Saturday, October 21, 2017

Losing L'il bean... Lessons in life, loss, and intuition

October 21st.  A beautiful Autumn day, yet again.  Just another day for most people, yet one of tremendous significance for me.  16 years ago, I was 38.5 weeks pregnant with twins, certain I might be pregnant forever.

17 years ago, I was having a very different experience on this day.  It's not one I talk about often.  It's not a birthday, holiday, or anniversary. Well, it is an anniversary, but not one that is ever acknowledged or talked about.  But I remember.  I remember vividly.  It's an anniversary that changed me, my relationship with my then husband, and my perspective and understanding of something still considered taboo to discuss by many.

If you've met me or read my blog, you know taboo and "not appropriate to discuss" is not a concept I subscribe to.  :-)

October 21st is the day I officially miscarried "L'il bean", sometimes referred to as "the little peanut".  Now if you've had a pregnancy loss yourself, you probably already *get* the depth of that sentence.

Now, October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month. How appropriate.

The thing is, a pregnancy loss is so much more than "just a miscarriage".  It's a profound loss.  The loss of a life.  The loss of hopes and dreams.  The loss of confidence and trust in your own body for some women.

One in four women suffer a pregnancy loss at least once in their life. Some, have recurrent pregnancy losses. No one ever things it will be them.  Yet we all know many women who have had pregnancy losses, even if they don't tell you about it. We need to break the silence.

For me, at the time, it was one experience that taught me more life lessons than I could have ever imagined, even though it took years more to fully appreciate and understand them.

Let me explain.

L'il bean was conceived in late July.  In Bermuda.  I *knew* I was going to get pregnant based on a combination of cervical mucus and intuition.  I had an almost 2-year old son, and was a childbirth educator, so I knew my body and what it's signals meant.  Sure enough, 2 weeks later I was exhausted, emotionally labile, and constantly nauseous.  Yep, pregnant with baby #2. I peed on a stick and it said so!  It was confirmed by my midwife via a blood test.

As you would expect, I was excited. It was almost too easy to conceive.  For the next several weeks, I had the typical early pregnancy fatigue (which for me is always pretty significant) and nausea and oh, the tender breasts!

Then, around 8 weeks, I suddenly started to feel much better. My energy came back and the nausea went away.  In my previous pregnancy, that lasted well into the second trimester.  I tried to shrug it off, as every pregnancy is different, but deep inside, I knew this pregnancy was no longer viable.  I absolutely knew it.  In fact, I was worried from the beginning it was not going to stick.  I was afraid to say it out loud though.  I remember writing it in my journal.

The words every pregnant woman fears

Fast forward to my 12 week well-visit.  As the midwife listened with the doppler, I hoped to hear that galloping whooshing sound, yet knew I wouldn't.  No heartbeat.  They sent me for an ultrasound.  Confirmed.  No heartbeat.  No 12-week fetus visible.  Then the questions.  They asked me a bunch.  I asked one.  "What happens now?"  It had been nearly 4 weeks since I started to feel un-pregnant.  Why had I not miscarried yet?

I got no definitive answers, other than "You will, probably very soon.  It will be like a heavy period and maybe some cramping more than normal."  I was given the impression it would not interfere with my day other than the usual inconvenience of a period would.

**Somewhat graphic description to follow, may be a trigger for some**

Another 2 weeks and change went by before I woke up on the morning of Oct 21st around 4 am, with what felt like mild contractions every 5 or 6 minutes.  Must be the day.  No other signs though.  I couldn't sleep so I got up and wandered around the house.  I tried to read.  I had some tea.  I watched TV.  The cat sat on my lap.  Sitting became uncomfortable.

I woke my husband around 7 and told him what was happening.  The discomfort was becoming significant enough I was seeking comfort on my hands and knees, rocking, and trying to do some relaxation breathing.  I asked if he could stay home/work from home to care for our 2-year old, because I had no idea how long this was going to go on and how physically challenging it was going to be.

He said no.

He went to work. Even though he completely had the ability to work from home and take any conference calls from home.  Seriously?  I felt like I was in freaking labor.  Of course when I was actually in labor with my son, he also went to work that morning...

I called our day care provider, our son went 2x/week, but today was not one of his days.  I explained what was happening and she said absolutely, she'd take him for the day.  It was a 5 minute drive to her house.  Ever try to drive while in the middle of a contraction or abdominal cramp that causes you to double over?  Well, I did.  Not. Fun. Walking doubled over was also a joy.  Not.

WTF?  No one told me a miscarriage feels like labor, although it makes a world of sense.  Except I wasn't miscarrying a 15 week baby.  At best, L'il bean stopped growing somewhere between 6-7 weeks, if not sooner.  I was quite surprised it was this uncomfortable.

I had begun bleeding, like a heavy period.  I took a long, hot shower.  That felt good.  I cried.  I cried because I was alone.  I cried because it hurt.  I cried because I'd never get to meet L'il bean.  I cried because my husband didn't care or couldn't handle dealing with me and my physical and emotional pain, so I was left to cope on my own.

One of my most vivid memories is kneeling in front of my picture window in the sun.  The cat was lying there.  He knew something was not right.  He was trying to give me love.  Cats are intuitive and sensitive.  I rocked back and forth.  I cried some more.  The contractions were 3 minutes apart and lasting maybe 30-45 seconds, but damn, it felt like labor.  It was around noon.

I called the midwife to explain what was happening and get reassurance I wasn't going to hemorrhage to death.  She assured me it was normal.  However, she downplayed my description of it feeling like labor. She said miscarriage is not labor, especially this early in a pregnancy.  It's "just cramping".

