Adoption · Infertility · Pregnancy Loss

An Untold Story: Breaking the Silence on Pregnancy and Infant Loss

IMG_8831wThere is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou

 

My husband and I have been trying for our second child for 18 months now. In that time, I’ve had 2 chemical pregnancies. If you’re not familiar with the term, it means this:

sperm and egg met and formed an embryo…

I got positive pregnancy tests…

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I got positive blood tests…

the embryo probably even implanted in my uterine wall, but then it died not long after.

My pregnancy tests faded…

the numbers in my bloodwork went down, down, down…

and then it all passed from my body with my period, which was very late each time this happened to me.

Essentially, I was pregnant, and then I wasn’t.

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My husband was the only person I told for a while. As much as I was grieving for the loss of what could have been, I knew so many other women who had experienced losses further along, and I felt like I shouldn’t be complaining because at least I wasn’t facing what they had faced.

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Photo courtesy of Rundwerks Photography

 

When I went to the fertility specialist, he asked if I had experienced any losses, and I said, “No. Not really.”

I tried to justify the self-numbing over the fact I had experienced losses.

I ignored the bulk of my grief because I was comparing the severity of their pain to mine.

But then I realized that when it comes to the pain of loss, it’s not right to compare; it’s not fair to equate my pain with someone else’s because I’m not someone else.

 

“You can’t quantify human pain the way you can measure out sugar. Death comes one individual at a time.” ~Yann Martel

 

I lost two pregnancies, and the length of time they lasted doesn’t matter to qualify them as a loss because it still took my breath from my body when I learned their lives had gone. The names I had picked out were still left without bearers. The “I’m a big brother!” shirt for Lucas still laid buried in a bottom drawer. They didn’t have full bodies yet or beating hearts, but they were alive, and then they weren’t.

 

It wasn’t until after my doctor had given my losses a name that I learned that chemical pregnancies account for 50-75% of miscarriages, and 10-15% of all confirmed pregnancies are lost, most before 8 weeks gestation, and nearly half are caused by chromosomal abnormalities. I also didn’t know that a miscarriage is a loss occurring before 20 weeks; a loss after 20 weeks is considered a stillbirth, and that 1 in 160 pregnancies result in a stillbirth.

 

So, I knew I wasn’t alone, but why didn’t I know any of this before it happened?

 

When I learned that October was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, and that specifically October 15th was a day marked for remembrance, I knew I wanted to break the silence. Because we don’t talk about the things that make us sad or uncomfortable or scared. We don’t talk about stillbirth or miscarriage or infanticide or placement losses in an adoption in the same way we don’t talk about human trafficking or child molestation or suicide. Just writing this is tying my stomach in knots because we don’t talk about these things.

 

It’s not “tasteful” or “appropriate” to the public at large because most people want to close their eyes and turn away and not see the ugliness and pain and devastation that so many face… because if they did, they would have to do something about it, and most of the time, the only thing they can do about it is bring awareness to it, but even that feels too difficult.

 

So, what’s the problem with staying silent?

 

Silence breeds alienation.

 

Silence makes a woman who has miscarried feel like she is the only one in the world who has ever felt this way; that somehow, she has been singled out for such devastation to befall her. That she must have done something wrong to deserve this; that she alone is responsible.

 

Silence dissolves substance.

 

When no one speaks of stillbirth, the reality and gravity of it disappears for everyone else, while parents facing such tragedy are left feeling like ghosts experiencing otherworldly affairs not meant for “normal” people, like their children didn’t exist in anyone else’s eyes but their own. And it makes parents who have lost a placement in an adoption feel as if their pain isn’t justifiable. As if because it was not loss of blood, they shouldn’t be as upset or devastated that they have lost a child.

 

Silence proliferates dehumanization.

