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Emotions and Choices in Miscarriage

by Becky Jackson

It was 1993 and, after being married for two years, I was pregnant for the first time. My husband and I were that goofy happy type. We couldn’t wait to tell our parents and everyone we saw. I bought a pregnancy book to track the growth of our baby and to learn everything I could about pregnancy health and what I should and shouldn’t do. My husband made it a habit to talk to the baby at night in bed, speaking softly into my tummy about his plans for fishing, sports, and passing on every bit of wisdom and skill he had.

We went to the clinic at around 11 weeks into the pregnancy, very excited about hearing the heartbeat. We were surprised that none could be detected with the doppler, but the nurse assured us that it was very normal and we’d hear it next time. A little over a week later, I noticed a spot of blood and went to the hospital. Nurses tried in vain to hear the heartbeat again, and the looks on their faces worried me. The doctor couldn’t tell us much, except that this may or may not be an impending miscarriage and told us signs to watch for that would indicate hemmoraging. I went home and laid around on my left side as instructed. We prayed and were still optimistic and hopeful.

By the next morning, blood was flowing heavily and I was passing bits of tissue or clots. What felt like really painful menstrual cramps woke me up and prompted me to take some medicine for pain. I knew this wasn’t a good sign for the baby, but I couldn’t bring myself to accept it. We decided that the bleeding and cramping I was experiencing would need to be evaluated at the hospital. I was a scared 19-year-old, having never bled like that before, I was even afraid I would bleed to death.

At the hospital, the doctor confirmed what I dreaded hearing. Even amidst talk of “D&C” and “prepped for surgery”, I didn’t fully understand until he said “..and I’m sorry about the loss of your baby.”

After the D&C, when I was awake and alert again, I asked the doctor if I could see my baby. He seemed uncomfortable at that question, and told me that if I didn’t see it at home, it most likely just dissolved and passed as blood and tissue. I remembered at my last reading in my pregnancy book that the baby was around 3 inches long. I couldn’t believe that the miracle of that could be reduced to nothing. I wished I had something to show for my 12 weeks of pregnancy, for the love and excitement and morning sickness. I wished for the chance to say goodbye. But in an instant, it was all gone.

That night, back at home, the physical pain was gone, but the emotional pain took its place. In the darkness of the bedroom, I heard my husband sob for the first time. “I was already talking to it” was all he could manage to say about the events of the past 24 hours. As I tried to comfort him, I realized that this was just as heartbreaking for him as it was for me and we would have to lean on each other.

Fast forward several years to 2001, through three healthy pregnancies and the addition of three children to our family. Throughout each pregnancy, the miscarriage stuck in the back of my mind. I remembered the vulnerability of a developing baby and became an expert on what I could do to maximize the chances of a healthy baby. I knew all the rules. Avoid paint fumes. Stand back from the microwave. Don’t eat much tuna or other seafood. My husband was paranoid with me; he watched over me, making sure I didn’t carry anything the least bit heavy and wouldn’t allow anyone to smoke around me.

By the time our kids reached the ages of 6, 5, and 4 years old, we were ready for one more. I had said since the birth of our last child that I would only do it again if it was a homebirth, partly because the painful things that were done to me by nurses were much harder on me than labor and birth itself. Months before trying to conceive, I started taking vitamins, made sure to get enough folic acid, and had a checkup.

When I took a home pregnancy test and found out I was pregnant again, my husband said he thought I was happier and more excited than I had ever been. I was looking forward to sharing the pregnancy and baby with my children, and using the wisdom and new ideas I had gained in my 7 years of mothering. I placed the pregnancy test in my jewelry box for a memento and started a pregnancy journal. We followed the growth and development of the baby on the internet with the kids. My son was hoping for twin brothers, while my youngest daughter wished for a girl. I got out the newborn clothes I had left and couldn’t help buying some newborn sleepers off of ebay. We picked out the names Maura for a girl and Jabez for a boy.

After 12 weeks of pregnancy, we breathed a sigh of relief as usual. We had made it past the risky first trimester, past the point of having to worry about a miscarriage..we thought. Then around 14 weeks, I started having some faint pink spotting. I was worried, but was sure it was too late in the pregnancy for a miscarriage. I researched reasonable explanations for the bleeding and we were confident that it was nothing to worry about.

A few days later, the pink turned to red and I went to the local health clinic to check for a heartbeat. After 2 and half hours of the ridiculous bureaucracy of paperwork and tests, I was finally in a room with a doppler. Mike had run to the bank after a couple hours, so I was alone. The nurse moved the doppler around and around for what was I guess 5 minutes, but seemed longer. I started to shake and felt tears beginning to surface. I knew all too well how long it should take to find the heartbeat. I guess she hated to tell me, and I finally asked, “No heartbeat?” The nurse practitioner shook her head nervously and set me up for an ultrasound while I tried to compose myself. She tried to reassure me that it happens all the time, that the baby gets behind something, or the dates are wrong, but the baby turns out to be okay.

At the hospital, the radiologist was confident that we would see a heartbeat. He said it often happens that they can’t find a heartbeat at the clinic when everything is fine. Not this time. The radiologist quietly moved the ultrasound equipment around and around at different angles and once again I had to ask “No heartbeat?” No. I was 15 weeks and 2 days into the pregnancy. Later at home, we wished we had asked for a picture of our baby anyway.

Mike was on the phone when the kids came in the bedroom where I was, all excited, asking if we heard the heartbeat. It was heartbreaking to have to tell them.

A lady from the health clinic called later that to schedule me for a D&C. I felt insulted at the rush to scrape my baby from my body so soon. Instinctively, I knew that the baby would pass on its own. I told her I wanted to just let it happen naturally at home. She sounded as if she’d never heard that response before, and told me she’d have to talk to the doctor again and get back to me. I couldn't understand the need to discuss what was my choice.

We dreaded the waiting for it to happen and my husband and I began to pray that if there couldn’t be some mistake and the baby be okay, then let it pass soon and be over with. The next day, I started having contractions and even the urge to push. At that time, my water broke just like it did my last labor and I ran to the bathroom. The sight of a tiny baby, about 4 inches long, rendered me hysterical and sobbing for a couple of minutes. I had not expected to see the baby at all for some reason, just blood and clots like last time. After the shock, I went over to the baby, half afraid to touch it and afraid of what I would see.

What I saw was a perfectly formed little body, with arms and legs, visible fingers and toes, and perfectly working elbows and knees. “It’s a boy”, I told my husband.

It was nice to give our baby a definite identity. Just knowing the gender enabled us to name him. A little boy named Jabez (which means “pain”). We held and touched him, looked him over, kissed him, and cried over him. We even took a picture of our baby.

We found a small cedar chest to bury him in and we all put in some special things for him. The kids drew pictures, Mike put in his gold cross, and I put in a gold teddy bear. My oldest daughter laid orange tiger lilies on the grave.

We thought it was really special to have this chance to say good bye to our baby. It meant a lot to us, and I was so glad I didn’t have a D&C this time. I had plenty of bleeding and cramping, but after having given birth before, it didn’t scare me. The placenta passed in one piece and the cramps stopped afterward. The bleeding slowed and completely subsided in a few days. I had been planning an unassisted homebirth, but we ended up having an unassisted home miscarriage instead. I was glad that I had read about UC enough to trust in the natural process. Many people would think that it doesn’t matter how or where a miscarriage happens, but it mattered to me.

This article was first published on Suite101.com and is reprinted with permission from the author.
Copyright 2002 by Becky Jackson


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