by Cait McDonnell, BS, CSCS, BioSignature Practitioner
When I was a little girl, I loved playing with baby dolls. The name of the game was "house," and it was my absolute favorite thing to do. Many of my childhood memories involve me being a mama, big sister, or caregiver to my sweet babies. And let it be known, I didn't mess around. I bought a real diaper bag and infant seat at a garage sale with my allowance money: my dolls needed real baby accessories, not doll accessories.
One vivid memory I have -- and it's a favorite -- is pulling into my Dad's driveway on my birthday and seeing a baby stroller (for an actual human baby) with a balloon tied to it and "Happy Birthday Caitlin" written across the pavement in sidewalk chalk. He bought me this stroller so I could wheel my dolls around for hours on end, my imagination running wild of the mama I would one day be.
For those who don't know, my Dad passed away last September. On December 17, 2018, what would have been his 61st birthday, we found out we were pregnant.
I couldn't sleep the night before. I stared at the clock and wondered what an appropriate time would be to take a pregnancy test. We had just started trying to conceive. I was 3 days late, which is very rare for me, and I knew I was pregnant.
I finally got up at 6am and told Mike I was going to take a shower to clear my head. I NEVER shower first thing in the morning. But because it was my Dad's birthday, I just needed a few minutes to be alone, and Mike understood that. Right when he went downstairs, I went into the bathroom and peed on that little stick. The first line appeared and almost immediately following, a second pink line. I sat on the toilet and stared at it with a ginormous smile on my face. I took a shower and thought about all of the different ways I could surprise Mike. Should I get a t-shirt that says "You're going to be a Dad" or some pink and blue balloons and a sweet card?
I could hardly wait to get dressed before running downstairs to tell him, let alone concoct a plan and get to the store for necessary supplies. I have a lot of admiration for the women out there who have the willpower to do such things.
I got dressed, tiptoed down the stairs to avoid waking our houseguests, and walked over to Mike, who was sitting at the table doing his usual journaling and morning routine. I gave him a big hug and began, "I wish I could call my Dad right now to tell him Happy Birthday." Mike said, "I know, babe, me too."
I finished my sentence, "I wish I could call him and say Happy Birthday Dad -- you're gonna be a Grandpa!"
Mike looked at me for a second, got a big goofy smile on his face, squeezed me, and we both started crying.
This baby took what I was expecting to be a very sad day, remembering my Dad and wishing he were still here, and turned it into something so joyful and special. I will never forget that.
We bought a few pregnancy books, made our first prenatal appointment and started talking about all things baby. We were basically smiling all of the time. Nothing could knock us down.
Two nights before we were supposed to fly to New York for Christmas Eve, we were doing our new nightly ritual of reading a pregnancy book in bed. I got up to pee and noticed blood in the toilet. I was totally caught off guard and just sat there for a minute. Maybe this was just spotting. I called Mike into the bathroom as I noticed more blood and started crying.
He told me it was ok, that we didn't really know what was happening, and it could be nothing.
I sat on our bed rocking back and forth, hysterically crying and repeating, "This cannot be happening" over and over again. I told Mike to call our doctor. Since it was a Saturday night, we dialed into the emergency line and a doctor called us back right away. She told me it sounded like the beginning of a miscarriage, that I needed to monitor the amount of bleeding, and to call her back if it got worse.
That night, the bleeding didn't progress much. We laid in bed all night tossing and turning, crying, pacing, falling asleep every now and again. I remember waking up around 5:00 and for a split second, I thought it was all some awful nightmare and our baby was fine.
I went to the bathroom and the amount of blood snapped me back to reality. Things weren't fine.
Just a few days ago we were given the whole entire world to hold in our hands, and it was now being taken away from us.
We called the doctor and had to go to the hospital since it was a Sunday. She wanted me to do some bloodwork, no physical exam was necessary just yet. That day, we sat at home waiting for the bloodwork results, and we decided to call our parents. We didn't want to tell them in person on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day... that didn't seem right. We also wanted them to know ahead of time because, depending on what the doctor said, we'd maybe stay home instead of traveling.
