All the Feels

Today has all the feels.  And Timehop, that bastion of nostalgia, reminded me this morning in photos.  2 years ago today was our wedding day.  It was and is joy.  We took our first selfie as a married couple in the back of Monk’s, enjoying a beer and a stolen moment together as Mr. and Mrs. Page before we rejoined our guests.

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1 year ago today we announced our first pregnancy, which we didn’t know would end just weeks later in a devastating loss.  We dressed the dog up with butterfly ears and a t-shirt I fashioned from Hobby Lobby, sat her in our new-to-us stroller and fed her treats until we caught a hilarious moment.  It’s still a great photo, but it also represents such heartache.  There’s no photo announcement from the second pregnancy, which also ended in loss, but I don’t think about one without the other.  2 babies gone.  It was a lot to deal with in a few months.

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And then today. Today is our two year anniversary, and this morning I had a doctor’s appointment, where, at 36 weeks pregnant, I got to hear our baby’s strong heartbeat again.  Our midwife hugged me and said things are going great, and her nervous but capable PA student measured my belly, pronouncing as well that baby is healthy and growing as expected.

I’ve heard people say miscarriage steals the joy in pregnancy.  And in some ways it’s true.  You say things like “if all goes as planned” and “hopefully” when discussing plans.  And another pregnancy certainly doesn’t cancel out the loss.  They’re intertwined but separate.  When I look at the photo of Salsa I still grieve for the two babies we lost.  Tears still come more quickly than I’m ready for sometimes.

IMG_3364But…but, there is also hope.  This blanket came in the mail this week, a heartfelt gift from a friend for our rainbow baby (a baby born after a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss). When I walk into the baby’s room and see it, our newborn diapers, and some knit Converse booties another friend crocheted, I am reminded of how much joy we have.  We have each other, a community of people who are excited with us and for us, and in just a few weeks, if all goes as planned, Baby Page will be in our arms.  All is well.

 

 

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Trying Again

At church on Sunday, the pastor asked the congregation to participate in talking and thinking through the story of Jesus calming the storm in Matthew.  I wasn’t able to offer anything out loud without ugly crying in public, something I try to avoid, but I listened. It all resonated. Someone said storms in your life are scary because you don’t know they’re coming, they just appear. Another person said they’re difficult because you don’t know how long they will last or what the outcome will be.  And at the end, our pastor told a story about taking his daughter to get her flu shot. Before they left they talked about being brave.  He said that she cried a little and after the appointment she said she hadn’t been brave.  He went on to talk about how it’s not just one or the other…that you can cry and be brave. Which sounded so much like trying to get pregnant again.

 

In order to even contemplate trying again,  you have to have some level of bravery. You’ve been out on that ledge, and you know how it can end.   You question all of your decisions…is this the month you should start, or should you wait?  Do you take medication that has no proven benefit just in case, or not? Should you make the husband change the cat litter just in case…Would anything you did change the outcome?

 

But thinking about trying again is also joy.  For me, I’m getting excited again about all the baby things, even the things that remind me we’ve been here before…the registry I made, the paint color we chose (Ewing Blue!), the baby carriers we bought (a Tula and a ring sling, in case anyone cares).

 

It’s also fear.  So much fear it sometimes takes your breath away . You know you’ll have to experience all the days and hours and minutes of early pregnancy when you’re wondering whether this one will stick. You know you’ll have to pass those awful milestones…week 5 when you lost the second baby, week 9 when you had that ultrasound with the blob and no heartbeat, or week 10 when you had the D&C.  And you know how long it’s going to take until you feel like you’re safe…you might never get to that point.

 

When people ask if we’re going to try again, they do it with a smile and an expectant look.  I’ve never minded the question as I’m a pretty open person, but I feel like I disappoint people when I can’t mirror their excitement.  I’d love for there to be an easy, happy answer, to say it all ends with us having a healthy baby and living happily ever after.  But we are not there yet.  And so for now, you do what you can.  You chart your cycles. You buy a million pregnancy tests (thank you, Amazon).  You add baby names to your list. You hold onto hope as tightly as you can, and in the moments when you can’t, you remember you can cry and still be brave.  

