I had never heard the term “missed miscarriage” until the words came out of my ob/gyn’s mouth. It was a Thursday, I was in my 9th week of pregnancy, and I’d just had an ultrasound that revealed sad news. There was no heartbeat. I should have miscarried. Possibly even many weeks earlier… but my body didn’t get the message. It kept right on increasing my HCG, my boobs, and my excitement. It was a cruel trick.
Since almost the moment our son came into the world, my husband and I have known we want to give him a sibling. For a bunch of reasons (the most recent delay being travel to dang Zika regions!), we chose to wait a while between kiddos. But the thing is, I suffer from this thing called “advanced maternal age,” and apparently my condition is only getting worse!? So we figured we better get on it. This past February I had the goalie pulled, we received the most surprising box of swag ever – a box of ovulation and pregnancy tests from Clearblue (no pressure! But also…thank you!), and got to trying.
Having never “tried” before, I thought it would be fun! Oh, boy. Anyone who has been through this knows it is NOT. It was stressful almost immediately. I will admit I had an argument with a digital ovulation stick that claimed I was having a “low fertility” day. It was very one-sided. I said some things I shouldn’t have. But it turns out I just started testing too late in my cycle, and we made up the very next day when said stick showed “peak.” I told my husband to COME HOME NOW in a scary voice. And just a couple weeks later I saw a very faint line pop up next to the control. I was pregnant!
I thought about doing some elaborate reveal, but it was very early – I was optimistic, but knew the risks. When the hubs got home, I showed him the test, and we both got teary and excited. We couldn’t help but tell our families, cause babies are fun! But we gave the disclaimer that it’s super early, blah blah blah.
Of COURSE I found out about the pregnancy right before an epic trip to Europe, during which I abstained from sangria in Barcelona and red wine in Venice…but it was a small price to pay for keeping a precious little seed-sized boo safe in my belly. The pregnancy hormones hit hard core on our trip. Turns out 10-hour flights don’t mix well with morning sickness… But I had that giddy feeling, like I had an awesome secret, so I didn’t mind feeling like my pants and bras were getting a little tight, realizing my favorite foods didn’t sound so good, giving up hours of potential sight-seeing for sleep, or paying a euro to use the bathroom every hour. In fact, I took it all as happy and familiar signs that all was well.
Week by week, I got more comfortable with the idea that it was really happening. I knew the odds of a miscarriage were going down quickly, and by the time we returned home around the 7-week mark, I started to let myself get excited. We started talking about “the baby.” I ordered belly butter to avoid the dreaded stretch marks and moved my upcoming hair appointment to the second trimester. We found a new big boy bed for our 4-year-old with plans to turn the convertible toddler bed back into a crib. I thought about each new event added to the calendar in terms of how big my belly would be by that time. We made plans.
There was no reason to worry. I had no cramps or spotting. But, for some reason, I had a needling feeling that something wasn’t right. I thought I was just being paranoid, and maybe I was. Or maybe it was intuition. I was not scheduled for my first prenatal appointment until 10 weeks. My doctor was taking a vacation, which meant a tricky schedule, and I’d had no previous issues, so there was no reason (aside from my own impatience) to do it sooner. But I became so fixated on needing to hear the heartbeat, that I chose get an elective ultrasound during my 9th week. A 2D “heartbeat” ultrasound. For peace of mind.
The morning of the appointment, I felt very nervous. And not in a good way. The clinic had limited openings, and my hubby couldn’t make any of the available morning time slots. He really wanted to be there, but he knew I’d been anxious, and we both felt like the sooner we could put my mind at ease, the better. So, since I was sure I was just being paranoid, I went alone. I parked in one of those medical parking lots with the annoyingly close concrete posts, and walked to the clinic.