 

Communication is the hallmark of humanity. When communication is shut down, the person shut out feels less than human, not allowed to be a part of society. Think about it: our society uses “the silent treatment” as our most severe form of punishment, whether it’s when we are fighting with our spouses or in a correctional facility using solitary confinement. A woman who has miscarried and requires medical assistance is often treated in silence, left in silence, and surrounded by silence, and that silence is suffocating and debilitating. It makes a woman who has had a miscarriage feel like her loss didn’t matter because it was “just a small clump of cells” and “not really a baby.” It makes adoptive parents feel like their loss isn’t as tragic because they didn’t lose a kid who shared their genetic make-up.

 

It turns flesh into memory and devastation into depression. That silence changes you.

 

The biggest problem is that because pregnancy and infant loss have become so taboo, those who experience it feel silenced, and even those who want to say something often don’t know what to say. But being embraced and supported and recognized (not ignored or silenced or pushed aside) by your community, whether that is your husband or wife, your friends and family, your coworkers, your momma tribe, or even strangers in a support group, that is what makes the biggest difference in coping with a loss of such magnitude. When brokenness meets community, healing is possible.

 

Here are some voices from our community, speaking out about their experiences. (Each color represents a different person’s voice.)

 

My DH and I lost two babies in 2013. With both, I was still in the first trimester. Processing and coping with the fact that we had lost our baby was hard, but “untelling” everyone was even harder.

 

Maybe others think that because my daughter lived for 24 days in the NICU, it’s not that bad. I think no matter how long your child lives, they do matter, and they do count.

 

We were chosen by a birth mom. We visited her cross country, made plans for the baby’s arrival, and then she told the agency she was having doubts and didn’t want to place and to cut off all contact with us. We later found out that she ended up placing closer to where she lived. After that loss, it was hard for us to go back into adoption mode again. We even considered not adopting.

 

The first time it happens it’s hard, but you remain hopeful that there is a chance you’ll be able to have your rainbow baby in the future. When it happens for the second time (or beyond), you begin to lose hope and become fearful of what is to come.

 

I was alone when I went. They did an ultrasound, and after having two babies I had an idea of what was supposed to be there and what I saw was nothing. Nothing. At. All. My heart just broke. Just when I thought everything was going to be fine and I was excited for a new little bundle, it was ripped away from me. I had an ectopic pregnancy. I had to be closely monitored because they were worried it would rupture at any given time.

 

I always had heard that you should wait three months before telling everyone, but I never wondered why. I had told everyone in my office just before Christmas. Two days after Christmas, I miscarried. When I returned to work, everyone was congratulating me, and I didn’t know what to say, usually I just hid and cried. Once they found out, most of them didn’t say anything. They avoided me.

 

My OB had told us to seek fertility help after 6 cycles because my husband had a previous history of cancer and we weren’t really sure about the effects of his treatment. But just as we were about to hit the 6 cycle mark, I finally got pregnant. We didn’t intend to tell anyone right away but we were leaving for a vacation with my big Irish family that weekend. Abstinence from alcohol would certainly be noticed. So we told my mother in law when I was less than 6 weeks along. She was as excited as we were. After lunch, I went to the bathroom and there was blood.

 

Infertility is a loss, too. A lot of people who don’t struggle with infertility have a lack of understanding that it is a loss they are dealing with on a daily basis- when they see people pregnant or hear people complaining about having so many kids or have people ask if they’re done having kids or telling them to just adopt because it’s easier (No. It’s not) it hurts. And I think during this month, these women get forgotten in all of this. Even though they would never wish that pain upon themselves, sometimes they wish they even had the chance to see that stuff is working, that something would happen, so that they might not feel so empty. It’s twisted, but it’s true.

 

I’m not sure which is worse, telling everyone that you lost a baby or suffering in silence. I couldn’t bear hearing ignorant comments or have my losses brushed off as those tiny beings didn’t matter. A simple “I’m sorry for your loss,” and a hug would have sufficed at the time.

 

To me, I think the hardest thing is when people say, ‘at least.’ There is no ‘at least.’ My daughter mattered. Her life was important to me.

 

The torment of the failed placement was so hard, but we ended up deciding to recertify, and we were actually sought out by another birthmom out of state. We traveled to California and lived there for three weeks (due to law) with our new adopted son; he was placed in our care right after birth. Once we left and returned home, we thought everything was secure. Then, the agency called us and said, “We have to come get him and bring him back to California. She revoked.”

