Hi, my name is Kristen. I am a wife, a mommy of two amazing kids and a pediatrician. I have been working in private practice for over 10 years and have a busy and very successful medical practice. I have also lost a child, and it almost broke me. My first pregnancy ended with a miscarriage. It was devastating, and took me six years to fully grieve the loss of my child. And if I can help even one woman feel less alone after the loss of a pregnancy... I don't even have the words to describe how amazing that would make me feel. I am sharing my story in hopes that it helps someone. If you have survived the pain of a miscarriage, you are not alone. And please do not lose hope. The following is an excerpt from my book "I Got You Mama: A Pediatrician's Guide to Surviving and Thriving During Pregnancy, Childbirth and the First Year of Your Baby's Life."
"Of the women who knew they were pregnant it is estimated that 10-20% of pregnancies result in miscarriage. The actual miscarriage rate is most likely much higher, because some women miscarry before they even realize that they are pregnant. Miscarriage is a taboo topic in our society even though it shouldn’t be. Miscarriage is not contagious and talking about it doesn’t somehow cause a bad outcome. A miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy by spontaneous means prior to 20 weeks gestation. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that 60% of miscarriage is the result of a chromosomal problem in the embryo. In simple terms, something was wrong with the baby that made it impossible for them to grow properly and in a way that made it impossible to sustain life. Mama, nothing you ate, nor your favorite spin class, nor your lack of reading parenting books caused this loss to happen. It is not your fault. And you did nothing to deserve this pain. And the level of pain is probably like nothing you have every experienced before. Sometimes life just sucks.
In addition, anyone who tries to diminish your pain and loss need to be shut down, or at a minimum completely ignored. Because believe or not, there are people out there who will think they are “helping” you by telling you that it wasn’t a "real" baby anyway. They may tell you that it’s for the best and that your miscarriage was just nature’s way of "taking its course". And in a fragile emotional state, you may not be able to respond verbally to those people. That is okay. But parents, if you are strong enough, don’t be around those types of people, at least not until you achieve some healing. After a miscarriage, you need support and positive influences. And if a comment that someone makes causes you to question your grief, consider this. Would that same “helpful” person tell a widow whose wife died after a lengthy battle with breast cancer that her death was just nature "taking its course"? Or that it is better now that his wife is not suffering? Or that he really should start dating again soon? I doubt it.
If you have suffered a miscarriage, you need to understand that you are not just grieving your baby, you are grieving all the hopes, dreams, and visions of the future you had since finding out you were pregnant. That is a hell of a lot to grieve. And please understand that there is no right or wrong way to grieve following a miscarriage. No one ever prepares you for this, so you need to find what works for you. It will probably take some trial and error, and please do not try to rush this process. Grieving the loss of a child takes time. Furthermore, Mommies and Daddies often grieve in different ways. For example, Mom may want to attend a support group, and Dad isn’t interested. Mom, please don’t be upset with Dad for not attending. As a couple, you need to respect and honor each other’s grieving process.
I learned all this the hard way. When my husband and I were ready to have children, we were financially stable, had blossoming careers, and desperately wanted to become parents. And less than three months after we decided that we were ready for children, I became pregnant. I was so excited that I threw my positive pregnancy test at my husband. As a couple, we were ecstatic. The little blob that we saw on our first prenatal ultrasound was so wanted and already so loved. I started writing lists of potential names for my child, bought a half dozen parenting books, started designing my child’s future bedroom, and even started looking at maternity clothes.
And then a week later, I had some vaginal bleeding. My doctor ordered another ultrasound. And I will never be able to get the image of my lovely physician looking at the ultrasound screen, looking at me, looking back at the screen and saying, “I’m so sorry, but there is no heartbeat”. The emotional pain that followed those words was intense. To make matters worse, my mom just happened to be in the room with me and my husband when all of this was happening. The very first image of her very first grandchild was a dead embryo. I have the image of her face looking at that ultrasound screen in my head as well, and it will probably never go away. My entire world was shattered in the blink of an eye. It took me six years to fully grieve my miscarriage, my desperately wanted lost child. Six. Years.
I had a surgical D and C (dilation and curettage) two days after that ultrasound, which just happened to be on a Friday. The following Monday I was back at work. The first patient that I had to take care of was a newborn whose mother regularly used crack/cocaine during her pregnancy. In fact, “Mom” was high on cocaine during the baby’s delivery. My already broken heart broke a million times again. I just had a dead, loved, desperately wanted baby sucked out of my body, and this woman gave birth to a very much alive baby that she didn’t want, didn’t care about, and gave away to anyone who would take him. It took everything in my power not to scream at her. Even though I was shaking, I forced a smile in her direction, did my job then went back to my office and sobbed.
