If you read the title of this post with the tune of the Enigma song “Return to Innocence” in the background – GOOD. Because I’ve had that song in my head the whole day thinking about writing this post!
Can we all agree that the changes to your body during pregnancy are amazing and weird at the same time? The first inkling that I was pregnant came on a Friday morning in November when my breasts no longer fit into my bra. As long time chairperson of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee, this was NOT NORMAL for me. I was somehow patient enough to wait a few more days to take a pregnancy test. Well, I say patient…mainly I wasn’t ready to feel disappointed at the chance the test might reveal a big fat negative. The following week I got my big fat positive. I was so excited to get the news just before Thanksgiving so I could share it with my family in person over the holiday weekend.
As the next couple of months went on, my breasts and waistline grew as fast as my excitement. One January afternoon I decided to go into Motherhood Maternity to buy some jeans because I was no longer able to wear my normal pants and it was too cold to wear dresses on a daily basis. Looking back, I remember both the sales lady and a nurse at the doctor’s office giving me strange looks for wearing maternity pants so early on in the pregnancy. Now I know that my uterus had expanded much faster than a normal pregnancy but everything I read kept feeding me that “every pregnancy is different” line. Since I was a big baby born at 9 pounds 3 ounces and currently stand 6 feet tall, I just assumed my belly would get bigger faster because I was likely to have a big, fat adorable baby.
The weirdest thing about miscarriage is having your body return to normal(ish) when you only expected to get bigger. Normally, I’d feel happy about fitting into a smaller size pant but that wasn’t the case anymore. Even as someone who previously enjoyed being small breasted, I hated trading in my recently acquired, comfy big girl bras. I had felt so beautiful and special when I was pregnant and now my body was betraying me. Reverting back to the body it used to be and trying to erase my pregnancy and excitement.
My closet has become a storage area for my 3 maternity shirts, jeans, cup size C bras, pregnancy pillow, and a small wooden box containing all of the lovely things that were intended for Baby Z. I keep all of it because I really hope I’ll be able to use them all again soon. But I am terrified of reliving this nightmare, of losing another baby, and losing myself in grief. How do you ever fully enjoy a pregnancy after a miscarriage? How do we return to innocence?
Maybe the motivation lies in the lyrics of the song stuck in my head:
Don’t be afraid to be weak
Don’t be too proud to be strong
Just look into your heart my friend
That will be the return to yourself
The return to innocence.
If you want, then start to laugh
If you must, then start to cry
Be yourself don’t hide
Just believe in destiny.
Don’t care what people say
Just follow your own way
Don’t give up and use the chance
To return to innocence.
That’s not the beginning of the end
That’s the return to yourself
The return to innocence.
The Dead Baby Club. The sorority you never rushed, the membership you never purchased, the group you never volunteered to join. Quite honestly, it’s a group I didn’t really know existed until the day I got initiated. Chances are we all belong to a group we never wanted to be a part of. Maybe you lost a parent/aunt/uncle/sibling/grandparent way too early. A part of you always wants to hand in your membership card but it never expires.
My uncle and his wife got into a car accident about 6 months after I was born. Someone hit their car from behind and their truck rolled off the road. My uncle sustained minor injuries, but my aunt was ejected from the vehicle. She had unfastened her seatbelt for a moment to check on the dogs behind her, returned to her seat and was braiding her hair when their car was struck. She had massive internal injuries and swelling on the brain and a short time later she was gone at the age of 24.
The only things I know about her are what people told me. That she loved dogs, she enjoyed beating my great grandpa at board games, everyone adored her, and that she was the greatest love of my uncle’s life. Unfortunately, the only memory I have is visiting her grave.
My parents would take us to the cemetery so they could mourn the loss of their sister-in-law, and my sister and I would often wander off reading headstones together. There is a section of the cemetery called “Lullaby Land” that always beckoned us. We read names, calculated how old the babies and children were, and wondered how they died. There was even one headstone that contained a baby’s picture with a metal lid that rotated to cover it like a locket. We would wipe the dirt from the photo and stare into the face of a child gone from this world too soon.
During my own grieving period, I had close to one hundred women reach out to me. They bravely shared their stories with me and in the process shared some of my grief. Before long, I had a network of strong women praying for me, checking on me, lifting me up, and crying with me. I’m amazed that this network of women existed without me even realizing it. Women who have struggled to get pregnant on their own, who have gone through countless procedures, suffered miscarriages and stillbirths, or lost their precious infants. As my mom has always said, there is no greater pain than a parent who has to bury or grieve their child.
