Today is the day I crawled out from under my rock. This is my story about the loss of my baby at 20 weeks into my pregnancy. My husband and I were completely blind sided and many more women than I ever realized have been, and will be, unfortunately in my same position. My heart truly aches for the unsuspecting mommies out there that will undoubtedly go through a similar experience. I can not provide any answers, as I myself have none nor can I prevent fate. And not that today’s pregnant woman needs any other reason to worry, but I’m writing my story in hopes of reaching a wider audience and creating awareness. Like me, many women enter this experience totally unsuspecting and oblivious, which made it all the more painful for me to accept what was happening.
This is where our journey begins…My husband and I found out a week and a half ago that we had lost our first baby. I was 20 weeks pregnant, finally showing, out of the dreaded “tween” time and feeling good. We were going in for a follow up appointment from the routine 16 week blood test where the AFP (alpha-fetoprotein) test came back elevated. I was told not to worry. It just meant we were in a higher risk category but by no means should we think that something was wrong with the baby. After all, this test is infamous for producing false positives and some would say controversial. Of course I still worried, and even started to accept that something could be wrong with the spine or maybe our baby would be born with a birth defect. However, the thought of miscarrying hadn’t entered my mind since eagerly waving good bye to the first trimester nearly 2 months earlier. I never in my wildest dreams thought of the possibility of what came next.
So on the table I go...fearing some bad news I had already come to terms with, but excited nonetheless to finally know boy or girl. My husband hadn't seen the baby since much earlier on and I heard his excitement to see how much more baby there was. I agreed, and mentally noted that our peanut was very still. The ultrasound technician began to press harder and then said “I need to go get the doctor, I'm afraid I do not see a heart beat.” She left the room and we just bawled in disbelief…and thought she clearly didn't know what she was doing and the doctor would come find it no problem. The doctor came in and confirmed our worst fear and called it a “fetal demise.” Seeing my dead, fully developed baby on the monitor as I heard those words is something I can’t seem to shake. It’s haunting.
At this point the genetic counselor came in to explain our options. I could not even process what was coming out of her mouth at first. Disappointingly, don’t expect the doctor or even the counselor to guide you through the unthinkable because legally they can not suggest how to proceed even if inside they have an opinion. This was so upsetting to me. I can read the facts online…I didn’t need a human being in front of me, watching my hyperventilate, just spitting out unemotional and ambiguous facts leaving me to make these decisions alone. We did elect to have an amniocentesis done just in case it could provide some answers. I’ve come to grips with maybe never having an answer but was hoping that perhaps it would reassure me that I am perfectly capable of getting pregnant again, having a healthy baby and this was just a fluke. I will say that is it not uncommon to have no warning, no explanation or reasons. I suggest that if given an opportunity to find out anything, even if that anything is nothing, take it.
Then counselor went on to explain the more painful options…the next steps. She explained I could be induced and deliver the baby or have what’s called laminaria sticks inserted in my cervix one day, followed by a D&E (dilation and evacuation) the next. I couldn’t fathom delivering a lifeless child in a maternity ward surrounded by healthy babies and new mommies and daddies. For any woman who was given no alternative to this process, my heart goes out to you. My husband and I had to consider that if I delivered, a pathologist could perform an autopsy but with the D&E, the baby would not be removed in tact eliminating the opportunity for an autopsy. While I previously suggested take an opportunity to find out anything, that opportunity has to make sense and be worth the physical and mental anguish. I decided on the laminaria sticks “lambs” and D&E as an autopsy would have provided information specific to this pregnancy. There was no way for me at this point to change what had happened so I had to make peace with this child’s fate and focus my energy on what this meant for me and being pregnant in the future. Again, they had already done the amnio, which would provide any genetic or chromosomal answers and future concerns, if any at all.
This was on a Friday and the earliest we could be scheduled for the lambs and D&E was for the following Tuesday and Wednesday. I spent the next 5 days and what seemed like eternity carrying our dead baby. I was showing, although less and less each day at this point as my body began to breakdown and absorb the pregnancy. I couldn’t look down in the shower without crying and tried my hardest to break my newly formed habit of turning to the side in the mirror to see how I was changing. Suddenly this belly and what was inside of it made me feel like I was a prisoner in my own body. Those first days were agonizing and sadly, a lot of women have to wait even longer than I did.
Finally Tuesday came and I went in scared to death thinking about what I was going to endure for the next two days. The lambs are compressed seaweed sticks that are inserted into your cervix (as many as the doctor can fit, 2-4 typically) which absorb water forcing them to expand and slowly dilate your cervix. This is very uncomfortable and can trigger labor but it is important to dilate as much as possible to avoid complications with the D&E. A manual dilatation is an option, skipping the lambs; however this can be dangerously forceful and can cause problems in future pregnancies. The pain from the laminaria was incredible and I did experience some contractions. I suggest to any woman having this done to get the proper amount of pain medicine before you go home. I was given a mere 800mg of ibuprofen which barely gets me through my usual cramps, but this is a whole new level of pain (if you’ve had children I have to think the pain might be less severe…). Fortunately for me I was able to get some vicodin which was the only way I got through until the actual D&E the next morning. Wednesday’s surgery was very quick and I came out of recovery fine. I was home before I knew it. I went to bed that night saying to my husband tomorrow is going to be a better day, the best day we’ve had since hearing our loss and a day we can finally begin the healing process with the physical evidence behind us now.
I woke up with a much different feeling. We were entering a new chapter of this journey, but really finalizing the previous one. Our baby was really gone. I didn’t really account for the physical loss I would feel all over again. The aftermath of the surgery didn’t help. I was a little sore, but not in pain really. The bleeding just reminded me of the loss and then I started lactating on Friday. My husband seemed to have finally found a better place and I felt like I was starting from square one again. I wrapped my engorged, leaky boobs as tight as I could bear and went out for a margarita- make that three. The next day my boobs were still as big as melons and hurt so bad. The pressure was overwhelming. I kept them wrapped tight all day and all night. By Sunday they had gone down a bit, but still leaking and very full and tender. Monday they were a little better and I hoped that in the next few days I would be as close to back to normal as possible. I had read about what to expect from the lambs and with the D&E, but I never read anything about lactating so I thought it was important to include.
So today is the day I crawled out from under my rock. I made the decision to push myself back into the world. I have cried, talked to my family and best friends, forced myself back into work, written this story and tomorrow will be a new day. I may cry again but I know I have resurfaced and know I am truly ready to enter this new chapter.
Reading like stories without doubt helped me during this time and allowed me except that I am not alone, someone may have it worse, and these things are simply out of our control. I hope by sharing this story I have reached someone in some way. My thoughts and prayers are with all families coping with losses like this. There are happier days in the future for us all!