What happens after a miscarriage?

With a miscarriage, the woman may choose to go naturally, use herbs or medication, or have a D&C. Depending on how far along she is, she may or may not pass tissue that is recognizable as a baby. If she has a D&C, she will likely never see anything (unless she has the D&C for retained products of conception, and has already passed the baby). In many states and many hospitals, the woman is not told what happens to the baby, nor given an option for receiving the body and taking it home to bury it, if the fetal demise is prior to 20 weeks (after 20 weeks, it’s considered a stillbirth). One woman worked to change the law in her state when she was told — too late — that her 16-week baby went into the medical waste disposal. (There are multiple links in the comments, so scroll down to read the full story, with more information.) The baby would be about 4-5″ long at that gestational age.

When a woman has an early miscarriage, it may be difficult for her to catch the remains, even if she wants to, unless she sits on a bucket all day, or puts a colander inside the toilet. In my case, I felt the biggest clump of tissue pass just a few minutes after using the bathroom, so it very easily could have fallen in the toilet. As it was, it was easy for me to have it, examine it, and eventually bury it. Not everyone is comfortable with that, and don’t think anything of just flushing the toilet. If the woman experiences labor-like cramps or contractions, it will be easier to catch the remains than if she just has period-like bleeding with no cramps, because there is a warning that it is imminent. Several of the women I know who have had miscarriages (particularly the later losses) have buried the remains; one woman cremated the remains; and many others did not keep the remains at all.

But with a D&C, that is often not an option at all. If you have a D&C, you can ask the doctor if you can have the remains. It’s possible there might be some sort of law against it, or hospital procedures making it difficult to do [I remember some case out in Hawaii in which a couple had to sue the hospital and win before they would turn over the placenta to them after a birth, so anything’s possible!], but you can at least ask prior to the procedure, if you wish.

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H1N1 Primer

There has been a lot of information — much of it directly contradictory — about H1N1 (“swine flu”). I think we can safely say that it hasn’t lived up to its hype — I believe the President suggested that as many as 30,000 Americans would be dead from swine flu by October, its peak. This makes it easy to dismiss it entirely… except for the fact that some people will be very badly affected, and even die.

Frankly, the whole discussion sets off my “OCD” when it comes to the numbers — any non-seasonal flu became labeled “swine flu” without testing; only the hospitalized cases were tested. I’ve read that when studies were done actually testing “diagnosed” cases of H1N1, the actual rate of H1N1 was something like 1/3 or fewer of the “diagnosed” cases. If this is the case, and only 30% of diagnosed H1N1 is really H1N1, then the actual rate of complications may be actually much higher than suspected. After all, if one million people are “diagnosed” with H1N1, but only 300,000 people actually have it, then the rate of complications is actually X/300,000, rather than X/1,000,000, which might make a very big difference. On the other hand, most of the people who come down with H1N1 have no complications, are not diagnosed, and don’t even go to the doctor — it’s just dismissed as a case of the sniffles or whatever. This very easily could mean that the 1,000,000 “diagnosed” cases of H1N1 should actually number in the several millions, and then the rate of complications would go from being X/1,000,000 to X/3,000,000. See how frustrating that is for a numbers person to handle??

So, I haven’t posted on H1N1, because — especially with all the contradictory information, and so much of it, I’ve suffered from SFO — “swine flu overload” — and didn’t want to wade through all the contradictory claims, searching through all the articles and studies that may be horrendously biased (one way or the other), trying to figure out what to do or say or think. But the folks at Midwifery Today did do all the grunt-work, and put together The H1N1 Primer for Pregnant Women, which looks pretty balanced, thorough, and accurate (or at least, honest, and as accurate as can be with all the various hyperbolic claims put forth on both sides of the issue). Plus, they have a lot of links at the bottom of the page which are bound to yield even more information.

One thing is for sure, though — the best defense is a good offense — wash your hands, avoid sick people, keep your immune system up by eating properly and taking vitamin supplements as necessary to stay healthy.

