Wednesday, November 2, 2016

When you lose someone you love.

I sat on the exam table, a thousand thoughts swirling through my head, her words not really registering.

What are you saying?

There's really no heartbeat?

Can you check again?

That can't be right. I've been SO sick. For weeks and weeks AND weeks. I'm so close to 12 weeks, so close to coming out of the zombie-exhaustion + nausea stage. 

How could there be no heartbeat?!

Moments before, we were excitedly talking about baby no 2, scheduled to arrive at the end of April. We'd been waiting and anticipating this day for the last month. We were so excited to finally see this little baby and hear his heartbeat. We talked about Margot being a big sister, how we didn't want to find out the sex of the baby this time, wondering if their labors would be the same or different, and how we all hoped I wouldn't have to push again for 3 hours.

As we wrapped up this part of the appointment, the midwife said, "Lets get to the fun part and look at your baby." I was 11 weeks + 1 day pregnant. I laid back on the table feeling excited and a little nervous. She squirted warm goop onto my stomach and began rolling the sonogram wand around in circles. She was having trouble seeing enough of the baby to get a good measurement. The same thing happened when I was pregnant with Margot. They said it was due to my backward-tilted uterus. Baby was probably hiding again. Or so I thought.

She decided to do a transvaginal ultrasound to see if she could get the images she needed that way. After what seemed like an eternity of her looking at the monitor and not saying much, I got the feeling that something was wrong. My husband squeezed my hand and our faces searched the screen for a good sign. We were finally able to see our sweet little baby and the midwife got her measurements. At this point, we didn't know that she wasn't seeing a heartbeat or that we were supposed to be seeing tiny hands and feet moving, because who can really see much on those fuzzy screens anyways. She commented that baby was only measuring 10 weeks, not 11 weeks + 1 day. We must have calculated my due date wrong. Or so I thought. 

"We should be seeing more movement from the baby at this stage of the pregnancy," she said. Baby looked small, kind of curled up in a little ball. She said the heartbeat is usually a very visible flicker on the chest and she wasn't seeing that either. She slipped out of the room to get another midwife to take a look. Lee whispered a quick prayer when it was just the two of us.

Lord, let there be a heartbeat. Please let them find a heartbeat. 

Another midwife came in to take a look. She said the same thing, which still wasn't registering in my head. I kept thinking, so what are you saying to us? And then it hit me. My baby's heart had stopped. I stared blankly at the screen, not wanting to believe what they were telling me. The midwife called the doctor affiliated with the birth center to see if we could come in for a second ultrasound. They told her the ultrasound tech was in that day and to have us come right over. My midwife grabbed my hands, looked right at my face and said, "It's not looking good." She hugged me and said, "I'm so sorry. I want them to double check across the street, but it doesn't appear that baby has a heartbeat anymore. It looks like it happened sometime within the last few days."

They left the room. My husband put his arm around me and pulled my body to his chest. Hot tears rolled down my cheeks.  

How was this happening to us? This wasn't the news I was expecting to hear today, to hear ever. I didn't want to believe it.

I was scheduled to have a D&C two days later, but got a call from the surgery center telling me all surgeries had been canceled due to the impending Hurricane Matthew storm, and that we'd have to reschedule. Lee was leaving on a 2 week work trip to Asia the following Wednesday (one week later), so we didn't exactly have a lot of time to reschedule. After a quick consult with the doctor the following morning, we loaded our stuff into the car, and with the rest of Charleston evacuated for the approaching storm. We headed to NC to spend the weekend with my in-laws.

The next week was the hardest week of my life. Carrying a baby I knew we'd lost for an entire week felt like torture. I was heartbroken, anxious, nervous, sad, in denial. I wanted the baby out. I wanted to still be pregnant. I wanted my baby back, alive. I knew when we got pregnant again, it would never be this baby and I wanted to have THIS baby. I was full of so many emotions but felt numb at the same time. I was experiencing a missed miscarriage. Our baby's heart had stopped sometime in the 10th week but my body hadn't recognized it yet. It was still releasing pregnancy hormones and I still felt pregnant. Supposedly it can take weeks for your body to recognize a pregnancy loss, and at this point, I felt angry at my body that it hadn't yet. I was still taking my anti-nausea medicine (the only way I'd been able to function the last 2 months) and STILL felt nauseous. That night I cried myself to sleep on my husband's chest feeling so sick I thought I would throw up and so sad that it was for no reason. I had no cramping, no bleeding, no sign that anything was wrong at all. I still couldn't believe this was happening. I have never cried so much in my life as I cried that week.

The emotions seemed to come in waves. They still do. The night before my surgery was very hard and full of so many tears (more like sobs). After an extremely difficult week of wanting the whole thing to be over with, I suddenly wanted to freeze time. It felt so final. That night we were saying goodbye to this sweet little baby that had breezed through our lives for a brief 3 months. I remember thinking this is the last night I will carry him until Heaven. Even though we weren't planning to find out the sex of the baby, I wanted to know so badly then. My heart ached to hold him and knowing I wouldn't be able to just crushed me. We sat on the couch together, crying and talking and crying some more. I cried and cried until I finally fell asleep.

The thing about hard things is we never think they'll happen to us. Or at least we hope they won't happen to us. I never thought miscarriage would be a part of my story. I never imagined losing a baby I loved so much before I got the chance to meet and know and hold that baby. My mom had 8 kids and never had one. My two older sisters have 5 and 3 kids and neither have had one. I thought it would be the same for me.

