I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to write this post. It is so intensely and deeply personal that sharing these feelings with the world feels a bit like taking off a bandage and exposing a raw wound underneath.
But I decided to share for one simple reason: people need to be open to talking about this topic more.
It happens all the time, to women everywhere. It happens to women who are old or young, to women who are pregnant for the first time or women who have had children before. It happens to women of every race and socioeconomic status. It does not happen to every woman, but it happens to many.
I’m talking about pregnancy loss.
But it is something that we just don’t talk about for some reason. And I want to change that.
If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay! But if you do, I want you to know that it’s okay with me.
I have had two pregnancy losses, a miscarriage and the stillbirth of my oldest daughter, who was the twin sister of my oldest son.
Today I want to talk about the stillbirth. This is not meant to discount the difficulty of a miscarriage. Having been through an early miscarriage, I can honestly state that any pregnancy loss, no matter how early, can be absolutely devastating. But today I want to talk about my first pregnancy loss because it impacted me personally on a deeper level.
You can imagine my elation when I heard those words from my infertility doctor over the phone: “Congratulations Amanda, you’re pregnant!” I was in the front office of the therapy office where I worked, but it didn’t matter that there were other people there, making copies on the Xerox machine and filing paperwork–I burst into tears anyway. His next words filled me with even more elation, “And your test results lead me to believe there’s a good chance you’re carrying twins.” An ultrasound a week or so after that phone call confirmed it. Twins! I couldn’t believe it! I was finally going to be a mom! And not just of one, but of two babies! I felt positive I was the most fortunate woman in the world.
When I was about 19 weeks pregnant, my husband and I found out that we were expecting a girl and a boy. I was absolutely over the moon about it. I literally felt like I couldn’t ask for anything more in life. Those weeks were definitely some of the happiest in my life. I felt totally content. I had had some anxiety about something going wrong with the pregnancy but it was at that time I decided to let go. Other than carrying twins, I was considered low-risk. I was still fairly young, I was healthy, and everything was going perfectly smoothly. The babies were looking healthy and were even measuring a little large–not surprising given my family’s history of having large babies! I was confident that my babies would be born healthy and strong, even if a little early.
Knowing that twins are often born prematurely, my husband and I wanted to be prepared. I’d known of a lady who had just given birth to twins at 30 weeks, and that was only 10 weeks away! My husband painted the nursery and set up the cribs. I began buying clothes and things for each baby and setting the items in their respective cribs. My friend began planning my baby shower, set a date, and even made the invitations.
People everywhere commented on my size. “Wow, you’re big!” they’d say when I told them how far along I was. And I’d joyfully share that I was pregnant with twins. Everyone, even perfect strangers, was excited by the news. But no one was more excited than I was!
And then, on a beautiful day in fall, my world shattered. I still remember the day as if it had just happened. The air was still plenty warm, but not the scorching heat of summer. Just warm enough to be “nice” but not overbearing. The sky was cloudless in the morning and the it looked bluer-than-blue. I remember the clothes I was wearing and I remember doing things on what would be my last-ever day working at the part-time job that had helped put me through grad school and was supplementing my income while I went through IVF and built up my therapy practice.
And I remember seeing my daughter’s image, perfectly still on the ultrasound and the panic that gripped my heart. I still remember the pain in my doctor’s eyes when he looked at me and said, “I can’t see the heartbeat.”
And I remember crumpling up in a little ball and sobbing and sobbing, my husband wrapping his arms around me and holding me as tight as he could, trying to be brave, but crying too. I remember having to stop and remind myself to breathe because I was feeling lightheaded and dizzy. And I remember making myself stop sobbing and trying to calm down because I knew if I didn’t, I would throw up.
I was sent immediately to see a specialist who confirmed what we already knew. I was 24 weeks pregnant and was told that my daughter might have lived if she’d been born. The new doctor was sympathetic, but also business-like. She turned her attentions to the most critical matter at the time: getting my son to a time when he’d be past the point where he might possibly live to the point where he would most definitely live. She matter-of-factly outlined the odds for me: “Right now he has about a 5-10% chance of survival if he’s born today. If you can make it to next week, that’s going to jump significantly, to about 20%. Every week you last, the odds are going to increase, but the loss of your other baby is going to complicate matters. Eventually your body is going to want to expel the pregnancy altogether.” She ordered me on bed rest and I was given a steroid shot to speed the development of my baby boy’s lungs.
