October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance month. Since we're included in those statistics, I thought I would share (ramble?) a bit (a LOT?) today. Our experience with pregnancy loss (miscarriage) happened in June 2011, so anyone who reads this and knows us personally: no, we are not currently going through this. I've been meaning to sit down and write this for a long time. When I was trying to sort through my emotions, I found this blog (and still follow it, same one that got me into cloth diapers) and it was so helpful.
I would like to start with a few disclaimers. Trevor and I both experienced miscarriage, they were not just my babies; however, what I'm about to share are my personal thoughts and feelings. Trevor has his own, but these are mine. So, if you're wondering why I keep saying "I" when they weren't just my babies, that's why. There is absolutely positively no right or wrong way to feel or think after a loss. So, again, these are my thoughts and feelings, but that in no way means my feelings should reflect those of other people who have also experienced a loss. What I think and feel may or may not be the same as what others think and feel, and that's perfectly acceptable. There are pieces of our story that stick out to me, but I will never ever say that anything makes it harder than someone else's experience with miscarriage. Nor will I ever minimize our experience by saying someone else had it harder than I/we did. Also, many people have struggles related to becoming parents that are similar, but different (infertility, infant loss, etc.); I don't claim to know how that feels and that's okay. Some of our feelings probably mirror each other, but our journeys are different and I do understand that. Each individual experience is just that, individual. There is no right or wrong, better or worse. For those of you who think I'm talking about you at times in here, you're probably right. And don't worry, I'm genuinely and wholeheartedly happy for all of you...now. I had good and bad days then, I think you can probably understand that, but this isn't about now, this is about how I felt then. No hard feelings, pinky swear. [Addition after completing this post: I feel the need to write, "But really, I'm okay, I'm not a mess over this and life does continue and life is still good" but I feel like that would be minimizing my feelings throughout this whole process. I mean, I really am okay and happy and all that, but that doesn't take away from how horribly, awfully, gut wrenchingly sad this was for us. And the memory of this experience will always be that way. Just because I was a mess for a while, understandably so, doesn't mean I'm not strong or okay or mentally healthy. So, there's that, too, for whatever it's worth.] And finally, I don't really know where I'm going with this; I'm just going to write, and I'm not going to proof read. So, read on if you'd like.
The background info (skip this if you're not interested, there's your warning): I love kids. Trevor loves kids. Kids almost always love both of us. We wanted to wait until just the right time to have our own. Knowing there would never be a perfect time, but there would certainly be a right time, Trevor approached me about trying to get pregnant before he deployed to Kuwait. We started talking seriously about it late February 2011 (knowing he was leaving that May) and decided to go for it in March. I got my IUD out (which was a fiasco in itself, but whatever) and the doctor who removed it semi-politely told me the odds of us getting pregnant between the end of March and the beginning of May were not good. We're not idiots, we knew it might not happen, but way to give us a challenge. I started tracking my cycle right away, ovulation predictor strips, temperature taking, period tracking and all the other exciting signs of fertility. Trevor left for the first time of this tour (those of you who have been through deployments know there's a lot of back and forth during pre-deployment training) on Mother's Day, 2011. I ovulated the day after he left and got a positive pregnancy test 9 days later (pretty early!), on May 19. Trevor was at Camp Ripley and I got a hold of him, called to make my first doctor's appointment (don't even get me started on the insurance nonsense that required me to doctor an hour away) and started feeling like garbage and exhausted almost immediately. Trevor came home for Memorial Day weekend and we told our immediate families the news so Trevor could be a part of that. I was 5 weeks pregnant at the time. I had two friends pregnant within a few weeks of me, too. One was even another Army Wife going through the same deployment. I knew the