Warning, before you start – this is probably more graphic and honest than what I usually write, and more than what you might want to read.
I had a miscarriage that started last Thursday night thirty minutes before the rehearsal dinner for my best friend’s wedding (in which I was the maid of honor) in Philadelphia. I was supposed to be exactly 12 weeks pregnant. I had my next appointment in less than a week after I was supposed to get back, after two earlier ultrasounds. The last one was at 8 weeks and 1 day, and it looked like a baby, and measured exactly right, and had a heartbeat… and then some time after 9:30am that day (on that day), it stopped. And my body continued to think it was there, and I continued to throw up 3-5x a day, and my stomach continued to start to swell, until I was standing in a hotel room in Philadelphia, dressed to go to the rehearsal dinner for my best friend’s wedding, with my stomach sinking and cramping and the world going black around me.
When I wrote this post in my head weeks ago, it was supposed to be about everything that caught me off-guard about being pregnant, and how complexly isolating and lonely and exciting and anxiety-inducing it was, existing with this secret that was making me feel horrible and barely able to function that I couldn’t tell anyone about or wasn’t obvious, while trying to be excited without being too excited because it was still ‘too soon’. The common thing isn’t to say anything until you’re through the first 12-13 weeks, because miscarrying is possible (and more likely), and the pain of having to talk about it is too much. I got that – I was extremely nervous to say a word to anyone (particularly those closest to me), let alone allow myself to believe it was actually happening, because I could preemptively feel that pain.
And yet… here I am, writing in gory, heart-wrenching detail that this happened and how it happened… because I wish at some point, someone had told me what this was like, without the sugar-coating or immediate follow-up of ‘but look, I have two kids!’. I had no idea what to physically expect, and my imagination of the emotional pain was nowhere near the level it actually was (is). I had no idea that – over the course of this week – nearly every single person I would talk to would have gone through something similar… because no one talks about it. Is it taboo? Is it that it really is that painful? Is it because we don’t like pain and bad things? Or we think we’re alone?
In my version of the story:
There was a four-hour ER visit on Thursday night, that involved waiting and a long ultrasound in which I had to watch the tech’s stoney face tell the real story, and then leave knowing it was over, with a wedding to get through the next day before I could get home and completely crumble on the inside with grief.
There was Saturday afternoon, in which walking caused blood and blood and more blood to gush out of me, coating my legs and my clothes and my shoes and a shitty hotel bathroom, with tennis-ball-sized clots falling out in between.
(“You’ll bleed and cramp,” they said. Did you know it’s not normal to hemorrhage blood and tennis-ball-sized clots before actually passing any real tissue? I didn’t… and apparently a lot of people (medical professionals included) don’t know either.)
There was Monday, when, despite thinking everything was done (surely the blood on Saturday was enough?), I went into 8 hours of active labor, with contractions every 1-2 minutes. For half of that time, I was sat in a chair in the waiting lounge. For some parts of it, I was writhing on a hospital bed while the visibly pregnant physician assistant assigned to me looked on in shocked horror and wordlessly examined me, while (for whatever reason?) resisting calling an Ob/Gyn. At two points in it, I almost passed out while left to walk alone to the bathroom.
(Did you know that sometimes, when you miscarry, you go into labor? I didn’t… and apparently a lot of people (medical professionals included) don’t know either. Apparently because the end result isn’t actually a live baby, they don’t treat it as labor. It’s just ‘bleeding’, plus an unacknowledged and unquantifiable amount of pain.)
There was Monday afternoon, when I finally woke up after emergency surgery in which they literally vacuumed and scooped everything out of me, painless and numb and a completely different person in a new day, like nothing of the past 8 hours or previously three days had happened.
And then, there’s the underlying curveball behind all of this story: when I woke up on Saturday morning to my mom calling, and in a 5am bleary-eyed and mind stupor, heard a swirl of ‘dad’ and ‘heart attack’ and ‘CPR’ and ‘ICU’ and ‘ventilator’ and ‘critical’ and ‘coding’, and for the second time in 36 hours, I was in a hotel room in Philadelphia, with my heart stabbing and the world going black around me.