Men & Miscarriage

My husband and I haven’t talked too much about our miscarriage. Certainly, some of that is due to his degree of separation from the miscarriage — he wasn’t pregnant, I was; he didn’t bleed, I did; he didn’t pass any tissue, that happened to me. But I know it affected him. Many men don’t deal with their feelings nor show their feelings the way women do, so I didn’t really expect him to talk too much about it, nor do I think he was handling things “wrong” by keeping his feelings to himself. I hoped to be open to hearing what he had to say, if he wanted to say anything, but I didn’t want to pressure him or pry. Maybe I was wrong in being more reticent, although I did ask him a time or two, just to show that if he wanted to talk, he could.

The pregnancy was not planned, although when I told him that I thought I was pregnant (the exact quote was, “I haven’t started my period yet”), he got this goofy grin on his face (he asked, “when were you supposed to start?” — which was Monday and the conversation took place on Friday afternoon). When I asked him how he felt a few days later, he admitted that he wasn’t totally happy, because of the various reasons we were not planning on having a baby, but “what can you do?” and that he was somewhat happy. Which pretty much mirrored my feelings — it wasn’t in our plans, but obviously was in God’s plans, so we needed to rest in His judgment.

Then when I had the first red bleeding and assumed I was miscarrying then (a couple weeks before I actually did miscarry), he said he was sad “but what can you do?” and that was all he said. In the interim space, between then and when I fully miscarried, we didn’t discuss it. When I passed the tissue, I asked him if he wanted to see it. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he said yes, or if he said no. He went into the bathroom for a moment, and came out with red-rimmed eyes. I think it made it more real for him. For my part, I think had I seen something that looked like a baby (perhaps I should have opened up what I learned from another story might have been the amniotic sac, and then it might have been visible?), I know I would have been sadder, because it would have seemed much more real. Knowing my husband, I wasn’t totally surprised at his reaction, and actually felt a little bad that I had not been sadder or more grief-stricken at the sight.

In our society, I think we forget that men experience miscarriage too — different in many ways from how women experience it, but they have a loss just the same. Certainly, not all men are going to be happy that they’re going to be a father and may be happy that the woman had a miscarriage (after all, many men will pressure a woman into an abortion to avoid fatherhood); but I would think that the average man is going to feel some sense of loss. Men are different, and some may feel only a slight loss (the baby may be less real, almost as if its just imagination, until the woman starts to show, or he can feel the baby kick, or some other thing happens that makes the baby real to the man), while others really struggle.

Before having my miscarriage, I was going to write a post entitled “Baby Boom” because there were four women at our small church who were all pregnant, and due about 6 weeks apart from each other — I was the latest, two others are due just days apart, and a newlywed couple was the first due. While four pregnant women may not be much for mega-churches or other large churches, for our church that was about all the women who could/would reasonably be pregnant — leaving out those too old, or who have decided their families are complete, just had a baby, etc. I still was thinking of posting something along those lines, and then found out last night that the newlywed couple lost their baby. And today at church, I found out that one of the other mothers is having problems with her gallbladder and will likely have surgery, and I don’t know how that might affect her pregnancy. So, I’m not in the mood to write a jovial post about the 4 3 2 possibly 1 new baby due next summer.

At our church, we have morning service, potluck lunch, and then afternoon service. At lunch, I sat at the same table as the newlywed couple, and of course miscarriage was the subject of part of the conversation, but it did not dominate — there were other subjects, many humorous. I was sitting opposite the couple, and could see that the woman was handling things okay, but it seemed to me that the husband was struggling a bit. There were times he would only smile when others were laughing; or he would chuckle a bit, and then look like he was going to cry — subdued, grieving, but trying to keep his spirits up. Prior to getting married, this young man would dote on the babies and young children at our church, and he was thrilled with the news that his wife was expecting — he really wanted to be a daddy.

I mentioned my observations to my husband, and he said a little something about himself having experienced loss (with tears), and now this other man as well, and then prayed for him. It was obvious that the man appreciated it, and I wonder if he had gotten much emotional support (from either men or women). When we announced our miscarriage at church, almost every woman and several of the men came up to express their regrets; my husband didn’t get nearly the same level of attention, although he experienced the loss of the same baby. Men experience miscarriage too; but I think we as a society often forget that, and/or take their silence or reticence or stoic appearance as proof that they don’t feel loss and aren’t mourning or grieving. Had I judged only on superficial appearances (rather than closely observing my husband and also this man), I might think that too. But judging on the more particular inspection, I might think that the miscarriages affected the men more deeply than the women… or at least, in a different way.

