Monday, October 24, 2011

My loss matters too

I have been thinking a lot lately about a miscarriage I had in August 2003. Partly, I'm sure, is because October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Rememberance Month. But mainly, its because few people even know that it is, and even fewer than that even care. Why don't people care? Because my cause is overshadowed by Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which also happens to be October. My loss is overshadowed by the loss of lives to breast cancer.

Sorry if this post comes off as harsh or insensitive of breast cancer, breast cancer awareness, or the millions of lives lost to breast cancer. I don't think it will, and that's certainly not my intention, or my heart. I just wanted to put that disclaimer out there just in case anyone may get the wrong idea. But I have to share what's on my heart because my loss matters too.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, 10-25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. On top of that, the CIA World Factbook reports an estimated 6.06 infant deaths per 1000 births. Adding it up, that is as high as 1 in 5 for pregnancy losses, then add in infant death, and its an approximate 1 in 4 created lives will not survive through infancy. That is a pretty staggering figure when you put it that way!

Some will argue that a miscarriage doesn't count as a lost life - its only a ball of cells - but to any woman who's ever lost a pregnancy, calling it a ball of cells is little to no consolation. To that mother, it is a baby, as real as any other. To me, my baby was as real as any other. My loss was just as real. My mourning was just as real.

But by October "awareness" standards, my loss isn't real. It doesn't matter. My blue and pink ribbon means nothing next to the pink ribbons. The real person who lived - if only for a short time - commemorated by my pink and blue ribbon, means nothing next to the person symbolized by the pink ribbon. My pink an blue ribbon means that I'm a survivor of something much less notable than a survivor symbolized by a pink ribbon.

Quite honestly, that stings. That my pain, and the pain of the other parents of those 1 in 4 losses, gets overlooked to the point we feel like the lives we lost don't hurts. October makes us remember and mentally relive the vivid details of our losses that time will never erase. I remember everything like it was yesterday. I even remember what I was wearing, what my hairstyle looked like.... Everything.

So, let's get real. Here's my very real story of my real loss. And I do mean real, because there are parts of this that will probably make people squirm; graphic details that people won't want to read, but I think need to in order to understand the full scope of the pain and loss of miscarriage.

I found out in late July, 2003, at around 7 weeks along, that I was pregnant with a "surprise" baby, and I'll admit, I wasn't horribly excited when I found out. I was ambivalent at best. We weren't ready to add to our family yet. The timing just didn't feel right. Our oldest (and at that point, only) child was only 20 months old, and we'd gone through a lot of medical things with him in his first year and a half. The last of that, a surgery, ended in March. We had the expense of the surgery, on top of the expense of a blown head gasket on a lemon of a Subaru, hanging over our heads.

Morning sickness started setting in a few days after I found out. Great. One more reason to be unexcited about this pregnancy.

I had my first OB appointment scheduled for Friday, August 6th. On Thursday morning, August 5th, our 3rd anniversary, I woke up with spotting and cramping. I tried not to worry too much, but it persisted throughout the day. That afternoon, my husband and I decided to cancel our anniversary dinner plans and instead visit the midwife. I described my symptoms and she said it did sound like I possibly had a miscarriage coming on, but not to panic until we knew more. She drew my blood to run an Hcg test to see how much pregnancy hormone I had, and told me her office would call when they had the results the following day.

Friday came and at about 11:00 AM the phone rang. Before I even picked it up, I knew it was the office, and I had a feeling it would confirm my suspicions that I was losing my baby. It was my midwife on the phone, and before she could say anything more than, "This is Patti," I broke down crying. She tried to reassure me, but I don't think even a seasoned midwife knows what to say to soften the blow of telling someone their little one wasn't going to make it. She told me it was early enough in my pregnancy that I had the option to do a D&C or just let nature take its course. I chose the latter. I would rather be in the privacy of my own home, where I felt safe to grieve without others around, than to be in a hospital, with my physical and emotional pain on display for everyone there to see. I didn't want pity or the consolation of those who didn't even know me. I wanted the comfort of my husband, and the love of my son. They were the only ones who I wanted to help me through it.

