It happened somewhere between nine and eleven weeks. In fourteen short days I went from being with-child to being without a second heartbeat. The little flicker on the ultrasound disappeared and along with it, my hope. The hope that one day I would bring a child into this world, that one day a little voice would whisper, “mama”. The hope that one day I would join the force of motherhood around the world and gain a new purpose in my life.
What shocked me the most about losing my first pregnancy wasn’t that it had happened, but that I hadn’t known it had happened. My husband and I casually strolled into the doctor's office on a Thursday afternoon with the expecting parent glow plastered across our smug faces. We had done it. We hadn’t been trying for very long (five months at most), but when I started seeing an acupuncturist she had apparently worked some magic on my ovaries. It took one session with her before those two little pink lines showed up on the plastic pregnancy test I had saved under my bathroom sink.
My doctor confirmed our pregnancy with an ultrasound at nine weeks. A tiny little heartbeat joined my own on the monitor and we sat in awe at this speck of human life on the screen. It was one of the best days of my life.
Two weeks later we drove to the hospital for our very first prenatal appointment. We sat in the frigid patient room and waited our turn. I still hadn’t grown accustomed to the procedure of having an ultrasound performed, the kind where they make you lie down on your back--barely covered with a paper panel of privacy--and spread your knees as wide as you can. The discomfort of those early stage ultrasounds are usually masked by the hope that twinkles back at you on the screen.
On that cold March day, it was anything but that.
My doctor kept quiet as she studied the screen. Her silence mirrored my internal monologue, but my heart, my heart was screaming. I didn’t need her to say it. I didn’t even need the second opinion from her colleague to tell me what I already knew. The heartbeat was gone. The only thing that remained was the bundle of cells that had so vigorously multiplied with the anticipation that it would one day become human life. Unfortunately, my body had other plans for it.
The tears came faster than they ever had. The emptiness hit almost immediately. Together, my husband and I cried. They told us it happens all the time and that one in five pregnancies end that way. They told us there had already been five that day. They told us it would be ok.
Five days later I returned to the same wing of the hospital to have the procedure I had been dreading since that fateful Thursday afternoon. I knew it needed to happen. My body hadn’t let go of the pregnancy on its own and my only option was to let the doctor literally suck the life out of me.
There’s no way to prepare yourself for a D&C. There’s no user manual. No instructions for how it’s going to feel. They give you painkillers and Valium as if they’re supposed to numb you mentally for what is to come. It didn’t matter. I sat on the special chair in the sterile hospital room and stuffed my ears into my husband’s giant headphones. I hoped to drown out any and all sound that would try to permeate my mind. I needed the distraction. I needed to disappear.
They numbed me from the inside out and before long the vacuum came on. One pass through my body and I was crawling out of my skin. I hummed along with the music filling my head with tears streaming down my cheeks, but nothing could remove me from the nightmare I was living. The vacuum sucked and pulled at me, begging me to surrender what was rightfully mine.
When the first time through wasn’t enough, my doctor asked to go again. There were still remnants left inside me and she needed to remove it all. This time, I cried hard. I cried for the pain and the agony of having my insides ripped from me. I cried for my heart and the life that ended so abruptly. I cried for the loss of my hope.
The vacuum tore through me faster the second time around, with more purpose. It owned me and eventually I caved and let the sobs escape. By the time my doctor was finished, I was a shell of my former self. A skeleton of meat and bones. The worst came when she told me she still wasn’t able to retrieve everything. I would either need to endure another battle with the vacuum, or I would need to pass the rest at home. I opted to finish what she had started in the comfort of my own bathroom. I would take the medication and wait it out.
No one could have foreseen what would come next. The bleeding, the cramping, the pain. Not only did the double D&C not work, but my body was failing as well. For ten agonizing weeks I endured three rounds of labor. My body fought against itself to let go of the remnants until it finally gave in, until the pieces that had been left behind finally fell out of me. Until I was finally free.
Although I became pregnant again two short months later and carried my sweet boy to term, I sometimes wonder what my life would look like had I not lost my first child. When I fell deep into the loneliness of my miscarriage, I discovered that the silence on the subject was overwhelming. At first I struggled to acknowledge its presence in my life. I tried to focus on not allowing my miscarriage to own me, but rather to be a part of me. I found, though, as the initial sting began to wear off, that I was much more willing to open up about my story. And, as soon as I did, other women opened up about theirs. It was as if we were all living a secret life. We were all secret survivors, unsung warriors of the same life changing circumstance.
Everywhere I turned people were either becoming pregnant or having babies, but no one could talk about the other side of the miracle of life. The black hole that consumes you when it seems no one else can relate. I found darkness in every corner. Facebook became my enemy and Google was the wicked witch of the web. I hid pregnant friends from my timeline, and unfollowed the Instagrammers that were expecting babies of their own. I even missed my best friend’s baby shower because of the D&C recovery. I was angry not only because I had lost my child, but also because my miscarriage became something I would never be able to erase, something that would haunt me for the rest of my life.
Women lose babies all the time, but knowing that fact never brought peace to the suffering my heart endured. The only solace I found was in hearing other women tell me they had gone through the same experience. The women who found themselves reeling in grief over a life they so desperately desired, the ones who had lost it all and somehow trudged a new path in their lives to find hope once more.
It wasn’t until I became pregnant again that I was able to find relief from the dark cloud that hovered over me day after day. Becoming a mother is a rough, tortuous journey for some of us, while others get there easier. We all have our own stories to discover, our own unique novels to write, our own hope to find.
And while I too have found a new path, my heart still aches for the life that could have been. I think it always will.
Guest post written by Melissa Nelson. Melissa lives in the rolling hills of Sonoma County with her husband, son Oliver, and two feisty chihuahuas. She recently quit her job to be a full time photographer and two-timin' business owner of Illuminest Photography and Weddings by Sunnyside. It's a crazy life, but someone's gotta do it.