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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