I feel that society discounts the pain that comes with this experience– almost as if it’s reproductive rite of passage. It is still a very painful and sobering event regardless of how common it is. For the first few months after, I was very reclusive, but once I got pregnant again I really started on a healing path. Even now, over two years later I think about the daughter we lost. I hope this helps someone out there—there is healing. It’s ok to mourn—and to ALWAYS remember your lost child.
It was mid-January 2007. I was about a week and a half late but I didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t think I was pregnant because we really weren’t trying, and with our first child we had been trying. On day thirty-seven of my cycle, I decided to take a test, even though I still didn’t think I was pregnant despite being almost a week and a half late. For some reason, I didn’t believe I could get pregnant without trying, although I knew that was silly. Immediately two lines showed. I was with child. I was elated!
It was a bit unexpected but still I was excited. It was a new year, and soon I was going to be the mother of two. My son was eighteen months when I found out. My children would be twenty-six months apart. I hoped that they’d be close siblings in every way. I called my OB. Since my son was born, I had been diagnosed with asthma and I quickly informed my doctor that I had flare-ups before I knew I was pregnant and had taken a variety of medications. She informed me that there was no cause for concern. I went in to have bloodwork to make sure that my hormone levels were where they needed to be. They were. I was happy. Everything was on target, I thought. In a few seasons, I would have another beautiful child.
One month later, I had my first ultrasound. I saw a healthy baby on the monitor; the baby had a great heartbeat and was fluttering away. Again I was happy. When I showed my ob the ultrasound pictures and diagnostic report from the ultrasound tech, she said, “Your baby looks perfect.” She also noted that my chance of miscarrying once we got a strong heartbeat went to 3 percent. I felt reassured. That statistic would later haunt me.
One month after that, I went in for the three-month visit. I was almost twelve weeks. My OB tried for the heartbeat but couldn’t find it. She assured me that it was not uncommon to not find a heartbeat before week 14. She was not alarmed. That statement assured me—but even still, with my son we heard it even earlier, so I got this feeling that something could be off. She decided to do an ultrasound to make sure the baby was fine—and, apparently to her trained eye, it was. I still left the office wanting to hear a heartbeat. But I knew I was in the hands of a caring excellent doctor, so I let my anxiety dwindle.
The first trimester was horrible as far as morning sickness went. I was hanging over the toilet nearly every morning—so much, in fact, that my son learned to say “Mommy sick, nasty.” I had had morning sickness with my son too for the entire first trimester and even into the second, so this was not unforeseen. In fact, I had been told that morning sickness was a sign that your baby was doing well. If that was the case, I thought my child was one of the healthiest. Morning sickness is one of those things that you think of as horrible at the time, but once you see your baby after birth, you think of how worth it those sickly days were.
On April 5, 2007, I went in for a routine visit thinking that I would finally hear my baby’s heartbeat since I was now 16.5 weeks. I had told my brother that morning that I was concerned that my OB would tell me that something happened to the baby since we couldn’t hear the heartbeat the last time. Who knew that this would come to pass? I went into the office; signed in, made myself a hot tea and settled in to what I thought would be a long wait since I was one of many patients of a very skilled ob. I even went to give my urine sample before I was called back. I was ready. I was ready to hear my baby’s heartbeat—for the first time since eight weeks.
The thing about the OB office is that most are happy. It’s a happy place. There are round bellies and even the ones that aren’t round will be round. There are smiles—there are smiles looking down onto ultrasounds that reveal the sex of a baby that will become someone’s child—someone’s heart. Unfortunately that day there was a cry—there was my cry. But before there was a cry, there was a smile. I got called back and there was still a smile that wanted to hear a heartbeat. I was glad I had gained even more weight and chatted with my nurse. I was happy. My ob came in. She measured my growing belly—it measured sixteen weeks—right where I was in my pregnancy. This is good, I thought. Things are ok.
She got out the Doppler. After a minute or so, she still couldn’t find it—I knew something was wrong. I saw her face. I knew. I knew it was over. From that moment, I knew that this second child of mine would never be in my arms. I just had this horrible feeling come over me. I felt dread veil my entire being. I knew that today would be that day. She left the room to get an ultrasound machine to see the baby. Even to my untrained eye I knew that the baby wasn’t moving. The only motion that came about came from the fact that she was pressing on my abdomen. The baby did not move—she didn’t yet share this with me but the baby was not moving. I knew it. My son tumbled around like he was in orbit; this baby, my baby, did not move. It was just there. When my OB suggested a second ultrasound, I knew that I would be leaving the office in tears.
When she left the room, I started to cry. I tried to hold it back. I got a tissue and tried to stop the tears from coming but nothing could stop them. The nurse came in. She saw my tears and immediately tried to reassure me by saying it was still early. Early I thought? Sixteen weeks early? Early—yes, maybe—but when you can’t hear the heartbeat at 16.5 weeks and suggest a second ultrasound performed by a second trained eye, that’s not typical. This was the kind of thing that I thought happened in previous generations—before ultrasounds—before heart dopplers—but to be in 2007, how could this be I thought? There’s a sigh of emotional relief that comes with getting out of the first trimester. I had that sigh of relief weeks ago, how could this happen to me I thought? Every staff person I passed on the way to the ultrasound room gave me these sad eyes. I knew what was suspected at this point. My child had died. I was that woman—the woman that I never wanted to be. I was the woman who had lost her baby.
I got to the ultrasound room and again the baby showed no movement. The tech didn’t need to say it. I saw it. The screen that shows the heartbeat came up with no trace of anything. My heart sunk and my stomach came to my throat. This was really happening. The baby was measuring at 13.5 weeks—three weeks off. The tech did not say anything. She just peered into the screen. Either my child has been gone for weeks or its growth had slowed tremendously due to a birth defect. All I could think about was the fact that I had been possibly walking around for weeks with a dead child.
The ultrasound tech called my doctor to come down. In silence, I tried to prepare myself for the news I was about to receive. She came in and the first thing she did was put a loving hand on my arm. I knew what it meant. It wasn’t good news she said. My child had a cystic hygroma—a moist tumor that grew around the neck. More often than not, they are fatal. Cystic hygromas are sometimes undetectable until the second trimester via ultrasound. She reassured me that it was nothing that I had done. But I don’t know if that actually helped. My ob reassured me that this didn’t happen because of my asthma or any medications that I took. Just an hour before I thought I was going in for a routine prenatal visit and now I was told at 16.5 weeks my child was gone.