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What Do I Say??

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time…I felt awkward after our first miscarriage because I knew people knew about it, or at least our Facebook friends, but they didn’t really know what to say.  Which I totally get.  No one teaches you what to say when someone miscarries, and it’s weird to blurt out “Let’s talk about my miscarriage!” even though it’s the elephant in the room. Some of the conversations I had reminded me of that speech class in high school or college where there was that one kid who was so nervous up there it made you nervous…and I just kept thinking “We can do better for women who are going through this.”

But how do you talk about it without sounding all judgy pants? Honestly I have no idea…I sort of like the judgy pants, and so the best I could do was to reach out to some friends and broaden the conversation.  After our first miscarriage there were a ton of people who shared their stories of loss with us.  I messaged some of them, and 9 wrote back. I asked what people in their lives said or did that was most or least helpful to them after their losses.  I was going to edit and summarize, but I think their words are powerful, and a powerful part of a conversation that can help normalize miscarriage and baby loss.  I edited out a few identifying details, but otherwise these are their words, organized around a few themes that showed up.

First, the most helpful…
Acknowledge that it happened and ask about it, and if you’ve been through it, share your story 

  • I had many situations where I wasn’t sure if someone had heard, but they didn’t bring it up, so I had to awkwardly try to work it into the conversation, and it turned out that they did know. Even a quick “I’m sorry; how far along were you; my friend/cousin/mom/wife/self went through that, I know it’s really hard” etc. would have been MUCH preferable to tiptoeing around the subject.”   
  • The things that helped me the most were the people who just said they were sorry and left it at that. The ones who gave me flowers, let me cry and just hung out with me like they always had.
  • I think that the most helpful thing anyone did was just listen. I was a person that needed to talk about it and being able to feel like I had someone to listen, that truly wanted to know how I was feeling, was most beneficial for me.
  • The best thing to do is to say that you love me and you hurt with me and then be quiet, but be there/don’t disappear because you don’t know what to say or do. Sometimes just being there, being silent, is the best thing someone can do.
  • If it’s public and the parents of the loss are open in talking about it — then acknowledge it and honor it. Remember the loss is most likely not going to heal right away, but will continue to be an on-going grieving process, even if the couple has successful pregnancies later. And if it’s awkward to talk about it directly, send one of these cards.
  •  The most helpful was people telling me they had gone through it, and it was hard.
  • The most helpful for me were all the people who shared stories of people they knew or that they themselves had been through it. It made me feel much less alone and much less worried that there was something massively wrong with me, and that I would never be able to have a kid.

Be sensitive about baby announcements, showers, etc.

  • It felt like a ton of our friends and family announced they were pregnant the months following our miscarriage. I appreciated the friends who told me personally instead of awkwardly not wanting to tell us. Finding out second hand or after everyone doesn’t make it easier. I was happy for them even though it made me question why there pregnancy stuck and ours did not.
  • I asked friends to tell me personally about baby news, instead of in public in case I might cry or have some other sort of emotional reaction.  It was helpful to know ahead of time and not be blindsided by it.
  • I didn’t want to go to any baby showers and those friends could understand why. It took until I had a healthy pregnancy to feel confident enough to be around moms and mommy places.

