February 2014: The Winter I Lost You – Part One
Every winter, I’m reminded of you. Every winter, I find myself missing you again. It’s taken me years to write this, but I’ve been doing it…I’ve been writing. So many times I’ve had to walk away from it, but I always come back. I always come back to you. I’ve been writing your story. This is for you.
* * * Part One * * *
I remember driving home from work, ecstatic that it was Friday and the sun was outspoken, which was rare for a January in Wisconsin. I was two days late, and my period was rarely ever late, not even by two days. I was supposed to go to a birthday party that night, and something was telling me to take a pregnancy test, just in case. My husband and I had been trying to conceive our first child for only three months, so it was hard to believe it was a possibility that I could be pregnant already. Being the skeptic that I am, I told myself, There’s no way; it’s too early. I’m not testing yet.
I kept driving, thinking about the bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon I’d picked up for the party. I couldn’t help but feel guilty thinking about drinking a glass or two, not knowing if there was new life in my belly. OK, I’ll take a test. I went back and forth on this for about 15 minutes. Finally, a couple miles before the turn into my neighborhood, I turned off the radio, and I prayed. I prayed out loud.
God, please let there be a baby.
I rode home in silence the rest of the way home. When I pulled in the driveway, I grabbed my bottle of wine and settled the debate: I would take a test. I put the bottle in the wine rack, and I grabbed the last digital pregnancy test from the medicine cabinet. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t nervous at all because the moment didn’t feel real. I had doubts. I didn’t have any glaring symptoms except tender breasts and a slightly late period. The phone rang as I had just gotten into the bathroom. It was my husband. I told him, as if it was nothing extraordinary, “I’m taking a pregnancy test. See you when you get home.”
I had taken a pregnancy test the month before, a bit premature, out of pure excitement and hope. That time, I truly believed in the possibility. This time, I set myself up for emptiness. I tend to do this, thinking it prepares me for the worst, thinking it somehow pads the fall, when really, it hurts all the same. I unwrapped the test and went ahead and filled a disposable cup, just so I could feel more certain that I couldn’t screw up the results. Then, I waited. The digital dial on the test flipped up and down, and I watched it turn.
My heart rate was stagnant, normal. I looked away for a minute to get up and wash my hands. Then, when I looked back at the test:
My heart rate was stagnant, normal. I thought: How long does it take for the ‘not’ to show up? I honestly, for a couple heavy seconds, thought the word “not” was still coming, and I genuinely waited for it. But instead, when it changed, it told me: 3-4 weeks.
My heart rate was erratic. I walked into the living room, and the dogs were sitting in the hallway, looking up at me, as if they were awaiting the verdict. I put my hand over my mouth and laughed, uncontrollably.
We’re having a baby.
A minute later, Stuart called again: “UGH I’m stuck behind a train. I’m going to be late.” I was shaking, holding the phone up to my ear. I told him: “It’s OK, I’ll see you when you get here.” He was idly waiting for a train while our life had drastically changed.
I sat on the bed, looking down at the words in disbelief but with a smile that was superhuman. It was powerful, the way I felt about being a mother and the way it was sinking into my soul like medicine, healing me. I had been given the ultimate gift. Motherhood. Parenthood. New life. I had reached the highest height of life, and I finally felt fulfilled. I had waited for this. This was what I had longed for all my life. This was it.
I heard the door open, and the nails of the dogs clicking and clacking as they jumped up to kiss their daddy. Daddy is home. “Where’s mommy!?” I heard him say as he passed through the kitchen. When he appeared in the doorway to our bedroom, I managed to mask my superhuman smile with a false, defeated look. “Well…” I said, pushing the test toward him. “Ugh babe…” he said, picking it up, not yet having read the words, just reading my face. Then, he saw for himself. “UM BABE!?” My hands involuntarily shot up, covering my mouth again, as I gasped through the most obvious smile. Stuart softly tackled me on the bed, his arms wrapped around me. “We did it,” he said. In midst of the thrill, he emitted relief. We both became lighter. He too didn’t believe we could do it: make a baby. But we did.
We made a baby.
We told our parents and brothers right away. We didn’t tell any of our friends. It was surreal, still, that we were going to have a family. I was feeling well the first two weeks, despite some food aversions to leftovers and meat. I had no morning sickness, and my prenatals never made me nauseous. My breasts were large and very sore. I experienced some cramping, but I was told it was normal when I brought it up at my first doctor’s appointment for routine, prenatal blood work. Most of my test results were normal. However, I did find out I was Rh negative, which was news to me, but I was told how to proceed (if I ever experienced any bleeding) and tried not to dwell on the rarity too much. As slight as my symptoms were, it seemed normal that I didn’t really feel pregnant. You hear stories, and you think it’s going to be extremely obvious, but for me, it wasn’t.
By the time I was nearing 8 weeks, I was wishing for all the not-so-beautiful pregnancy woes. I started spotting. It was February 16, and I spotted ever so slightly the entire week. I felt off. I felt worried. About a week later, it progressed. I noticed a streak of blood after going to the bathroom. I called my nurse, and she did not seem concerned at all. “As long as you are not cramping heavily and passing a lot of blood, it is very normal.” I called my mom, and she agreed that it was probably normal, but I think deep down, she was as panicked as I was. She came over to keep me company that night, and we watched a movie. I don’t even remember what was said. I don’t even remember what we watched. All I remember is that the cramping started to get worse. It felt like a dull period. “Something isn’t right,” I said to her.
The next morning, I convinced my doctor to see me. Again, I had prepared myself for the worst; it was my way of staying numb. I was quiet, sitting on the patient’s table, waiting for my doctor. “It’ll be OK,” Stuart said, as he grabbed my hand, and we prayed out loud together. When my doctor came in, she did not acknowledge my husband, whom she’d never met before. Instead, she cut right to it, as if she had just a pinch of time to spare in her wicked schedule. “Hi Alyssa,” she said while focused on the ultrasound equipment, “so this bleeding you’re having, is it a lot?” I explained that it was very slight, but I was cramping too. She didn’t look me in the eye and just said “OK, we’ll take a look.”
As soon as the ultrasound tech turned on the monitor and I looked up at the screen, my doctor said, “I’m sorry this looks like a miscarriage. I’m going to take a thorough look around, take some pictures, and then we’ll be done. I’m sorry.” It was literally within seconds, and she knew it was a miscarriage. I started rubbing my head as the news became tangible. It was real. I could feel it now, touch it now, see it now. When the doctor and tech were finished, my doctor said, “I’ll give you a moment to get dressed, and I’ll be back.”
When she left the room, I broke down and cried. My husband, the whole time, didn’t hear one thing the doctor had said; it was as if he wasn’t even in the room. “WHAT? WHAT’S GOING ON?” he asked in a panic. I gasped.
“There’s no baby.”
When the doctor came back, I asked questions. I asked for an explanation, a classification of the miscarriage. “Well, all I saw inside was some tissue and a blood cot. There was no sac or fetal pole.” I asked what that meant, and she could only say, “Well, there definitely was a pregnancy, but the baby may have already been broken down, which explains the tissue.” I didn’t quite understand, but I went on to the next step. “What are my options?” I asked. And she said, “Well, it seems your body has already recognized that this isn’t a viable pregnancy, so you are fine to wait and do this naturally or my nurse will explain some other options for you to consider.” With that, the doctor went on with her day, seeing other patients.
It was such a strange feeling, just being told you’ve lost a child. To me, the world should have been stopped. Doesn’t the world stop? I just lost my baby; life stops here. But I soon found out, that was not the case…
Life kept moving.
Talking with the nurse, I was in the strangest of moods. It was almost like an out-of-body experience. I was laughing; I didn’t know how to handle the information. She explained something about taking a pill to basically “bleed out” the remnants of our child, or I could have a D&C to surgically remove it, or I could wait. The explanation of each option made me lightheaded. I had to lie down. I was overwhelmed. I had just found out my baby was in pieces, and the pieces were sitting inside me, and I needed to decide how to rid my body of it. How awful. I felt sick. I needed to get out.
“I’ll wait naturally,” I said.
The nurse agreed, and she said she would call me in a week to see how things were progressing. “It will likely feel like a heavy period considering it sounds like there are no large pieces to pass and your body has already recognized the miscarriage,” I was told. With that, I took the Rhogam injection in my butt, for my Rh- status, and my husband guided me down the stairs toward the first floor.
I felt like I wasn’t living. As soon as the doors opened to the outside world and we had exited the hospital, my knees buckled and my body became rubber. I sobbed as my husband held onto me and slid me into the car where I melted into the seat.
It was as if my skeleton had crumbled.
My brain had silently burst.
My sight flickered in and out like television static.
My blood slowed and froze.
My skin was numb, suffocating.
My soul escaped me.
I was lifeless.
He drove me right to my parent’s house where my mom was waiting for us. When she opened the door and saw me sobbing in the foyer, I said, “There’s no baby,” in-between gasps for air, and she just took my head in her chest and let me break down.
My mom went ahead and shared the news with my brothers for me. I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone, honestly. I took a whole week off work in order to “naturally pass” the baby. Days went by, and nothing was happening. I wasn’t even bleeding anymore. I was cramping on and off, but nothing as bad as what I had felt prior to hearing the devastating news. Each week, the nurse called me, asking how I was doing. After the second week of no progression, I started to become concerned. “This can’t be normal. Can you talk to my doctor and ask her why this hasn’t happened yet? Can she tell me anything more about what she saw on my ultrasound?” And the nurse said she would talk to her and call me back.
I didn’t understand why my miscarriage was different…it seemed different. I read about blighted ovums, ectopics, missed miscarriages, molar pregnancies, everything. Why didn’t mine have a classification? I needed to understand what my doctor saw. When the nurse called back, she said, “The doctor said all that she saw was a blood clot and some tissue, and it was an abnormal pregnancy. She said it can take some people more time than others to pass the baby, so give it time. Sometimes 2 weeks isn’t enough.” I didn’t get it: What did abnormal pregnancy mean? My doctor didn’t seem to know. Abnormal can mean so many things, and that’s all I had to go on. When I asked about infection, if I waited too long, my nurse said, “We’re not worried about you. It will happen.”
I waited another week, and still, nothing was happening. Each day that passed, I grew more concerned. My uterus was large; I could feel it. My boobs were still sore. I was back at work, and people were silently wondering why I was gone. Only one person really asked, and her being pregnant, I think she sensed the answer. When I mentioned that I was considering a second opinion, she agreed that it wouldn’t be a bad idea, which was the point I had reached. I had never liked my doctor, and I never felt like she took me seriously. I was always in tune with my body, and I always asked a lot of questions. I felt like she always looked down on me, thought I was crazy, but the funny thing is, I’m almost always spot on because I know my body better than anyone.
After all the experiences I had with my doctor, on top of how my husband was completely ignored at my last appointment, I decided: I didn’t owe her anything. I needed more answers that she couldn’t give me. So with that, I made multiple calls to the doctor, letting them know I was getting a second opinion. After much back and forth, I finally got put on a call with a nurse who was willing to see me, but not for another 5 days. I took what I could get, but I was a bit uneasy waiting 5 more days for more clarity. In a way, I felt misunderstood, disappointed, and abandoned. No one wanted to take my “case” seriously.
An hour later, while still at work, I received a phone call from a new nurse. She explained that she had heard about my situation–my name was likely flying all over the hospital–and she said, “Alyssa, I really don’t think you should wait another 5 days to be seen. I can get you in tomorrow with Dr. S. He’s great; I work with him very closely; and he has a lot of experience. What do you think?” I did not hesitate and said, “Yes, thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
My new doctor was pretty certain: “Do you see that pattern on the screen, how it looks like a snowstorm? That, to me, indicates a possible molar pregnancy.”
My stomach dropped at the words: molar pregnancy.
I had read about them when I was trying to diagnose the miscarriage myself, but I disregarded the information because it was too complicated, too dangerous, too rare for it to happen to me. Besides, I didn’t fit the patient profile really at all. But it didn’t matter, and I was about to find out just how serious it really was.
Once I got dressed, I met the doctor in another room. When he sat me down to explain “molar pregnancy” to me, the words came out blurry. I was in a daze. The only words I heard were…
…and one-year wait.
He explained further, “It’s very rare that your molar pregnancy would turn into choriocarcinoma, a highly treatable cancer, but it can happen. I don’t think it will, but those are the facts.” I was terrified. Hearing the word cancer, in any form, is paralyzing. My stomach flipped, and again, I was faint. “I need to lie down,” I said. He sat me on the examination table, told me to put my head between my legs, and fanned me with a brochure. “I would like to schedule your surgery tomorrow, if you’re up for it. We need to remove the tissue right away.”
It is fascinating how in the matter of minutes, your life can change so drastically. I was supposed to go back to work that day, but instead, I was scheduling impromptu surgery to remove fetal tissue from my body. My miscarriage had just gone from a mystery to a very serious diagnosis. After talking for what felt like an hour, my head was spinning as I walked out of the doctor’s office. I found my answers, but I’d lost you.
On the drive home, I reflected on how proud I was of myself for sticking up for my health and pursuing a second opinion, but my pride was fleeting. I felt sick. There was a thought rotting at the core of my brain: what if I hadn’t? What if I hadn’t vigorously searched for answers, for me…for you? I would have still been waiting, wondering, while you would have continued to surrender to the cancerous tissue, multiplying, expanding, taking over my womb. I felt angry and disappointed. The thought of losing you was bad enough, but I also needed surgery, was at risk for cancer and possible chemotherapy, and worst of all, I needed weekly and monthly blood tests for an entire year until we could even think about conceiving again. It didn’t feel real. I wanted time to breathe, to process, to grieve. But life kept moving, and that felt wrong.
On the outside, I was a patient. I felt sterile. On the inside, I was a mother who lost a child. And I let myself be her; I let myself be the mother who lost a child. I let myself mourn. I could barely look at myself, or my husband, or anyone when I lost you. I didn’t want anyone to see her, the childless mother…not even you…so I held on to only myself, and I drowned in tears for the rest of the winter that I lost you. And for the rest of winter, I continued to ask God: Why me?
…continued in Part Two.