Community Birth Stories | A Miscarriage Story

Community Birth Stories | A Miscarriage Story

A miscarriage story, as told by Lissa:

I’ve written a birth story for my third-trimester loss before. This is the story of my first first-trimester miscarriage.

It was my 5th pregnancy and it started the common way. I had my usual symptoms of insomnia, cravings, aversions, and nausea. Classic. No additional fanfare or trouble. Everything felt normal. I felt no need to tell anyone other than my husband, but I did email my favorite midwife and doula to see if their schedules looked favorable to serve me again.

At 9-weeks, just days after emailing them, I found unexpected brown and clear mucous with a little bit of pink on my toilet paper on a Thursday. It looked exactly like the mucous plug I lost right before labor started for my previous baby. Immediately devastated, I lay in bed for a three-day weekend and it didn’t turn into anything more than off-and-on brown goopy mucous. No cramps. On Monday, the first frank blood had finally arrived. Not much, but accompanied by scattered small wet clots. My heart sunk a little further. Still no cramps. I waited for two days of this “what-are-you- doing?”-spotty red blood/small clots/brown mucous before I tearfully called my midwife for further guidance.

I actually wasn’t crying before I made the phone call, but as soon as I heard her voice, the waterworks started. This was the same midwife who had talked me through some of the saddest conversations about the traumatic hospital birth of my firstborn and then the heart-wrenching experience of our stillbirth. (She has seen me through two live births at home since then.) Asking my midwife for help, out loud, made what was happening “real” and it was so sad.

After a chat, she offered to send an ultrasound script and, within hours, I was in a radiology waiting room with an uncomfortably full bladder feeling so alone with strangers all around. The receptionists went about their jobs – “ID and insurance card please.” “Sign here and here please”. I wondered about the other people in the waiting room. Were they here expecting terrible news, too? Was today just business as usual? On their cell phones, all of them. Deep in their own places – wherever that was.

30 minutes went by after my scheduled appointment time. The discompassion of massive healthcare operations hardly surprises me anymore, but it definitely still hurts my heart. Did they forget that they specifically instruct pregnant women to drink a ton of water before their scheduled appointment time? They made no acknowledgement of their schedule running late. I finally asked for an update to see if I had time to go to the bathroom. At least the receptionist was merciful at that point and “let” me pee.

After more waiting, my first and last name (whew good thing we passed all those HIPAA rules) was finally called by an entirely too excited ultrasonography student. I was hoping she just hadn’t yet read that she was calling back a patient for “early OB ultrasound” and “vaginal bleeding”. As a medical professional myself, this is not the bubbly demeanor I would have chosen when greeting a patient for such a worrisome pair of circumstances.

The tears immediately came (silently) again, knowing my heart wasn’t in good hands as she practically skipped down the hall. I could just tell this was going to be painful to my overly-sensitive heart. She and another student asked permission to do the scan first because they really wanted the practice. I should have said no. But, I had been a medical student before and I know many people have to blow-it at least once before they can have a chance to improve in a similar situation later.

Everything in me wanted to take the probe myself, confirm the miscarriage and leave. But instead I endured 40 minutes of these people delightfully scanning unnecessary structures and painfully fumbling around my bladder and uterus. I could see the screen. I saw what I needed to see. I wanted to just leave now. Eventually it was time for the more experienced technician to come in and do the whole scan again. She was more to-the-point, but she turned the screen away from me so I couldn’t watch. I asked to see the screen. For the life of me, I cannot understand why she denied that to a patient, much less a grieving one. These are the first, last, and only images of my dead child I’d ever see. Instead, you’re basically saying “No, you can lay there crying and staring at the ceiling while I have the privilege of secretly looking at pictures of your body that you’re paying me to take.”

If this had been my first rodeo with unempathetic healthcare staff, I might have accepted this. I prayed for her, and after asking twice more, she did finally put the screen in a position I could watch. I strained my eyes and watched that tiny uterus nugget and willed it to move. I held my breath. Nothing. Nothing moved.