I don't know why, but I felt a lot of humiliation over it. I was humiliated that I had shared the news with family, my good friend Stephanie, and a few people from my church. I didn't want them to know I'd lost my baby. I guess I didn't want their pity either. I was embarrassed that I had told people that I was going to have a baby, and then....oh wait, no, nevermind, I'm not. It embarrassed me that I was going to have to tell people. I didn't want to have to explain.

Saturday morning, August 7th, I woke up at about 4:00 in the morning and went into the bathroom and there was a lot of blood. It was happening. That realization just made me numb. I wasn't even sad, just...numb. I sat on the toilet and felt something large come out. I knew what it was. I got up and just stared into the toilet for a few minutes looking at what had come out.

One thing the midwife had said during that phone call was that it "may not even be a baby, just an empty sac that failed to create an actual embryo." I didn't believe that - as a Christian, or as a mother - so I felt the need to look and "prove" to myself that she was wrong. So I reached into the toilet and pulled out what had dropped. Amongst the blob was a little, milky-colored lima bean looking thing with a large black spot (its eye) near one end. That was my child. I just stood there holding it for a minute or two. I called to my husband and told him what had happened and asked him if he wanted to see or not. I can't remember if he came and looked or not. Then, not knowing what else to do, I eventually dropped it in the toilet and, in a fog, flushed it down.

When I returned to the bedroom, my husband and I just cried. I don't even think we said anything, we just cried.

The waiting was over, and that made the emotional pain (temporarily) a little bit easier. I was finally able to rest a little after all the exhaustion of waiting for the inevitable to happen. My husband left for work around 8:30, my mother-in-law came to pick up my son, and I was alone. The physical pain then began to kick in. It was like labor pains, but with no relief from pushing at the end. In some ways, it was worse than labor pains because, unlike my fast labors, this dragged on and on for about 24 hours.

I had my follow-up appointment with the midwife a few days later. I told her how guilty I felt about flushing it, and she quoted Nemo: "All drains lead to the ocean." I know its silly, and I know that's not really true, but that gave me some comfort. It still does.

Two months later, I got pregnant (on purpose this time) with my first daughter. I will always mourn the loss of that baby I will never get to "meet" this side of heaven, but I look back at the situation and realize that had that baby lived, I wouldn't have my daughter, and she is such a blessing! I feel like, in a way, that baby had to go in order for me to have her, so I look at my daughter as a gift that child gave me. That baby gave his/her life to allow me to have my wonderful, sweet, giving, compassionate, kind, helpful, beautiful, talented, smart, funny daughter that I have. I can't imagine my life without her, and I know she isn't just meant to be a blessing to me. I can already tell she is going to be a light to this world; someone who will lessen others' burdens and show the meaning of selfless giving and goodness through her actions.

But amidst all the blessings and good that came out of my loss, it is still a loss, and it will always be with me. It has to be. That little person of mine mattered. I won't let him/her fade into obscurity. He/she existed, and therefore I won't ever let him/her be treated as a taboo that isn't allowed to be discussed.

My anniversary (August 5th) will forever be bittersweet. April 6th (my estimated due date) will always be a day filled with sorrowful, reflective "what ifs." October will always be a rougher month than others. The names Annika (our girl name) and Josiah (our boy name) will always bring back memories of unfulfilled dreams. Its been over 8 years now, and it gets easier, but there are some things time will never erase.

I know this post is kind of a downer, but especially since its October, I need to give pregnancy and infant loss a voice. I promised that little person of mine that I wouldn't let him/her be a taboo or allow myself or others to act like he/she didn't exist. I am telling my story because someone needs to give our losses as much of a voice as breast cancer losses do. Because my loss matters too.

How about you? Are you one of the 1 in 4? Have you ever suffered the loss of a pregnancy or infant? Do you feel like you are "supposed" to keep it taboo? What have been your experiences? What are your thoughts?

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