statistics for miscarriage. If you know me, you know my way to cope with good or bad is to fill myself with more knowledge than I could possibly need, so I had done my homework on risks and all that. Being completely honest and not even a little bit "hindsight is 20/20" I had a funny feeling. I wouldn't call it "knowing something was wrong," but I remember distinctly thinking "if any of us three has a miscarriage (statistics are right around 30% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, depending on who you ask), I bet it's me." I was so anxious, nervous, excited I wanted to get into the doctor ASAP. The earliest they could/would see me was June 20. Trevor was able to be on the phone for that first appointment and his mom and one of his sister's came with me. This was my first pregnancy ultrasound, so I had no idea what to expect or what I was seeing on the screen. My doctor said, "now, each pregnancy is associated with a sac..." and I was thinking, "OK, cool, as in...each pregnancy in the world" not each pregnancy INSIDE MY BELLY. So she continued on, "so here's one here...and here's another there!" And I just blinked and she said, "so it looks like twins!" Trevor was silent. His mom and sister were ecstatic, and I had some silent panic going on, truth be told. Someone asked Trevor if he heard all that and he said, "if you could see my face, you'd know I did!" Anyway... there were two babies, two heartbeats, both within "healthy" range, but one noticeably slower than the other. So, my doctor scheduled me for a follow up ultrasound the next week just to check in on things. I went straight to the library to check out books on twins and terrified myself about vanishing twins, where one just kind of absorbs into the other. I was worried about that weaker heartbeat. I spent all week hoping my funny feeling was just be being dramatic and that heartbeat would pick up and that little baby would catch up. I kept reminding myself it was still within healthy range, no need to panic. I pictured going into labor with much less predictability, how much help I would need with two babies (Trevor wouldn't be home until four months after the due date plus they'd likely be born early). We talked about baby names and picked out two of each sex just in case (we wanted to talk about it while we were in the same time zone, before Trevor actually left the country-he was still training in Wisconsin at this point). It didn't take long at all before we both really embraced the idea of having twins.
If you skipped all that background stuff, let me catch you up. Trevor was still at his pre-deployment training in Wisconsin. I was pregnant with twins and had seen/heard their heartbeats a week prior, Trevor was on the phone for that appointment, everything was pretty normal. That's the short version. Anyway, Trevor's other sister was able to go to the follow up ultrasound with me and, once again, Trevor was able to be on the phone for it. I explained the situation (Trevor/phone call) to the ultrasound tech and she said I could call him once she got all set up and ready to go. She was prodding around, looking at the screen (it wasn't facing me yet) and I just kept getting more and more anxious. Trevor's sister was just watching her and the screen, we were both excited. The tech asked me if I had had any cramping or bleeding and I got more nervous. I said no and she said okay. I looked at Jamie and she tried to reassure me. I figured they ask everyone that just kind of checking in or something. It felt like an eternity, but probably wasn't long at all, but the tech told me she was not able to find any heartbeats. Neither baby. I was shocked. I had semi-prepared myself to only find one, even to have a vanishing twin, but no heartbeats at all??? I had no cramping, no bleeding, no loss of pregnancy symptoms (had actually started taking Zofran for nausea it was so bad), no physical symptoms whatsoever. (This is referred to as a missed miscarriage.) Just shocked. I don't really remember how the rest of the appointment went, there wasn't much to it. The tech told me my doctor would be in touch with me soon. I still hadn't called Trevor. He was waiting for me to call so he could hear the heartbeats. I had to tell him. We walked out to my car and I mostly just stood there with my phone in my hand wondering how the hell I was going to call Trevor, who was literally pausing his own training (firing range, I think?) for a year long deployment for this. I was shaking. I couldn't even open my mouth for a bit, knowing I'd burst into tears if I did. His sister said what she could, but there's nothing you can really say to change it, make it better, it just is. (Here's where the real emotions will come in-no right or wrong, people.) So, I just had to do it. I had to call. At that moment, I would have rather gotten that news 100 times myself than had to be the one to tell Trevor. I knew he'd want to be there. I didn't know if it would seem real to him. He's always been so "medical" about stuff (it happens, you know the statistics, etc.) I was terrified of how he would react. But I just did it. I dialed (or whatever we do on cell phones now) and he answered. He was expecting to hear heartbeats and excitement. I didn't know what to say. So, I just said, "there were no heartbeats" and cried. I don't remember the rest of the conversation. It was brief. There wasn't much to say. I made it clear and he said he was sorry and I said I was sorry, too and we hung up. Remember how I said don't get me started about the insurance nonsense? Well this ultrasound was in Mankato so I had to drive myself home which was an hour drive. I texted a few people right away because I didn't want to get the excited texts "how was your appointment?!?" (I had told my boss, some close friends and family members.) I pulled up to our house and, like usual, got the mail. You'll never guess what was in my mailbox... A baby shower invite. For someone who wasn't married and the baby wasn't planned. (All babies are awesome, but just take a second to think about that in my current state of mind.) I'm pretty sure I littered that invitation. And I do not litter. The rest of the day is a blur. My doctor was out of the office that day (fabulous) but called me anyway to explain my options. I could let my body (hopefully) recognize the miscarriage and let things happen naturally. My doctor was very clear I didn't need to do anything, at least not yet. She then explained that if I wanted to, or if my body didn't recognize what had happened, I could get a D&C where the "tissue" (babies and all that) would be removed in a surgical procedure. (I promise I will stop reminding you all of my disclaimers after this one, but remember, this is how I felt about my situation and my body, not implying anything more about others and their feelings/choices/situation.) I was so sad and hurt and angry and, honestly, grossed out that I had two dead babies in my body I wanted them to do whatever it took to make it stop as soon as possible. I didn't hesitate one bit telling my doctor as much and she scheduled a pre-op appointment for the next day. I, of course, talked to Trevor to make sure he didn't have any reservations and he fully supported my decision. Aside from that logistical issue of talking to my doctor then talking to Trevor about the D&C, I screamed bloody murder and sobbed like never before into my pillow the entire night. The entire.night. It was awful. I wanted to talk to Trevor but I didn't even know what to say. I didn't know what I wanted to hear. There were still people who didn't know. I had just said goodbye to my husband for a year and now I was saying goodbye to my two babies I never got to meet. What was I supposed to do, just stop thinking about the baby names and how we were going to arrange two cribs in one room? I still had all my pregnancy symptoms, so on top of the emotional nightmare that was happening, I felt nauseous and constipated (thanks, Zofran) and exhausted. I was sad. Hurt. Angry. Confused. We would be AMAZING parents. We planned this. We were ready. WHY?????? At some point I fell asleep and had to gather myself up to go back to Mankato for my pre-op appointment the next day. Trevor was very busy with all his training, but doing the very best he could to be there for me. I was hoping he was processing all this okay, but I was really in no position to be caring for someone else at that time. I was texting him while in the waiting room for my pre-op and somehow it came up to see if Trevor could come home for a few days. For me. For him. A distracted soldier is..well...not a good thing, let's just say that. The details of all that are a blur, but a very good friend (fast forward...Myra's godfather) took off on the 5+ hour drive to pick him up before we even had official approval that he would be allowed to leave. Trevor's mom helped with the red cross message (sad, but we live in a world where they have to verify this type of situation is legitimate, so it all has to be official). I was hopeful, but not getting too excited. Unfortunately, the military has disappointed at times in the past, and I couldn't handle any more of that right then. I went in for my appointment and asked for another ultrasound. I was so shocked the day prior, I didn't even ask to look at the screen myself. My doctor kindly obliged and said many women ask the same thing. She pointed out where I saw the flutters of the heartbeats for me the first time, and said, "see how they're not moving now?" Then she turned on the sound to show there was nothing to hear. It was hard to see and hear, but comforting at the same time. I truly knew this was real now. And no, not closure. We're way far away from that at this point. Again, more blur of memory, but I went home and had gotten word that Trevor would be allowed to come home for a few days, so we were both glad we had someone already on the way to go get him. They arrived late that night and it was a quick drop off. We hugged, I (we?) cried and at some point I turned into an exhausted, defeated zombie. The next day was my best friend's (fast forward...Myra's godmother) birthday. I know she understood then and still does, but I had this nagging feeling she would know I wasn't genuinely perky in my "Happy Birthday!!" text message. (Stop worrying about other people and worry about yourself for once!) I was sedated for the D&C, everything was explained to Trevor, recovery at the hospital was minimal and we were on our way home. Now, keep in mind, I was still taking Zofran for nausea because my body still didn't get the message that I didn't need pregnancy symptoms anymore. So, I think by the day of my D&C I was on like day 9 of not pooping. Pretty uncomfortable considering what else had just gone on in that part of my body. My doctor encouraged me to wait a day or two if possible before trying an enema. Ultimately, I did and it worked, but it just wasn't a fun couple of days. It wasn't awful physically, but all things considered, I would have much rather been pregnant and sick with my husband at Fort McCoy. Trevor was wonderful and I am so glad he was able to come home for those few days. He did, however, have his mind on the mission (training and deployment) and wanted to get back sooner than later. I had a bit of a meltdown about him leaving on July 3, leaving me to "enjoy" 4th of July with......????? I would have had lots of offers, but would have been miserable with anyone else. So, I talked him into staying and brought him back to Fort McCoy on July 5. (He had approval for 10 days just to be safe, but we both knew he definitely wouldn't use them all.) We certainly didn't use it as a holiday to party back home while all of his fellow soldiers were working hard away from their loved ones. It was far from a party zone at the Gibbs house, I promise. My doctor wrote me a note to be off work for a week following the surgery (so almost two weeks off work in total) which was a much needed mental health (and physical health) break.
I had planned to go visit family near Maidson, WI the next weekend (a week and a half later) because there was a Serving Our Troops event at Fort McCoy that Sunday, so it made sense to make a weekend out of the trip. I needed to have some normal in my life, so I kept those plans. I was doing okay, not crying myself to sleep or anything (although if I had been, I'd say that's perfectly acceptable at that stage, too), but I'd have waves of sadness, anger, whatever. Mid-July, the soldiers got one last "pass" to come home and spend time with families before actually leaving the country. My post-op appointment was during that time, so Trevor was there with me for that. My doctor knew our situation (deployment), but gave us the medical go-ahead to try again any time we were ready. It was good to hear...the idea of trying again and this wasn't the end of the road, but it was also like a big fat slap in the face (not my doctor's fault, of course). After such excitement early on in the deployment, and with Trevor leaving the country in two days, NOW we can start over?
I had a few friends I knew who had been through miscarriage(s). They were all so helpful in their own ways. One told me, "It's sad, very sad, and it will always be sad, but it will get better," which was enough hope for me at the time to get through the bad moments. The "it will get better" was true, but I still had a few meltdowns here and there. One friend mostly just listened and validated my feelings, which was amazing. Another shared her story of what really helped her get over that hump...many might call it closure (maybe she even did?) but for some reason I just don't like that word. Regardless, I have a small handful of amazing women in my life who have been through this and just get it. No "it happened for a reason" or "you'll try again when Trevor is home" - yeah, those things might be true but not even a little bit helpful in my situation, thanks but no thanks. Just compassion. I'm very grateful for those women and their open ears, kind words, and big hearts.