The students hadn’t known how to display the flatline of a non-beating heart, but this technician did. “NFHT” she typed on the screen. Boy, did that bring back memories from my previous loss. I asked if she could print one of these baby images so I could show my husband. She said the printer wasn’t working on this machine. Of course it wasn’t.

She informed me that it was time for the transvaginal view, and I said “no thank you” and wiped myself off and got up.

Checking out, a receptionist saw me crying and said, “I don’t like to see people cry” and a bunch of other random distracting terrible things to say to a crying person as I stood there at that counter mortified and feeling like every eye in the waiting room was now on me. Her words were the most painful part of that entire miserable week. If I could wish for one improvement to our American health care system…it wouldn’t be discovering new antibiotics or innovating surgical techniques or chemo with fewer side effects. Hands-down, I’d wish for the improvement of compassionate communication with patients.

When I got home, my amazing husband had the kids down for their naps and had food and drink waiting for me. There wasn’t much left to do with the day other than lay in bed and continue to do nothing as my uterus apparently couldn’t be bothered to do anything either.

I hopped online to read about miscarriages. The internet is never lacking on opinions. There didn’t seem to be a consensus on what I should expect. “Light bleeding” “It was like a heavy period” “I filled a bathtub with blood” “Non- painful” “Excruciating cramps” “Constant contraction” “Labor-like waves” “Had to leave work” “Didn’t even notice”. Whatever horror or non-horror I wanted to imagine, I could find a story about it. Thanks, internet.

So here I am, adding my story to the myriad.

On Wednesday (at “10-weeks”), after what felt like period cramps crossed with postpartum uterine contraction cramps all morning, I had a time of calm just around the time I put all the kids upstairs for naptime. Thanks, God. Almost immediately after, I started what ended up being 3.5hrs of “labor”. I suppose it felt more like a drawn-out third stage labor. It was waves of intense cramping with blood constantly but slowly dripping and at least seven palm-sized clot globs that all felt like mini placentas when they passed — sometimes splashing off the toilet seat to the floor before I could sit down. (I’d say the dripping blood was like from a giant finger prick dripping once per second that didn’t stop or slow for hours, in addition to the clots passing.) At first I thought I could handle this with just pads and frequent trips to the bathroom, but I soon gave up and got out the chux pads and took off my pants and just rocked and moaned and breathed and rolled on the floor as these miserable bloody crampy hours passed. In the middle, I managed to get the phone and call my husband home from work. He had no traffic on the way

home in a rainy rush-hour. Thanks again, God.

It looked like a murder scene by the time I was done. Blood running down the toilet, splattered on the vanity, drips on my thighs, calves, and ankles. Even on my abdomen – not sure how that got there. My husband diligently cleaned up spots on the floor and walls. “I’m proud of my little baby for making such a big mess,” he said.

Those drips of blood kept steadily coming for another hour or so – no faster, no slower. If this had been my first baby, I can only imagine how full of questions I’d be. Although I did get to the point when I googled “How much blood is too much blood?” and briefly reviewed a plan for if my husband thought I looked blanched. We peeked out the window to see which neighbors’ cars were in their driveways in case we needed childcare in a pinch. I kept track of my pulse (and kept hydrated and had been eating extra iron for days now, in anticipation). As weak and sad as I felt, my cardiovascular system didn’t seem to think there was a particular problem with all that blood loss yet.

“I’m proud of my little baby for making such a big mess,” he said.

I knew my husband would have felt more comfortable having me at a hospital. But we also both knew my super- sensitivity meant that if I had more encounters with unempathetic medical staff, it could take a physical toll on me equivalent to twice as much blood loss. Should he drive me to the ER and we’ll just wait in the car in the parking lot? Fortunately, I kept my color and my delightfully sarcastic energy, and eventually the bleeding did just stop at home.

