***This post is super intimate and personal so if you have delicate sensibilities and don't want to read about my feels, you can skip this big ol' post***
It's been a little while since I've posted and for good reason. We're settling into the New Year and it's been cold but fun. Something spurred me today, though, to want to reflect on all the things that happened to me last year... maybe it's that I need to do more to find closure, or maybe I want to let people know what all I've been through... Or maybe I just need a written record of my experiences for my future self to look back on. Whatever the reason, here are some thoughts.
Back in December of 2012, mid-way through the holidays, I found out I was pregnant. It was a surprise. I was overwhelmed with all manner of emotions: fear, frustration, excitement, guilt, ambivalence... I mostly wasn't overjoyed. But the more I thought about it (and talked about it), the more I thought I could get behind it.
It took a few days, but those lovey-dovey hormones kick in and all you want to do is be the best pregnant person ever. I have no idea what other women go through with their pregnancies, since experiences can be so different, but I felt hyper-responsible. I watched everything that I ate, constantly checked the nutrient contents of all my foods and drinks (including whole foods and produce - I'd look up how much folate was in half a potato). I worried about contaminants and what was in my environment that could be of potential harm to the little beebs. (I am not normally super conscious about that stuff but went into overdrive).
Things were going well until I hit twelve weeks. I woke up early one Friday to a lot of blood. I yelled for Peter and before we knew it, we were at Emergency telling the admitting nurse. He rushed us in past all the poor waiting room folks. It was scary - some spotting can be normal and mean nothing, and sometimes it's serious, and nobody would tell us which category we fell into. We waited for hours, along with a lot of blood tests, needles, and three ultrasounds (one of which is the kind all those pro-life Republicans want to mandate in the States - I can personally tell you it is not pleasant). At the end, we heard that the heartbeat wasn't there and I was about to miscarry.
Sigh. I cried a bunch eventually but I could only cry a little at the hospital because of the shock. I was only 12 weeks, it happens to a lot of people... but you don't reeeeally think it will happen to you. I mean, I worried every day that I would see blood and have to go through this, but I didn't actually expect it, you know? But it did happen. They asked if I'd like the D&C (dilation [or dilatation] and curettage) but I opted not to - I figured it'd take its course and I'd avoid surgery. I made that decision because I didn't know anything about miscarriages (and wasn't really told anything by these folks either). Looking back, I wish I had just gone through with it because the next seven weeks (yes, SEVEN) were awful.
That weekend the miscarriage began. For women who have bad menstrual cramps, you know a small, small fraction of the pain. If you have not gone through labour, I don't think I can really convey how much this hurt. Probably most men will never understand the level of physical pain (and of course all the other kinds of pain) women go through - it's not a funny "oh, men and women are different" thing to me any more. I don't want anybody to have to feel what I felt. And this was "just" a miscarriage - I went through a stillbirth naturally later in the year which I will describe below, and that was wwwaaaay worse.
Because a miscarriage is essentially a very premature birth, you go through labour - you get contractions, the whole nine yards. Like I said, I didn't know what to expect - it was the most pain I had ever been in but thought it was typical (it wasn't). Peter called his mom, a nurse, and explained that I was doubled over in excruciating pain and bleeding profusely, and wondered if that was supposed to happen. No, not really.
We went to the hospital where they put me up for a few nights in the Maternity ward with dilaudid and nausea drugs, along with something to speed up the contractions. It was awful. The staff were thoughtful and caring but no amount of kindness could make that anything but terrible.
When I left for home, they told me I should expect the bleeding and pain to stop in the next week or so. My [former!] employer was not exactly warm and cuddly about the whole thing. I got four unpaid days off to recover (I will get into the public policy shaming another day). When I returned to work I was still passing tissue and tons of blood - something women should not have to do. People avoided the subject. Mean customers would wonder why I was not being cheerful with them on demand. It sucked.
Seven weeks and the bleeding was still going on. Just in case it's hard to relate, imagine getting your period for about FIFTY days in a row. I had gone in to the hospital to ask if it was normal (not at all) and they thought that there was just a little tissue left and it really would sort itself out soon, they promised. It didn't. I finally went in for the D&C. More unpleasantness. The bleeding subsided a week later. I had spent all of February, March, and part of April miscarrying. Valentine's Day, my birthday, St Patrick's, Easter. When you're not physically over something, it's hard to get over it psychologically and emotionally. It took a while. I didn't like going out any more because of my private grief... but eventually, things settled and got easier.