I like to think that my baby is in a peaceful, heavenly Lullaby Land. A place where angels sing a sweet lullaby, and my aunt and grandpas take turns rocking my little one.
Words cannot express how grateful I am for my own angels here on earth. For my mom who texts me that she loves me when I’m sitting at work with tears spilling over my cheeks. For my sister who came to Austin for my D&C and is willing to talk to me when I feel down. For my best friend who has let me grieve at my own pace and complain as often as I need. For the friends and family who have emailed/texted/called/sent flowers and cookies (my love language!!)/come to visit. For my sister-in-law who has held me and let me ugly cry on her shoulder in public. For my workout friends who support me and encourage me both at the barre and when I cancel classes. For the fellow angel mom who anonymously sent me a necklace and kind note.
So here’s my purpose for this blog. To offer a safe place to grieve our babies in Lullaby Land, to be a resource for those who feel lost and broken, to be a shoulder to cry on, to encourage someone and tell them that the pain will get better even though it never goes away. To be there with open arms when the next woman unwillingly joins the club.
Grieving the Child I Never Knew: A Devotional for Comfort in the Loss of Your Unborn or Newly Born Child by Kathe Wunnenberg
We spent yesterday at our family farm (more like playground) with my sister and got home late last night. My husband put the kids to bed and I started working on filling up Easter eggs. He asked if we should hide the eggs in the morning worried that ants would get inside the eggs, but I said I was tired and worried the kids would wake up before me and convinced him and my oldest stepdaughter to hide the eggs last night before we went to sleep. True to form, the kids got up before us and waited as patiently as they could for us to wake up at 7:30am. The hunt started not long after and didn’t last long enough for me to snap more than a couple of photos. As the kids picked up the last of the eggs they started screaming. Ants were crawling on their eggs and baskets. If that isn’t a good metaphor for my story, I don’t know what is!
Once I decided I wanted a baby, I started planning everything. I started taking prenatal vitamins a year before we got married. We decided we wanted to try to have a summer baby. I bought a nursery rocking chair and ottoman from someone who posted it on our neighborhood website. My Amazon order history shows a list of all the books I read about conceiving, pregnancy, and newborns. I knew what to expect BEFORE I was expecting. The week I conceived our baby, I went shopping with my mom at Pottery Barn Kids and fell in love with a crib named “Rory” (a good laugh for anyone who knows my obsession with Gilmore Girls) and a bedding set called “Sleepy Sheep.” I doubt I’ve ever been more prepared for anything in my life!
Through all that planning, I had never read about molar pregnancies. When I had my follow up appointment after my D&C in January, my obstetrician told me that she’d received the pathology report from the procedure but wanted to discuss it with me in person. I was surprised there was a pathology done, as we were told they didn’t usually do testing to determine the cause of a miscarriage until a woman has had 3+ miscarriages. I had thought it would be a standard post op appointment and had told my husband he didn’t need to come with me to the doctor’s office. Right after the doctor greeted me, she starts explaining that they found two things in the pathology report. First, our baby had 69 chromosomes (triploidy) – a condition where the baby has 46 chromosomes (2 copies) from the father and the usual 23 chromosomes from the mother. This happens from the moment of conception when two sperm fertilize one egg and triploidy is “not compatible with life.” My first thought to this news was, well Bill is pretty awesome so I can’t blame this kid for wanting to be 66.6% dad and 33.3% me. And my second thought was relief to know that I hadn’t done anything to harm the baby and that I could finally stop asking the question “why” over and over and over. Second, she explained that it was also a molar pregnancy. My first thought to this was, ok I’m some kind of freak who got pregnant with a tooth (?) as flashes of a Grey’s Anatomy episode replay in my mind. Specifically the episode where a man thinks he’s pregnant but they find a teratoma growing inside him. In all of my Grey’s Anatomy medical education, I’d never heard of a molar pregnancy diagnosis. Basically, when my egg became fertilized by two sperm, the baby AND placenta began to grow abnormally. As it turns out there is a really good reason babies receive half their DNA from mom and half from dad. The paternal cells grow rapidly and are kept in check by the maternal cells that act as a sort of tumor suppressor. So having a molar pregnancy means everything is growing at warp speed. My hCG (pregnancy hormone) grew as rapidly as my belly. By week 9, I had to go buy maternity pants because I’d run out of clothes that fit! In a way this molar pregnancy diagnosis explained all the strange things I’d experienced while pregnant. Typically, the D&C procedure removes