The next seven weeks were really and truly the most difficult of my life. Bed rest during that time became my hell on earth. Bed rest is hard enough—you’re stuck at home watching the dust pile up and unable to do a thing about it. But I was dealing with an emotionally-devastating loss and I was alone all day, every day during the week while my husband (and other family members) worked. In the first week, people sent me flowers, cards and condolences. But after that, the well-wishers seemed to diminish and I was alone with my thoughts all day.
During that time I had a lot of negative and painful emotions. I’ll be completely honest about what they were:
- I felt ambivalent about my remaining baby. It pains me to write that now, but at the time, I felt convinced that I would lose him too, so I detached myself somewhat from the pregnancy. As time went on and he grew bigger and stronger, this feeling lessened. But there was the constant worry of, “I’ll lose him too.”
- I felt devastated at losing a daughter. I had always wanted a little girl and I’d always felt that my oldest would be a girl (my daughter was “Baby A” and was born first). I felt crushed that those dreams were gone.
- I felt jealous. I felt jealous of people who were pregnant with girls and I felt jealous of people with twins and I felt jealous of people who were having “normal” pregnancies.
- I felt angry. I felt angry with the world in general and with God. I also felt angry at my body for betraying me and I felt angry at myself for feeling angry and jealous and sad and all those difficult emotions.
- I felt alone. I have never felt lonelier in my life. It was hard because I was literally alone all day while my husband worked and I also felt emotionally alone. Many people didn’t know what to say and so didn’t say anything. I had visitors and people who checked in with me, but compared to the number of hours I spent on my own during the day, it felt like the time I spent with other people was tiny by comparison.
- I felt irritated. I felt irritated because I felt like some people were avoiding me, and I felt irritated at people who said well-meaning, but hurtful things. One thing I felt particularly irritated at were people who acted as if, now that she was gone, my daughter had never existed.
- I felt afraid. I was afraid of losing my son and simultaneously afraid that I wouldn’t love him as much and/or wouldn’t be a good mother because of losing my daughter.
- I dreaded the birth of my babies. Because my daughter was a stillborn, she was, in fact, born. The thought of giving birth to her and being sad during what was supposed to be an utterly joyful time in my life pained me. I didn’t know what to expect and I wasn’t looking forward to giving birth at all.
Towards the end of my pregnancy (my son was born at 31 weeks, although of course at the time no one had any idea how long the pregnancy would last), I went through a particularly dark time. I had a quasi-argument with a friend who I don’t think understood my state of mind, and I felt that I was actually going to lose my mind from being cooped up in the house with all my emotions. I felt myself slipping from just being sad to being clinically depressed. I was offered anti-depressants by each of my several medical providers, but I staunchly refused to take them. I did, however, get my doctor’s permission (which I was supposed to obtain before I did anything that was not part of my bed rest prescription) to go see a therapist, which did help.
Seven weeks after the loss, I gave birth to my babies. It was, as I had anticipated, both a painful and joyful experience, but I’m happy to say more joyful than painful. I was so, so happy when my son was born, as healthy and strong as a 31-weeker could possibly be! I wept joyfully and I remember being surprised at how completely happy I felt. It had been a while since I’d felt so happy and I was amazed at how easily it came to me. I fell in love with that boy the instant they held him up for me to see and I fall more in love with him each and every day we have together.
The day my heart started healing and the boy who started healing it.
The birth of my daughter (who came first) was difficult, but peaceful. I truly had the most caring doctor and hospital staff in the world. Everyone asked me what her name was. They weighed her and measured her and took her footprints and handprints. (We were also given the option of doing an autopsy to try and determine the cause of her death, but we declined.) After my son was born and taken to the NICU, I was able to see and hold her tiny body, and a wonderful local mortuary/cemetery offered their services to us at no charge. Those moments alone with her and my husband were hard. It was a strange and crushing feeling knowing that those few moments were the first and last time we would ever see her or hold her again in this life.
The time in my life immediately following the birth was also a strange one. After the birth, I mostly felt relief. I remember sitting in my hospital room late at night after I gave birth (alone again, but for once relieved to be alone) and feeling glad that the pregnancy was over. Even though my son was a preemie, I was relieved that he was going to be okay (his neonatologist had marched into my room that evening and declared it would be so). I was relieved that I no longer had to dread the birth and I was so happy to be off bed rest. I finally began to feel like I could move on.