My second pregnancy seemed to be going much better. I was less sick but more tired, less anxious. The ultrasounds were great - we saw a little girl with hands and feet and a heartbeat. My pre-natal appointments were normal - heart beats, blood pressure, hormones were all good. We told friends and family and were getting close.
Twenty-seven weeks - almost 7 months - and something felt off. I had gotten very used to the kicking and knew when to expect it. One day I felt nothing. I ate something sugary... no kicks. I laid down and then got up again and walked around... no kicks. I called the Maternity nurses I had gotten to know out at the hospital and asked if I should come in. Sure, they said, better safe than sorry.
Out on a Friday again, and as you can expect, bad news. Several uncomfortable ultrasounds later, no heartbeat. They weren't sure what had gone wrong - I had just had a pre-natal a week earlier and everything was totally normal. So, they got right to it: did I want to get induced now or tomorrow? Tomorrow, we decided.
We went home for a sad night in. Shock was much stronger than the previous time... I didn't know what to do or say or think or feel. I just wanted the night to be over.
The next morning we went in and decided to get induced around lunch time. Peter went home to get some sleep and I hung out in Labour & Delivery. I won't go into the details of how exactly they do that but I will say that it is not a fun procedure. They told me that I could expect contractions in the next 12 to 24 hours, even up to 36 hours. It'd be a while and I should just relax until then. So when my contractions began less than 3 hours later, nobody was prepared - me, nor the doctor or nurses. It was too late for an epidural, so the best they could do was a dose of dilaudid every four hours, and trust me, it did not cover it. Probably something like taking half a teaspoon of kid's Tylenol before getting all your teeth pulled out with pliers. Or maybe worse?
The contractions started slow. One every ten or fifteen minutes. I thought I knew what to expect because of my miscarriage but, uh, nope. It was bearable at first. Okay, I thought, this is familiar, this is manageable. It stayed that way for about an hour or two before worsening. The contractions moved closer together. 10 minutes. 8 minutes. 7 minutes. 6. 4. 2. 1 and a half. They rushed me from Maternity back to Labour & Delivery because I was getting close to the birth.
(Oh, did I mention you have to still give birth to your stillborn child? I mean, I guess, duh, you have to. But really I had never thought about that. You have to be induced and go into labour knowing you're delivering a stillborn. Just think about it. I hope I never have to go through anything as traumatizing again (physically and emotionally).)
As the contractions ramped up, so did the pain. As mentioned above, I truly cannot help those of you who have not experienced this because it is unlike anything else you will experience in your life. My mom later told me it was one of the hardest things she's been through, seeing me crying in pain for hours on end with nothing to alleviate it even a little. The dilaudid would take the slightest edge off for about 45 minutes and then I would wait 3.25 hours for the next dose. I tried laughing gas but it made me nauseated so then I was contracting AND vomiting - no thanks.
Another delivery was occupying the doctor so I had a few (somewhat grumpy) nurses overnight. It finally came time to deliver, and the doctor was nowhere to be seen so the nurses went through it with me. A few pushes - or an hour of pushing, I have no idea - and it was over. Well, not really. The worst was kind of over.
(All while I was in this pain and agony, the nurses came in and asked "Do you want to name the baby? Do you want to hold the baby once you've delivered? Do you want to get up and see her? You're going to have to fill out the birth AND the death certificates soon. Just think about the name. You really should hold her, it'll be good for you."
Um, it wasn't good timing. I'm not sure why they couldn't wait until I was through with everything to ask me all that, really. I won't go on about my decisions with those things (more personal than the rest of this info) but we did choose a name. Hazel.)
So, through the worst, but it certainly wasn't over yet. I hadn't gotten the placenta out. They thought I could wait a few hours and see if it'd pass naturally. Nope. Time for a D&C - and yes, I could get an epidural for that. It still sucked but it went quickly at least. Then, back to my hospital room in Maternity. Had a handful of visitors, who brought me magazines and flowers and donuts. It was sweet but hard to be positive. We watched a lot of TV on my laptop. My blood pressure was very high and they didn't want to let me leave until it was better, so we stayed and stayed. Finally they decided to just put me on blood pressure medication and send me home.