 

The next afternoon I promptly went to the ER. After waiting for bloodwork, a very kind doctor informed me that my hcg level was 25, lower than what is detected by a home pregnancy test. He was confident I was miscarrying. I spent the week drinking lots of red wine with my extended family and trying not to let my stepdaugher and niece know how sad I was. 

Everything in motherhood is so individualized: pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, parenting methods, and even loss. We need to not compete for who’s pain is worse. It’s not a frickin’ competition.

 

I was sent to the hospital where I was given methotrexate which is a chemo drug- basically it kills rapidly growing cells. It was horrendous. My levels didn’t go down, they were increasing. So I was sent again where they gave me more methotrexate and did an in depth level 2 ultrasound. During that ultrasound is when I just died a little inside. We could see the baby in the tube and it’s heartbeat. My little love bug was fighting to be with us. It killed me to know that there was life there, and it had to be taken from me. A piece of me died back then. It was a very painful and traumatic experience.

 

When I was home, I would lock myself in the bathroom and cry, not just so that my younger children couldn’t see me, but because I wanted to be alone. I needed to have that moment to myself. I think that made it hard for my husband. He wanted to help me, and he didn’t know how, other than to be patient. My pushing him away didn’t help. I guess I was in a place where I was selfish about it and in shock. I didn’t think about how he was feeling. I should have been more sensitive to him; he had a loss too.

 

Even when you do adopt successfully, there’s loss there too because you’ve lost that vision of your children looking like you or having your qualities. You have to deal with people saying stupid things like, “Your child looks nothing like you!”

 

That year, was so rough on my DH (dear husband) and I. I became more closed off, gained weight, and felt like I just had to escape from reality. I had to get away from daily life- home, work, etc. My husband and I ended up taking a beach vacation and it ended up being a great option. I really just needed to distract myself. I think even just going out with my girlfriends, getting away for the day or weekend… just anything that would have taken my mind off of everything would have been helpful.

 

My miscarriage was over 2 years ago now, although I still remember the exact date I started bleeding. I now have a toddler daughter and I am 20 weeks pregnant with another baby. I never think of my daughter as my rainbow baby and the term is odd to me although I’d be lying if I said that having her didn’t heal a lot of the sadness from miscarrying. I still wonder what might have been and I’m finally starting to maybe get on the “everything happens for a reason” train. But in the immediate aftermath, I wanted to punch everyone who said things happen for a reason or because God has a plan, etc. I’m a nice person, a fantastic wife, a devoted stepmother, a loyal friend/daughter/sister and a good employee. I’ve always done everything right my entire life. I’m responsible and dependable. So what could possibly be the reason that I didn’t get my baby???? God helps those who help themselves right? It wasn’t fair.

 

If you’ve never been through it, how would you know what to say? Everyone’s experience is unique. It’s okay to not know what to say, but don’t act like I’m a leper. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room- it hurts the person in pain more.

 

I hate the question, ‘How many children do you have?’ It’s something I will never get over or move on from.

 

If you aren’t sure what to say to a friend, stick to telling them how sorry you are for their loss and that you’re there to talk about it now or in the future, whatever they need. A loss is a loss and people just need sympathy. 

 

We loved our adoptive son so much, and I had never felt pain like that ever in my life. I felt like I had been forced to give my child away. I never made any choices to create that feeling, and we had done everything right. My husband and I were a mess and so was my older daughter. Her little brother had been taken away, and I had never heard her cry like she did then; it’s haunting even now. I just kept thinking, “Why would someone do this?”

 

Further complicating things was my husband’s relief to find out his cancer treatment hadn’t ruined our chances of him having another child. He just couldn’t be as sad as I was. I was angry and bitter and jealous of anyone who was pregnant. I was frustrated by people telling me at least I knew I could get pregnant. I was frustrated by people telling me not to be bitter and angry. I was frustrated by people who said at least it had happened early on. I was frustrated when people said at least I had my stepdaughter because she was in middle school when I met her! I wasn’t around for any of her baby/toddler/preschool/elementary school days. Yes, I love her very much, but I missed out on a HUGE part of her life! I wanted to experience that somehow. And I was frustrated I couldn’t share it with the world, post it on facebook, etc. because that’s just not how things are done. I wanted people to know I was hurting. I wanted to talk about it. But after a few weeks it seemed like family and friends had moved on and I was still stuck on the fact that I wasn’t getting my baby.

