The Loss Of A Baby
One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage or stillbirth, and the US has one of the highest neonatal death rates in the industrialized world, yet no one seems to talk about it. Losing a baby
It's likely happened to someone you know, a family member, someone at work, or maybe it happened to you, as it happened to me. In January 1995, my husband and I were riding high. Not only was I finally pregnant after two years of trying, but we had just had my four-month ultrasound and found out I was carrying twins. It was the happiest day of our lives.
A little over a month later, our hopes and dreams were shattered and we lost part of ourselves forever. In February, I went to my routine two-week OB/GYN visit to have another ultrasound done. The technician was a quiet girl. I tried asking questions, but she kept referring me to my doctor who would be in after the ultrasound. I really didn't think anything of it. After my ultrasound, however, her hesitation and avoidance was explained.
She could not find heartbeats in either of our precious babies. The doctor was cold and direct, and left me in the exam room, alone with the knowledge that our dreams had just ended.
After a small breakdown, I knew I had to pull myself together, because I had driven myself there and I would have to drive myself to the hospital. My husband was in the Navy back then. We had just transferred a few months earlier. We had one car that we shared, and we didn't know anyone at all in town. I did what I could to control myself as I exited the exam room and rounded the corner to the check-out area. The nurses explained that I had to go to the hospital right away for a surgical procedure called 'dilatation and curettage,' more widely known as a D & C, or "scraping" of the uterus.
Just like the doctor, they were cold and disinterested. Not one of them said "I'm sorry about your loss." I told them I wasn't doing anything else without my husband, and I asked them if they could call him. They told me I could use the public phone in the lobby. The public phone in the lobby? For a moment I thought I was transported into a black comedy. This wasn't really happening to me, it was just a sick joke. My babies were still alive; I was just having a nightmare. But it was real, and I had to walk into a lobby filled with pregnant women and tell my husband, over the phone, that our children were both dead. I thought if I didn't say it out loud I could hold myself together long enough to get to the privacy of my car. I pleaded with my confused husband, "please don't make me say it."
My car was just across from the entrance, but that walk seemed like miles of rugged terrain. I finally reached my car, something familiar, something warm, something that had been a part of this whole pregnancy, but there was little comfort there, and I had an emotional breakdown over the death of my children. Don't let words like miscarriage and stillbirth fool you; this is not just some "occurrence," it is the DEATH of your unborn child, and never let anyone ever tell you differently.
An unborn child is mourned for just as much as a born child, or even an adult child. When you lose an adult child, you have a lifetime of memories to look back on, and hold in your heart, but an unborn child is made up of dreams of what you had hoped they would be. You had dreams of what they would look like, how they would act, and what they would do. You dreamed of first smiles, first cars, proms, graduations and weddings. When that dream ends, the nightmare begins.
My husband was about 10 minutes away, and I picked him up so we could go to the hospital together. I cried all the way there, but when I laid eyes on him, I knew he was going to take over so that I didn't have to function anymore. I fell into his arms and told him the horrible fate of our children. I told him what the doctor said; "these things just happen, and there isn't always a reason." I didn't realize that my husband had not understood what I was trying to tell him on the phone, and so he learned of the death of his children from a woman in complete hysterics.
I told him what our instructions from the doctor were, and from that moment I was able to let go of reality. He handled everything from that point on. He checked me into the hospital, he spoke to the doctor, he asked the technicians all of the questions. I cannot imagine what losing a baby must be like for a single mother who doesn't have that spousal support system. I hope no woman is completely alone during this horrible time in her life.
Because of my husband, I survived that day and I'm still surviving. We went through hours of ultrasounds so the doctors could be sure of the prognosis. For a few fleeting moments, I held out hope that maybe the doctor was wrong, maybe our twins were just fine, but that was not the case. The technicians and doctors agreed, and the surgery was scheduled. My husband and I spent hours in a birthing suite, the only room available. We cried and waited, and cried some more, and not much was said. We were both in shock.