all the “products of conception” (can they really not find a better name for it??) and a woman is cleared to try again anywhere from 1-3 months after a miscarriage. I was told that I needed to have my blood checked weekly until my hCG level hit negative (<5) to ensure that all of the cells were removed and did not start to grow again and metastasize. If I hit negative on my own then I’d have 3 more monthly checks to make sure my levels remain negative and I’d be cleared to try to conceive again. If I didn’t hit negative on my own, the next step would be getting injections of Methotrexate – a chemotherapy drug – to kill all the abnormal cells. Molar pregnancies fall under the category of “Gestational Trophoblastic Disease” – gestational refers to pregnancy and trophoblastic refers to placental cells. I specifically had a partial molar pregnancy which means I had a triploidy baby and abnormal placental cells. There is another form of GTD called complete molar pregnancy which occurs when an egg contains zero maternal DNA but is fertilized by sperm, resulting in a pregnancy with no fetus but abnormal growth of cells. Another more rare form of GTD is called Placental Site Trophoblastic Tumor where a malignancy occurs at the location of where the placenta attaches to the uterus and often metastasizes to the lungs or other organs. This can actually occur with normal pregnancies – so it’s important for the placenta to be examined after birth and hCG levels checked around 6 weeks after delivery.
The doctor told me that a molar pregnancy occurs in about 1 out of 1500 pregnancies. Basically I lost the baby lottery. I had planned everything out in advance, but ended up with an Easter basket full of ants.
One of the biggest lessons I learned was that no amount of planning can ensure a good outcome. If I do become a mom, it will be in God’s timing, not mine. When that time comes, I know in my heart it will be EGGStra special. ☺️
HAPPY EASTER to you all!! 🐰🐣🤗
Ecclesiastes 3:11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
To you, this may seem like a strange place to start telling my story, because it’s not the beginning and hopefully not the end of my journey. Instead it marks a turning point in my life and the reason I am sharing my story with the world. Later I will tell you how I got here and where I’m going, but this was the defining turning point.
I woke up on this Good Friday and started my day with some coffee and scripture. I poured myself into verses about Jesus’ crucifixtion and as I read this verse it reminded me of something I said through tears on the darkest night of my life.
Matthew 27:46 “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'”
Tuesday, January 17, 2017 – The darkest night of my life.
That afternoon, I had been to my 11 week checkup appointment with my obstetrician. About a month prior we had seen our precious baby’s heart beating as our hearts burst with pride and love. On this afternoon, a nurse tried to find the baby’s heartbeat with a doppler. As she pressed the wand against my stomach and several minutes passed, I felt nervous and could feel my own heart start to crumble inside me. She reassured us it was common to not pick up the heartbeat on the doppler this early and sent us along to have a sonogram to make sure everything was okay. As I lay on the table, the tech pressed another wand against my belly. An image popped up on the screen and I saw our lifeless baby laying at the bottom of my womb. I had lost our child. Looking over at my sweet husband and seeing tears fill his eyes, I could feel my heart breaking inside my chest. The tech looked at us and said she was sorry but our baby no longer had a heartbeat. She called in the physician who took some measurements as I sobbed in agony. He explained that I’d had a missed miscarriage likely due to a chromosome defect. “Nature’s way of taking care of a problem.”
Everything from then on is a blur. They whisked us through a secret hallway back to my obstetrician’s office. In the 10+ years I’ve been going to this office, I’d never know such a hallway existed. It’s the hallway of sadness…the one they take you through so you don’t scare the happy and hopeful patients in the lobby. The hallway that transforms your life of happiness into despair. We scheduled my D&C for the following day and left for home.
In the darkest night of my life, I cried out to God asking why he had He had forsaken me. I laid awake sobbing for hours. I begged God to give me my baby back. I asked God why He had taken my baby from me. I angrily questioned why God would put the desire to be a mom in my heart only to take my baby from me.
Though I didn’t find answers that night or in the following days, I know that God was with me and comforting me. Counting my tears. Carrying my burden.
I will never forget the moment I heard that my baby’s heart had stopped and mine kept beating. There will never be a day I don’t think of my baby and mourn the life it never got to live. The only thing that comforts me is knowing that the first thing my baby saw was the face of Jesus.
God doesn’t make mistakes. He’s rebuilding my heart one piece at a time and making beauty out of the ashes. It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming….