Trigger Warning: Miscarriage // Recurrent pregnancy loss
Alex and I got married just a few months after I graduated from pharmacy school at the University of Wisconsin. I was working through a pharmacy residency program, and regardless of how busy that made life, we wanted to start trying for a baby right away. I was 24. Being a mom was something I always knew I wanted, regardless of how it came to be, so before I even married Alex, I made sure he was okay with fertility treatments and adoption, in case we couldn’t conceive.
But we were elated to get pregnant right away.
I got a positive test on the day of my missed period. The following day we went to the bookstore to buy the What to Expect… book. I’ve also been an avid knitter since age 15, so I ordered some nice white and gray yarn online to knit a baby blanket.
The next week, I had to travel for a pharmacy conference to Orlando. I left Sunday, and on Monday night, I noticed light brown spotting. My stomach dropped. I called Alex, panicked. We really hoped it was just implantation bleeding. On Tuesday and into Wednesday, the bleeding was getting heavier. I was constantly on the verge of tears, and running to the bathroom to check my panty liner every 30 minutes. It was a nightmare. Wednesday night, on the way back from my poster presentation, I felt a huge warm gush between my legs. Of course it was bright red blood. While my co-residents went to Disney that night, I went to a local emergency department. At the emergency department, my urine pregnancy test was negative, and my pregnancy hormone blood test (hCG quant) resulted in a 6. This is so low, it doesn’t even count as clinically pregnant. So I received a prescription for naproxen, and packets of information about heavy menstrual bleeding. On Friday, a blood test at my local clinic came back pregnant, but at a quantity nowhere near high enough for 5-6 weeks pregnant. A week later, another blood test confirmed I miscarried as any pregnancy hormone was gone.
I miscarried before the yarn for the baby blanket even arrived. When it came in the mail, I hid it away in an empty closet. I felt unsure about what to do with it.
So Alex and I had unprotected sex on Christmas Eve, thinking I couldn’t get pregnant again, yet. Or if I’m completely honest, maybe with just a smidge of hope--that I’d somehow get pregnant and it would fill this void.
So we waited, and waited, and waited for my next period to come. It didn’t. I decided to test, and got a big, fat positive. I called the clinic and they explained that this was definitely a new pregnancy and ordered a blood test that day, and 2 days later. I was definitely pregnant and it was progressing. Great news! I got out the white and gray yarn I bought for the baby blanket and started knitting it.
Eight days later, I started lightly spotting. Again, it got progressively heavier. An ultrasound was inconclusive, it showed a small gestational sac, but the embryo was either too small to be viewed, or already gone. My next blood test demonstrated increasing pregnancy hormone, but not at a quick enough rate. In a couple days, I was heavily cramping and passed a lot of tissue in the shower. My next blood tests confirmed miscarriage. I still hadn’t finished knitting the baby blanket.
During my two worst days, my co-workers and I were getting our certifications to provide pediatric advanced life support. I felt guilty for being emotionally absent at the training sessions, and for mourning something so small. I could only focus on the idea that my then poppy seed sized embryo was unsaveable. In the meantime, we decided to wait until my residency was over to try again. We now had quite a few medical bills to pay. I spent time doing some research. I looked up risk factors for miscarriage, but found I was almost always in the demographic least likely to miscarry. So, what the hell?! Why wouldn’t my body carry a child? I learned that approximately 60% of all miscarriages are due to issues with genetics, defects in the sperm and/or egg or how they combine that are not compatible with life. I finished knitting the baby blanket.
I traveled to NYC and while there, got my first tattoo alongside my best friend. Because why not? It was one thing I could do that a pregnant woman couldn’t, besides cleaning the cat litter box! It’s just a flash tattoo of mountains on the inside of my left arm. The artist wanted to know if I had any particular mountains in mind as he was designing it. I shrugged. I’m not actually familiar with physical mountains. I haven’t climbed any. My mountains represent my struggles, my miscarriages. I got three mountains instead of two, because as superficial as it is, two looked weird.
So we started trying to again when I graduated residency and started my job as a hospital pharmacist.
I conceived for the 3rd time after a few of months of trying. I tested positive very early. My new clinic had my blood tested twice, and initially, numbers indicated my pregnancy was progressing. For the sake of reassurance (or lack-there-of), two more blood tests were ordered for me a couple weeks later. Numbers from these tests indicated the pregnancy was definitely not progressing normally. Obviously, I was hysterical at this point. I found out at work at the end of the day and just sat and cried in the locker room. A coworker saw me and asked what was up. So between sobs, I spilled the beans. “I think i’m having another miscarriage.” I wasn’t bleeding, but tried to explain why I knew my pregnancy wasn’t right. She encouraged me to walk up to the clinic to see what they could do. The clinic, however, was closing in 10 minutes, and it was my doctor’s day off, anyway. I still went up, because I knew my numbers were low, and was concerned that this could also indicate an ectopic pregnancy.
