Tomorrow it will be five years. Five years since we were told our baby’s heartbeat had stopped beating. Five years ago when what I thought was impossible, was possible.
It has been five years, yet I can remember it so vividly. I can recall the raw emotions that pierced through every part of my being. Although life has moved on, I still long for what was not meant to be. And it still hurts.
A few days ago, I had the honor and privilege of taking the stage at a local author night. I, along with two other memoirists, were asked to read an excerpt from our books. The invitation was rather timely, as National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) in the States happens next week. I took this opportunity to not only read from my book, but more importantly, educate the public about the challenges that infiltrate the infertility, loss, and childless community. I sort of used it as my soapbox.
Here is part of the excerpt.
“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”
The following weekend, we flew to Denver to check on the progress of our house project. I had also made a thirteen-week genetic testing and ultrasound appointment at the hospital where I delivered Liam. We knew we would be living in Denver when the new baby was due, so we thought it would be beneficial to have at least one appointment with the facility.
On the last day of our visit, we went in for the ultrasound. Eighteen-month-old Liam was zooming from one corner of the genetic counselor’s office to the other. We spent about thirty minutes with the counselor. The only genetic concern we had between both our families was that my husband had one cousin with Down syndrome. Although we understood this was not likely to be an issue, we agreed to do a simple blood test to find out.
Next, we were led into the room for the ultrasound. I could hardly wait to see the baby’s progress since the last ultrasound at eight weeks. The technician flipped on the screen, and there was our baby. I smiled, and continued looking at it.
“Oh, it’s not moving. Is it sleeping?” I asked.
“Just resting.” The technician said. He looked around a bit longer, and then said he was going to bring in the doctor. When the doctor came in, she sat down next to me and placed her hand on my arm.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “We couldn’t find a heartbeat.”
“No. No. Oh my God.” I began to cry. I cried, and cried, and cried while my husband held my hand and asked the doctor, “Are you sure?”
I angrily turned my head toward him. “YES, she’s SURE!” I cried and cried some more as Liam busied himself with a toy on the floor.
She stated in a soft voice, “You should be thirteen weeks, and it looks like growth ceased right around twelve weeks. I can’t find anything that would give me an answer as to why this happened, but I can tell you that in about 50 percent of these cases, the reason is a chromosomal abnormality.”
After spending some more time with us discussing a D&C procedure, she excused herself and allowed us to spend some time alone.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” I said to my husband through my tears. “I just can’t believe this. Oh my God. Why did this happen? We were just about out of the first trimester!”
We were both distraught but knew we had to move out of the room, and more importantly, attend to the child we already had. I was in a fog on the car ride home. I stared out the window and silently attempted to accept what had just happened.
I switched in to operational mode because I felt like I was emotionally losing control. I needed to make a decision about where and when to have the D&C done. We were flying back to California the following day, and I didn’t know what kind of care was available there.
When we got back to the house, I spent the next few hours calling various facilities that could perform a D&C. The most obvious choice was the hospital we had just visited. I could go in the next day, but that would mean I would have to stay in Denver alone, going through the procedure without Patrick, who needed to fly back to California for work. Also, what would we do with Liam during that time? Neither one of us had family in the area, so we would need to make arrangements for him. My head was spinning, and I didn’t know what to do. However, the deal was sealed when I was informed that the cost of the procedure would be $2,500. At this point, my grief turned to anger.
“I refuse to pay $2,500 to walk away with nothing! I’ve already had a baby taken from me. I understand this has to be done, but not at that cost! We need to look elsewhere,” I said.
Patrick assured me he would stay with me in Denver if we decided to do the procedure there. I continued to call other places, both in Denver and in California. I finally settled on a Planned Parenthood location about a thirty-minute drive from where we were living in California, and I made an appointment for that Saturday morning. We could all fly back to California as scheduled the next day, my husband could return to work on time, and my in-laws could watch Liam.
I called one of my dearest friends, Sarah, to tell her the devastating news. She immediately left work to be by my side, and embraced me on the front steps of our house. She didn’t say anything; she just held me while I unleashed even more tears.
I appreciated that she didn’t say anything like, “It’s going to be okay. At least you have one.” The only thing I remember her saying is, “I’m so, so sorry, Jen.” In that very moment, I believe she understood that silence was what I needed most, even though she didn’t have any children of her own, and had not experienced a miscarriage. She is a wise soul.
I then called my dad to tell him the news. My dad had been the family “go to” person for a lot of my educational, career, and financial concerns, but never for emotional support. I had grown up without hugs or hearing, “I love you,” and we never discussed our feelings. In the past, conversations with my dad had involved the weather, politics, health concerns, or my son. It never got too deep. That day, he listened patiently as I told my story. My mom never played any type of support roll, and I did not expect it would be any different that day.
We still had to meet with the general contractor who came to the house to discuss the work that had been completed while we were gone, and the plans for the upcoming months. I did my part, walking through the house and saying, “This looks great. Can we change this? Can we add to that?” I tried to cover up my broken heart and anguish over the news we had received only a few hours prior. I smiled and asked her to take a picture of our three-person family in front of the house.
Our final visitor of the trip was a friend who was getting married in a month. He excitedly described the wedding location and honeymoon plans, and we responded as enthusiastically as we could. I recall sitting at our dining room table thinking, “There’s a dead baby in me right now.” I felt a gripping emotional pain as I smiled and wished our friend the best with his wedding.
Grief and Anger
“The enemy always fights you the hardest when he knows God has something great in your future.”
−Pastor Joel Osteen
On the plane ride back to California, I sat in the window seat staring at the clouds, and I struggled to grasp the reality of what was happening. I wanted to wake up from this dark nightmare. I wanted to believe there was still a life growing inside me. I wanted to scream, and I wanted to run away. I wanted to bury my head in a pillow and sleep for a very long time. I wanted my baby’s heart to start beating again. My thoughts raced.
“How could this have happened? We had a perfectly normal ultrasound at eight weeks. I understand miscarriages happen in the first trimester, but my baby had grown to twelve weeks gestation. What went wrong?” I couldn’t help but wonder if I had somehow inadvertently caused the miscarriage. I recalled the day Liam and I had taken a long, brisk walk to Target, and wondered if I had gotten my heart rate up too high. I scrutinized what I had eaten over the weeks, and wondered if the turkey sandwich had caused a Listeria infection. I wondered if I had worked out too hard at the gym. I blamed myself.
After the Q & A session, a number of people approached to tell me their own personal stories, or stories of loved ones. One gentleman’s niece had delivered stillborn twins. A lady had experienced infertility and loss. And yet another lady had a friend who she wanted to give the book to who had a journey of her own.
These stories run rampant.
These stories are important.
These stories deserve to be shared and empathized with.
This is my mission.