That evening, when I could finally come up for air, I called the midwife who encouraged me that it was a good sign that my uterus was doing its job and that the worst of the pain and discharge was probably over. Indeed, it was. I slept really well that night. From then on, it mostly felt like a particularly uncomfortable and lengthy period. Compared to my still birth, I appreciated the lack of deflated abdomen skin, lack of lactating breasts, and lack of vulvar trauma from the skull and shoulders of a full-term baby passing through. I vacillated on whether this felt like a blessing or not; it was just over. Back to “normal”.

We had to decide whether to search through all the clots to have a chance to find the baby. Could it have gone directly in the toilet? Was it even out yet? It was unusually hard to throw away the chux pads and paper towels. That was the last physical evidence of this life short lived. In the trash. I am so grateful for my faith that gives perspective to the seeming wrongness and pointlessness of moments like these. We blasted worship music from our laptop speakers and I sang along through tears. I cannot put into words how much I anticipate the return of Jesus.

My husband and I guessed a gender and chose a name and decided not to tell our young children just yet about this other sibling they now have in heaven. Soon, perhaps.


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Life After Birth | Kristie + London

Life After Birth | Kristie + London

As told by Kristie:

I’m sitting in my office “Lactation Room” tearing up as I draft this. In so many ways I feel ready to be done with our breastfeeding journey and yet I’m so hesitant. Is she ready? Am I doing a terrible thing by choosing to end this after a year? Will she be hurt or crushed by this decision? Should we try for 2 years? All the second guessing that comes with my latest title of “Mom”.

I have loved breastfeeding so much more than I ever imagined I would. It has been the only thing, aside from carrying her in my womb, that has been 100% just me and my baby girl. I feel like I have been lucky. Right away she latched. She slid into a groove before I even felt like I knew what I was doing. 

She has been so patient letting me struggle in the beginning to find a comfortable position for the both of us: stacking pillows, then boppys, then finally an actual breastfeeding pillow. Switching up from the football hold, the cradle, the cross cradle, side lying (which did NOT work for us and ended with both of us in tears). 

There were a few nights she was hysterically upset and I was just sobbing trying to get her to latch wondering what I was doing wrong, if I could do this, second guessing every move I made to comfort and nurse her.

I’ve been so afraid of losing my supply. I didn’t realize how important breastfeeding was to me until we got further and further along in our journey together. Going back to work after 3 months was already soul crushing but I was petrified it was going to shatter my supply and goal of making it to a year. Fortunately my job has been very flexible with telework and I’m certain this has been key for our success. 

I can’t imagine any other version of our first year together but I didn’t expect the mental exhaustion that comes with feeling tethered to the baby, being their sole source of nutrition every 3 hours or so. 

I didn’t expect to find out about myself how shy and modest I was about breastfeeding. I figured I wouldn’t care and wouldn’t hesitate to “whip ‘em out” and nurse around anyone anywhere. But I did, for whatever reason. I’m still working on it but that mentality surprised me.

I didn’t expect to develop such opinions on companies and businesses nursing policies. I’ve had to travel a few times and have been both disgusted and pleasantly surprised at airports and how much they’re willing to accommodate. For the record, Ronald Regan Airport, not much accommodation at all, it was suggested I nurse in the bathrooms and the lactation room is located outside security. 

I didn’t expect to become even more obsessed with Target as they quickly became my saving grace in offering a nursing room. It was the first place I felt like a human again and gained confidence venturing outside with my baby and to be able to step away to nurse instead of venturing home or struggling to try it in the car was crucial.

I didn’t expect to fall so in love with nursing and sharing those private moments with my daughter. I once told my husband it’s the only super power I have! Anyone can bounce her or rock her to sleep or make her laugh but only I can give her my milk.

I didn’t expect even the thought of ending this journey would be so difficult, secretly wondering: “will she still love me as much? Am I replaceable now that she doesn’t need me in the same way?” And all the other self doubting questions that creep into your mind as both a mother and as a breastfeeding mother.

I didn’t expect to have so much to say on the topic but it’s truly been the best journey. I hope I’m able to accomplish as many months or more with the next one.