Do whatever you’d normally do after someone experiences a loss

  • Family brought a few meals and my sisters-in-law brought takeout from one of my favorite places. I had a group of friends that I had met online and they got together and sent flowers. Instead of sending individual cards, they made a little photo book of their thoughts for me and sent that.
  • My friends made little blankets for me, which they called “hugs.” It was very nice that they acknowledged that it was a big deal and commemorated it for me.
  • A couple of people sent cards which were greatly appreciated.  Someone sent me flowers which was also really nice because it let me know they understood how this was a huge deal for me.
  • (Bridget) I think about the elementary staff at my school after our second miscarriage.  The day I returned, a few of the teachers were in the hallway when I walked in.  One gave me a hug and said she’d been through it, another put her arm around me and walked down the hall, and a third let me ugly cry in her doorway while she said “I’m so sorry.”  The next day flowers showed up on my desk anonymously, and those small gestures meant the world to me.

And, the least helpful…

Trite, cliche words of comfort

  • I would definitely say I was angry enough that the comforting words involving, “part of God’s plan” did not comfort me at all. I understand it now but at the time I didn’t want to hear that. I didn’t want to hear that there was obviously something wrong with the baby or that there was nothing I could have done differently.
  • Others said it was God’s will, and I didn’t like that either
  • Things like, “Your baby was too precious for earth” or “God needed another angel” in particular were not comforting and were more upsetting than anything else.

Downplaying the loss…and the “at leasts”

  • I had a family member send a card that said “I’m sorry about your disappointment” like I had been turned down for a job instead of losing a baby.
  • Saying things like this did not help-Well at least you can get pregnant…at least you have a child already…the worst was “just get over it.”
  • Non helpful thoughts (of which there were many) 1 in 4 first pregnancies result in miscarriage. This is normal for first pregnancies so don’t worry, you will probably be fine next time. This happens to a lot of women. – sentiments that tried to make what had happened seem like not a big deal when it was earth shattering. Or things people would say that made our daughter feel like she wasn’t a real person because she only made it to three months.
  • People who made me feel like it wasn’t a big deal.  I used to think maybe it wouldn’t be–that it as just a ball of cells or an embryo and I wouldn’t be that said if I lost it.  But for me, and everyone else I’ve talked to, that’s not true.  We lost our babies.

When I think about it now, I think a good rule of thumb is this–do whatever you’d do after any other loss.  If someone lost a parent, you’d send flowers or a card, and ask them how they are.  You’d never tell someone who lost a spouse “At least you can get another one” or “It’s all God’s will!”  You’d give them a hug, listen to them ugly cry, throw a casserole in their freezer, and just be there.

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Let’s keep talking about miscarriage

I keep starting this post and deleting and starting over, wondering where to start.  Let’s just get it out there–we are having another miscarriage.  And I have so many thoughts and feelings and words.  


In some ways it feels selfish to even write about it this time…there’s nothing forcing us to, we hadn’t told many people we were pregnant.  But, the thing that made it bearable last time, the thing I need this time around, is to know that others have been here.  Somehow the second one feels different.  One seems like a an anomaly, a tragic blip that resolves itself the next time around.  But two…you fear you’ll end up being one of those women people whispered about… “Oh, so and so…she’s had (fill in the blank) miscarriages.” People around you need answers about why it happened, sometimes even more than you do.  With our first, we had surgery and genetic testing and a trisomy on chromosome 10 that showed it wasn’t our fault…it was a boy and a fluke bad egg.  This time it’s happening differently and we probably won’t have that closure.  We may have to be satisfied with “It happened. You can try again.”  Which is hard…but truthful.  Sometimes you can’t find a reason, and you still didn’t cause it. 

And all of this just makes me think we need to keep talking about miscarriage.  It’s hard to know what to tell people when you’re in it, and hard for your friends to know what to say.  I did a lot of reading after our first miscarriage, and somewhere a doctor was quoted saying how when people share they’ve got cancer, no one tells them they shouldn’t talk about it or tell people… pregnancy and miscarriage are treated differently.  But the need is the same.  You need your people when you’re in it.  Even if they don’t know what to say…just saying “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “I don’t know what to say, but I’m so sorry” is incredibly helpful. A hug…and I’m not normally a hugger.  If you’re feeling particularly cheeky, I think this Emily McDowell greeting card is perfect, especially because they don’t make a “You’re having a miscarriage and that totally sucks” card.  

So that’s where we are.  Miscarrying.  Again.  Angry and sad and coping by making dead baby jokes (me), and also still hopeful and even more determined.  As if determination could help predict a good outcome…but sometimes you’ve gotta use what you’ve got.   And we know we’ve got you guys.  We have people who will walk with us through this, and whatever comes next.

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Congratulations! Oh, wait…

I knew my follow-up 2 weeks post D&C appointment with my midwife would be emotional.  She’d been gone when it actually happened, and I knew she was just going to be too nice…she would pat my knee and hug me and I would cry.  And I did and we were both good with that. She was kind, compassionate, and had lots of tissues ready.  It brought back the day of the D&C, and all the feels, but I was prepared for that.

This week I made an appointment for my annual check up with my internal medicine doc.  I see him because I like to have someone keep an eye on my lab work, and to have someone to call when I get sick or injured.  And I felt ready to see him–I’ve been feeling pretty good lately, strong, optimistic.   I knew the miscarriage would probably come up as they review the “problems” screen or whatever, but I was good with that. I knew what I’d say–it sucked, and we’re doing better. To be honest, I’m sort of done thinking about it for right now…I’m ready to think about a future pregnancy, new possibilities, which baby carrier we’ll buy (I may have purchased one this morning since it was a print I HAVE to have).

So when the nurse was walking me to the scale (oh…the dreaded scale) and said “Congratulations!! I see that you’re pregnant!” I was not prepared.  Not. in. the. least.  It felt a lot like the first drop on a roller coaster…my stomach lurched and I felt woozy for just a second.  I was glad I had words quickly…”No, I’m not.  We had a miscarriage about a month ago.”

It wasn’t her fault, and I’m not mad.  I know she felt bad because she quickly apologized and then talked nonstop through the blood pressure and med review and all the other preliminaries.  And that was fine with me.  It felt like I was moving backward in time to right after it happened, the feeling of hurt and loss and just trying to keep it together so you don’t break down and cry in public (again).

I was just telling Elisha that I’ve felt so much more stable in the past couple of weeks, and who knows if that’s because of stabilized hormones or working through the grief, or a combination of both.  But there are reminders, little jabs that I feel viscerally–an email about how big your baby is now (unsubscribe), or Amazon suggesting a sleepsack to add to your registry. I’ve been reflecting on those reminders since I came home this afternoon…they totally suck.  But, although they take your breath away with how much they hurt, there is something sacred about them.  Because in each reminder there are two things–a reminder of that tiny baby, the one you carried, that was going to be yours, and the fact that you lost it. The reminders are you connection to this little life that was with you if only briefly. For some reason Barbara Taylor’s Alters in the World comes to mind where she says this:

“You can get lost on your way home. You can get lost looking for love. You can get lost between jobs. You can get lost looking for God. However it happens, take heart. Others before you have found a way in the wilderness, where there are as many angels as there are wild beasts, and plenty of other lost people too. All it takes is one of them to find you. All it takes is you to find one of them. However it happens, you could do worse than to kneel down and ask a blessing, remembering how many knees have kissed this altar before you.”

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Things No One Tells You About Miscarriage

*If you’re squeamish or in denial about how women’s bodies actually work during pregnancy, miscarriage, etc. (spoiler…there’s blood and sex and stuff), you may want to skip this post.*

So I’m at that point in our miscarriage where the balance of good to bad days has shifted. I’ve spent just as many of my waking hours thinking about the mundane like how much it sucks to mow the lawn when it’s hot and humid and how the junk email keeps multiplying despite an ample number of clicks on “unsubscribe” as I have about our dead baby.  I’ve even, without ugly crying, clicked on the Craigslist “Baby and Kids” section once or twice, because thankfully at this point I’m thinking more about the possibility of getting pregnant again than about losing this pregnancy.