When I went to change into the hospital gown, my husband requested that the nurse remove the happy mother and baby pictures that covered the walls. Instead, she covered them with towels. It was a nice gesture on my husband's part, but the towels only drew my attention to them. I knew that underneath were happy, smiling families with their newborn babies, a picture we would never take with the twins. I wasn't very religious at the time, and am even less religious now, but I grew up Catholic and someone offered to call a priest to perform last rites.
After hours of waiting, the priest was still not there, but my surgery time had come, so I decided to go ahead without him. In those last minutes before they took me to the operating room, I was convinced that I was going to die. I said good-bye to my husband that day as if it were the last time I would ever see him. I don't know what came over me, it was probably just the grief talking, but I was sure I wasn't coming back.
As I was wheeled down the corridor on a gurney, I watched the fluorescent lights fly by. We were traveling so fast they looked like one endless light. It was as though I was being taken down a tunnel of light and for the first time since I heard the news, I was almost comforted. They transferred me to the operating table and put an IV in my arm. The doctor was reciting some protocol about the operation, but her voice was distant as I thought about my poor husband back in the room. I was thinking that he just lost his only children, and he may be losing his wife as well.
Just before the technician put the anesthesia in my IV, the priest ran in. He was in complete surgical garb. The doctors, nurses and technicians all bowed their heads while he prayed and I cried. Last rites were being read for my children who would never be given the chance to be born. I thanked the priest and he told me he and my husband would be waiting for me back in the room. I am eternally grateful to that priest for showing up like he did. There was some comfort in knowing my babies were baptized. My mother, who is still very Catholic, was even more grateful.
As soon as the anesthesia was injected, I was in a totally dark, dreamless state that I later wished I could have stayed in until the whole ordeal was over. But, I eventually woke up back in the birthing suite. They said the anesthesia may cause me to be even more emotional after the surgery, but I found myself calmer. Maybe it was the relief of being alive when I was so certain I wouldn't make it, or maybe it was the thought that the nightmare could be coming to an end.
The first thing I saw were my husband's baby blue, tear filled eyes staring back at me. He tried to smile and asked me how I felt. How did I feel? Suddenly I realized how empty I was inside. I think I was in shock once again. I just felt numb all over, especially in my heart. As we left the hospital that day, I felt like I was leaving part of myself behind. In a way, I was. The next few days were filled with grief, anger and confusion. A miscarriage is not considered a death, so my husband was given no time off from work, even though I was supposed to be supervised for several days. He was in special training that he could not miss, so I found myself alone.
I spent my days in constant pain, both physical and emotional. Even with the Tylox I was taking, the pain was overwhelming. A few days later the nightmare that we thought couldn't get any worse, did. In the middle of the night the contractions I'd been having that were supposed to be a routine shrinking of the uterus turned out to be real. There, in our bedroom, at two o'clock in the morning, I delivered a stillborn baby. This wasn't supposed to happen. I was just supposed to have some residual bleeding and maybe pass some "organic material," but never was I told I could actually give birth. Suddenly a miscarriage became a stillbirth.
We were shocked and confused and had absolutely no idea what to do. I immediately switched doctors. My new doctor explained to us that this didn't happen often, but that there is always a possibility of delivering a 'fetus" during the miscarriage process even after a D & C. She even cautioned that I may give birth to the second baby before it was all over. She maintained that the bleeding, the contractions, and everything else I was enduring was normal, and she wanted to let the "natural" process continue for another few days before taking any further action. At that point, my family back home had become concerned and my mother flew down to be with me. She had a miscarriage herself, many years ago, and my father thought she could be of help.
After several more days of pain and bleeding and an excruciatingly painful exam that even made my mother cringe, the new doctor recommended another D & C. I found myself back in the hospital, in another birthing suite, staring at pictures of mothers with happy babies. My mother was a big help to my husband this time around. She was able to handle the details so he could just concentrate on me.
This whole time he had been trying to mourn the loss of our children, but at the same time he was worried about my health and well being too. This D & C was different. I no longer feared for my life and the grieving process had been going on for several days at that point, so I was much calmer. There was more finality as well. There was no more bleeding, and no more contractions, and my medication was now able to mask the pain.