It was quiet inside – I was the only one there, and the girl behind the desk, my ultrasound tech, was nice enough but pretty straightforward. She asked if I wanted to add a “heartbeat animal” for 15 bucks. Which means you pick out a stuffed animal and they put a recording of the heartbeat in the animal… they had a giraffe, which is my son’s favorite, and I thought that would be the sweetest thing for him to have - his sibling’s heartbeat!! We had only very casually broached the topic with him at this point, and I thought it would be a great way to open up the subject in a real way. To give him something tangible to cuddle, that would represent the start of his love for his baby brother or sister…
The tech put the giraffe under her arm and walked me into the exam room, and we got right to business. I lay on a table, rolled down my shorts, and looked up at the wall-sized screen as she started to move the probe around my abdomen. I was just trying not to pee on myself – a full bladder is helpful for the ultrasound image, but decidedly uncomfortable. But as she started poking around, harder and harder, she was silent. It felt awkward. So I said, “are you supposed to be seeing something that you’re not seeing?”
What I was seeing, was confusing. I was familiar with ultrasounds from my first pregnancy, and I knew that we were seeing my uterus, and I could see that there was something inside of it… but there was no peanut-shaped thing in the thing inside my uterus. To be fair, though, my 8-week ultrasound with my son was transvaginal, and this was on top of the belly.
She continued to look around, and told me that she’d found the gestational sac, but she couldn’t see the baby. I asked the question I could already feel the answer to…. “Should we be hearing a heartbeat?”
“Maybe you’re not as far along as you thought. You should see your ob/gyn for a transvaginal ultrasound.”
“But if I’m right about my dates, we should see a baby, and hear a heartbeat.”
I stared at the way larger than life-sized image of my empty womb on the screen for a moment. And then I said okay, and thanked her. She said she would give me a refund for the exam but it would take a day to go back on my card. Nice, I guess, but I could have cared less about the 50 bucks. For some reason it was that damn giraffe sitting right beside her that really got me. I wouldn’t get to take a sweet little heartbeat home for my little boy to hear. Instead she carried it back to the front desk with her. It wouldn’t come live with us. It wrecked me.
I left the clinic, numb. I was holding on, not losing it. When I got to the car, I called my doctor’s office. Apparently my doc had not left town yet and they told me to come right over. I just wanted to get OUT of that parking lot, and I was trying to call my husband while backing out of the tight spot…. and as I reversed, another car sped by. I was distracted anyway, of course, and I banged my month-old Jeep into a concrete pillar in the garage. The pillar won. It put me over the edge…
THEN. I lost it. And that’s when my husband picked up.
The poor guy. He was in a big meeting and as I tried to blubber out what happened, unconvincingly sputtering "but I'm fine, I really am fine," he immediately just said he was coming to meet me at my doctor’s office.
I sat in the waiting room for 10 or 15 minutes. I’d wiped my eyes dry and worn sunglasses inside. Cause seeming too cool for school is better than seeming sad, I guess? I was called back, gave a urine sample (big fat positive for PREGNANT), and got undressed for a transvaginal ultrasound. As I was waiting for the doc to come in, my husband showed up. It was such a relief to see him, but it also made me just start crying all over again. He hugged me until they rolled the ultrasound machine in.
The doctor got out the lovely wand they stick up inside of you to get a closer look. After looking around for a minute, he turned the screen around to show us what he was seeing. It was the same image I’d seen on the big screen an hour ago. He asked me about the dates of my last period and ovulation, and the date of my positive pregnancy test. I don’t think he realized that I already knew the baby had passed. He was so kind, and broke the news very gently. He explained to us that, unless we were very off on our dates – it was clear that we were not – there would not be a happy ending to this pregnancy. There would be no baby in our arms in February.
It was terribly confusing. I knew miscarriages were very common. I mentally prepared myself for the possibility of seeing blood every time I went to pee. I knew better than to naively believe everything would be fine. Especially with my “condition.” But, aside from my paranoia, there were no signs. No bleeding or cramping. My belly had a new roundness. I had round-the-clock nausea. I'd even done that slightly obsessive thing where you pee on extra sticks to see the line get darker. I just felt SO PREGNANT. I know it wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t the right emotion, but in that moment I felt so dumb. Dumb for not knowing. For falling for this trick. How had this happened??
My doctor first explained to us that I could have had a blighted ovum – where the fertilized egg implants into the uterus, but doesn’t continue to develop, usually due to chromosomal problems. Alternately, the baby may have just stopped growing by around 6 weeks, and never gotten big enough to be visible on an ultrasound. It's even possible the embryo was reabsorbed into my body. Holy weird.
