Unfortunately, not all birth stories have happy endings. But this does not mean they should be hidden away. All children are precious gifts from God, regardless of how long their stay on Earth was. As a Catholic, I believe that a person's life starts at the moment of conception. This does, of course, mean that many children have died without the parents even knowing. Some women have miscarriages before they realize they are pregnant, and mistake it for a late, heavy, particularly painful period. This is why we have the feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28: to remember the children who were slaughtered by King Herod after Jesus was born, and to remember all those babies lost in the womb due to miscarriage, abortion, or other reasons.
I have felt the need to write down the birth story of my first child, Catherine, for a long time. I am not sharing this so people will feel sorry for me, or to draw attention to myself, or to depress everyone. I am sharing this because I have come a long way since the death of my first child, and I feel like it will be a step in the healing process to do so. I am sharing this in the hopes that it might help other parents who have suffered the lonely loss of miscarriage, and that they might find solace in the fact that they are not, in fact, alone. I am sharing this to open the eyes of those who have never experienced the loss of a child, and perhaps give them a better idea of how to better love and comfort those people who have.
Thanksgiving Day, 2011, I was full of joy. My husband and I had just found out we were pregnant with our first child. We were giddy. Full of anticipation. We certainly felt the spirit of Thanksgiving, as we gave thanks to God for our precious baby.
We wanted to keep the news a secret until we could tell our immediate family members in a special way. So for an early Christmas present, we wrapped up frames that said "Uncle", "Aunt", "Grandma", or "Grandpa". Inside each frame, we printed out the due date for our baby: August 2, 2012. It was hard to keep secret, but we did it.
We gave the presents to Trent's family and my family separately. They were all shocked and overjoyed. It was wonderful to finally share our excitement of the baby in my womb.
The next few weeks, my mind was filled with thoughts of the life growing inside me. I downloaded apps telling me information about my baby each day. I thought of how we would decorate the nursery. Trent and I discussed names, and whether or not we would find out the sex. It was such an exciting time.
One Friday night before Christmas, Trent and I had a date planned. We went out to dinner and rented a movie. The whole dinner, I was thinking about how happy I was. When we got home, before we started watching the movie, I went to the bathroom and immediately saw blood.
I panicked. I called my mom five times. She reassured me that light bleeding during pregnancy can be normal, and I should just keep an eye on it. I spent the rest of the night worrying about what could be happening.
After a few days, the bleeding had not stopped. I started to get mild cramping. I knew in my heart that this was a bad sign, but I kept telling myself that maybe it was normal. I had a family event and a concert that evening. It was very difficult to act normal around everyone when I knew in the back of my mind what could be happening. I called my midwife the next day. She said cramping with bleeding is not usually a good thing, and that I should keep a close eye on it and come in to the hospital if it got any worse.
About five days after the initial bleeding had started, my cramps got worse. They did not happen often, but when they did, I had to practically bend over to deal with the pain. I was teaching that day, and I remember trying to hide the pain. (I later found out that these cramps were actually contractions)
That night, I lay awake googling (which is, by the way, the worst thing you can do in this type of situation). Maybe I had twins? According to Google, painful cramping and bleeding are more common in pregnancy with twins. Maybe all this was normal? I knew in the back of my mind what was happening: I was losing my baby. But a small part of me refused to believe it.
I woke up about 4am the next morning and went to the bathroom to check on the bleeding. It was worse, much worse. That was the moment, I think, that it really hit me. I started crying and woke Trent up. He comforted me and told me we would go to the doctor's office first thing in the morning.
I called in sick for work, and Trent was thankfully off that day. We both went into the doctor's office. I remember thinking: "I always thought my first doctor's visit would be so joyful. I was wrong." The nurse who checked all my vitals went through the list of questions. "Have you had any miscarriages?" was one of them. "Uh...." I answered, "I think that's what is happening right now."
My midwife came in, her eyes full of compassion. She started talking about how difficult miscarriages are, and how this baby was real to us and to God. I remember thinking, so...it's for sure? I am losing my baby?" They took my blood work, with the instruction that I would return a few days later for the same blood work to make sure that I was, indeed, having a miscarriage.