I asked the receptionist if she could call the doctor so I could talk with her on the phone. I was asked to step into an exam room. The doctor came in a few minutes later, and just closed the door before she started shouting at me. She told me how “pissed” she was that she was called in for a non-medical emergency. She assumed I had “thrown my weight around” as a pharmacist and gotten the office staff to do what I wanted by using my position. I just kept crying and didn’t say anything. She then sat down and looked at my numbers and confirmed that my numbers weren’t doubling (duh!), and ordered an ultrasound for the next day. So I went home that night, even more anxious and enraged due to my encounter with the doctor. Alex and I showed up at the ultrasound the next day, not expecting anything. But guys, THERE WAS A HEARTBEAT. Even as early as 5 weeks and some days, there was a little flicker. Well, that was great news, and its crown to rump length was measuring 2 days ahead. WHAT?! So we became hopeful. I had an appointment set up a couple weeks later (around 7.5 weeks pregnant). They used the in-office mini ultrasound to check out the embryo. And, it STILL had a heartbeat. We were over the moon, again.
I ordered some yarn to knit hats for a baby announcement. Alex’s hat would say ‘1’, mine would say ‘2’, and baby’s would have a ‘3’ on it.
The yarn arrived and I started knitting the hats.
Four days later, we received a horrific call. My father-in-law passed away, extremely unexpectedly, of an aortic dissection. Alex left the next day to prepare the funeral, and work with family to get things in order. My mom came to stay with me while I finished my last couple days of work before I would go to meet Alex. The morning I was supposed to travel with mom, I started spotting. Light brown, again. The clinic wasn’t concerned, after all, we had seen a heartbeat, twice! However, they agreed to schedule me an ultrasound because I needed answers before I left. This ultrasound was different. The embryo looked like it had fallen to the bottom of the gestational sac. And there was no flicker; No more heartbeat. I started sobbing.
Then I made the worst phone call of my life. I called Alex and told him that I started spotting that morning, and that I had already had an ultrasound and that our baby was gone. I went and bled throughout the funeral. Someone who had absolutely no idea what was going on even called me out over Facebook for being cold and unloving during the funeral.
I scheduled a D&C for Monday, so they could collect tissue to test, to maybe get some answers. Weeks later, test results were inconclusive. The lab hadn’t been able to produce any results with the small amount of tissue they were able to collect at the D&C. Embryos at 8 weeks are tiny, and likely mine had stopped growing normally far before then.
At this point, Alex’s and my hats were finished, but I hadn’t finished the baby’s. And I suppose my tattoo is now accurate.
So we were referred to a reproductive endocrinologist for further testing. Because I’d had three consecutive miscarriages, I now had been diagnosed with recurrent pregnancy loss. I had blood tests done, to reveal any hormonal issues that could be contributing factors. I also had a hysteroscopy to check my fallopian tubes and uterus. My husband had a sperm analysis done. We had genetic testing done. Everything was absolutely normal. And on a lighter note, Alex’s sperm count was off-the-charts high. We hung his results on our fridge. No wonder I was getting pregnant so easily. We came up with a plan with our reproductive endocrinologist. On our next cycle, we’d try a fertility drug called clomiphene (Clomid), to increase the number of eggs I would release. Therefore, increasing my likelihood of conceiving multiple embryos, and subsequently, the likelihood that at least one would survive.
Alex and I didn’t really stick to the plan, though. Once our blood tests came back normal, we didn’t wait to start trying again. And the cycle before we were to start Clomid, we fell pregnant for the 4th time. Whoops.
Our beautiful baby boy
For whatever reason, the 4th pregnancy worked. I turned 26 while I was 8ish weeks pregnant on Mother’s Day. In fact, I delivered my son a couple days after his due date in December 2015. The whole pregnancy was absolutely normal. I, of course, was constantly aware of everything that could go wrong. Every single day, multiple times, I would ask Alex and my mom, and my coworkers, if they thought the baby was healthy. I was convinced that somehow this baby would be taken away from me, that my body would fail again. If he didn’t kick me every 5 minutes, I would start to panic. Thankfully, he was so active. I don’t think he ever stopped kicking. And he still never stops running around!!!
Something people always asked me when I was visibly pregnant was, “Is this your first?” I always said, “Yes,” but really, how was I supposed to answer that? This question opens up a whole can of worms. I wasn’t going to go into detail about my miscarriages, but I also didn’t feel comfortable saying it was my first because I hadn’t had the baby, yet. While rare, what if something went wrong with this pregnancy? Then would this also not count as my first?