And I say “this pregnancy” because, well, it’s hard to tell when you can really say it’s over.  Which is just one of the (many?) things no one tells you about having a miscarriage.  As a woman, you’ve had plenty of conversations with other women about periods, sex, and pregnancy. You know, that one where your eyes kind of bug out as you find out about the disposable mesh underwear at the hospital, or what a 3rd degree tear really entails…But you never sit down with your girlfriends and talk about miscarriage.  You don’t sit down with your lattes and open a conversation by saying “Hey, you know what’s really weird/gross/surprising about a miscarriage?”  So instead you do what all modern day women do when they don’t know something…you google it.  And you end up reading message boards, which make you feel less alone, but also totally weirded out by all the talk of “baby dust” and “rainbow babies” (I am not kidding).

So, I’ve decided to make a list.  For women (and men, if they are interested in reading) who have had miscarriages, and those who haven’t.  Because I know for me it’s helped to talk about it, and part of being able to talk about it with people is demystifying what you’ve been through and what you’re thinking about. Of course every miscarriage is different, and some of these won’t apply to every woman (oh, and I’m super opinionated and am sharing from my own perspective only), but you, dear readers, are smart enough to figure that out.  So here goes:

  • A miscarriage and D&C are f****ing expensive.  Which I suppose is all healthcare really, but we were kind of shocked.  And on the day of the procedure, the one person who was supposed to help us figure that out, couldn’t really tell us what it would be.  Not even a guess.  She could tell us the doctor would charge around $900 for the D&C surgery, but that was all the info she had. It turns out the total cost, before insurance, for us was somewhere upwards of $8,000.  I am so grateful to have really good health insurance.
  • Even after the miscarriage (and a D&C) your body will still feel pregnant. It seems like a cruel twist of fate…you go through this whole process, lose your baby, and then still have to deal with the symptoms of being pregnant.  Because, even though your uterus has been scraped clean, you still have all these crazy hormones. You might still cry at weird times (compounded by the regular sad crying), your boobs still hurt, and I’ve heard for some people their milk even comes in (thankfully we were too early for that).  Which leads to the next thing I wasn’t prepared for and no one told me…
  • You’ll still get positive pregnancy tests.  Because you still have those hormones, specifically hCG, in your system. They are supposed to drop off after the miscarriage, but that can take weeks.  At 2 1/2 weeks post-D&C I’m still getting very faint positive tests, which is somewhat unnerving.  I worried for a while about possible false positives in the future, but my midwife assures me that if you start trying after your period comes back, there’s no need to worry.
  • Related to the previous bullet, like most post-partum women, you have no idea about when your period will actually return.  Well, you have a general 4-6 weeks, but then sometimes it’s 8 or 12 weeks. For an impatient woman who would really like to have a baby, that might as well be “we have no earthly idea.”  My midwife assures me that if it doesn’t happen toward the beginning of that window there are “things we can do,” but I still say waiting sucks.
  • I don’t know if this applies to all women depending on the hospital or provider, but for us, we had the option to have the tissue sent out for genetic testing.  I know that other women in my life who have miscarried were not given that option–they were told they only do testing after 2 or 3 miscarriages.  It’s certainly a personal choice, and carries some expense, but for me knowing the reason for our miscarriage (a chromosomal abnormality-trisomy 10) and the sex of the baby (it was a boy) gave me an incredible peace.  I knew without a doubt that there was nothing I could have done differently that would’ve changed the outcome.  It helped.
  • At some point, when you’re asking certain questions about what happens after, you wish someone would just say “We don’t really know, you’re just going to have to figure that out yourself.”  When you can start trying again comes to mind.  Thankfully my provider is super awesome and knows what she’s talking about and has basically said, start trying again whenever you want.  Which is what science actually says, which is good.  It’s easier to date a pregnancy (and avoid future heartache if the baby measures too small/etc.) after you’ve had your first period, but there seems to be no scientific reason to wait.  Despite that, so many sites/people/even health care providers are still telling people a certain number of cycles…which as far as I can tell is totally made up or just based on their opinions…one book I’ve been reading (Coming to Term by Jon Cohen) even suggests it’s to avoid “difficult patients” so soon after a miscarriage.  Too bad for my midwife, because I’ll be a difficult patient now no matter when we conceive (I believe I was probably difficult from the start).  Another question that illustrates this point was what we were told about when we could have sex after a D&C.  I don’t even remember who said what the day we had the surgery because there were so many people involved, but at the end of the day I know we had been told at least 3 different things including 1) after you stop bleeding 2) 2 weeks, and 3) an emphatic “Do not put anything in your vagina until you see your doctor again!”    which was definitely the most amusing answer.