 

I didn’t really have a support system there besides my husband, but I made it through. We had a vacation planned right around that time, and so I went to the ocean with the heartache, and I believe it somewhat healed those wounds.

 

I believe that our pain makes us better people; it turns us into the people we are meant to be because if we didn’t experience the pain, we may not have as much compassion for others. If we just had that black and white, we wouldn’t have anything to push us into gray.

 

One thing I didn’t know is that 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage, but when it happens to you, you feel like you’re the only one in the world because people don’t talk about it. Give advice when asked and not before. Listening is a better tool for compassion and help. If they know and don’t say anything, it’s feels like they don’t care. So, as long as your heart is in the right place, you should say something. It’s appropriate to say something. Show that you care. Act as you would if they had lost a parent or a friend; offer your condolences in some way, don’t pretend it never happened, and don’t say, “It was God’s will,” or “It was meant to be,” because that hurts, a lot.

 

I just wanted people to say they were sorry I didn’t get my baby and not to excuse or justify why it wasn’t so bad. The kindest email came from my brother in law’s mother who said she was very sorry to hear about my loss and knew it was never easy. She also said I should know that medically one miscarriage is not a bearing on future pregnancies. She didn’t say I would get pregnant again, she didn’t tell me it had happened for a reason or that it was God’s plan, she didn’t belittle it because I hadn’t even had an ultrasound yet.

 

Everyone knew we had this baby, everyone at church knew, and then everyone knew that our adoption was destroyed. Other people aren’t as involved in your baby’s birth sometimes, or even know that you are pregnant, but for us, everyone knew. They had walked that journey with us. They had read my blog and followed along with our joy and pain. That blog, my husband and God got me through it; being able to write about it was very cathartic. I would never have been able to talk about it like that. I mean, I felt like he had died, but of course he hadn’t. I can still see him thankfully, even now, on Facebook, growing up, getting older. I still miss him and love him. I still cry when I think about losing him.

 

On a positive note, my DH and I got pregnant for a third time and had a healthy boy last fall. We’ve come such a long way, and I was starting to feel like we would never get here.

 

Afterwards I spoke with my doctor about a permanent form of birth control, and he refused to give it to me. I expressed my heartache to him, and he just hugged me and let me know that I shouldn’t give up, not to close the door on bearing more children because of the trauma I had endured. And I am so, so, so thankful that I took his advice, or I wouldn’t have the beautiful daughter I have today.

 

On the flip side, I got pregnant two months later. I spent a lot of time crying in the bathroom then too because I was so scared something was going to go wrong. I always looked at it as making room for my next baby; if I hadn’t lost that baby, I wouldn’t have this one.

 

If our adoption hadn’t happened the way it did, we most likely wouldn’t have our now daughter. She came to us just a few months later. She wouldn’t have found us if our adoption prior had been perfect. In fact, the same day that we found out that our daughter’s sweet birth-mother wanted us to be her family forever, Our would be adoptive son’s adoption placement finalized. Talk about amazing. And that exact morning I saw a picture of his now family commemorating, all I could feel was joy. The Lord was so good to have given me peace in that way. 

 

Healing doesn’t mean forgetting. Healing means recognizing and accepting what has happened, honoring the lives that have been lost, and moving forward with the pain and the memories. Remembering is painful, but forgetting isn’t an option.

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I encourage you to light a candle to honor and remember your angels this evening. Take a moment to remember and pray for the lives you lost, for their stories that will remained untold. And break the silence so that others may see that you are not just a statistic. You are not just 1 in 4. Your story matters. Share it, hashtag it #mystorymatters, and break the silence.

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My condolences and love and comfort to you all, may you find the courage to speak up and speak out.

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