Because of my previous losses, I had very irrational, intrusive compulsions throughout the entire pregnancy. For the first trimester, I was so concerned because I didn’t have much morning sickness at all. I had to wear dark underwear, otherwise I’d obsess over whether my discharge was tinged with blood. I was afraid to order anything online for the baby because I thought I might miscarry before it arrived.
The following list is not exhaustive, but may paint you a picture. I didn’t drink any caffeine. I googled everything I put into my mouth before eating it. I wouldn’t have sex. I wouldn’t pick up our cat or carry laundry baskets or even gallons of milk. I was irrationally afraid of bad smells. I made sure I didn’t cross paths with anyone smoking. I’m not religious or superstitious, but if salt spilled, I threw it over my shoulder. If I lost an eyelash, I blew it away and said a prayer. I only drank bottled water. I would not eat from silverware with water stains. I waited to fall asleep until I felt the baby kick after getting into bed. I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning until the baby kicked. It was completely out of control. Thus, as I sobbed in the OB’s office the day after my due date, she agreed to have me induced the next day for my own sanity.
I’ve now had two consecutive pregnancies (#4 and #5) that have resulted in the healthy, term births of my son and daughter. Despite the miscarriages, I still feel like the luckiest woman in the world. I am so grateful every day for my pregnancies and kiddos. This is quite honestly the happiest time of my life.
Over the course of my journey, I received so many unsolicited comments. To be succinct, I’ve created two lists: Advice that hurt and advice that helped. It’s summarized below. The list is bound to be different for everyone, as beliefs and situations are different, but it may help if you find yourself in difficult conversation with someone dealing with pregnancy loss.
What people said that HURT
Maybe it wasn’t the right time
You need to relax; you know stress can cause miscarriages [FALSE]
Were you eating right?
At least you know you can get pregnant!
It’ll work out next time
I bet you’ll have a healthy pregnancy by [list some specific holiday/date]
What people said that HELPED
I’m sorry that happened to you
This happened to me, too [story sharing]
There was nothing you could do
There was something so wrong with the embryo that it was incompatible with life
Being active on social media in the midst of my pregnancy losses was brutal. For each of my miscarriages, at least one of my friends or acquaintances announced their own pregnancies over Facebook. So I watched them grow and thrive and become mothers, while I, quite frankly, wasn’t. It hurt even worse to know if their pregnancies were unplanned. Logically, this was jealousy rearing its head, but even if you understand where emotions are coming from, you can’t just stop them.
How am I affected now?
Not surprisingly, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a constant source of worry. How I deal with this stress is to do everything by-the-book, in order to reduce SIDS risk as much as possible. I breastfeed/pump. The babies slept/sleep in our room, in their own crib or bassinet, on their backs until at least 6 months of age. There are no loose blankets, sheets, or toys in the crib until at least 1 year of age. The room temperature is kept between 65oF – 72oF. A fan is running and the door is left open for air circulation. They only wear cotton pjs and sleep sacks, no fleece, to prevent overheating. We offer a pacifier.
(As an aside, in no way am I suggesting what you’re doing is wrong, fellow Mommas, this is just what works for us and helps my anxiety.)
Secondly, I feel enormous guilt. Guilt for not being a perfect parent. Guilt for feeling tired or overwhelmed. Guilt for wanting some time to myself. Guilt for all the judgment passed prior to, and since becoming a parent. Guilt for being so busy that I pass by days that were my due dates without even remembering.
I have the baby blanket I knit in my guest room hanging over a chair, where I won’t see it very often. The numbered hats I knit are in a chest in the guest room, with the baby’s left unfinished. I’m hesitant to even touch these. I have some deep-seated, irrational, nonsensical concern that touching these will cause more harm to my family. While I know this feeling is objectively wrong, I can’t shake it. If my hand brushes against them accidentally when I’m reaching for something else, I wash my hands right away.
When people ask me about my tattoo, I don’t often tell the truth. Usually, I tell them that I like how it looks. Which, I do. But I’m too ashamed and worried that I’ll be judged if I talk about my miscarriages. Why? Well, because lots of women have successful pregnancies despite doing many activities not recommended during pregnancy. So, I don’t want people thinking that I must’ve done something REALLY wrong to have my pregnancies fail, because I didn’t. And it’s kind of awkward to bring up. And I don’t want people to pity me, because I’m happy and good right now.
So happy. When my husband and I are having a particularly rough day with the kids, it’s almost inevitable that we look at each other and raise our eyebrows or shrug and smile. And we’re constantly asking each other, “Can you believe we have 2 kids!?”