miscarriages


for weeks i had been hoping to compose a brilliant and insightful and ever-so-slightly weepy post: the half-life of hope. the math is just so gorgeous: this is my eighth pregnancy. i’m hoping it brings my fourth delivery. and i’m hoping that delivery brings my second, fantastically living and breathing and healthy child.

i wanted to write about all the hope that comes with that math: my willingness to believe in good luck, at least for a few months; my willingness to believe that it’s time for my life — my family’s life — to swing back up after hitting rock-bottom; my willingness to trust my body to obey my mind, not whatever fucked-up chemical signals go on in my brain that cause my water to inexplicably break. i wanted to be a woman who was hopeful, to be a woman who was writing about being hopeful.

and i wanted to write about the sadness of hope actually having a half-life. about the way we want hope to spring eternal but then it doesn’t, although it comes back, doesn’t it, and when it comes back it carries our grief with it so that it’s never unadulterated, never pure, never joyful, even when it is at its absolute best.

but i don’t feel like i can write about that now because somehow the math is wrong. maybe not technically, but still, it really is: this is still my eighth pregnancy, and i still do hope it ends in my fourth (and final) delivery of a second living child. but i’m totally thrown by the equation eight pregnancies  eight embryos. i realize now that my eight pregnancies have produced nine embryos that i was somehow foolish enough to believe that a pregnancy equaled a baby. not necessarily a living baby, but a baby. one baby. even though i am surrounded by examples that teach me otherwise, i still, for whatever reason, had this completely unconscious belief.

which is ok, i suppose. it’s not like facing the reality that one pregnancy ≠ one embryo is that hard. it’s not like my worldview has been spun on its head. and it’s not even like a child of mine has died (although obviously another one has — it’s just so, so very different — and relatively, so freakishly easy — to have a first trimester miscarriage, which i can honestly say now that i think i’ve had four). but i want to know how the math works. how do i tally this? what are my new numbers?

and i’m upset that in my dr’s world, the math is no different. how do i count this pregnancy, i asked him. how does it fit into my history of pregnancies and miscarriages and losses?

his answer: it doesn’t.

that’s right, that’s what he says: it doesn’t. it doesn’t count as a miscarriage, and since kiddo#2 (wait, is that kiddo #9?) will just be reabsorbed either by me or by kiddo #8/kiddo #1, i probably won’t cramp or bleed or have any signs of a miscarriage. and my gravida-stats don’t change. he even said — his first mistake, in my opinion, as my caregiver — that all that matters is a positive outcome.

well, i think he’s wrong. i’m not usually a numbers-type of girl. but obviously these numbers — my gradvia-stats — have come to mean a lot to me.  i can tell you exactly what happened with each pregnancy — how each of the seven babies died, and how the one baby lived — and when things happened, and how. and the counting has mattered. the dates have mattered. the gestational age has mattered. my choices at different developmental stages have mattered. the stories i tell myself about my pregnancies are full of numbers that are deeply personal, deeply meaningful.

and now i have a loss — an early loss, a perfectly acceptable loss, probably even a beneficial loss — that i can’t count. and i just don’t know how to wrap my head around that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~edited to add~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

i can’t believe that in my frazzled, number-less state, i forgot: there are women suffering much more from the loss of a twin. if you haven’t already, please visit alexa and send her and simone your support.

we were so certain that the third time would be the charm.

after all, all the bad stuff had already happened to us, right? including the horrible day — easter sunday — at the dog park, when i was attacked by a drunk woman walking five collies all wearing muzzles. i was running my two dogs when this crazy chick started yelling at me about how i shouldn’t be running in a dog park, which, in case i didn’t know, was meant for dogs (i guess it didn’t occur to her that the two dogs trotting at my side were, um, my dogs, who i’d brought to the dog park for, um, exercise). when i ignored her she chased me down and, fool i am, i turned to face her. it didn’t matter to her that i was a full head and shoulders taller than her: she started jabbing me in the sternum, practically spitting in my face about how i had no business being in the dog park. realizing i was either going to get beaten up or get medieval on her ass, i turned away. she pushed one last time, just as one of her collies walked up behind me. knocked off balance by the combination of turning and being shoved, i fell on the dog. crazy drunk woman immediately started yelling “sic ‘er!” i looked up and there was this big collie with a muzzle, growling at me. my dogs, of course, had run for cover. this was not a game they wanted to play.

when i miscarried a week later i wanted to blame it on the horrible woman but i knew it wasn’t really her fault.

but after that, we were golden, you know? all happy and blissed out about the positive pregnancy test that showed up in may. hooray and all. in a celebratory mood we loaded up the dogs and went camping for the weekend.

our first night in the tent i woke up from a horrible dream that i was gushing blood. i really had to pee but i was way too afraid to get up…afraid to actually get up, because then gravity would do its thing and blood would rush down my legs…and afraid to go the bathroom, because then i would have to confront my blood-soaked pants…and in this state of mind, afraid to go back to sleep. so i woke up s and told him i was scared and he helped me determine that i was dry and clean and it would be ok if i went to pee. and indeed it was.

a week or so later we had a positive u/s with a tiny little heartbeat. such a happy day.

three weeks later at our second visit we ended up seeing a nurse because our doctor had been called to his other clinic. the nurse did an ultrasound and looked at us very seriously. “i don’t see a heartbeat,” she said. “but i want the doctor to have a look.” so she called the other clinic and told them we were coming in.

