By Mother’s Day 2011, we had been back in the states for nearly two months. Life was chaotic and unsettled as we lived out of suitcases and carted back and forth between our parents’ homes but, all in all, we were happy. After an extended period at home with family, we were less than one week from journeying to our next duty station and, hopefully, some long overdue repose.
Early that morning, over a lovely family brunch, we excitedly revealed that we were, once again, pregnant. At eight weeks, we were cautiously optimistic and grateful to give the happy news in person. Everybody hugged and congratulated us, even offering bits of big sister advice to our toddler still nibbling away at pancakes in her high chair.
It was a beautiful moment that perhaps I had been craving a bit too much. Because while I genuinely felt confident that all was well with this pregnancy, the warning signs were, once again, right in front of my face. Back at home, no less than five pregnancy tests stashed inside my suitcase told an old story: extremely faint lines that never turned into the bright pink I had been longing for. And as I excitedly revealed to our family that I had been spared the intense morning sickness of my first pregnancy, my mind refused to entertain the notion that a lack of symptoms could be problematic.
Later that afternoon, my sisters and I walked into our favorite clothing store and, after trying on a few pieces, I decided to treat myself to a long, flowing blouse. It was perfection, I rationalized, in that it could be worn tucked in for the time being but would accommodate a growing belly nicely. That purchase gave me confidence. Everything would be okay, I thought. With that shirt in hand, I felt I could begin actively preparing for this pregnancy.
While leaving the store, I somehow backed up into a door handle with a bit of force. It scraped across my lower back and I winced in pain. After a moment though, the pain subsided and I left for home without a second thought.
Upon arriving back at my in-law’s house, I walked into the restroom and was stunned to see streaks of blood lining my underwear. Immediately, I told myself that this was normal pregnancy bleeding. Indeed, I had experienced intermittent bleeding throughout my entire first, healthy pregnancy and what I was looking at was not nearly as heavy as what I had encountered with my miscarriage several months prior. Once again, I told myself that everything would be okay. And, truly, despite the shock of blood, I felt calm and confident.
In fact, it wasn’t until I told my husband that my faith began to waver. The words pouring out of his mouth remained steady and resolute but I could see fear in his eyes. It was decided that we would monitor the situation for a couple hours and then head to the emergency room if the bleeding intensified. Within about thirty minutes, we were buckling into the car. Still, I rationalized, there was very little cramping so maybe, just maybe this pregnancy was still viable.
Upon being admitted, a nurse showed up and provided me with a gown and instructions to change in a bathroom at the end of the hall. What I remember most about that bathroom was the low, wide mirror that seemed to envelope the wall. It screamed at me to focus on what was happening—to look at myself standing under those glaring florescent lights, underwear bulging from a giant pad. The image sickened me, not because that industrial sized pad represented another potential loss but because it reminded me of the comically large hospital underwear you get after giving birth. How unfair, how twisted, to be forced with such an image at that time. Turning to put on my hospital gown, I noticed that the scrape on my lower back had begun to bruise over. And in an instant, my mind began to play tricks on me. You did this. You shook the pregnancy out of you. This is your fault.
Perhaps that sounds crazy. The logical side of me knew that it was. But when your entire world seems to be one cruel joke, logic doesn’t tend to win out.
Eventually, with my husband at my side, a doctor conducted a vaginal ultrasound to determine the cause of the bleeding.
“What was the date of your last period, again?” he asked.
I repeated the date he had already been told.
“Are you sure?” he questioned. “Because what I’m seeing is measuring about 4.5 weeks.”
“That can’t be right,” I mumbled, racking my brain for a rational explanation.
Moments later, the doctor smiled at me sympathetically and explained that someone would be in shortly with paperwork. Then he closed the door behind him and, for a long time, my husband and I simply stared ahead in disbelief. But once the tears started to fall, there was no stopping them. I sobbed upon that hospital bed with the same heaving breaths that had kept me strewn across the bathroom floor only a few short months ago while a lowly toilet flushed away pieces of me.
“Why is this happening again?” I demanded. “I don’t understand!”
All my husband could do was hold me and let our tears mix together upon the cold linoleum floor. And though I couldn’t articulate myself in that moment, a flood of concerns rushed through my head—namely, that the miscarriage on my birthday hadn’t been the fluke but that, really, it was my daughter. What if I wasn’t ever supposed to have kids but that we simply lucked out on the first try? What if I never again felt life kicking inside me? What could be so wrong with me that two consecutive pregnancies had failed? I felt ashamed of my own body, angered by its inability to nurture a pregnancy. I felt, honestly, like a failure.
Eventually, an orderly appeared with discharge papers. I heard the phrases “threatened miscarriage” and “spontaneous abortion” thrown around. Somehow I pieced together enough to understand that my pregnancy had, for unknown reasons, suddenly come to a halt quickly after conception. My body had taken another month to figure out what was happening.
One might think that walking out of that hospital would be the ending of another unfortunate loss. But, the reality is, miscarriages are long, drawn-out processes. For one thing, the use of the phrase, “threatened miscarriage” gave me misplaced hope that there might still be a chance. Over the next few days, I used up the rest of my pregnancy tests, hoping that the still faintly visible lines meant that the doctors had somehow been wrong. Watching with concern, my husband gently explained that I was torturing myself. He was right.
But that wasn’t all—at a follow up visit several days later, a different doctor looked at the image of my ultrasound and declared that it had been a twin pregnancy. Indeed, when I later saw the notes from the emergency room doctor, he had also noticed two sacs. For some reason, that revelation felt like a second crushing blow. I still struggle with the knowledge that it had been a twin pregnancy, along with the illogical guilt that somehow my body couldn’t handle two.
It was another few weeks (smack in the middle of a cross country move, no less) before doctors could officially monitor my HCG levels back to zero. Life never stopped spinning and I felt viscerally angry over that fact. How could everyone go about their business as if the world hadn’t completely upended itself? How was I to grieve this second loss with a busy toddler running around and a new home to move into? How was I ever going to come to grips with having lost two consecutive pregnancies?
The honest truth is that it’s an ongoing process—even now, even after the birth of a healthy baby boy. Most days pass without incident but, every once in a while, those memories flood back to the surface. My birthday is always a trigger, as is Mother’s Day and Christmas (the time frame of the due date with my second loss).
The guilt never really leaves, however illogical it may be. In fact, it only intensified with the birth of my son. In the midst of sleep deprivation and other newborn struggles, I felt intensely shameful for not fully appreciating the miracle of a rainbow baby. Even in toddlerhood, the struggle still manifests. But it has gotten easier to allow myself a measure of grace, to frame those losses within the big picture of my life instead of letting them define it.
These days, there is no trace of that bruise on my back and I can wear that long, flowing blouse without regret. These days, I find strength in my voice and in sharing my story. I hope you will, too. Because your experience was real and it matters. Speak life into your loss. Speak so that healing can be had. You deserve it. We all do.
**C also writes for POMP USA, a start up company promoting businesses owned by service members, veterans, and their spouses.