I realized that day how little control we have over our lives. As much as we think we do, we don't. Life is fragile, a very precious gift. Our days are numbered and we don't get to know that number. Our babies days are numbered, and we don't get to know that number either. One minute there's a heartbeat and the next it is gone. Just like that.

Grieving is a process, or so I'm learning, and I'm still walking through it. The past month has been very sad (hard, unexpected), but I've also experienced an incredible love and comfort like never before. I know God is still good and kind and faithful. And I know Him now personally as the Comforter, my Comforter. I've always heard about that aspect of Him, but now I know it in a very real way. I know that even in the midst of hard things, painful things, He doesn't leave us alone. I've been undone by that realization this last month. He's been present and loved me through people being present and loving me. Cards sent, meals dropped off, gifts in the mail, flowers delivered, free babysitting, my sister and mom coming to visit so I wasn't physically alone while Lee was gone. Each and every act of kindness has made me feel so loved and a little less alone. It makes me cry to think about.

Loss is such a weird thing to experience. I've had grandparents and friends pass away, but I've never experienced a loss so personal, from my own body, a part of me. I've been surprised a lot the last month. I am surprised at the deep, deep love I have for this tiny baby even though we've never met. I love him a lot. I loved him before he was even growing inside of me. I waited and prayed and anticipated this pregnancy, for some reason worried we wouldn't be able to get pregnant (even though we had no trouble the first time), relieved when we did a couple months later, but never in a million years expecting the loss to come.

I am surprised at how real the loss has felt. In my head, miscarrying was different than losing a child, spouse, parent, or grandparent. The baby wasn't born yet, and I guess in my head, it didn't really count as much. I imagined it was sad, but probably not that sad. And miscarriage IS a different kind of loss, a different kind of sadness. But now I realize that the size of the baby doesn't make the loss any less painful or real. It's very real and very personal. No one else will feel the loss in the same way, which is why walking through miscarriage can feel so isolating and lonely.

I am surprised at how hard it's been to be around people since experiencing this loss. How do I begin answer the "How are you doing?" question I get asked so often. I feel good some days, great some days, and really sad some days. And sometimes I feel all three in the same day. It seems so emotionally draining to try explain what I've been through (although I feel less and less like this the more time that passes) to people who may not even understand.

I am surprised that I think about our baby all the time (like my mind is consumed with thoughts of this baby). Wondering who he was, what his personality would've been like, what he would've looked like, etc. I think I'll always think about him. He's part of Lee, part of me, a part of our family, and we can't wait to meet him one day.

I am surprised at how many people share similar stories of loss and heartbreak. Statistically, 15-20% of women will experience a miscarriage, which is approximately 1 in 6 women. Now I was one of those women, and as I shared our news, friends started opening up to me about their own miscarriages. It felt like every time I turned around I was hearing someone else's story of loss. I suddenly had this intense desire to read and know as many of these stories as possible. I spent numerous nights scouring the web, reading blogs and articles, and talking to friends. Something about it made me feel less alone in my grief. It made this process feel more normal. These people had experienced the same thing I was going through. They had found healing and were able to move on in their own time and in their own way. Their words though sad, were also helpful and hopeful. I felt like I had suddenly joined a secret club within the motherhood club.

A few weekend's ago, I was at a women's event at our church when a friend pulled me aside, gave me a big hug, and asked me how I was doing. Up until then, I thought I was doing pretty good. But suddenly, I burst into tears. I felt fragile and tender, quick to cry, deeply feeling so many emotions. On the surface, I felt ok. Physically, I was finally starting to feel ok. But deep down, I was sad. She said a few things that night about grief and miscarriage (having experienced her own) that were so freeing and comforting to hear:

You're not alone.

There's not right or wrong way to grieve. 

There's no 'normal' way to feel. Whatever you're feeling is okay.

There's no timeline for grieving. Take as long as you need. For real! There's no hurry. It's not a race.

It's ok if you want to cry. It's ok if you want to hangout and be normal. It's okay to do both!

And some people may not understand and that's ok too. 

I got in my car and couldn't stop crying.

The hardest part after the initial loss is the continued loss I experience as I keep on living. I'm grieving the baby we lost, but I'm also grieving the loss of all we expected life to look like in this season. It's hard when you anticipate your future looking a certain way, and suddenly all those changes you thought were going to take place are gone, and all is back to normal. It's the the 'would have been' moments that seem to pop up unexpectedly and often. I would have been 15 weeks pregnant this week. I would have been pregnant at Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. We would have gone on a baby-moon in January. I would have been pregnant with my friends and we would have had babies close together. We would have welcomed home our 2nd baby in the spring. Margot and this baby would have been 2 years and a few months a part. Every time someone posts a pregnancy announcement or baby bump photo, my heart aches just a little bit because I no longer am. That is the hard part now. The moving on with life, even though it's different than we imagined it would be at the present. I am constantly having to adjust my perspective.

I am so (so, so, so) grateful for our Margot James. Every time I feel sad, or my heart aches, or I miss this baby we lost, I scoop up our joyful, spunky, dolly of a girl, and hold her tight. She's such a gift and joy to us, and a daily reminder of His faithfulness.

I never would have chosen to go through this, but am grateful none-the-less to have carried this life for the 3 months I did. It's changed me forever. We love you baby. You're a part of us and we will miss you every single day until we meet.

*I say he as I write this, although we didn't know the sex of our baby. We both felt like it was a boy when we found out we were pregnant, so saying he just seems right.