The second thing going on was that I had a “missed miscarriage.” Which means your body doesn’t realize the pregnancy is not viable, and, for all intents and purposes, it stays pregnant. You stay pregnant. After the baby has died. For WEEKS or MONTHS after the baby has died. Technically, it’s called a “missed abortion.” That is a horrible name – it makes it sound as if I chose it. “Miscarriage” is bad enough – like, oops I wasn’t paying attention and dropped something, how careless of me. Who names these things? Probably the same person who came up with “advanced maternal age.” Someone mean.
The next big question? How to get what was currently in there, out. I had three options – a D&C (surgical removal of the tissue), Cytotec – pills that induce labor/miscarriage, or…simply wait. Wait to miscarry naturally. My doctor, who I trust, highly recommended waiting for a natural miscarriage. A D&C means surgery, which comes with it’s own set of risks. And he is not a fan of Cytotec, which apparently only has a 50/50 chance of working, and has some gnarly side effects. Made sense to me. I asked how long it would take for the miscarriage to start. “It could take two weeks, it could take two months.”
WHAT????? TWO FREAKIN MORE MONTHS?? Of being pregnant with NO baby? This seemed incomprehensible. He recommended giving it at least a couple weeks to happen on it’s own. I could always choose one of the other options later.
Next question. What is the miscarriage gonna be like? Again, no way to know. Even in early pregnancy, your cervix has to dilate quite a bit to get all of the extra stuff out. Best case scenario would be something akin to a really horrible period that might last for weeks, or there could be tons of pain and labor-type contractions and big gushes of blood. Great. Either way, I’m a ticking time bomb. No white pants for a while.
Last question. When can we start trying again?? This was what I really wanted to know. Another big fat question mark. I would first need to get through the miscarriage, and my HCG would need to zero out before my body would start ovulating again. That extra line on the pregnancy test that brought me so much joy would need to GO AWAY. The average person will start having cycles again 4 to 6 weeks after a miscarriage, but some have to wait months for their bodies to get back in the swing of things. My doctor said that, once my cycles start up again, we would need to wait one full cycle before starting to try for another baby.
To recap: It could take months to miscarry. It could take weeks to bleed it all out. It could take more months to have cycles again. And then you need to wait another month after THAT to start trying for another hopefully healthy pregnancy which will then lead to 9+ months of pregnancy. SO. MANY. MONTHS. Side note: I'd originally had a smartass remark here about a "geriatric pregnancy," but when I googled it to make sure I wouldn't offend anyone, I found out this fun fact- that used to be the REAL NAME for a pregnant woman over the age of 35!!!!?? What the??? The medical community switched it to the above-mentioned “advanced maternal age,” cause…it’s so much less awful? Bottom line though, this timeline left me feeling like I was gonna need that title.
The uncertainty made it so much worse. We went home worn out. Thankfully our son was at school, and didn’t have to see his parents upset. We took the day to sit and talk, and cry, and binge watch Game of Thrones. It seemed like a good move to, you know, put things in perspective. I mean, at least we weren’t about to be eaten by White Walkers, right? I opened a bottle of wine and watched Jon Snow come back from the dead (sorry, spoiler).
I told myself I would just give myself that day to ugly cry, and then move forward.
It turned out the next day wasn’t so easy either. We had to tell our families, and the handful of others that knew we were pregnant, that there was no baby. We picked up the big boy bed for our son, but had no idea when a new little snuggle-bug would go in the one we took apart. I cancelled the belly butter auto-ship, moved the hair appointment back… and ordered take-out sushi.
I held it together in front of my kiddo, but cried a lot when he wasn’t looking. I still had all those damn preggie hormones coursing through my body, making me even MORE emotional.
A few days passed, and I realized I had no idea how to act out in the real world. I didn’t want to put my sadness on other people – that felt selfish and indulgent. I didn’t need or want people to tell me they were sorry. Many of my very close friends don’t even know I’ve been going through this… We intended to share the fun news after the 10-week appointment, but when things derailed, the last thing I felt like doing was calling around to tell people who didn’t even know I was pregnant that I lost the baby. There is no good way to just come out with this kind of news.