Yes, women often experience more grief than men do, at a miscarriage; but that doesn’t mean it is always that way. Let’s not forget the men.

A Miscarriage Story

My LMP was Oct. 11. I didn’t really “know” if I was pregnant prior to missing my period, but there were times when I suspected I was. With both of my other pregnancies (but no other times when my period was later than 29 days), I have had some breast sensitivity as well as feeling discomfort when lying on my belly, even before being “late,” and this was no exception. I tried to pretend it wasn’t there — that I was imagining things. Then day 29 came and went, as did day 30, and day 31. I’ve never gone later than 31 days without being pregnant, so when days 32 and 33 came and went with no period starting, I was pretty darn sure.

There were a few different reasons why I didn’t rush right out and get a pregnancy test, but the main one was that several months prior, I had a feeling that I would be getting pregnant, but would have a miscarriage; and I felt that if I never took a pregnancy test, then I could just pretend I was really late, if I had an early miscarriage. So, I was supposed to have started on a Monday, but I didn’t go to the store until Saturday. Then, even though I took the test mid-day (my husband was bugging me to take it, so I didn’t wait for the next morning), it did register a positive.

We told our mothers on Sunday; and then on Monday, I started spotting. It was light pink, and stopped within half a day, but it was nerve-wracking nonetheless. Then everything seemed okay for a few days, until Friday, when that night I started bleeding — it was red, although it did lighten up by the next day. Then Saturday night, it started again, but stopped again; and Sunday night, yet again, I started spotting (though less), and it stopped quickly. I weighed the decision to go get an ultrasound, but ultimately decided against it — mostly since I had stopped bleeding; but also, because I didn’t really think there was anything that could be done if I were going to miscarry. And if the baby’s heart were beating, and I still had a miscarriage? — I figured it would hurt more, emotionally. And if there were no heartbeat, then I would just be sitting and waiting for the inevitable miscarriage to start, or perhaps feel pressure to have a D&C, or some other intervention.

Interventions have their place, but there is a risk of scarring and infection from a D&C, so I don’t know that I would be comfortable having one unless there were some definite indication of needing one (as opposed to just, “Well, there’s no heartbeat, so let’s just get this over with.”) Besides, I’ve heard of at least one story in which a woman had an early ultrasound that did not detect a heartbeat, opted for a natural miscarriage, then a few weeks later when she hadn’t started miscarrying yet, she went back to the doctor, who discovered that there was another baby — a living baby — which is why she was still pregnant, and it would have been killed with a D&C. Rare, I know; but I would want to make sure. Of course, there is also a risk of infection with no D&C, if the miscarriage is not complete, but I felt comfortable waiting for nature to take its course.

So, the last spotting was on Nov. 22. For that next week, I tried to continue with life as normal, as if in expectation of the pregnancy continuing normally — but there was always that little voice in the back of my mind, that I was going to have a miscarriage. It was there before I had the pregnancy test, and when I first had the spotting, and only increased afterwards. With the first red bleeding, I said, “Well, that’s it — I’m miscarrying, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” I “said goodbye” to the baby, and felt that that was it. But then, it stopped.

Then, on Dec. 2, a Wednesday, I started bleeding again, almost as heavy as my period. In a way, it felt like my body was catching up to what my brain already knew (although, I will grant that “intuition” can be wrong, and my intuition could have been wrong then), so I didn’t feel very much grief — more like, “Okay, well now I know for sure.” Prior to the first red bleeding/spotting, I sometimes felt like I was “really” pregnant (as in, that I would really be having a baby); but after that, I was much more tentative — outwardly, everything seemed to be fine and I acted as if I were in full expectation of giving birth within another 7-8 months or so, but inwardly, I felt like I was living a lie. Although I still “felt pregnant” (sensitive breasts and a heavy, full-feeling uterus), my brain just wasn’t “there,” if you get my meaning. I had a small hope that it might stop again, as the other spotting and bleeding had, but it didn’t. Primarily, the feeling I felt was a relief that it was actually over — much like a person might feel from watching a loved one struggle with cancer and finally succumb — sorrow that death has come, but relief that the person’s suffering is finally over.