Even though it was such a painful time in my life that was filled with a lot of negative emotion, I truly saw some incredible acts of love during the time of my bed rest and the birth:
- A friend that I hadn’t seen since high school sent me an Edible Arrangements basket.
- Another friend flew in from out of state to visit me. I got permission from my doctor, so my friend also took me, in a wheelchair, to vote in the 2008 presidential election.
- A girl I didn’t even know (she had attended my high school but was a few years younger than me) heard my story and sent me a kit with which we were able to make pieces of jewelry with my daughter’s hand and footprints on them after she was born. My husband and the nurses put her prints on the clay and this angel made the prints into little charms, which I wear every Mother’s Day.
- I had a family member drive from hours away to clean my house and to visit with me.
- Another friend came by a couple times a week to visit with me and give me a foot rub.
- My sister dropped everything and drove hours to visit me immediately after she heard the news.
- My other sister stayed home one weekend when my parents went out of town so I wouldn’t be alone (my husband had to work).
- My sister-in-law made me the most beautiful memento and gave it to me for Christmas that year–it still sits on my piano today.
And even to this day, I still see incredible acts of kindness. My best friend always, always remembers the anniversary of the day we lost my daughter. On every single anniversary she always makes sure to ask how I’m feeling and she always mentions my daughter by name. My family always take flowers to my daughter’s marker at the cemetery and they always attend a Christmas memory ceremony at the cemetery each year.
It has been a little over six years since the day we lost my daughter. Even after the birth and after the memorial service we had for her, it took me a while to be okay. The first year was really hard. We had to do things like take my daughter’s crib down and put it away, as well as take care of the things we had purchased for her. My dad made us a beautiful memory box where we put all her clothes and other things of hers. Passing each milestone in that first year was also difficult. The second year was still a little rough but it started getting easier and things started getting better. When I got pregnant again (after a failed IVF and then a miscarriage), it was a big turning point. That pregnancy, and my second daughter, were a huge blessing. I was scared the entire nine months, but the pregnancy was picture-perfect. Despite all the worries I experienced, I got to have a “normal” pregnancy without the loss and heartache, and having that experience healed some of the wounds I still had.
It’s okay if it takes a long time for you to be okay. There’s no timeline on grief. In fact, I learned that grief isn’t a straight line at all. You go through different phases, sure, but it isn’t like you move through them and then it’s over. I’m okay, but even now I still have sad days, particularly on the anniversary date of when we lost her.
I still love and appreciate when people say they remember my daughter. When they mention her by name specifically and tell me that they haven’t forgotten. Her life was short and her body was tiny, but the impact she had on my life was bigger than all the universe and all the worlds in it.
Pregnancy loss is hard. If you’re a friend of someone who has experienced a pregnancy loss, please be kind. Please don’t give up on your friend. I don’t like to dwell on it, but I lost a friend who couldn’t quite stick through the bad times with me. It hurt, and it still hurts a little today. Things might be rough for a while, but be there for your friend and things will get better. She really needs you right now.
Pregnancy loss is hard. If you’ve gone through one and are dealing with the feelings associated with it, I want to say something to you: be kind to yourself. There’s no right or wrong way to feel. Remember all those awful feelings I listed earlier? One of the things that made them all so much worse was how I tried to not feel them because they were “bad” or “wrong”. People kept saying to me, “Just be grateful you still have your son,” and I would feel overwhelmed with guilt and anger toward myself. I hated myself at times for not being happy and for not moving past the loss more quickly. And oh, how wrong that was! I was grateful for my son! And I am grateful for him every single day. But it didn’t take the pain of losing my baby girl away. So, whatever you do, please don’t beat yourself up. Don’t blame yourself for your baby’s loss and don’t blame yourself for however you feel. Be kind to yourself. Please be kind to yourself.
Today is October 15th which is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Tonight I will light a candle to remember the baby I lost. And I will light one to remember yours, too.
Losing a twin can be full of complicated emotions. The resource I have found to be most helpful is CLIMB (Center for Loss in Multiple Birth). It was founded and is led by Jean Kollantai, truly one of the most kind and caring individuals on this planet. Please feel free to contact her through the website if you would like to know more about this wonderful group.
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