My midwife told me the pain would be bad. I was not the least bit concerned with that. I had no clue how bad the pain would actually be.
The cramping got worse and worse, and closer together. What many people do not realize (and what I myself did not realize as I was going through it) is that when a woman miscarries, she goes through labor just like a woman with a full grown baby, but the miscarried baby is much smaller. I remember, at one point, the pain was so bad, I was on my hands and knees making those animal noises that you hear women in the hospital making when they have their babies. I texted my mom, "how could the pain possibly get any worse?"
Finally, the baby was born. Many medical people use the term "passing the tissue." I do not use that term. It was not tissue. It was my baby, and she was born, just like every other baby is born. She was a life, she had a soul, and she was my first child.
I took three days off work to recuperate, both physically and emotionally. Three days is such a short amount of time. A woman needs much longer than three days to recuperate from something like this. But miscarriage is something that our society neither understands nor likes to talk about. It is an uncomfortable subject that people do not know how to handle. Women are expected to simply move on and get back to normal as quickly as possible. This is partly due to our culture of death in which people do not consider a young fetus as a life. But it is also due to our "seeing is believing" mentality. In miscarriage, a woman is often in early pregnancy, when no one can tell she is pregnant. So they just don't think about it. They think that just because the woman could not "hold" her baby, it should not mean much to her.
The weeks and months following the loss of my first baby were so difficult. I did not want anyone to know. Partly because I didn't know how to handle the situation, and also partly because well-meaning people said such hurtful things like "Well, you can always have more children" or "It was probably just a bundle of tissue anyway" or "It was probably for the best, the baby would have had severe problems if it had lived". I did not care that I might be able to have more children in the future, or that my baby probably had a severe genetic problem. All I cared about was that I lost my baby.
For awhile, every time I passed a visibly pregnant woman or small children, I cried. I remember once sitting in a restaurant, and the table next to us had a newborn sitting there. We asked to move tables because I couldn't stand looking at what could have been my child. As the weeks went on, I kept track of how far along in my pregnancy I would have been. This week, I might have felt my baby kick. This week, my baby would have fingernails.
I grieved silently and by myself. Only my husband, my immediate family, and a few very close friends knew. For a year and a half, I did not tell anyone else. I felt it was something that others would not understand, so I did not want to deal with the conversations that would inevitably come up.
A few months later, I found out I was pregnant with Elizabeth. The experience of finding out about this pregnancy could not have been more different than my first. I sat on the steps and cried, praying to God and my baby in heaven to protect this new baby. I felt no excitement or joyful anticipation. Instead, I began mentally preparing myself for what could happen.
As my pregnancy with Elizabeth went on, I had severe symptoms of "morning" sickness (a term that should be called 24 hours a day sickness). But although I was suffering greatly, I was so thankful to God for the sickness. It meant that my hormones were working, and that the baby was probably doing okay.
When I became pregnant with my current baby and found out the due date, I gasped. August 1, 2013. One day before my first baby would have been due. Throughout this whole pregnancy, I have been thinking about how the timing would have been exactly the same.
In the process of my healing, I have learned that it is not healthy for me to keep this a secret. I realized that instead of keeping it to myself, in fear of getting hurt by what others might say, I should share my story. I should not view my child as a shameful or fearful circumstance. Rather, I should celebrate that God chose me to be her parent, even though it might have been a very short time. I should rejoice that my child is in a place that God specifically made, just for her. I think more than anything else throughout my experience, this prayer helped the most:
I am healing. But I will never forget my first child. I pray for her and talk to her every single day. I will tell all of my living children about their big sister. I am reminded daily of her. Whenever people ask how many children I have, I always hesitate for a second. I want to say "three." Because my first child, although in heaven, is still my child. And she always will be.
I plan on writing a post in the future about ways to help parents who have suffered the loss of miscarriage. But for now, I'll leave it at this. And I know that when my newest baby is born soon, his or her big sister will be in heaven, guiding us and smiling down on us all the way through.