Physically, my miscarriage was very much like a period — I didn’t cramp much, although it did feel good to have a heating pad on my stomach (and I never think of a heating pad when menstruating). In fact, I’ve cramped worse with some periods. From what I can gather, the further along in pregnancy you are, the more painful and labor-like a miscarriage is. In early pregnancy, like mine, it is common for it to be similar to a period; but starting around 10-14 weeks or so, some women have said that it was every bit as painful as labor, and more than one of my friends said it was much worse. A few stories I’ve read have described the miscarriage as feeling like labor, with contractions every few minutes.

Several people have told stories of how they were able to catch and identify (and sometimes to bury) the baby; I felt bad about the idea of flushing the baby down the toilet, but didn’t know exactly how to avoid that, since I was feeling no contraction-like cramps. One of my friends (who miscarried at 14 weeks) said that she labored over the toilet, with a colander beneath her, so she could catch the baby. That made sense, except that my miscarriage was more like a period, with no identifiable “this is it” cramps; and it didn’t seem feasible to sit on the toilet all the time for days and days.

Here’s where I get into TMI — if you’re squeamish don’t feel like you have to read on. I include these, though, because there wasn’t a whole lot of detail in any of the stories I read (which admittedly, weren’t many), and I thought some women might find benefit from them. I don’t even know if what I experienced was normal (although I suspect it was); it’s just my story, as it happened.

The first two days of bleeding, there was nothing except period-like blood and an occasional clot (not big enough to be a baby even at that early gestation), although it’s possible that something passed that I didn’t see or identify (after all, toilet paper can obscure a lot). Then the next day, a couple of different times, there was some tissue on my pad, that I didn’t feel passing — it was just there when I went to the bathroom. To describe it… it looked basically like a reddish slug — no form or structure — just sort of gelatinous.

Several years ago, I remember seeing a CSI episode in which a woman was killed, and on autopsy, it was discovered that she was pregnant, about six weeks along. As part of the investigation, they removed the embryo (fetus ?), and dropped it into a little tray (I’m thinking for genetic testing, to be able to identify the father… and therefore prime suspect in the woman’s death), and it made a little clink sound. [Yes, I know it is fictional; but they did try to be realistic in these shows, so I will assume that the sound effect was accurate.] I’ve seen embryonic development pictures, so I wasn’t expecting it to look like a full-term baby or anything, but I was expecting to see some structure, even if it was just the size of a pea. So, I dismissed these things as… not baby — not sure what it might have been, though.

Because I knew that I wouldn’t necessarily feel things passing through my vagina, I would usually wipe first (and would frequently get blood clots), then use the bathroom. There was nothing remotely embryonic, though. Then, on Saturday, I felt something pass — just out of the blue. I went to the bathroom and saw this [it’s graphic, so if you’re squeamish, don’t look]. Because of its size [this graphic picture shows it in my hand, so you can see the size of it, compared to my fingers], I felt like it was the main or total mass of the pregnancy, and if there were a baby, it would definitely be in there. But again, I felt nothing remotely solid, except perhaps what could be membranes, possibly the placenta — but no embryonic skeleton, no arm buds or leg buds — nothing.

In a way, that makes me feel better, as if perhaps it was a blighted ovum, and there was no way that it could ever have been a successful pregnancy. I don’t say that to suggest that women who do have confirmed “empty sac” pregnancies  should grieve less — because it is still the loss of the pregnancy, and the baby and the idea of a baby and the dream of a baby. But for me, it felt better. I recognize that perhaps the baby passed when I didn’t see it or notice it; or also, that the development stopped (the baby died) very early in the pregnancy, so perhaps it was the size of a sesame seed still, or perhaps was even being absorbed, and I wouldn’t have seen/recognized it.