Speaking of my meltdowns...I just want to throw it out there that I had some awful feelings at times. Not all the time, not every time, but sometimes. I would hear about friends getting pregnant, having babies (especially when it was a girl...I am all about a healthy baby is absolutely enough, but I desperately wanted a girl), even telling me they were considering trying to get pregnant (just having the option to try could make me jealous, resentful, sad, hurt, angry, pick an emotion and I felt it)-any of those scenarios could throw me into a tizzy of anger, sadness, or, most often, resentment. (Reminding myself about my promise not to refer back to my disclaimer....but I really want to....I love all your babies, really, seriously, honestly do!) Not only did we have this setback when we were SO ready for a baby (babIES!!), and we HAD babies...right there...like, on the tip of our parenthood tongues (that doesn't even make sense, but go with it...), now we have to wait a year to even attempt it again? How is this fair? Mind you, I worked as the Abused Children's Program Coordinator for a non-profit organization helping individuals victimized by violence, so I was seeing situations every single day where people were treating children like absolute garbage. And, often, they had multiple children. How can these people have one, two, five kids and treat them so badly?! And I can't??? It was hard. There were also the pregnancy messages sprinkled through the coming months...all the way until the month we would have been due. It seems some of the people with whom we shared our good news couldn't contain their excitement and spread the word. Apparently, they didn't get the memo when we miscarried. Trevor even got a birthday card (in January, a few weeks before the would-have-been due date) telling him what a good daddy he will be soon! All that aside, randomly, I would just get sad. It didn't have to be someone else's baby shower or the stupid reminder that I wasn't pregnant by getting my period every month, but I'd just think about it. Thank goodness for Rowdy, he was so good for me that year. Honestly, those feelings got better, but still continued until Myra was born and it started to sink in she was healthy. Friends would want to start trying to get pregnant, or some would get pregnant on accident, and I would get this twinge of...I don't even know what, something unpleasant. Again, I was happy for them, too, but it was just hard wishing I could be there, too. Even when I was, I still didn't have the baby in my arms I had wanted for so long.
The friend who shared with me some of the things that helped her heal? She gave me a brilliant idea. I had been wanting a tattoo for the longest time but couldn't come up with anything. Then it just hit me. A tattoo for these babies I never got to meet. I carried them every second of their lives and loved them with every mother bone in my body, but never got to meet them. I wanted them to be a part of me forever, just like any child. So, I got to work on brainstorming what my tattoo would be and eventually came up with something perfect. Two red snowflakes, similar but different. Snowflakes because they would have been winter babies (quite possibly born early since they were twins), red because they were actually due in January (garnet birthstone) and similar but different because there were two sacs indicating they were likely fraternal, not identical. I also have a big scar on my shoulder, so I chose to get the tattoo right there for symbolic reasons. I don't run around looking for opportunities to bombard people with the fact that I've had a miscarriage, but it is nice to have something tangible that incites conversation about it with people. When people ask about my tattoo, I tell them. (Um, not in this much detail haha, but I tell them the basics). I don't sit and pout about it every day. I don't cry about it often (I get teary eyed every so often, when I really think about it). But it's nice to remember. I've given birth to one baby (a super awesome, amazing baby), but I've heard three heartbeats in my body. I've seen a positive pregnancy test twice. Myra was not my first experience with pregnancy, OB appointments, baby books, picking out names, etc. She's not the first child about whom I've pictured the future.
Myra is amazing. She is perfect for our family and was SO ready to be here. I spent the year Trevor was away tracking my fertility. I figured I should probably make good use of all that time. My cycle was 100% regular and predictable. I could predict my period 5 months in advance if I wanted to do so. I was positive we had missed ovulation when Trevor got home, but, homecomings are exciting and stuff happens whether you think you're fertile or not and, whaddya know...positive pregnancy test two weeks later. I'll spare you the details, but we know for a fact she was conceived the day Trevor came home. My labor and delivery with her was insanely easy and fast (especially for a first timer). We know in our hearts she was meant to be with us, and we were meant to be with her. As soon as she possibly could, she made her way into my womb (kind of an odd word?) and into our lives.
I'm a firm believer in "everything happens for a reason," but I've never been able to grasp that idea in this specific situation. It is what it is. Life can be confusing and hard. Unanswered prayers and all that jazz. But in the end, we're very blessed. No if's, and's, or but's about it.
PS-someone in an online group shared this with me and I love, love, love it. It's from a book.
title is "Den lilla sorgen", i.e. "The Little Sorrow"). I'll translate a
section: "No one can take away from us the happiness we have owned. The
sadness that comes afterwards can not overshadow that joy. The happiness
for a pregnancy is and remains ours, whatever happens. For a few weeks
we live together with the little living things, and during that time our
expectations are pure and fresh - nothing differs between the children
that make it and those that we lose. Allow yourself to be proud of the
child you never got to meet. Never feel ashamed of missing a child that
others call a fetus. Honor its memory in your mind."
Edited to add: We went through a second, and very different, loss three years later. Read about it here.