I wanted to be tough. To shake it off. To forge on! For myself, for my husband, for my son. For the people I work with who need me on my game. I mean, people go through really hard stuff all the time, and this is nothing in comparison to what some people endure.
But the betrayal I felt at my own body was overwhelming. It pissed me off. Oh, hi, yes I look like I’m about to puke, cause I feel like I’m about to puke, because I have morning sickness, but don’t congratulate me cause the baby died a long time ago. Also, sorry in advance if I gush blood all over your couch.
The truth is, while I am acutely aware that it could have been much, much worse, it has still been difficult. I've been distracted, distant, unfocused. And I don’t want to walk around acting like a half-checked out zombie because I'm too stubborn to just go on and feel the feels I'm feeling.
As it turns out, I think talking about it is what has started to pull me out of the blender of emotions I’ve been in. Talking to my family, and close friends here in Nashville, who have lifted my spirits in such thoughtful ways, and checked in on me, and shared, and listened. My sweet husband who has had to see his normally unfailingly upbeat wife crumble into tears at the drop of a hat, but who drops whatever he is doing to talk to me and make me feel better whenever I need him – even though he’s going through a loss, too. My little boy who knows mommy needs extra hugs right now, even though one time he told me he didn’t want to “sit next to a sad guy.” Oh, the honesty. All the love and openness has taken the power away from the sadness.
Truthfully, even right after we got the news, my husband and I recognized that in many ways we’re very lucky. We got pregnant quickly. It was an early loss. Intellectually, we understood that this was never a viable pregnancy. We could see no baby on that ultrasound, and we never heard a little heartbeat that we felt connected to and then lost. We are lucky that we have our sweet little boy to go home to and hug SO tight. We’re lucky that we’ll be able to try again in ____months. ;)
And I want to take a full dang paragraph of this already novel-length story to talk about a MAJOR thing I am so grateful for…the women who have gone before me in sharing their miscarriage stories. Publicly or privately. They are why I chose to turn this post (which was intended to be a private journal entry) into a shared story. The prevalence of fertility problems, and miscarriages, and postpartum depression, has only recently been revealed. These issues are being demystified, and it’s such an important trend. The most comforting thing in the world is to know you’re not alone. The friends who have opened up, and the countless stories I have read online - it has all helped SO. MUCH.
Sharing this kind of thing isn’t for everyone, but I’m a pretty open person already, and the nature of the industry my husband and I are in means a lot of our life is public. It turns out, before we even talked to each other about it, my hubby and I were both thinking this might be an important piece of our lives to share. Especially with the social media bubble we all live in these days and our photo-shopped lives. I’m definitely not judging - who wants to share their bad pictures?? And, filters RULE. But all that glossiness can make the sad stuff behind the curtain seem even more isolating. We both felt that if sharing our story can help, it’s well worth people knowing a bit more about my lady stuff than I’d intended. So, screw TMI. I'm a big believer in the whole "everything happens for a reason" thing, and if one person feels better or more informed or less alone after reading this, I'll feel pretty darn happy. Like there was a purpose to this whole thing. Deep breath. PUBLISH.
*There is a part two to this story. I should now be wrapping up my first trimester – on the edge of publicly sharing, and potentially showing. Instead, I am bleeding. I feel fortunate that it didn’t take two months to get to this point. Still, though, it has felt like a very long couple of months. I can’t effectively share this part of my story until I am on the other side, but suffice it to say that it’s certainly an upside down world I’m living in where I’m relieved to be having a miscarriage.
**I am not a medical professional. I have played one on TV, but it turns out using words like thingy and doo-hickey to describe body parts is not the norm. I've relayed the things I've gone through in the way that I understand them, but that doesn't mean it's all 100% accurate. And I made the decisions I made based on my personal doctor's advice. I can't speak to what is best for anyone else. If you are in the position I was to make decisions about your health, please make sure you seek the advice of someone smarter than me...