After that, there was very little other than period-like blood that passed — a few small clots, but no more tissue. The bleeding continued, though it slacked off a tiny bit, Sunday through Tuesday; then almost as if a switch were thrown, Wednesday, I had almost no bleeding at all. There was a tiny bit of spotting, but not even enough to completely “use” a pantyliner. And today, only the faintest of color. I was expecting a more gradual end to the bleeding — much like I experience in a normal period, or like I had with postpartum lochia, where it gradually fades from red to dark red to brown to nothing. But perhaps since it was heavier flow, the uterine lining shed faster, so it went faster, and then just stopped.

I could tell that my breast sensitivity had decreased slightly after a few days of bleeding, but it really took a nosedive after I passed the tissue. I feel distinctly “un-pregnant.”

When I talked to my midwife friend to tell her that I had had a miscarriage, I asked her what to look for, to tell me if I should go to the doctor. She said that if I bled for longer than a week after passing the baby, that would be a sign of retained “products of conception” [with my uterus not recognizing that the baby was gone, so still directing blood flow to it], and I would need to see a doctor, and perhaps have a D&C (although I would have requested Cytotec, because there is no known risk of uterine rupture as early in pregnancy as I was, and a D&C might cause scarring and future fertility problems). Had I not been pregnant, my uterine lining would have shed in 7 days; being pregnant, it got thicker and more lush, so there was more to shed, and I was expecting it to take between 1-2 weeks to fully empty. However, it has taken me just over a week for the full miscarriage, which with a normal menstrual flow being 7 days for me, I would consider that to be well within the range of normal.

Update — for more miscarriage stories which talk about the physical aspects of miscarriage (what it feels like, how long it took, how much blood loss there was, what it looked like), you can go to mothering.com, register, then go to the forums; the main thread is “pregnancy and birth” and then “pregnancy and birth loss”, where it’s a “sticky” thread at the top of the forum. You will have to register before you can even see any of the topics, much less the posts themselves, in this folder. I’m glad it’s there, because often there is little or no mention of these physical aspects; and for my part, it helps to know whether something is normal or abnormal, or just that other women have gone through the same thing, even if their experience is a little or a lot different from mine.

Finally! A use for white rice

Ok, so I’m a fan of brown rice — it’s just about all I buy and cook any more, and I’ve even got my husband not complaining about it, which is always a plus! White rice has nothing on brown rice, nutritionally speaking. So… maybe it’s not exactly the food of the devil, but just as with its color, white rice pales in comparison to brown. I’m so used to the flavor of brown rice that when I happen to eat plain white rice (which is rare, because usually the only time I eat it is at a Mexican or Chinese restaurant, and it’s pretty well seasoned), it tastes kinda like styrofoam. Just sorta “blah.”

However, I do have an excellent use for white rice (which many of you may already know about) — hot packs! I recently saw a post by a doula, about how she always keeps a rice sock in her “doula bag” for when she goes to a labor. I’d heard about that before, actually, numerous times, but had never done it because, well, I’m not a doula, and I just never decided to put rice in a sock and sew it up for the heck of it. But, when I found out I was pregnant, my mind started turning over with all these things I wanted to do while pregnant and/or have in place before the baby came; and to read that post, I thought, “If I don’t do this now, I’ll forget about it, and then I won’t have a rice sock in labor, when I need it!”

So, since brown rice is more expensive than white rice (and brown rice is a health food, and white rice is, well, “not quite”), I bought a bag of white rice at the grocery store next time I went. [And got a deal, because there was a four-pound bag that had gotten a hole in it, and a few ounces of rice had spilled out, so I was able to buy it for $1 — yes, 25 cents per pound! Ok, so maybe that doesn’t rock your world, but I’m also a frugal nut, so that’s a thrill for me. ;-)]

Anyway, I had some old socks of my husband’s — the big, long tube socks that go nearly up to his knees — and I put about half the bag (two pounds) of rice in one sock, and sewed up the top. It’s easier if you use a funnel to pour the rice into the sock; and I hand-stitched the socks closed, using a whip-stitch, but it would be even faster and easier if you have a sewing machine and can just zip-zip make a seam or two to sew them shut. I made two of them, and enjoyed them so much, that I got some more rice and some more old socks and made more rice socks — in different sizes, as well, sometimes cutting down the socks, so they wouldn’t be so big. I think you can also put in some essential oils or fragrances, so that they smell like lavender or whatever when you heat them up, but I didn’t have anything like that, so didn’t use any.

To “use” them, just heat them up in the microwave. There may be some “trial and error” as to how long you can cook your socks. I made a couple of small ones from my 5-year-old’s old socks, and put them in the microwave for 5 minutes, and forgot about them. Then I wondered what smelled like burnt popcorn… The smell dissipated, and I think it’s okay to use; but if you’re going to use them in labor, you probably don’t want to be smelling burnt rice while relaxing. Also, if they get too hot, you’ll need to make sure you don’t burn yourself — they probably won’t be scalding hot just from picking them up, but if you keep them on you (particularly right on your skin), then they can become much too hot (so, just as with a heating pad, don’t use them on someone who can’t tell you if it’s too hot).

The first night I made the rice socks it got really cold, so I heated up my two long rice socks, and put them in bed, to warm up where my feet go — like the old-fashioned hot water bottle. Ahhhh… lovely! Because they were so long, I could have them reaching from my feet up to my torso, providing warmth all along the way. However, because they were so long, they were sometimes unwieldy, which is the main reason why I made smaller ones. My kids think they’re neat, and also enjoy having them heating up their feet at night.

When I began to miscarry, I frequently felt a desire to have heat on my abdomen, but it wasn’t always feasible to have a heating pad on me (while cooking, or otherwise being on my feet and active). These rice socks came in handy, though. I was able to tuck a bit of the sock into my waistband, and just have the rest of it hanging down, right where it felt best. And it was completely portable, with no cords to get tangled up.

Another use, particularly for the smaller socks, was for hand-warmers when it’s cold outside. I had heated up several of them for just that purpose, when we went out searching for a Christmas tree to cut down (there are some advantages to rural living!); but forgot them at home. But as cold as it is this year (it snowed the last day of summer in Colorado!!), I think most people in the US will also be able to put this idea to use.

I’ve also put them on my car seats, so that it’s not quite so cold when I sit down — especially good for leather! (At least, it’s good for not having that shocking cold right on your legs and tush; I don’t know if it harms the leather itself… but then, my car is a ’97, so it’s not exactly like I’m ruining a $30,000 car if it does.)

And, it’s like having an extra heating pad, at least for a while, without the expense of buying one. While watching a movie, I had the real heating pad on my stomach because it felt good, and had the hot rice socks at my feet and draped on my legs, because they were cold.

How long the heat lasts depends on a few different factors — obviously, how hot the sock is to start with has something to do with it. The heat can last for hours under the right circumstances — one morning when I woke up, the rice sock was still giving off heat because it had been under the covers and also next to my body; but another morning, even though it was still under the covers, it was cool because it was shoved to the foot of the bed.

Finally, you probably won’t want to stuff the sock full with rice — having it big and bulgy can be awkward to use in some situations, such as making it nearly impossible to drape over a woman’s back, though it might be preferable for a small hand-warmer. If you’re going to make one, you might as well make two — one to use and one to heat up.

Easing the Anxiety of Pregnancy after Miscarriage

In response to a recent post, someone included a link to this article in a comment. I liked it, and wanted to share it.

Even though I had never experienced a loss of any sort (early, middle, late miscarriage, fetal demise, stillbirth, infant death), the following description of these post-loss mothers resonated with me, mirroring my feelings during this pregnancy:

“‘One Foot In — One Foot Out’ describes women’s sense that the pregnancy is uncertain, so they steel themselves emotionally by acknowledging that the pregnancy may not end with the birth of a live baby,” says Côté-Arsenault. “They cushion themselves against attaching to the new baby.

“For most of these women, carefree enjoyment of a pregnancy is not possible. Instead, it is a balancing act between trying to insure safe passage of the baby while maintaining emotional stability.”

There was always a nagging something in the back of my mind; but I tried to ignore it and overcome it, and be attached to the baby. I think I did for a while, but then something happened when I started spotting the second time, and I just felt like it was a farce. I was living under the sword of Damocles, although I pretended like I wasn’t, and acted like I wasn’t, and tried to convince myself that I wasn’t. Perhaps that was my body telling my mind what my uterus already knew; but perhaps not — some of these mothers in this article did not truly believe they were actually going to have a baby even in late pregnancy, although they did.

“It would be wonderful if pregnancy losses were acknowledged openly in our culture too,” she said, “but at least hospitals in this country have gotten better about helping women acknowledge a lost baby,” noted Côté -Arsenault. “When a baby dies, giving the mother the baby’s photo, footprints and handprints is much more routine. We have made progress. Now we need to recognize the impact of perinatal loss on subsequent pregnancies.”

Being open about my miscarriage has brought a lot more response and sympathy from women who have had miscarriages than I would have guessed. I knew that a large percentage of women have had miscarriages, and I knew a lot of my friends in particular had had miscarriages; but there were a lot of women who told me about their miscarriages, when I had not know that before. And I don’t know why. Certainly, some of it is that I was not close friends with them at the time they had their miscarriage(s); many of my facebook friends are people I see once a year, or perhaps even less. But I was surprised at some of them — multiple miscarriages, even, and I never knew it. And then all the stories from those who had not miscarried but had experienced spotting and even bleeding — I never suspected it to be so many.

It’s almost like women are expected to just accept the miscarriage and go on, not telling anyone that they were pregnant unless absolutely necessary — almost like it’s a secret. A naughty secret. Sure, some people are private; some have probably heard some not-so-sensitive comments on their loss, so I understand why some wouldn’t broadcast the news of their miscarriage. Others like to keep the news of their pregnancy private, to have something just to share between them and their husbands, until something happens that makes them need to tell (start showing, morning sickness they can’t hide, etc.); and then if they happen to have a miscarriage before they’ve told, then they’ll just not mention the pregnancy at all. I understand that; but I think many people do themselves and others a disservice. Because then it remains hidden, it remains not talked about, and through peer pressure, or not wanting to be an oddball or whatever, nobody else says anything either. It’s almost like a girl being sexually abused by her step-dad, and thinking she’s the only one; then finding out 20 years later that he abused all of her sisters, plus his own daughters, and a few neighborhood girls as well. A wall of silence.

Now, I’m doing okay. I really thought I’d have a hard time with this, but I’m not. Perhaps that may change at some point, but so far, so good. But many others hurt deeply and grieve terribly, over early or late losses. And if the wall of silence remains, they don’t know whom to turn to, for someone who has gone through a similar experience. Perhaps they even think they’re the only ones. But if they are likewise silent, then those others who have previously experienced loss won’t even know that they are going through or have gone through the same thing, and need comfort. And the cycle perpetuates.

That’s one of the reasons why I was so open about this pregnancy and miscarriage, despite (or perhaps because of) my uncertainty and fears. I want to help break the cycle, and break down the wall of silence. Because we are not alone in this world, and we shouldn’t have to act like we are.

“Despair is a free man, hope is a slave”

That line is quoted in two of L.M. Montgomery’s works. She is most famous for writing the Anne of Green Gables series. I loved her books when I was a girl, but it’s been years since I’ve read them — though I know I’d still enjoy them. This particular line is given as an unattributed quotation, as if the author, or the person speaking the line took for granted that the reader would recognize the work (such as “Four-score and seven years ago…” needs no attribution); or else that the original author’s name has been lost in the mists of time.

Reading that quote always made me think, though. It seems false; backwards. It should be hope that is free, not despair! Yet the more I ponder it, the more I see that there is some truth in it. The person who has given up hope is no longer chained to that hope, with all that that entails. Take a sports game, as an example — I’ll pick hockey, since that’s my husband’s favorite sport. When the game is tied in the 3rd period, and it’s heading into overtime, all the people on both sides of the game are glued to their seats. They ain’t leavin’! They’re staying another hour, even though it’s going to cost them extra to pay their children’s babysitter to fall asleep on the couch; even though they’re going to be exhausted driving home at such a late hour and might even fall asleep at the wheel; even though they’re going to feel horrible in the morning after not having gotten enough sleep but still having to function. Contrast that to a game that is a rout — heading into the 3rd period, one team is winning by 5 points or more (which is a lot for hockey, if you’re not familiar with it — it’s nothing for basketball or football, but is nearly insurmountable for hockey), and what do you see? You see people from the losing team especially (but perhaps also from the winning team) streaming out of their seats, hoping to beat the traffic snarl that always erupts when thousands of people leave a stadium at once. They’re free from the shackles of the game — free to go home at a reasonable hour, and get a full night’s sleep, unencumbered by what is going on inside the stadium.

I think about King David in the Bible — surely you’re at least familiar with the story of David and Goliath, even if you’re not Christian or Jewish — it’s the same man, grown up. One time a prophet came to him to tell him that his child (which was conceived in adultery, and led to the death of the woman’s husband, a commander in David’s army), was surely going to die. David mourned, repented, wept, refused to eat or drink anything, wouldn’t change his clothes or even go to his bed. Then the child died, and the servants were scared to tell him the child was dead, for fear that he would hurt himself or something — if he would mourn that badly while the child was still alive, after all, what might he do when he found out the child was dead?? Yet, when they told him, David got up, washed himself, changed his clothes, and had something to eat. When questioned about it, he answered, “While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” His hope for mercy kept him in mourning and weeping; but when that hope was dead, along with his son, he was freed to put the incident behind him and move on. No amount of fasting or crying would bring his son back from the grave, but “while there’s life, there’s hope.” And where there is hope, there is the drive to do something.

For example, take a team of doctors and nurses in the ER — a person comes in, perhaps with a heart attack, or a gunshot wound, or a knife sticking out of his chest. While the doctors have a hope of saving this person, they work feverishly trying to stabilize him, to fix his injuries, to prevent his death. If the man’s vital signs are touch-and-go for hours, they slave over him for hours. But once they despair, once they realize that they cannot help him, that their efforts are in vain, their work ceases. They are freed up from working on this person.

When I first began spotting in this pregnancy, with that first faint pink smear on the toilet paper, I thought, “Well, that’s it! I’m having a miscarriage, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” I gave up hope. Then when the spotting stopped, hope resumed. In those few minutes of despair, I thought of the changes that I would not have to make, and the changes I would be able to make. For instance, while pregnant, I would not count calories, nor try to cut any calories; if I had a miscarriage, I could continue trying to lose this excess weight. If I remained pregnant, I would need to buy baby clothes and other things for the baby; if I had a miscarriage, I wouldn’t. If I remained pregnant, I would take my prenatal vitamins, and try to eat a very healthy diet both for myself and for my baby; if I had a miscarriage, I would be freed from worrying about anencephaly, or “eating for two,” and would only need to eat healthily for myself. Then several days later, with the red bleeding, I again despaired, thinking “red is a bad sign; there is no hope”; and again, my thoughts turned to what I would and would not do. Then, that, too, stopped; and hope resumed.

Now, the bleeding — it’s not spotting, it’s bleeding — has returned. Red and a lot of it. It’s not quite as heavy as a period (and my breasts are still sensitive, which is a good indication, perhaps), but bleeding is not exactly a good sign. And again, I feel the truth of the saying, “Despair is a free man, hope is a slave.” I still pray that everything is okay with this baby; but the less hope I have, the more resigned I am to the likelihood that this is actually a miscarriage. The more hope I have, the more I feel required to do all the “good things” that “good mommies” do when they’re pregnant. The more despair I have, the more free I feel to be “bad”. Or just to relax a bit, and run up and down stairs again, and pick up my children for a bear-hug and help my husband drag in the Christmas tree! Little things like that.

Yes, “Despair is a free man, hope is a slave.” Yet, the hope that makes a “slave” of me is the hope of a healthy baby at the end of several more months — well worth any “shackles” that bind me — so, vive la slavery!