I consider myself to be a fairly well-educated woman, and I was still a little shocked at how many things I didn’t know about miscarriage and what comes after.  For those of you who have been through it, or know women who have, what did I miss?  What surprised you?

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Contradictions

*If you’re squeamish or in denial about how women’s bodies actually work during pregnancy, miscarriage, etc. (spoiler…there’s blood and sex and stuff), you may want to skip this post and maybe the next few.*

I’ve always noticed contradictions, and for some reason I kind of like them.  I’ve found some kind of weird solace and peace in holding 2 seemingly conflicting viewpoints in tension…those “and things.”

And man, is having a miscarriage an “and thing.”  There are mostly really good, normal, happy days, and there is also emotional conflict and cognitive dissonance at every turn.  Even the language surrounding it is beautiful and awful at the same time.  You hear the nurse telling the OR staff that surgery is needed because of “embryonic demise.”  What beautiful words for a dead baby.

You are grateful for how quickly and neatly a D&C can bring closure to most of the physical parts of being pregnant, but also sort of wish you could have had the miscarriage at home to have time to grieve as you bled. It’s sort of shocking you’re able to leave on a vacation less than 12 hours after surgery, but you’re also wary because those 12 hours seem like a break in the space-time continuum you don’t know how to navigate.

You know that at 5 weeks and 6 days the ball of cells in your uterus wasn’t viable outside the womb, but you still want to call it your baby.  Before it happened, you couldn’t have imagined you’d feel that way.  You thought you wouldn’t feel so attached if you had a miscarriage, you would get over it and move on.

You swore you wouldn’t be one of those bitter women who can’t be happy for anyone else, but when an acquaintance’s Facebook pregnancy announcement pops up, it still feels like a kick in the gut…and yet you’re happy for them.  It’s both.  You still coo and smile and flirt with strangers’ newborns and tell the kid in the airport you love his shark flip flops despite the fact he whispers something to his mother about stranger danger.

You want the miscarriage and everything associated with it to be over, but you also need to talk about it and not forget it.  You are grateful when people acknowledge it and are ok with it being real, but you’re still afraid you’ll break down in tears when you talk about it.  When the geneticist calls to tell you the results of the “products of conception” testing (another beautiful term for a dead baby), you’re ready.  Prepared.  And then you hear that it was a baby boy and the embryonic demise was due to Trisomy 10, and your stomach drops just a bit.

You think about trying again and are genuinely excited about another pregnancy, impatient even, but also already dread those first few doctors appointments, hoping and praying there will be a heartbeat this time.  You know it was just a chromosomal abnormality, and probably just a rogue egg due to “advanced maternal age,” but you fear you’ll be one of those women you’ve heard talked about in whispers, the ones who have miscarriage after miscarriage.

The contradictions seem endless…And even that, thankfully, is an “and thing.”  The weeks after miscarriage are hard.  And hopeful.  And painful.  And healing.  And normal.  You talk and cry about your dead baby, but you also take out the garbage and watch This Old House and happily enjoy a drink on the patio with your husband.  It is definitely, most positively, an and thing.

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