Those phone calls weren't easy. I think mostly because we had planned out exactly how it was supposed to -- or rather how we thought it was going to go. We wanted to give happy news, to see our Moms literally freak out, scream and cry happy tears. But instead we told them that we were pregnant and lost the baby. Everyone was so supportive. They made us feel like we were no longer alone in this and that if we did still fly home for Christmas they'd give us all of the love and support we'd need.
That evening the doctor called and said my hCG levels (human chorionic gonadotropin, the just-for-pregnancy hormone) levels were much lower than they should've been if we still had a viable pregnancy, so it indeed was a complete miscarriage. (There are different kinds of miscarriages, something I learned via my handy friend Google). I was fine to fly up to NY and was told to keep an eye on the bleeding but it would basically be like a period for the next week or so, just with severe cramps, more bleeding and a broken heart.
Christmas was brutal. It was the first without my Dad and now we were grieving the loss of our baby too. In a time when everyone is so happy, drinking wine, eating yummy food and celebrating, all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and cry. We 100% pasted smiles on our faces for those few days in NY, and every now and then I'd run to the bathroom to let some tears out. Mike would come find me and we'd hold each other and say just a few more days til we can get back home.
The day we flew back to Charleston, we had a doctor appointment for a full exam and more bloodwork. They wanted to make sure that my body was getting rid of this pregnancy on its own, that no medical procedures were necessary, and that my hCG was continuing to decrease. I was actually looking forward to this appointment because I had a lot of questions and wanted to know what was happening in my body.
We were in the elevator heading up to the office with another couple who looked to be about our age. They came into the office with us and I realized that she didn't look pregnant; they must be here for their first prenatal appointment based upon the excitement in their eyes.
What we were totally unprepared for was the experience of sitting in the waiting room. It was packed with pregnant women. I mean jam packed. It was the end of the year and the receptionist told me people were getting in one more visit for insurance reasons.
Moms-to-be were rubbing their big bellies, some women had children sitting next to them, their little hands on Mom’s belly, talking to their baby brother or sister. The doctor I was seeing had to run to the hospital for an emergency, so we were told we'd be waiting for longer than usual. The couple we originally walked in with came out 45 minutes later with huge grins and those little black and white sonogram pictures. It took everything I had and then some not to break down in the waiting room. I kept my head down and stared at my phone. I didn't want to see another happy pregnant person. I didn't want to see another couple who had just heard their baby's heart beat for the first time.
I wanted to go home.
I am 1 in 4:
As far as my physical health, the doctor said I was fine. I just needed to do one more round of blood work a week later (which came back with hCG at a 1 so I was cleared) and was told I'd get my period in 4-6 weeks.
She reiterated that there was nothing I could've done to prevent this. It wasn't because I did deadlifts in my workout just a few days prior. It wasn't the wine I had the weekend before I knew I was pregnant. There likely was a chromosomal abnormality and so my body terminated the pregnancy. I asked if there were any tests we should do to make sure this wouldn't happen again. She said after three miscarriages. That is how many a woman has before doctors run tests. Three.
I've since found a new OB/GYN who will run tests if I have a second. I understand three is the number permitted before doctors are somewhat alarmed, but if this does happen to us again we want to have as much info collected as necessary and as soon as possible.
The statistics that you'll find online vary, but it seems a fairly agreed upon number is 1 in 4. 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in miscarriage (1).
I am 1 in 4.
In complete honesty and at risk of sounding like an idiot, I didn't think this would ever happen to me. Miscarriage was something I never paid much attention to. I live a healthy lifestyle, I've eliminated majority of toxins from our personal care products and home. Plus I'm 32 years old, so I didn't think there'd be much to worry about.
I was so naive. It can happen to anyone, and it does frequently. We just don't talk about it much. Which I totally understand because who the heck wants to discuss this awful thing that's just happened to them? It is private, personal, and unimaginably sad. Not really something we want to blast out on Facebook and call our friends to talk about.
But I did find some blog posts of women (like this one from Lemon Stripes) who experienced the same thing, and I must say reading what they went through made me feel like I wasn't alone.
We aren't alone.
There is comfort in that. Know that when you cry because you miss the baby you never got to meet, someone else is grieving too. Know that when you see a couple walking down the street with their precious new baby in a stroller and you feel a little pang in your heart, you aren't the only one who feels this way.
