Bored Housewives Network

Getting through the day, one bonbon at a time.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"A place to share sad secrets"

I’m pregnant. But at the same time, I’m not.

My body is currently housing an approximately seven-week-old embryo. But that embryo’s heart has stopped beating, probably just a few days ago, or so the ultrasound technician tells me. So right now, I’m in limbo till an appointment with my doctor in a few days, where we’ll talk about next steps. By “next steps” I mean “how we will get this dead embryo out of me.”

I don’t know why that last paragraph came out sounding so clinical. I don’t feel clinical. But I keep mentally approaching this subject from different angles, and it’s hard to find words to talk about it. I feel disappointed. I feel very, very sad. But I feel like there’s some aspect of this that I’m not feeling. Or else I’m feeling it, but because I don’t have words for it, I don’t know what I’m feeling.

I thought I’d be better at this – that I’d be more self-aware, or more capable and efficient at managing my grief -- this time around. Because this isn’t the first miscarriage I’ve experienced. I was pregnant once before Sam, and that pregnancy failed at around five weeks, something I didn’t find out till a couple of weeks later. Both miscarriages are alike in that I never experienced any of the warning signs: cramping, spotting, or bleeding. Both times I thought I was pregnant right up till the moment an ultrasound tech told me otherwise.

I hate ultrasounds, by the way. Though I feel huge sympathy for the people who perform them. What a shitty job.

Both of these miscarriages are similar in another way. Both times, I felt an acute, unaccountable, unshakeable sense that something was wrong. I didn’t feel this way when I was pregnant with Sam. That’s kind of weird, don't you think?

When I miscarried three years ago, it was at a time when I wasn’t doing any personal writing. I didn’t write about the experience, and by extension, I didn’t talk about it. I was really messed up for a long time, and I think that my silence was the reason why. So I’ve decided to be more forthcoming this time around.

When I think about why I was so quiet, a few reasons come to mind:
  • Being a private person by nature (which sounds weird coming from someone who writes about their life on the internet, but some of you other bloggers will know what I’m talking about)
  • Feeling ashamed and embarrassed
  • Thinking that by talking about it, I was “dwelling on it” and therefore “not getting over it” – and I desperately wanted to get over it
  • Not wanting to be a downer for other people
In retrospect, most of these reasons seem stupid or, to be a bit kinder to myself, ill-conceived (no pun intended). I don’t know what I was ashamed or embarrassed about. And it became patently obvious that not talking about it wasn’t making me feel better, so I should’ve ditched that strategy early on. And I don’t know why I worried so much about whether other people – especially my closest friends – would consider me a pill for being a tad depressed over the greatest loss I’d ever experienced.

This last point still sticks with me. It seems like I was doing my friends a huge disservice in assuming they would get tired of me and my sadness. I wonder why I wasn’t able to give people the greater benefit of the doubt. Especially since, both then and now, my friends have been universally wonderful – thoughtful, concerned, helpful, touchingly sympathetic, and offering their willing ears any time I want to talk or cry.

It also seems like, in being so quiet, I was doing other women a disservice. There’s so much silence around this subject, so few personal stories, that the statistic that one out of every five (or four, or three, depending on which source you cite) pregnancies ends in miscarriage feels like just that: a statistic. And while, yeah, I usually tend to find a certain amount of comfort in statistics, this one feels a bit hollow. (Actually, I feel completely detached from this particular statistic. When the miscarriage stat for the general population is 20 percent, and your own personal stat is 66.6 percent, you can see where the disconnect happens.)

So now, belatedly, I’m going to make my first miscarriage story part of the public record. I’ll totally understand if you want to stop reading at this point. And don’t feel guilty if you need to stop reading! I want my story to help the people who need it. If it can’t do anything positive for you, please, please don’t feel obligated to trudge through it. Also, this story gets somewhat graphic, so it’s not for the squeamish.

My husband and I decided to start trying to have a baby at the very beginning of 2004, and we were shocked and excited when we got lucky on the very first cycle of trying. In mid-February, when I was only about four or five weeks pregnant, I started to experience sharp pains in my lower abdomen. My pregnancy with Sam later taught me that these were just run-of-the-mill pregnancy pains from my uterus and ligaments stretching, but at the time I was paranoid about ectopic pregnancy, so I had an ultrasound that showed a yolk sac but no embryo, which was to be expected at the time.

At about the same time, my doctor, slightly concerned by my “weak” pregnancy test and minimal symptoms, scheduled a series of blood tests to measure my HCG (pregnancy hormone) levels. I had blood drawn every two days for a week, and at first things didn’t look so great, but then they seemed to pick up and we were all cautiously optimistic. My doctor scheduled another ultrasound at seven weeks. And this was when we found out that the fertilized egg hadn’t progressed past the fifth week. This is called a “blighted ovum” in some circles, though my doctor made a point of telling me this isn’t a medically recognized term. I’m still not sure why she was adamant about this.