the other clinic was 30 minutes of tense silence and impending sorrow away. still, we had that pathetic ray of hope — if we were being sent to the doctor it might be because the nurse was incompetent, right? or the ultrasound machine was on the fritz, right? or maybe because the baby — the bean — was hiding?

we entered this other clinic, full of mothers and young children playing in the waiting room. we were called in to see the doctor after a 90-minute wait. the doctor reviewed my hastily-constructed chart and said “so you’re having a miscarriage?” i started crying immediately and said “well, nobody has told us that until now.” he said he was so, so sorry, and why don’t we have a look?

at nothing. a sad little empty sac. the bean had been dead for a few weeks, and i’d had no sign of it. no knowledge. how can your baby die inside you and not even know? i couldn’t stop berating myself for not feeling the bean’s absence.

and my body was not so keen on cooperating this time, which led to an eventual d&c. i came out of the anesthetic and burst into unexpected tears. “don’t worry, hon” the nurse consoled me. “that’s just the anesthetic.”

no it f*ckin’ wasn’t.

given that june is still spring in minnesota, we bought a gorgeous rhododendron — the beanodendron — to plant as a memorial in our front garden. i chose a species bred in helsinki for extra durability through the winter. we burned one copy of the bean’s ultrasound and buried the ashes under the gorgeous pink blossoms.

after my first miscarriage my body went kinda haywire. the miscarriage was in late may/early june, and i didn’t have a period again until september.

but september wasn’t such a lovely month for us. we had planned a quiet night at home one evening — my job was to walk the dogs and pick up some wine and cheese while s finished his training ride. knowing s would be gone for a while the dogs and i went for a leisurely stroll through our ‘hood, stopping to chat with neighbors and enjoying the light of the late summer evening. when we got home i turned right around to go my favorite wine shop. never mind the blinking lights on the answering machine.

when i finally returned it was to seven frantic phone messages. six of them were from an e.r. nurse telling me my husband wanted to see me. but the first was a long, rambling, extremely apologetic message from the friend of the man who had just hit s with his car. “don’t worry, ma’am, he’s ok. i mean, i saw him stand up and everything. they took him to the hospital just to be safe. but he’s breathing and everything.” he said a lot more than this, but it was all drowned out by the screaming sirens in the background and the blood pounding in my head.

s was fine in the long run — a short hospital stay, a fractured elbow and punctured lung — but in the short run, well, not so good. and it was weeks before his rib didn’t cause excruciating pain every time he breathed.

so it was in the long run that we finally got pregnant again. late the next winter we were pleased to watch two pink lines appear in the home pg test, and i was enough of a newbie not to be dismayed by the absence of morning sickness. then sometime during the 7th week i started to bleed. i called the nurse/midwife who listened to my “symptoms” and told me i was probably having a miscarriage. i burst into tears. she was very kind, and waited quietly on the other end of the phone until i was ready to talk. she walked me through what to expect, and what should prompt me to call her back.

there wasn’t any need for another call — i had a complete m/c, all tidied up within 10 days or so. she did recommend that i have some bloodwork done, which i did, and whatever she saw (i think it was low progesterone but honestly i don’t remember) made her tell me that she wanted me to work with an ob rather than with her. something about “high risk” blah blah blah. i really didn’t think much of it. i mean, i was getting pregnant. how much of a problem could there be?

yes, i was sad. i was bummed that i would no longer have a nurse/midwife, and the ob she’d recommended was a man, which had me down a bit, too. i was worried that i’d never have children. and kicking myself for waiting until i was in my 30s. it felt like hard times. but now, good god, what halcyon days they seem.

we stopped using birth control (an iud) in march 2003. between march and may i completed my dissertation and finished grad school, started my first post-grad-student job, and bought a house. oh, and got pregnant — but didn’t know it.

my period was late in may. i took a pg test, which showed just one sorry pink line. this was really ok by me, since i was plenty busy. then my period came. it was weird — shorter than usual with no visible tissue — but i didn’t think anything of it.

after i stopped bleeding i continued to bloat and feel tender. ugh. but sure, chalk it up to stress. i was packing up our apartment, getting oriented (orientated, as my first-year students used to say) in my new job, and feeling generally stressed. what was a little bodily weirdness?

then about a week later i started bleeding again, this time in earnest. i called my clinic, where i was a new patient (given insurance changes with the job and all). i was very excited about this clinic: it was an all-women’s clinic staffed by, you guessed it, all women. i had requested a certified nurse/midwife as my primary care giver. i wasn’t thrilled to be bleeding, but i was happy to be meeting her.

only she couldn’t see me. instead i saw dr. cold fish, who gave me an exam and told me i was having a miscarriage. “i can’t be,” i said. “i’m not pregnant.” “well, you were pregnant. now you’re having a miscarriage.” no shit. direct quote.

she drew blood to confirm it. and asked me to come back in two days to make sure my beta was dropping.

it wasn’t.

i ended up going back every other day for blood draws for almost two weeks, until my beta dropped below 5. each time i had to see the world’s least sympathetic female doctor. and each time i had to confront again the fact that i had been pregnant and now, all technicalities aside, i wasn’t.

i cried for a few days. i got tired of having my arm pricked. but i never really felt like there was a baby to mourn. if you’re going to have a miscarriage, this might be one of the best ways to do it. if there is such a thing as a good way to lose a baby.