Somewhere in between all of this, I flew to San Francisco and immediately to Arizona. The ER I was in on Monday morning was the same ER my dad was on in, with the same nurses staring at us in disbelief that I was there and that the dead man they repeatedly shocked to life on Friday night was actually still alive. I stopped being able to explain who I was and why I was there without laughing, because it was just that ridiculous.
I compartmentalize to cope. I have rigid self-imposed rules in place for when to feel and when to shut down and switch to logistics to exist, and for the past week I have existed in an almost out-of-body experience of hopping between the physical pain, the emotional grief, the anxiety, the fear, the guilt, and the logistics of how do I get from here to there, how do I handle work, telling people, commitments, and returning to normalcy while still recovering.
I am, without a doubt, most grateful that:
- My dad is alive, against all odds, thanks to my mom’s extremely quick acting on Friday night, the proximity of an ambulance and the hospital, and whatever other external forces were at play. It wasn’t a heart attack; it was full-on cardiac arrest, due to an electrical misfiring that stopped the heart entirely, unexpectedly and repeatedly that night. He’s out of the hospital now, and things look good.
- Keith was with me in Philadelphia, and when things turned unexpectedly in AZ, my mom was able to be there, while dealing with everything else. As isolating as this has been, I have not at all felt alone, and their reactions through the entire thing were exactly what I needed, when I needed it.
- That I have health insurance that amazingly covers almost everything.
I can keep focused on those, but it’s not that easy. It’s over, but it’s not; there’s no instantaneous mop up. Every lingering drop of blood is a gush that has me obsessively rushing to the bathroom, but also fearing going, because it’s an unrelenting cruel reminder of what happened. I look down at my feet and see blood splattered on my shoes, even though they’re clean. Every twinge is an onset of 10+ pain that I am powerless to stop. I have, for the past nights, woken up to dreams featuring blood and mothers holding dead babies, like some twisted horror film scene.
Some hours are fine. Others are not. Time does heal all wounds, but I am impatient, and fast-forwarding is not an option, and that is hard. Everything can be a trigger, if I let it be. I feel like I got a sour deal with all of this, and maybe each event in isolation wouldn’t have been so bad. Together though, it’s a tangled mess of ‘what the hell just happened?’ that I’m not sure I ever will be able to unravel, that is complicated by having so much go on in such a short period of time, where actively processing or grieving while it was happening wasn’t an option. And now that I’m back, and physically almost ‘okay’, and should emotionally be ‘okay’, the waves of unacknowledged grief hit, and it’s fresher than it should be.
I have no idea how I’m going to handle being pregnant again. Most first trimester miscarriages are from spontaneous genetic defects, and there’s nothing you can do about them. I thought I was safe after seeing a heartbeat at 8 weeks; I wasn’t. I thought I was safe because I was so, so sick; I wasn’t. It wasn’t my fault, but I keep replaying everything I did to try to figure out what I did wrong. Was it actually my body, and was the perfect triad of PCOS and endometriosis and a bicornuate/septate uterus really the cause, and really this was all just hopeless from the start? I just spent three months, unable to run or think clearly to finally feeling at ease/excited about it (and not just anxious) to have to restart completely from scratch? And worse – I spent a month (a month!) carrying around a dead baby, with absolutely no indication that there was anything wrong?! (I can’t even write/read that last sentence without wanting to sob hysterically – the reality of it is just too cruel.)
It’s hard. It will continue to be hard, and that’s okay. This is not the end of the road, and over time, the sadness will fade to something more manageable, and life will go on. Like all things, this will be another blip on the horizon of life, and one of the “it was all unknown to me then”’s that will unfold in time to something new.
But if you, or a partner, or someone you know is going through this, just know you are not alone.