At that point, I was told that I had three options:
  • I could wait for my body to miscarry naturally.
  • I could have a D&C.
  • Or I could opt to try an at-home procedure using a vaginal suppository called misoprostol, which would induce miscarriage.
I opted for Plan A, which seemed the most “natural” to me at the time. Also, in Vancouver, you can’t just schedule a D&C. You have to show up at the hospital without an appointment and put yourself on a waiting list, and then wait in the emergency room, possibly for hours, until they can squeeze you in for the procedure. I didn’t seriously consider misoprostol at the time, because I didn’t know anything about it and because I’d been warned that inducing a miscarriage could be much more painful than having one naturally, in much the same way that induced labour can be more painful than non-induced.

So I waited to miscarry naturally. And I waited. And waited. I’ve never realized how long a mere couple of weeks can feel. During this time, I couldn’t think about anything but this misstarted life, this failure of my body not just to create a healthy new life but to reject an unhealthy one, and my growing need to just get this phase of things over with so that I could start over.

After two weeks of my body stubbornly holding onto this poor little failed egg with no sign of letting go, I was done waiting and, not wanting to endure a hospital visit, ready to skip Plan B and move right to Plan C, the misoprostol. I received a prescription from my doctor and picked it up at my neighbourhood pharmacy, trying not to wonder if the pharmacist was looking at me pityingly or not.

But in my fuzzy-headed haste to finally get things going, I misread the instructions. Believing that it would take hours for the misoprostol to work, I inserted it just before bedtime, assuming it would start working at some time the next morning. And of course I started feeling the first cramps about an hour later. At the time, I remember thinking, ‘How bad can cramps get?’ The answer is, pretty bad. Pretty horrific, actually. In fact, in comparing them to labour contractions, with labour being a ten out of ten on the pain scale (note: I’m not saying that labour is an absolute ten on the entire spectrum of pain; I’m just creating a basis for comparison), these were about an eight-and-a-half. Maybe a nine. And of course, since this whole experience seems to be a testament to Murphy’s Law, it was by now well after midnight and the strongest painkiller we had in the house was extra-strength ibuprofen. For some reason, too, I had this stupid idea that I shouldn’t wake up my husband, who had a big day at work the next day. (He’s still incredulous at this bit of reasoning, and again I’m left to wonder what purpose I saw in trying to be stoic and keep my pain away from other people.) So from about midnight until 7am, I paced the house, moaning quietly and making frequent pit stops to the bathroom, where I’d rock back and forth on the toilet, still moaning. Finally, when it was getting light out and I was completely exhausted, the worst of it seemed to be over. I went to bed and slept most of the day.

From this point, all I wanted was to have a normal period, after which my doctor told me I’d be ready to try to conceive again. So I waited. And waited some more. Weeks passed. A month. Another month. Nothing happened. During this time, I became horribly depressed, something I didn’t realize until after it was over. I didn’t want to see people. I would go to work, then come home and stay in until it was time to go to work again. I only ate what I needed to for sustenance. I slept a lot. At one point, I booked a last-minute trip for my husband and I to Cuba, thinking it would be therapeutic. We were there for two weeks, and I hardly remember anything about it. Now, when we look at the pictures from that trip, which we generally feel strangely disinclined to do, we realize how sad and lost we look.

I became obsessed with the fact that I needed to become pregnant again, that it was the only thing that would pull me out of this terrible, empty place I was in. And once again I felt that my body had failed me in refusing to let me do even this.

In late May, which marked ten weeks of waiting for my long-lost menstrual cycle, we were invited to stay with friends at their family chalet in Whistler. Thinking that it would be good to get out of the house, we agreed and made what we hope was a valiant effort to be charming houseguests. And of course, invoking Murphy’s Law yet again, THIS was the weekend my period decided to return. With a vengeance. If by “vengeance” you mean “a horrible gush of blood and tissue that soaked my pants all the way down to my shoes.” In front of everyone. Thank god these were some of my closest friends, is all I can say. I ran to the washroom, where I stayed for the next eight hours, pretty much repeating the misoprostol-induced experience of two and a half months ago. When I later described this incident to my doctor, she said that it sounds like I’d only had a partial miscarriage earlier, and that my body had decided to wait a while for the sequel.

My body is kind of a dick.

It’s taken me longer than I’d expected to tell all this, so I’ll try to wrap things up quickly and on a positive note. My normal period returned. After just a couple of cycles of (admittedly tense and rather joyless) reproductive sex, we conceived again, this time with the healthy little bundle of fun we later came to know as Sam. And believe it or not, I managed not to be a basket case. (Well, I was kind of a basket case until that first ultrasound; see above re: hating ultrasounds.) In fact, at around the twelve-week mark I developed this semi-unflappable Zen calm about the entire pregnancy. I take no responsibility for this, and am perfectly willing to assign full credit to shiny-happy pregnancy hormones. Which, let me tell you, after suffering from what, in retrospect, was probably a full-on case of clinical depression for five months, was like winning a trip to Club Med with my own personal cabana boy.

The only residual effect (I thought at the time) of this experience on my pregnancy is that, when I did go into labour, I had a very negative emotional reaction to the pain of contractions. I wonder if this had anything to do with the fact that they were so similar to the pain of miscarrying. At any rate, I was very happy with the noble efforts of my friend, Mr. Anesthesiologist, and my labour experience was actually pretty first-rate, as such things go.

I'm now realizing there are other residual effects, and I'm still trying to sort them out, which is why I'm writing this.

There are as many different miscarriage stories as there are birth stories. This one is mine. In a few seconds, I'm about to hit the "Publish" button, and I'm more nervous and anxious about it than I expected to be. If you’ve read this far, you have my undying gratitude. If I’ve caused you any sadness, I’m sorry. If I’ve helped you, I’m glad. If you've been grossed out, well, that's your problem, dude.

If you want to read a more cogent discussion of miscarriage, there's an excellent epistolary piece from Slate's archives, called "Motherhood Lost", that my wonderful friend Libby found for me. Reading it has helped me. At the conclusion of the series of letters, one of the writers thanks the other for creating a "place to share sad secrets" online. I liked that idea, and that expression, so I used it in this post title.

*As an interesting footnote to this post, and on the subject of silence, when I was typing this entry in Word, it was interesting to note how Word’s dictionary didn’t recognize many of the negative words surrounding pregnancy: words like “ectopic” and “misoprostol”. (You could argue that the last is a drug and can be excused for being omitted, but try typing “penicillin” or “Viagra” or “lithium” into Word and see what happens.) Funny.


  • At 10:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm so sorry. Big, big, big hugs to both of you.

  • At 4:54 AM, Blogger Karen said…

    Oh. Oh. Oh. It's a club so many of us joined unwillingly. I had a blighted ovum after Stephanie, and then an embryo with a weak heartbeat after Pete, and that one didn't make it either. After Julie, I couldn't bear to go through it again (I decided that my body needed to have a miscarriage after each healthy birth), so we stopped, although I'd imagined having 4. I still know the due dates of both those lost babies. I no longer feel "sad" per se, more like wistful. I hope this one ends more easily for you than the other, and I send you big hugs.

  • At 7:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Not 10 minutes has gone by this weekend that I haven't thought of you. I am so sorry, so heartbroken that you have to go through this. But reading this and knowing you, I am also so proud of you -- for sharing your stories, and for experiencing this with your trademark grace, dignity and humour.

    Much love to you, Sam and John.

  • At 1:15 PM, Blogger landismom said…

    So sorry to hear it, DG. I hope this one ends a lot easier for you, and that you feel like you can vent--here or via email--for as long as you need to.

  • At 8:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thank you for sharing. We're thinking of you.

  • At 9:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You know we're thinking of you and everything you're going through...


  • At 9:52 PM, Blogger Melissa said…

    Oh, I am so sad to hear this.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. Like Landismom said, I hope you'll continue to do so. My cousin and his wife recently lost a baby and they have been very open with their grief, much more so than I might be under the same circumstances. I have been awed not only by how much comfort they are able to receive from other people, but how grateful other people are to give it.

    Again, I'm so sorry. I wish there were better words.

  • At 11:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thank you. You have put into words the blank grief I have been not feeling and secretly feeling. I put away my miscarriages in a drawer called must get to feeling that some day when I'm all grown up and won't feel like its my fault, my body's fault, my husband's fault and i"m ungrateful for "dwelling" on it because i have a wonderful child already.

  • At 7:44 PM, Blogger Cataclysm said…

    How awful!

    I remember when my stepmother had miscarriages when I was in my early teens and not really getting what the big deal was about. I get it now. Its just so f***ed up.

    Anyway, I'm at a total loss for words... I just feel so sad for you. We're here if you need anything!

    Kris, Pete and Rian

  • At 9:47 PM, Blogger Tammy said…

    Thanks so much, everyone. I can't tell you what it means to have so much support. I feel incredibly lucky in that regard. At the same time, it makes me feel so sad, if less alone, to know how many other people have experienced this.