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Images by Bergen Howlett for Two Rivers Childbirth

Life After Birth | Ashton + Victor

Life After Birth | Ashton + Victor

My name is Ashton and my little guy’s name is Victor Joseph. He was born December 10, 2018 at 2:01am at the Natural Birthing Center at Inova Loudoun assisted by my midwife, Shannon Wise. My husband and I lived on the Cape in Massachusetts for the last few years but before Victor was born we moved down to Lovettsville to be with family.

My labor and delivery was remarkably short and thankfully with zero complications. Victor immediately latched without any hesitation and so we started our nursing journey on a really high note. While in the hospital I met with their lactation consultant to ensure I was doing everything I could for Victor and obviously it was the first practical application of the knowledge I had learned during my prenatal classes. Holding a wiggly baby and trying to be calm was harder than when I practiced with a doll! ;-) When Victor was 4 days old, we had a home visit from a lactation consultant, this time with a woman named Dru (she is AMAZING!). We sat in the nursery and talked, she made my husband and I feel so at ease that he was even piping in and asking questions. She introduced me to nursing laying down which was, and still is the go-to position that Victor and I enjoy most.

Victor was doing a great job nursing, but my mama blues caused some amplified anxiety and I became anxious that I was not producing enough milk even though we were nursing and pumping what felt like 24/7. At 1am after a particularly hard day when Victor was about 10 days old, we made the call to introduce formula. We had not considered it, so we had not bought any – we just had some Similac samples that we had received in the mail. But Victor was hungry so we knew it was the right thing to “supplement” his needs. As my husband began mixing the formula, I crumpled to the floor and cried. It was so heartbreaking that I went in the bathroom and sobbed while he gave Victor his first bottle. I couldn’t reconcile how much of a failure I felt like. I had milk! He was latching! Why wasn’t there enough?!

Over the next 2 weeks we got into a routine of 1 bottle of formula a day. In retrospect it was a good way for my husband to feel involved and it gave me a chance to shower, breathe, etc. but at the time it was like a knife in my chest every time the formula came out. Victor was growing like a champ and didn’t seem to mind anything, so we decided to keep supplementing.

When Victor was 7 weeks old, we took him on his first plane ride. We flew to Europe so he could meet his other grandparents and when we landed in Dublin someone commented that they didn’t even know a baby had been on the plane! Score!! Over the course of the 7-hour flight Victor had nursed and slept the entire way and seemed so content; I was so proud that my body was there for us and we didn’t break out any formula! While on that trip I nursed almost exclusively only breaking out the formula when I had a little more wine than I had intended – I felt so empowered and like we had gotten to the other side.

Now Victor is nearly 11 months old and recently completed his 21st flight (!), I could go through the last 9 months in the same level of detail, but the important thing is that this is a journey and we are doing our best. I went back to work when he was 3 months old and thankfully I work from home so I see him throughout the day and we are able to carve out little cuddles and nursing moments but that doesn’t mean some days I’m not juggling him squirming to finish a feeding while trying to prepare for a presentation. These days we follow an 80/20 solution … meaning, the majority of the time I nurse but if I need a break or if I forgot to pump, I don’t sweat it. Sometimes I even give him the bottle. I do still hate pumping, maybe it’s some residual “PTSD-esque” association with the pump, who knows? But I do know that my baby is thriving. He is loved and growing, and his belly is full. What more could I ask for?

We have traveled the world with him since he was born, and I love knowing that no matter where we are, I can care for all my baby’s needs. I dread the day when he weens – I am not in a hurry and I am not on some clock. I had told myself I wanted to nurse until he is a year old and take it from there. Now with the introduction of solids and him eating them so well I feel like the nursing is a special treat and I will let it go on for as long as he likes.

To all the moms out there struggling or just starting their journey – you are not alone. You are a rockstar and should be so proud of what you have accomplished: you made a human!! And never be ashamed to ask for help – it takes a village, that is one of the biggest takeaways from our travels. Motherhood is a really cool, special club and you’re in it now, there are members all around the world that would love to bolster you and see you succeed – including me, best wishes to you!! 

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Images by Bergen Howlett for Two Rivers Childbirth