Empty-handed and empty-hearted
As my heart dropped when the ultrasound tech said she couldn’t find the heartbeat, my world started spinning. My brain just went blank for a minute. And then I felt my husband’s and mother’s head on my chest. We were all sobbing together, already asking, “How? Why?” I immediately felt like the only woman who had ever experienced this loss. The nurse that admitted me told me she lost her first baby at 24 weeks. I always knew my mother lost her first baby, but I didn’t know how far into the pregnancy. When the tech gave us the terrible news, she finally admitted she was 20 weeks. In the weeks leading up, when my biggest fear was miscarriage, my mother had kept answering, “Oh, not far along.” when I had asked her what week she lost her first. It was to ease my mind as my pregnancy progressed into the weeks. It worked. After all, what can you do but hope for the best? There are some things that are completely out of your hands and you can’t spend your entire pregnancy worrying what could be.
And I don’t want this post to scare. I want it to inform, to help, to comfort, to provide peace. When the nurses told me they lost their babies over halfway through, I thought about how no one ever talks about this. Which makes you feel more alone. 22 weeks. I didn’t really think it was possible. I truly thought I was out of the woods after that 12 week mark. So, while this is to help me get it all out, it’s also for couples to know they’re not alone. And it’s hard on the husbands, too. I know this. So, ladies, let your husband support you, and as he’s supporting you, support right back. All of those excess hormones will make you want to take care of something and this time is more important than ever to stick together and love, love, love.
And don’t forget your joy. I enjoyed every minute of my almost six months of pregnancy. I loved watching my belly grow, thinking of what it meant, planning for her to arrive, writing to her weekly, spending late nights discussing what she might be like with my husband. I loved it all. And I still cherish it all. While we don’t have a baby to swaddle up and sing to, we do still have all the love that got us here. And we can only hope that we’ll still get to use that excess love on a little being someday. Someday when we’re healed.
So, even though she showed us our hearts have the capacity for a lot of pain, she also showed us they have a tremendous capacity for love. She showed us we’re more than ready and it’s what we want more than anything in the world. And she showed us how strong our marriage is and that when we love and support each other, we can make it through anything.
How it feels and what might help
Here’s what I experienced and here’s what helped. But keep in mind everyone is different and you have to do what’s right for you. Be honest with yourself and feel your feelings.
At first: pain. My brain hurt. I just saw her healthy and perfect at the 20 week ultrasound. It was only two weeks later. How could her heart have stopped beating? It didn’t make sense. And I thought I was just being too perceptive at first. She hadn’t moved in a couple of days, but everything I read said this was completely normal. So it was a battle between my head and heart.
More pain: heart. I had grown so attached to this little girl that was growing inside of me. It wasn’t just the nearly 23 weeks we spent together, it was the possible 50 years or more she’d be our daughter and we’d be a family that really filled my thoughts every day of the pregnancy. It is so, so hard to let go of that when you’ve been building it up for so long.
Even more pain: faith. How could God do this to us? We waited four years of marriage until it was strong. We wanted a baby more than anything. I watched everything I ate, drank, breathed. I bought the best prenatal vitamin and air purifier. There were couples out there that were devastated when they discovered when they were pregnant. We were ecstatic. Why us? And why this? A 1% fluke of a cord wrapped around a neck? Something completely out of our control after we made all the conditions perfect for everything within our control. Did God hate us? What did we do? Was it chance? Was I wasting my time praying for strength and serenity?
Yet more pain: physical. I had to deliver her. 12 hours of labor. Contractions more intense than normal because my body was confused. I was trying to stifle my grief because I knew a successful delivery would make everything healthier in the end. But it was hard to put all those emotions on hold to get through labor and delivery. I was actually relieved when she finally came because it meant I could finally acknowledge my feelings.
And a day later: more pain. Engorgement. How badly I wanted to use them for what they’re for! But I had no baby. I had to patiently wait for the pain to subside.
More pain: not sure how to label this one. For babies born after 20 weeks, you have to get a birth and death certificate. Which means you should name him or her. This was something we were definitely not prepared for. As I lying there in labor, I was struggling for names. My husband and I agreed on Hope. As tremendously awful as this experience was, we knew we had to keep hope in our hearts.
So, those were the issues. How did we find comfort? This part’s important and if just one of these helps just one couple, this post will be worthwhile.
Cry when you need to. Talk when you need to. Write when you need to. It’s tempting to push it back and try to move on, but it’s so important to acknowledge everything. I always felt better after any of the above.
You’re going to feel like a baby, yourself. Let yourself be coddled. Sometimes the words aren’t there, but some snuggling helps ease the pain.
Comedy. When it all seemed too much, and we needed to take a break from reality, we’d sit together and watch some stand-up, a sitcom, anything funny (some old SNLs and Jim Gaffigan, specifically). It may seem impossible to laugh, but it felt nice to just let my heart be light for a half hour or so.
Good food. Your nervous system functions best with good nutrition. Don’t deny yourself healthy, regular meals now. Give your body what it needs so it can cope.
Lots of hugs, kisses and I love yous. We’d stop every hour or so and do one of the above.
Read before bed. It helped me stop cycling my thoughts and get out of my head. I was glad I was reading a funny collection of essays (I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley).
Plan a trip. And don’t feel guilty. So much feels out of your hands that it’s nice to make some decisions and feel more in control. And to look forward to a change in scenery.
Your family and friends are going to want to take care of you. Let them. They feel just as helpless as you and need any opportunity to support you.
Accept that there might not be any answers. I spent hours trying to find out what I could’ve done to get her tangled in her cord. What I ate? Exercise? Stress? The reality is she probably tangled herself while I was fast asleep. I had to accept it was nothing I had done. Which was, and still is, so hard.
Think about the future. While it feels like the world has stopped spinning and it will never start spinning again, it will. It’s okay to let yourself feel the pain for today, but it’s also okay to have a little hope for the future.
Does this seem like a lot to process in a few days? It is. But you’ll be stuck in your head for almost every waking minute. Use it to your advantage. Don’t use it to cycle self-hating thoughts or boundless pessimism. Feel your feelings but don’t let them consume you.
Am I done grieving? Not even close. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about her and wishing she were still here. Commercials with babies make me tearful one minute, angry the next. I struggle with a whole host of negative emotions. But in the hospital, as it all settled in, my husband and I made a pact to not let our hearts get hard. They can’t. We’ve got to love, love, love.