A little more on that: It seemed after our miscarriage I was noticing babies everywhere. Pregnancy announcements, gender reveals, sonogram photos, pictures of newborns in their mamas arms seconds after giving birth. I mean, the whole world may as well have been pregnant except for Mike and me.
I felt sad when I saw these things, angry, annoyed, heart broken, envious. I also told myself I was being a total asshole feeling this way. What kind of jerk walks around feeling upset when they see someone else with child and happy as can be?
I'm going out on a limb here, but I think this might be fairly normal for someone who has been or is going through a miscarriage. I will be clear in saying that I never, ever wish this upon anyone else. I will also say that I am so sure some of the people posting pictures of their big bellies and new babies also experienced miscarriage before having this blessing. Nonetheless, it hurt, and truthfully, it still does a little.
I don't exactly know how to conquer that feeling, or how to explain it really. I am beyond happy for anyone who has a sweet little baby but I guess the best way to put it is this: why couldn't that have been me?
The first few times I felt this way, I thought I was a horrible person for having those thoughts. Now I actively remind myself that I am grieving. Every person is so deserving of their miracle and our time will come. It will come.
Don’t forget your partner:
Also, please remember and acknowledge the men experiencing this. Although miscarriage occurs in a woman's body, men can be extremely hurt and upset too. Mike and I endured a lot of loss and grief the second half of 2018, and I am so grateful for such a kind and caring husband. These men deserve love and a shoulder to cry on as well.
Well, cat's out of the bag: Mike and I would love to start a family that goes beyond fur babies! Before this experience, we were insanely excited to start trying. This is something I've dreamed of for as long as I can remember, and being in that stage of life where we were actually trying to conceive was pretty surreal. It was filled with possibility, butterflies, fun conversations about baby names, and nursery decor.
But now... I'm really scared. I think there might be a tiny bit of excitement left but mostly I'm just nervous. What if it happens again? What if I'm too stressed to even get pregnant? If we do get pregnant again, I will be nervous every time I go to the bathroom, fearing the sight of blood in the toilet.
When can we start trying again?
We were told I have to get my period once after the miscarriage before we can start trying again. I’ve heard anywhere from 1-6 months is the recommended wait time. It is best to discuss this with your doctor, and I assume is dependent upon when the miscarriage happened and other medical factors.
I'm trying to stay positive. Mike does a wonderful job of reminding me that we'll take it day by day, and we will be parents eventually.
It just isn't the same for me anymore. The wonder of it all has turned into this dark cloud that I'm trying to get through. Don't get me wrong; we are going to start trying again. I'm just really scared and nervous. Mike has really helped me with this though, and I am starting to feel less anxious and a little more hopeful.
We discussed my writing this blog post. Do we want to share our sadness with the world? I will say it would have been much easier not to. To just tell those closest to us and to laugh it off when someone asks when we are going to start trying for a baby. Having a lot of people know something so personal is a little nerve-racking. There were several conversations when we literally said this is no one's business but our own. Which remains true.
But I kept coming back to this one thought:
What if someone else who is grieving needs to hear this? What if we can make one other couple feel like they aren't alone?
And so there you have it. Our miscarriage story. In hopes that we can shed a little bit of light on something that is not spoken of enough. Something that is scary, that many women fear and others don't ever think about.
We will never forget this baby and the joy it brought to our lives, even for such a short time. We are grieving as we should and overcoming the pain and sadness. We're staying thankful for all of the good we've got going on in our lives, for our family and friends.
I know that we'll be parents someday. And because of this baby that we'll never get to meet (who I like to think is keeping my Dad company) I feel wiser. I feel stronger. I feel that life can literally grab our hearts from our chests and tear them to a million pieces, but I will always snatch mine right back and piece it back together.
That's the mother I will be one day. One who fits pieces together even when they don't make sense. Who lets you know that you're not alone. A mother who never gives up.
Cait McDonnell is a lifestyle blogger and interior decorator living in Charleston, SC. With a degree in exercise science, she's not only passionate about creating homes that bring joy, but also focuses on clean living in every aspect from nutrition and exercise to safer products and mindfulness. Since wanting to start a family she's experienced a bit of heartbreak and wants other women and couples to know they aren't alone on this journey.
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