I saw its heart beat.
That’s something I tend to say to myself during quiet moments when I feel myself on the fringes of sadness; during those moments where I’ve been sent a picture of my friend’s baby, or I’ve heard about yet another celebrity announcing their pregnancy. I try to maintain a sense of positivity and not feel like my emotions are being slightly rocked as I attempt to be happy for others, but it’s tough if I’m being honest. I remind myself that I, at one point, was supposed to be a mother, too. It did happen. I was pregnant with my first child. I know because I saw its heart beat.
I tend to have to remind myself of how real that pregnancy was because it was a miracle in the first place, and because of how quickly it fell apart.
After months of pretty terrible menstrual cycles, abdominal pains, and failed attempts at conceiving, I started 2018 by going getting an array of checkups. After visiting with my gynecologist and being ordered to undergo an ultrasound, I was told that I had a uterine fibroid. It is a submucosal one in my uterine lining that slightly bulges out, despite, according to my previous doctor, it being small. I was told that there was a chance that the fibroid could be affecting my ability to get pregnant by being in the way, and that I would need to try and conceive sooner than later due the likelihood of growth.
After some serious thought and discussion with my husband and parents, I decided to schedule a myomectomy for early April to have it removed. As I prepared for the surgery, including getting ready for a pre-surgical appointment in March, I realized that my period was late. I assumed it was being a drag, per the usual, and just wanted it to come and go already so it wouldn’t interfere with my procedure. When 35 days passed with no sign of it since my last start date, it finally crossed my mind that I could be pregnant. I didn’t believe it though.
I took three different tests, and it was confirmed. Me, who had tried ovulation tests, sitting around with my legs above my head and all sorts of vitamins and nutrients to get pregnant just months before, was finally pregnant at a time when I thought nothing of it. My doctor canceled my surgery, told me I was six weeks, and said our baby would be here around Thanksgiving. My husband and I were over the moon, and the only people we told were our parents. Everyone else would find out on Mother’s Day, a couple days after I would hit 12 weeks.
But then the complications started. I noticed a few weeks after my appointment that I was lightly bleeding and was so scared. I was able to get an emergency ultrasound around seven weeks and was trying to prepare myself for the worst. However, immediately after the ultrasound began, I saw the little person growing within me. “There they are!” the tech said to me as tears ran down my face. Our baby was there, heart beating, looking like my dream come true. I thanked God through my stressed out tears and was told by my doctor that bleeding is common in the first trimester, but that I should probably take it easy for a bit. No sex or exercise.
But the complications continued, unfortunately. Two weeks later, the bleeding increased heavily. I was encouraged to go to the emergency room, and after a plethora of tests, scans and questions, and waiting in a freakishly cold room, I was told our baby had no heartbeat. At what was close to 10 weeks, the baby measured at right about nine. It had just died days earlier. A day later, after another emergency appointment at a better medical center, it was confirmed. I recall screaming in both hospitals.
The months that followed were pretty terrible. I chose to have a natural miscarriage, but because I found out about the baby’s death so soon after it happened, I bled every day from late March until July (when I was finally told to take a pill or prep for a D&C). And what made it worse was that I couldn’t even begin to try and move forward emotionally until the bleeding stopped. But even when it did, I was still, and still am, a mess. When my period comes, it’s like PTSD. It’s longer and more uncomfortable than before, and a reminder that yet another month has gone by without conceiving again. I was told by my doctor that since I was able to get pregnant before without removing my fibroid, that it might be good to try again without messing with it. She didn’t blame the fibroid, which grew a little in size during those nine weeks, for the miscarriage. She also didn’t blame my exercise habits or anything else I could have done. “This thing just happens sometimes,” she told me, whilst my girlfriends, all pregnant around the same time as me just months ahead, successfully gave birth. How could this thing “just happen” to me? But in my grief and questions, I realized that it, in fact, it had not just happened to me alone.
According to statistics, early pregnancy loss affects about 10 to 15 out of 100 pregnancies. And while most miscarriages do occur in the first trimester, one to five out of 100 happen during the second trimester. And over the months, while I dealt with my grief, which is ongoing, I found that more and more notable women were talking about their own: Gabrielle Union, Eudoxie Bridges, Lil Mo, Monique Samuels. Even more interesting, the women in my life had dealt with such a loss, too, and there were countless stories on the Internet to find some connection to. And while it’s becoming more of a sad occurrence for women, there is hope, particularly when it comes to testing options to prevent future miscarriages.
“Pregnancy loss is one of the most tragic events in people’s lives. We hope that advancements in modern technology and increased awareness will help reduce the number of infant deaths and miscarriages,” said John Zhang, M.D., the New York-based doctor and founder of the New Hope Fertility Center. “In reality, research alone hasn’t made much progress in addressing these issues, and there is a lot more effort needed. We know that miscarriage and infancy loss is frequently related to abnormal pregnancy conditions, often associated with unfavorable genetic factors. While we can’t remediate many issues, new tests like Carrier Screening, Next Generation Sequencing (NGS/PGS) and Preimplantation Diagnosis can help lessen the likelihood of genetic disease and improve embryo implantation, reducing the likelihood of miscarriage. As a fertility specialist, there are, in fact, some things we can do to help minimize pregnancy loss. As a researcher, new technologies like nuclear transfer and CRISPR might be a good way to solving these issues more permanently, on the genetic level.”
And while those advancements, and the hope of conceiving again bring light to a dark situation, it doesn’t take away from the pain of the loss of the child who, for some reason, didn’t make it. I’ll never forget that little person. We had come up with names for him/her thanks to the Nigerian baby name book I found. I started thinking about switching up our living arrangements. I walked through Target’s baby section and just grinned until my face hurt. I saved onesies on my page with little animal ears. I planned out how I was going to give all of the women in my life Mother’s Day cards with the big news in it. It was finally happening.
And then it didn’t.
But it’s not my fault. I didn’t jinx myself by being excited. I didn’t compromise my child’s life by keeping up with exercise. It just wasn’t my time.
Months later, on this Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, I can say that I no longer feel shame about what happened, which is why I’m finally sharing my story for the first time, publicly. I’m doing so because you never know whose story, whose vulnerability and whose strength could help someone else get out from under the depression of miscarrying, losing a child far into pregnancy, or during infancy. Such accounts let you know that you are still a whole woman, no matter what fertility or parenting struggles you face, that you will survive what feels like the most devastating pain, and when you need to hear it most, remind you that you’re not alone.