We were dealt one more blow when we were told that we could not have the remains of our children. Any loss of life before seven months gestation was considered a miscarriage, no matter what the circumstances, and all of the remains were retained by the hospital for "disposal." We couldn't even bury our own children. The physical threat was gone, but our emotional turmoil was just beginning.
My mother soon went back to Ohio, secure in the knowledge that her daughter would survive, physically anyway. Two weeks later the Navy transferred my husband to a military training school, I was not allowed to accompany him. Less than a month after the greatest loss of our lives, we were alone to face our grief.
This is the first time I've shared my entire story with anyone. I've done so in the hope that it will help others open up. Miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death are not something to be swept under the rug. When someone loses a child, the worst thing you can do is not talk about it. In the past, such deaths were considered a "private matter," they were immediately hushed up and never spoken of again. Even infants who died soon after birth were not given names.
Naming your angel babies
My children do not have birth certificates but they have names, Gwendolyn and Gabriel Cauley. Those aren't the names we had picked out for them, but after they died we went with more angelic sounding names, it just seemed right to us. Even if you have an early miscarriage, you can name your child.
If it was too early to know the gender of your child, you could use unisex names like Chris and Terry, or just go with what you believe. Your child was alive, if only inside of you, and only you have the right to say how you will honor them. Don't let other people tell you how you're supposed to handle this. Everyone deals with grief differently.
One in three women will have a miscarriage in her lifetime, and the amount of children you already have has no bearing on that statistic, it can happen at any time, at any age. In fact, for women under 30, it would take three or more losses in a row before most doctors would recommend assistance. For women over 30, that number drops to two losses or more in a row. The majority of miscarriages are caused by a chromosomal abnormality. This is a genetics thing and has nothing to do with anything the mother had control over.
In most cases, there was absolutely nothing that triggered a miscarriage and nothing that could have been done to prevent it. This is one of the most important things for the parents to remember about miscarriage and stillbirth.
Blame and guilt
The shock and numbness can be overpowering and denial may set in. In grieving for a child who died due to miscarriage or stillbirth, the denial stage goes by quickly because the obvious physical changes your body goes through are undeniable. Often times the denial stage leads directly to guilt. One of the first things mothers do is try to blame themselves. I fell down while I was running in my third month, and I was convinced for months afterward that it was my fault that our twins died.
In reality, I had nothing to do with it, no one did, and that was a hard thing to accept. I blamed the doctor, I even tried to sue her for malpractice but my lawyer consulted a specialist who confirmed what the second doctor had told us. "These things just happen sometimes." My children's death was unexplainable, which was absolutely maddening, but more importantly I had to accept that it was unavoidable. I eventually had to stop beating myself up about it, but it wasn't easy. No matter what the circumstances, even if there was an accident, you must know THIS WAS NOT YOUR FAULT.
Blame is not the only problem. Anger is a tremendous issue to deal with after the loss of a baby. You're angry at yourself, you're angry at your doctor, you're angry at the world and you're angry at God. "Why?" That question will eat away at your psyche as easily as termites eat through wood. At four-and-a-half months along, I had to face a lot of those 'how's your pregnancy going' questions from friends and acquaintances. It was painful explaining what had happened time and time again.
In addition, we were members of several "Parents of Multiples" organizations and had to withdrawal and explain why. It didn't end there either, these were our only children, so later on we had to face the question "do you have any kids?" I answer that question "yes, but none living" often to the shock and discomfort of many people. It is not my wish to upset anyone with my answer, it is only my wish not to deny acknowledgment of my only children.
I am a mother in every way that counts. I had two children living inside of me for nearly five months. I sang to them, I read to them, my entire existence was about them for those months. I have two precious children waiting for me on the other side, so I will never tell anyone that I am not a mother. I think about the twins every day of my life, and once a year, on the anniversary of the day we found out the awful news, we light a candle for each of them.
In the beginning, the everyday sadness and emptiness was oppressive. I ate it, drank it and lived it for weeks. The sadness can be overwhelming, but it's normal and expected and it may last a very long time. But, you must be very careful about depression. How long is too long? Every person is different. If you know someone who has recently lost a child, or you, yourself are going through this horrible ordeal, please be on the lookout for the signs of depression: