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1 in 4: My Story + Ways to Support a Grieving Friend

Thursday, October 18, 2018

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As you may be aware, October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. It's not something most of us really want to think about or talk about, but for about 25% of women, it's reality. Before I had my own personal story to tell, I knew family members and very close friends who had suffered the loss of a baby during the early, middle, and late stages of pregnancy. In fact, last month's "Women Who Inspire" feature woman, Stephanie, lost her daughter after her due date had passed (precious Madeline was stillborn), and our August feature woman, Shannon, and her wife lost their twins shortly after they were born at 24 weeks gestation. I can think of more than a handful of examples of people dear to me and I'm sure you, too, know families whose lives have been forever changed by the loss of a pregnancy or infant. It's one of those things that I feel is important to acknowledge, honor, and learn more about so we can better help ourselves and others.

My own story is one of a very early miscarriage, which is so much more common than I think people know. In the late spring of 2015, Steve and I decided we were ready to try for baby #2. We always knew we wanted more than one child, but I loved savoring Carrington as a baby -- and it wasn't until she was about a year and a half that I felt ready to give her a sibling. Once we decided we were ready, I wanted so much for it to happen right away. We had no trouble getting pregnant with C and knew how lucky we were, and hoped for that ease the second time around. Sure enough, that very month during our annual beach trip, I felt exhausted and moody and had a wicked headache. I thought, hoped... maybe? We were pleasantly surprised when I got a very positive pregnancy test the day before Father's Day! 

We were seeing our immediate families on Father's Day for dinner and we couldn't hold in the exciting news, so we had Carrington draw pictures for our parents and my brother that said "I'm going to be a big sister!" on them. I scheduled my first ultrasound for the day after my birthday, and a couple of weeks after Father's Day, we gathered with my extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins) to celebrate my birthday. Even though we hadn't had the first ultrasound, I figured it was the very next day so it couldn't hurt to tell everyone the happy news while we were all together. After everyone finished the "happy birthday" song and right before I blew out my candles, I said "My wish has already come true because Carrie's going to be a big sister!" (Cheesy, but that's how I roll!)

The next day we had our first ultrasound. Steve and I brought C along, but on the way there I just couldn't shake a nagging feeling. Steve asked what was wrong and I said, "what if this is one of the worst days of our lives?" So pessimistic and morbid, I know. Even thinking about it now gives me that pit in my stomach. After the ultrasound began, I so clearly remember our doctor's face -- searching, concerned. She told us she didn't see a heartbeat yet, but it could just be early. The timing could be off. She told us to try not to worry.

One week later (the longest week ever) we went for a follow up ultrasound, which showed the beginnings of what should have developed into a baby. There was a fetal pole and a yolk sack, but things had stopped progressing beyond that and there was no heartbeat to be found. I was crushed. I remember telling Steve that I didn't want to be that woman walking out of the OB's office crying, the person everyone pities. Isn't that a strange reaction? I can't describe it. I just felt confused, self-conscious, helpless, sad.

My body didn't rid itself of the signs of pregnancy quickly or easily, but with my doctor's ok, we decided to let it go the natural route anyway. I remember walking around the mall one afternoon and feeling the cramping begin, and thinking to myself "all of these people don't know I'm having a miscarriage right now. We never really know what's going on in people's lives." I went home and collapsed into Steve's arms. That night the pain of passing what was left woke me from my sleep -- it was absolutely awful. After that, it took over a month of going for blood draws every few days for my HCG levels to fall to zero. There's something particularly cruel and painful about going for test after test to confirm each time that, indeed, your hopes of a pregnancy and healthy baby are less, and then less, and then less, until they are completely gone.

As you all know, two months later we went on to conceive our beautiful, healthy, perfect Hadley. 

It's an odd thing to try to find the positives and "luck" in such a dreadful situation, but I can't help it because I know that despite our miscarriage, we are extremely fortunate. Where others have had trouble conceiving, or had multiple losses, or late term losses -- we have not. And I can't describe how very much my heart goes out to those women, knowing the emotional and physical pain that came with my early loss, and what those families must have gone through. I want to recognize the magnitude of their struggle. I want to wrap my arms around them.

And I also want women who have had early losses to know that your experience matters and it counts. It is a loss nevertheless, and I am so sorry you had to go through it. It's so beyond ok and normal to grieve it. It's healthy to grieve it. I hope that by telling my own story, you'll know you're far from alone and you won't be afraid to talk about it (if you want to).

For those wondering what they can do to help other women who may have experienced pregnancy or infant loss, here are some thoughts:

-Ask her if she wants to talk, and tell her you're all ears. Here's the thing: it's not a fun topic to talk about. It's an extraordinarily sad topic, but it's real and not uncommon and it has happened to many women you know. We have a tendency to say things like "you probably don't want to talk about it" to people who are going through something hard. Sometimes we say this because, truthfully, we don't feel comfortable listening -- and that's ok. If there's a reason you don't feel comfortable lending an ear, I think honesty is the best policy. Otherwise, assuming a woman doesn't want to talk about her loss shuts down a conversation that she might desperately need to have. 

-Do listen, but don't console. I'm sure your friend/sister/daughter/coworker is so glad to have you to support her during a very difficult time. And that's all you need to do -- support her. Listen. Give her a hug and say, "this absolutely sucks." This isn't something to be solved or glossed over, and the "it was meant to be" or "you'll get pregnant again soon!" comments are well-meaning but will be like rubbing salt in the wound. You will do so much good by just being there for her.

-Small acts of kindness. This applies to any loss or difficulty a friend might be going through, really, but a small act of kindness can mean the world to someone suffering: A coffee left on the porch, a hand-written card, comfort food.

-Learn more and donate time, goods, or money. If this has touched you personally, chances are you're wondering what you can do to help. I encourage you to visit www.sweetpeaproject.org and www.nationalshare.org, two resources that I've found to be really comprehensive, comforting, and helpful. 

If you're reading this and thinking "this was me" or "I needed this," then you are exactly why I'm sharing my story. You're not alone, and I'm sending my love your way.


PS - Scary Mommy published a letter I wrote to Steve shortly after everything went down in '15 -- I shared it with his blessing with the hope of opening others' eyes and putting into words what they might not have been able to for their partner. Read it here, if you'd like.

8 comments:

  1. While I never experienced a miscarriage, I know so many others who have and it is devastating. Thank you for sharing your story.

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    1. Of course! And thank YOU for taking the time to read it, and for being such an empathetic friend. xo

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  2. Of course this totally resonates. I know you never move on fully from these things and I know, step by step how you felt. The walking out of the scanning room crying, the knowing you are miscarrying and feeling helpless and having to carry on as normal and maintain your stiff upper lip, etc, the blood draws... Your story is however positive too as you went on to conceive Haddie. It was too soon for me to write a post again like this but I so appreciate you highlighting this - it is still spoken of in hushed tones (unless you've had one yourself). I know friends too that have had stillborns and I cannot even comprehend that loss. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Can I add one thing to the list? If you want to help a friend - not to rush there and then forget about the weeks ahead. in the first week you are recovering physically, but thereafter it hits you in small ways, for quite a while, every now and then, that there is an emptiness, a loss of dreams (you go from being so bouncing with ideas a new stage in your life to it being wrenched away). Sorry again to hear of your loss and thank you so much for supporting me through my loss too xx

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    1. I thought of you while I wrote this one, friend. You are someone in my head and heart all the time who I know has, sadly, experienced the same. Your addition to the list is SO important - thank you, and yes a million times. I am so sorry for you, too, and always wishing you the best. XO <3

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  3. It's something that you never really get over - regardless of how early it was. Thank you for sharing your story. There are so many of us that struggle with this in silence and alone and while it's devastating it's nice to know you're not alone. xo, Biana -BlovedBoston

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    1. I completely agree, Biana. And I think sometimes when it's an early loss, it feels like it's not qualified to BE a loss, which makes it all the harder. I'm glad you appreciated it, and thanks for reading. <3 xo

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  4. Thanks for sharing your story - thinking of you all!

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