I stopped bleeding after a couple of weeks, but then the other thing they told me almost nothing about: lactation. "Oh, your milk will come in pretty soon, so just wear a really tight sports bra 24-7 until it goes away. Oh and you can put cabbage leaves in your bra to help." Help what? How? How long is that supposed to take? Huh. Well, I learned myself. Several weeks. My chest was sore ALL the time. Even just taking the bra off for 10 minutes to shower was enough to undo the progress of stopping the milk, so I had to keep it on no matter how uncomfortable I felt. As you can likely imagine, it is a little emotional to lactate for a baby that isn't there. I had looked forward to breastfeeding... but here I was, hating what my body was making me go through.
Physically it took me at least a month to consider myself "normal" again. Emotionally I have no idea where I am. Intellectually I've accepted everything and feel pretty good about the grief. But it was very, very difficult and still can be. We had to arrange for the cremation with the funeral home, pick up the little urn, fill out birth and death certificates one right after the other... and tell everyone. Telling everyone sucks. People have no idea what to say or do. No idea. I know people want to help but it is such a sensitive thing that almost any comment can be taken totally the wrong way.
By and large people have been supportive and things have gotten easier. If you have a stillbirth, you can go on Maternity leave for 17 weeks, so I did. We took a trip by ourselves on the weekend of the due date (going to a concert the day of) to make new memories and not sit at home and mope. I moped a little but who can blame me? It was a much nicer weekend than I could have asked for and you need that when you go through something like this.
Looking back I wish people had tried hard to talk to me about it. I know people think it is gentler to offer to be there when I feel like talking, but really, it's hard to put yourself out there and have to be the strong one in that relationship. I kept thinking: Why should I have to dance around your feelings when I'M the one who went through this? But that's not fair, I know that. People don't go through this often. People aren't exposed to this and rightfully do not know how to handle it. So let me help: it SUCKS. Let someone know that. Tell them specific things you will do for them: drop by unannounced with two mochas and just chat (about anything). Offer to take a load of laundry or drop off a magazine. Make solid plans (Tuesday at 3pm, Friday night, Sunday morning). On the other hand, don't judge me if I need to take a rain cheque - your hormones are fucked after a stillbirth and you WILL forget things, so be prepared for broken plans - and don't take them personally.
Most of all, don't be the weak one who needs their feelings preserved and protected. Let me talk about how my chest is swollen and uncomfortable and I gained ten pounds for no good reason and how I hate seeing people post pregnancy pictures or talk about how fun it is to be 13 weeks along. Also, when you learn someone has had a stillbirth, don't say "oh, I'm sorry to hear that" and then change the subject. And DON'T think to yourself that I shouldn't be open about this stuff, because that is the meanest, really.
The official take on my stillbirth is "who knows?" - they have no solid reason. All manner of tests for the autopsy and no substantial clues. Just how it was meant to happen, they guess. So they don't know what it means for future pregnancies either... probably a lot of bed-rest. Yay. But I am really not thinking about that yet.
I'm turning 25 in just over a month but 2013 made me feel a lot older and wiser. I have gone through things this past year that many women (and men) will never experience in their lifetimes. I feel more empathy for people dealing with losses. I have now experienced natural labour (more or less). I'm kind of a mom, sort of. But kind of not. I'm in a liminal space. When a form asks me if I have kids, there is only "yes" and "no" and I don't really know what to say. Not any more? I almost did? I do in my heart but not officially? I don't know. That sucks.
And honestly, I can't wait until I can feel happy for pregnant ladies again. I do feel happy for you all, I mean, I really do... but I hate seeing your posts. They trigger things. A lot of things trigger feelings. I get panicky and short of breath, even, in certain cases. (Yeah, baby showers are off my agenda for a while). But with time, it gets easier. I packed up all the baby stuff I bought in a fish tub and gave it to my parents to store. I can hear the word 'hazel' and not tear up. I might even want to see all your goddamn baby pictures and posts soon, I hope. Just bear with me.
Thank you for reading, if you managed to get through all of this. I left out a lot of details, for everyone's sake... but if you still feel like wanting to talk to me, I am always up for a good coffee and a laugh. Or you can help me paint my house. Whatever works. And you know, lots of very cool things happened last year too - we bought a house! I had some great jobs! I will have some happy posts in the future - I just needed to reflect a little on the past first.