This morning I had my very first ultrasound. The midwife immediately commented on the strong spine, and soon after we were listening to a description of the four chambers of the heart—perfectly formed. All the things that first-time parents long to hear.
There was only one problem – that perfectly-formed heart was not moving. Our baby likely died around two weeks ago (the doctor we were sent to suggested there is no way to place a timeline on things, as the baby could have just been progressing slowly, but our hearts tell us otherwise).
We spent much of the afternoon/evening alternating between tears and numbness. As Allyn keeps saying, “it comes in waves.”
Given that we discovered the death before my body registered any signs, we decided to try medication to begin the process of passing. My midwife assured us that I should not be alone when the miscarriage begins and given that our work schedules don’t always match up, it seemed best to begin this process earlier than either of us want – during a weekend when both of us are off work.
I’ve had conflicting emotions – the desire to hold on, even though I know logically that the baby is dead. There is a part of me that believes as long as it remains in the womb, it will be safe and protected. The other part of me doesn’t know what to do with the knowledge that death resides inside me – that the tiny, well-formed being that rests within my uterus is gone.
It reminds me of a chapter in Trauma and Grace (which, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find today—but, thankfully, portions are on google books). This book by Serene Jones features a chapter on reproductive loss and seeks an appropriate theological image. After spending time writing of grief and our lack of meaningful images and help for women who have experienced reproductive loss (in this chapter she deals with infertility, miscarriage, and stillbirth), she tells a tale of the Triune God. Apparently theologians like Moltmann and Luther have suggested that when Christ died, the death was taken into the Godhead. It was considered a limit and a contradiction that the Triune God could take death into itself and yet live. Jones suggests this may have been a limitation of the male theologians that discussed the idea – for women who miscarry do just that. We carry death inside of us, and yet (sometimes despite our desires at the time), we live. She compares the Triune God to a miscarrying woman, and I love that. It means even during this time when so few people know, I am not alone in this tangle of death and life. God, the Creator and Giver of life, has felt death within God’s womb.
It is a strange image—and one I recognize could be offensive to some—but it rings true for me. I have passed on this image to other women grieving after miscarriage, and I find that in some quiet way, it comforts me.
I took the pills, knowing it was my best option. And now I wait. Four hours after pills, there is still no blood or spotting to indicate that anything is happening.
I imagine some are wondering if I regret telling people that we were pregnant before hitting the so-called “safe” point. I don’t. We had originally planned to wait, but I began wondering why there was such a stigma around telling. Obviously I understand why some wish to wait and don’t want to grieve publicly if something happens. But it seems many of us begin to make that decision simply because we are supposed to. And I began to fear that the reason was shame. That the system is built around the idea that if something goes wrong, it must mean something is wrong with me. And to be honest, it is hard not to feel that guilt now.
The very first thing said to me by the doctor, technician, and midwife was “this was not because of something you did or did not do.” And I get that. We were planning for this pregnancy. During the waiting period, I was already following pregnancy guidelines. And I followed every guideline I found to the very letter of the law. Limited caffeine? I’ll avoid it all. No hot tubs? I’ll even turn down the temperature of the water on my showers. Lunch meat should be heated? I’ll avoid it altogether. I’ve avoided all medications. And certainly no alcohol, cigarettes, or illegal drugs.
But what if the “wrong” thing was my very body? What if it acted against my will to destroy the life inside of me? And that is certainly a possibility. But even if it is so, I’m not responsible for that.
Telling people will be hard. But it would be just as hard and just as awkward if this child died a year after birth. There will always be awkward moments of people not knowing and asking the wrong question or saying the wrong thing.
And today has taught me that I desperately need people. Neither of us ate much today. We ate sandwiches for lunch because we were supposed to. We tried to drink water, because the ultrasound technician made us promise to do so, fearing dehydration and sickness in addition to the pain we already felt. We talked about how we knew we needed dinner, but neither of us was in a state to do anything about it. Enter my family. My parents and sister loaded the car with more food that any 5 people can eat and sat with us. It was the first time that we were able to laugh a little and talk about something other than loss. And we needed that. We will need friends and colleagues in the coming days. Our excitement and joy and hope was not a mistake. And neither is our grief now.
Author’s note: This is the first in a series on pregnancy loss/miscarriage. Most of this post was written the evening of the ultrasound (Friday, May 24), so if thoughts seem disconnected, etc., you will note there is good reason.