That pissed me off.  I'm sorry, but I've been in labor and this felt exactly the same.  I know how labor works, she knows how labor works, why the hell would it be any different?  Your uterus is trying to expel a baby, whether it's a teeny bean or a full term baby, the mechanics are essentially the same.  She said it could last several more hours, but once I "passed" the "contents" of my uterus, it would feel much better.  She asked if I was alone and I told her yes.  She told me I should have someone with me since I felt lightheaded and dizzy in case I passed out, especially since my blood pressure ran low and my son would be coming home soon. She said I should not be alone.

I called my husband and asked him to come home, relaying what the midwife said. I was going to have to pick up our son by 3.

He said no.  Call my mother or my sister. He had an important meeting and could not come home early.  BTW, that important meeting was one he could have conference called in to.

Bullshit.  Some would say he couldn't deal emotionally, but this was not new behavior.  He was never attached to L'il bean.  My needs and wants were never a priority.  How I felt was entirely my problem.  Pregnancy and thus, pregnancy loss, was my problem. My job was to accommodate him.  He was the one earning the income after all.  If I needed help, I should call on friends or family.

Looking back, this day was the beginning of the end of that relationship.  I didn't recognize it at the time, but his lack of care and concern for me that day changed something in me.  It woke me up to a reality I was not entirely aware of before that day.

I called my sister and she came by after school.  She was in college nearby.

Shortly after I called her, and just before I had to go get my son, I passed what felt like a golf ball.  Probably what was the placenta.  I held a tiny shrimp on my finger.  Was that L'il bean?  I was fascinated.  I had a one-sided conversation with the tiny shrimp.  Then said good-bye.  I cried again.  I cried a lot that day.  I cried for the loss of L'il bean.  I cried because my husband chose work over me.  I cried because the sibling my son was supposed to be getting was but a memory now.

Physically I felt much better.  Heavy bleeding and cramping continued, but the contractions were gone.  I was exhausted physically and emotionally. I was still lightheaded.  I lost a decent amount of blood, I hadn't eaten all day, and I was no longer pregnant.  Officially.

I picked up my son.  My sister arrived shortly after.  She didn't really know what to do or say.  I asked her to entertain my son and make him dinner.  Around 5:30 or 6 I told her she could go home.  I put my son to bed and went to bed myself. 

Funny, I don't remember the interaction with my husband at all that night.  I may have withdrawn to the point of just avoiding him because I was pissed.

Supporting a woman after a pregnancy loss (or any loss of a child)

There are no words that bring comfort.  "I'm so sorry" is the best thing to say.  This meme really sums up how women feel when offered platitudes.  It might make you feel better and make you think it helps the bereaved mom, but it doesn't.

Try again?

They tell you to wait 3 months after a miscarriage before you try to conceive again.  That's kind of stupid advice, because if you do wait, and you do conceive 3 months later, guess what?  Your due date will be very close to the anniversary date of your pregnancy loss.

Guess what?  One year later, I was 38.5 days pregnant with twins. Yes, naturally conceived. I was facing an induction.  I had to go in for a stress test on the 19th. They wanted to induce, for good reason, and were determining if I (baby B in reality) could wait the weekend.  The decision was yes, they could wait.  Unless I went into labor on my own, I would be induced on October 22nd.

I was hyper-aware of the significance of October 21st to me, but I was the only one.  Would giving birth to twins one year after experiencing a pregnancy loss on the same day be difficult or empowering?  Was one of those babies the same soul who tried to come earth-side a year prior, and this time came with another? Part of me wanted October 21st to be L'il bean's day.  Part of me thought it would be rather amazing to birth not one, but two babies on the day L'il bean opted to "move out" of my uterus.

As it unfolded, the twins were born on October 23rd.  At 39 weeks exactly.  I had hired a doula and had two midwives and an OB caring for me.  I did not rely on my husband for any sort of physical or emotional support.  I had learned that lesson loud and clear.  He did lend some support, and sang my praises after the fact, but emotionally, I was not connected to him.  I was fully connected with my babies.  I labored with many people around, but somewhat alone, lost in the beauty that is hypno-birthing.

Looking back, carrying twins to term, birthing them naturally, un-medicated, and with Meghan arriving feet first, was one of the most empowering experiences of my life.  To hold those beautiful babies in my arms at the same time, gaze into their eyes, and know that I... my body, they, did something amazing that morning, it once again, changed who I was.  It changed my perspective.

Lessons learned

Now, 17 years later, I look back and I am grateful for L'il bean beyond measure.  I never met L'il bean (or have I?), but s/he taught me so much more through the experiences s/he gave me than I could have imagined at the time.

L'il bean taught me perspective, resiliency, the power of loss and love, and the importance of trusting your intuition.  L'il bean opened my eyes to a reality I had previously not fully recognized.  L'il bean taught me the "experts" don't always have all the answers, sometimes we teach them.

Losing L'il bean taught me it's ridiculous to wait until 12 weeks to share your pregnancy, because then you have no support in your pregnancy loss.  People are uncomfortable with talking about loss, but that doesn't mean your pregnancy wasn't important, that your baby's life was not valued, and that you have not had a profound loss.  Loss brings grief.  Grief deserves support. If more people talked about it, it would become the norm, and moms and dads and siblings would not have to carry the burden of their grief alone.

Thank you, L'il bean.  I have this silly image of a bean with wings flying around, not unlike a butterfly.  You were loved and you are missed.  I am grateful for being your momma, even if only for a short time.  You deserve a kiss.  Hug.  And a snuggle.  I wish I had the chance to give you those in person, but perhaps your purpose in my life was to teach me the very lessons I did learn from you.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.