It has been a hard couple of weeks for me, even with all the warmth and joy of the holidays. On December 21, 10 weeks into pregnancy (as yet unannounced here), we watched as my OB scanned my uterus. We saw the dark gestational sac and a small clump of embryonic tissue. There was no heartbeat, and the embryo measured at about 5 weeks. It hadn’t developed beyond that. This pregnancy would not be ending with a baby.
I’m a very cautious person when it comes to celebrating pregnancy. I didn’t really relax into my pregnancy with Cee until I saw the normal fetus at our 20-week ultrasound. I have had several close friends suffer the loss of miscarriage (and go on to have beautiful, healthy babies, I will add). I know that among clinically recognizable pregnancies (not counting the 30-50% of conceptions that never implant), about 15-20% will not survive. Even as I shared our pregnancy news with our close family and friends, I reminded them of this fact.
Although a part of me was prepared for this outcome, there was really no way that I could prepare myself for how it would feel. I have a profound sense of losing something important. Tiny as it may have been, it was part of me and part of Husband, and it was growing inside of me, if only for a short time. The wonder of pregnancy has been replaced with the vision of that ultrasound: the gestational sac a gaping dark hole, what remains of the embryo little more than a smear. Empty, dead, inevitably transient.
This is the grief of pregnancy loss, something so many of us must face as we try to build our families. What it speaks to, more than anything, is the power of a parent’s love, even for an embryo whose heart never beats. For many parents, it is the struggle to conceive, and after that, it is the fragility of human life. And even as our healthy babies become children and our love grows beyond the bounds of what we thought was possible, we know we are vulnerable to loss. It is the reason that it felt unbearable to be a mother on the day of the Newtown school shooting. This is family. This miscarriage, it is a small loss, but it still sure hurts.
Even as I realize that to love is to be vulnerable, I am more grateful than ever for the family I have. My marriage feels stronger, maybe because we are sharing the same hurt. Cee’s wonder, humor, and empathy continue to amaze me, and I’m acutely aware of how lucky we are to have her. She fills me up, and that gives some perspective about the loss of this pregnancy. My mom cancelled her appointments, bought an expensive plane ticket, and flew across the country to be with us last week. She was an immense comfort. Our friends cried with us and then helped us laugh, too.
What is most strange about this process is that I have felt pregnant all along. There was the breast tenderness in the beginning and even now, occasionally. (This was such a distinct symptom of my pregnancy with Cee that when I sent Husband a photo of a second positive pregnancy test this time around, he replied, “You had me at sore boobs.”) There was the overwhelming fatigue. There was nausea and sensitivity to smells. Several weeks went by when I could hardly open the fridge without feeling nauseous. The smell of cheese or the mere thought of dark leafy greens nearly sent me over the edge. Two days before my ultrasound, I struggled to finish a perfectly prepared mushroom and polenta dish at a restaurant, even after asking the waiter to please hold the blue cheese. My vision is blurry. And just a few weeks ago, I noticed the reappearance of the linea nigra – that dark line running down my midline from my belly button.
Even though I knew that the rate of miscarriage during the first trimester is high, it was hard for me to believe that this pregnancy wasn’t viable since I felt so darn pregnant. There have been no signs of miscarriage, even now, seven weeks since the embryo stopped developing. The embryo successfully implanted, and a placenta was formed. The hormonal signals of pregnancy are likely all there. My body hasn’t yet received the message that we aren’t really growing a baby, not this time around.
We learned that this pregnancy wasn’t viable on the Friday afternoon before Christmas. My OB offered to come in for a D&C procedure on Saturday morning, but then she was headed out of town to celebrate the holiday with her family. I wasn’t ready for this. The thought of having this little being, alive in my mind just a few hours before, sucked out of me – it was just too traumatic and invasive. I needed more time to process what was happening. I actually really wanted the miscarriage to happen naturally. I wanted some physical pain to accompany my grief. I wanted to release the tissues, to see the pregnancy end.
My body, however, is stubbornly hanging onto this pregnancy. I’m glad that I’ve had these last couple of weeks to sit with this news and let go of the idea of a baby next summer, but now I’m ready to move on. I’ve read the limited research on this topic, and I know that it can take months for this type of miscarriage (technically a “missed abortion”) to happen on its own, and even then, surgical “cleanup” is often needed. I have a D&C scheduled for this morning to remove the tissues of this pregnancy. I scheduled this blog post to publish around the same time. It’s personal, but I also know that I’m not alone, and I want to share with you. I just might need general anesthesia to do it.
It is a bittersweet New Year. I’d like to be able to push a reset button for 2013 and leave the grief behind, but it’s still there. It’s still taking me off guard and washing over me in a hug with Husband or a moment when I get to sink my nose into Cee’s hair. It’s still a distraction at the dark edges of my mind.
But since it is the New Year, I have given some thought to how I’d like it to go. I’m resolving to take good care of myself these next few months. Truth is, I’ve been worn down for the last 6 months or more – between heavy marathon training, new jobs, and then pregnancy. My body could use a little break. Having felt this recent loss, I appreciate my family and friends more than ever, and I want to nurture those relationships. And then there’s that book I’m writing. This year will demand discipline, hard work, and yet, care for myself and those I hold dearest. Here’s to that.