My pain was compounded by the fact that only a few trusted people in my inner circle even knew I had suffered a miscarriage. I wasn’t ready to talk about the loss and I didn’t want anyone to know that something was wrong. As such, I forced myself to live my life in the manner I had always lived it-at least to the outside world. For a long time, I was living a lie. It felt the exact opposite of genuine, but survival mode was what I needed until I was able to grieve.
From a fertility perspective, I was fortunate. I became pregnant a few months after my miscarriage. What should have been an incredibly happy time was riddled with fear. Every time that I went to the bathroom, I was afraid to see blood in my underwear. Every time I felt a cramp in my abdomen, I contemplated calling my ob-gyn. I was terrified of suffering another pregnancy loss, and I was even more terrified that I would never become a Mom. I considered buying an at home fetal heart rate monitor, so I wouldn’t have to receive the news of another dead baby while I was lying in a cold exam room with a full bladder and an ultrasound wand shoved into my lady parts. The first time I felt my son kicked me, I felt like an alien was inside my body. Once I could feel his kicks regularly, I panicked if he wasn’t kicking enough. I spent so much time pushing on my belly just to get him to kick me. Even as I had my 20-week ultrasound, the absolute joy of seeing my baby boy was tainted by fear. The pregnancy itself was miserable, and I was constantly waiting for signs that I had lost another child. I spent the entire time preparing for another heartbreak. With my son’s pregnancy, I didn’t truly relax until he was born.
My third pregnancy was unexpected. My husband and I were thrilled, but this pregnancy was riddled with guilt. Not just fleeting guilt, but a deep, heavy, substantial guilt that caused me to struggle with bonding to this new creation. When my husband and I had envisioned our future, we both knew that having two children was our magic number, the blessings we desired. Technically, this was my third pregnancy. Throughout the pregnancy, I kept thinking “what makes this baby better than the one I lost? Is she more worthy of life?”. I felt like I was somehow dishonoring my lost child by successfully carrying this child to term. Did getting pregnant again mean that my miscarried baby was not important? And how would I be able to love this child and not view her as a replacement to the child I had lost?
If you have suffered a miscarriage, please do not lose hope. Recurrent miscarriages are uncommon. Most women who have experienced one miscarriage are able to get pregnant again and deliver a healthy child. Even if a woman has had several miscarriages, there is often a way for her to become pregnant and to carry that child to term. But for your mental and emotional health, please take time to grieve this loss. And please make sure that you communicate with your partner during the grieving process. Discuss your anger, discuss your pain, discuss how you as a couple plan to survive this together. If your partner seems unaffected by the loss, gently ask them why. And then accept their answer as their own personal truth. At the same time, if you feel that your partner is not understanding your response to the pregnancy loss, speak up! You can’t expect your partner to read your mind. These are not easy conversations to have. It’s so much easier to try to push those emotions into your subconscious and to try to forget about them. Trust me, you cannot bury the emotions related to a pregnancy loss deep enough. Eventually they will come to the surface. Grieve. Heal. And know that you can prepare for parenthood before your grieving process is complete."
It's been almost a year since we said goodbye to our baby. It's been a year since we heard the last heartbeat and saw our little one on the ultrasound monitor. A whole year of wondering what my life would be like if we were a family of 5 (2 fur babies included). Right at week 11, I told myself it was ok to breathe, it wasn't. It's been a difficult year. The thing is I've done this before. This being my third miscarriage after many fertility treatments, I mistakenly thought it would be easier because I've been through this before. In many ways, this loss was the most difficult. It magnified everything we've been through the last few years.
I see women on social media bravely sharing their stories of loss. (I posted my own experience with loss on social media and still remember holding my breath after I hit publish and feeling so vulnerable.) I have a few friends and family members who have experienced the pain of loss. I see these women get up every day and live their lives, take care of their children, support their families all while grieving. It's been a difficult year. to be honest, it's been a difficult few years but these women give me strength. Through them I realize it's one foot in front of the other. Some days are good, some days not so good. One thing I know for sure - This is a year I could not have gone through without the support of so many. Friends and family have been my rock and the StillMama community for providing me with a safe and private place to share my thoughts and know that they are being heard with good intentions and by people who unfortunately understand grief and have come face to face with loss.
I don't know what the future holds, but I'm hopeful next year will be a different type of year - one filled with happy tears instead of sad ones. Until then, one foot in front of the other. I'm not giving up on my dream of holding my child in my arms.
I recently visited my OB/GYN and they recommended some reading materials for those who have experienced loss. Please know that I haven't personally read these books yet and some may feel indifferent, triggered, or comforted by these.
*Empty Cradle-Broken Heart
*About What was Lost