    The last week has been pretty hectic, just dealing with doctor visits and scheduling a D&C (which is happening tomorrow), not to mention being pretty busy at work. It feels weird to be squeezing all this logistical stuff into my spare time.

    Anyway, thanks again, so much, for taking the time to read my post. Writing it was much more cathartic than I'd hoped it would be.

  • At 10:46 AM, Blogger Joanne said…

    I am late reading this but I wanted to say I'm sorry and also good for you for writing it all down, communicating it. I had a miscarriage that went really crazily awry (I didn't have a D&C at first, then I had the suppository drug after some insanely giant amounts of bleeding, then I had another procedure to see why I was still having bleeding and then I had a D&C, like more than two months after the miscarriage. It was crazy and horrible and a logistical nightmare, since I had a 11 month old at the time. I just want to say I'm sorry for your loss and thanks for sharing.

  • At 4:15 PM, Blogger Tammy said…

    Oh my god, Joanne. That sounds absolutely horrible, and very similar to my experience, even down to the timeline. Fuck.

    When I went for a D&C last week (which went as well as such things can be expected, thank god), the medical staff at every turn asked me if I'd had a D&C before. I told them no, but I'd used misoprostol and never wanted to do that ever again. They all looked sympathetic and said something along the lines of, "Pretty painful, huh?" All I said was, "Yeah," but I was thinking, "How come everyone but me knows that stuff is horrifically painful???"

    And you're right: the logistics of managing this with a young child to consider are nightmare-ish. I'm glad that it sounds like you've recovered (as much as one ever does).

  • At 6:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Long time lurker, here. Nearly the exact same thing just happened to me (I just finished my 1st normal period, though - yay!). I was surprised to hear from family & friends just how many of them also had had a miscarriage at some point in their lives.

    Doesn't make any easier to deal with, though. Thanks for telling your story -- I am truly sorry for your loss.

  • At 6:08 PM, Blogger Hoban Family said…

    Just took the drug myself. 16 weeks pregnant, baby didn't develop past 13 weeks. Second miscarriage like this and no answers. Your story has really helped me.

  • At 9:43 AM, Blogger Hoban Family said…

    I am so sorry. I know how it feels to lose, if you need anything we are here.

  • At 2:16 PM, Blogger Unknown said…

    My eyes are stinging with tears.

    I miscarried almost a year ago at 13.5 weeks. I had had two beautiful, healthy ultrasounds, went into my 13-week appointment with nothing but smiles, and was shocked when we discovered the baby had died. A few days later, I had a D & E.

    A month later, we conceived again, and at 5 weeks I began miscarrying. I spent 2 months trying to miscarry on my own. I tried misoprostol and methotrexate, which only partially worked. In January of this year, I ended up with my second surgery in just two months.

    I spent Sept of last year and the next several months writing about both miscarriages on my blog. Writing about it helped, but some days, the pain is still so tough.

    A friend referred me to Peggy Orenstein's beautiful piece, "Mouring My Miscarriage." Here's the link:
    I also found great comfort in the book, "When Things Fall Apart," as well as the anthology, "About What was Lost."

    I hope you keep writing about your miscarriages. Too few people talk about it. And talking about it is the only way to really begin to heal.

    I wish you the absolute best thoughts, and heartfelt condolences.

  • At 2:29 AM, Blogger Qtpies7 said…

    You are not alone. And I also get the feeling that there is something wrong when I miscarry, but not when things are fine. Even my husband seems to know when we are going to miscarry.
    I am really sorry for what you are going through. It is tough. Something that helped us was to name our babies. It doesn't really matter that you don't know if it was a boy or girl, or you could use a pretty gender neutral name. But claiming that baby as your child and giving them a name is really healing.

  • At 7:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am so glad you share your story as I do about my miscarriage at 4 weeks and one at 32 weeks-a stillbirth I delivered and then my deliveries of my 2 children. I also felt that stories were never shared until they happened to you. I realized everything that happened to me was along the spectrum of 'normal things that can happen to a woman who is pregnant'. I am actually at this point in my life grateful for the experiences so that I can truly understand what we go through and how incredible we are!

  • At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thank you for sharing. You are very brave.

  • At 8:17 PM, Blogger BrightBoy said…

    You shouldn't ever feel like you have to hold something like that back. The people who love you want to help, the same way that you would wish to be there for them during their problems.

    I'm so sorry you've gone through this, but look on the bright side: you have a beautiful and healthy baby boy at home.

  • At 5:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I was sad untill i read your post. Now I am even sadder. Hugs

  • At 11:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

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