by Siné Stabosz
I belong to a club of women—a club I never wanted to be a part of. One in four women loses a baby to miscarriage or stillbirth. I am one in four women, and this is my story.
In August of 2012, I found out that I was expecting my third child. What I did not expect was that in a few short days all of the joy and excitement of being pregnant would be pulled out from beneath me. At barely 5 weeks pregnant, I started to bleed. I called The Birth Center, and Kathleen ordered blood work to test my HCG levels. By the time Dorinda had called me with the results, I already knew that I had lost my baby. My husband and I were devastated. We took the time to grieve our loss and after a time, decided to remember our baby by the name of Sam.
When I got a positive pregnancy test a few months later, we were again quite joyful. I also had a sense of trepidation. Losing Sam had definitely impacted how I was feeling about my current pregnancy. I bled on and off throughout my first trimester, but ultrasound after ultrasound showed that this new baby had a strong heartbeat. My husband and I had told our family and close friends about this sweet new baby growing inside of me. I was finally starting to believe that I would get to meet and hold my baby. At my 13-week prenatal appointment, the midwives could not find a heartbeat with the Doppler. A stat ultrasound was ordered. I walked over to Saint Francis Hospital with my husband and my two living children. When I was taken back for an ultrasound, the technician told me that she would not be able to tell me anything about the ultrasound as a matter of policy. I then endured the quickest ultrasound of my life. I went back to the radiology waiting area. Eventually, someone told me to walk back to TBC.
As soon as I arrived, Sarah Grace called me back to an exam room and told that the baby had no heartbeat. I don’t know if words can even come close to describing the shock and pain that this news brought on. I had my husband brought back to the room and had to hear again that my baby had died. After that, Sarah Grace discussed my options for how to move on. My body hadn’t picked up on the fact that I no longer had a living baby and I could choose to wait it out for my body to kick in and miscarry; I could kick start the miscarriage process with medicine, or I could opt to have a surgical procedure known as a D&E (dilation and evacuation). Sarah Grace, in her wisdom, advised me not to make my decision for how to proceed until I had 24 hours to process all that had happened.
Because having low intervention births is so important to me, my husband and I realized that trusting my body to miscarry naturally only made sense. I didn’t really know what to expect of this miscarriage. My first one had been very similar to a normal period, which is fairly typical of very early miscarriages. Between asking questions of the midwives and doing a little of my own research, I was expecting something like a very heavy period with extra contraction-like cramping.
What happened ten days later can only be described as labor and birth. I spent an entire day in early labor. That night, after both toddlers were in bed, my contractions picked up. I spent several hours laboring with my husband at my side. I clearly remember going through transition and then being fairly sure I had peed my pants. In actuality, I was covered in amniotic fluid—my water had broken. We moved to the bathroom and minutes later I delivered my sweet baby Oliver into a silk scarf. I had not expected to see my baby outside of the sac. He was precious to behold—perfectly formed right down to his fingers and toes. The next morning we made contact with TBC to let them know that my body had kicked in and that Oliver had arrived. At the time, everything seemed like it had proceeded normally; later in the day, I began to hemorrhage. I had retained tissue and my body was throwing softball-sized clots to try to get rid of it. The OB in triage did a much better job getting rid of the tissue than my body did.
During all of this, a friend who is really good at researching things offered to find out all of the details as to where we could bury Oliver and how the Catholic Church attends to the deaths of in utero babies. Our priest presided over a graveside service and surrounded by family, coworkers, and friends, we were able to bury Oliver with my husband’s grandmother. Being able to bury him helped bring some closure and allowed my husband and I to receive the support and community we needed in our grief.
I won’t pretend that the funeral brought an end to my grief—it didn’t. It did bring a beginning to what I can only describe as extreme loneliness. After someone dies, even after the funeral, people still speak their name and tell stories. That doesn’t often happen when a baby dies in utero. People don’t like to talk about miscarriage. I spent the next several months grieving and healing.
A few days before Sam’s due date, I found myself pregnant and terrified. Pregnancy after a loss can be incredibly difficult. As more than one midwife reminded me, a loss can take a lot of the innocent joy out of pregnancy. This baby gave me plenty of reason to worry with unexplained bleeding throughout my first trimester. Despite the harrowing first trimester, in January of 2014 my husband and I welcomed Atticus into the world.
When Atticus turned 1, we were overjoyed to find out that we were pregnant with our 6th child. Although I was nervous, everyone was fairly convinced that my miscarriages were just a bad luck of the draw. Everything was going beautifully. The dating ultrasound showed a strong heartbeat. A day shy of 12 weeks, I woke up from a nightmare in which I had miscarried the baby to find that I was spotting. I called TBC and they fit me in for an appointment that day. When I got there, both Sarah Grace and Dorinda tried to find a heartbeat with the Doppler. I went over to Saint Francis for an ultrasound. The room I was in had a crucifix on the wall across from the exam table. During the ultrasound, I stared at that crucifix and prayed. Afterward, the tech left the room and when she came back she told me to head back to TBC. At that moment, I knew in my heart that we had lost the baby. When we arrived at TBC Dorinda confirmed that the baby had died. This announcement was so much harder than when we lost Oliver because this time, my oldest two were old enough to be excited to have a new sibling on the way. My husband, my two children, and I were all crying. It was so painful and there is no easy way to receive such terrible news (no matter how caring the delivery is).
Once again we decided to wait for my body to kick in so I could miscarry naturally at home. 16 days later, I started to bleed and at some point during the day I passed a clot that we thought contained the gestational sac and the baby. I called The Birth Center to keep them updated and because we wanted to keep close tabs on my bleeding due to my history of hemorrhaging. I went to bed early that night and around midnight, I was awoken by what felt like really strong cramps. After about 30 minutes, I realized they were contractions. I labored quietly in bed wondering if the clot I had passed earlier actually contained my baby or not. A few hours later, I felt a gush as my water broke. I rushed to the bathroom and delivered my sweet Gregory. Afterward, I woke up my husband and we admired our perfectly formed baby together. Within the hour, I was throwing huge clots and starting to hemorrhage. Again I had retained tissue, but it was not proving to be easy to remove. After a round of misoprostol, the tissue, although moving in the right direction, was not passing. I ended up having a D&E in triage to remove the tissue and stop the hemorrhaging. The nurse who later discharged me from triage said something to me that through all three losses I had yet to hear: “This isn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.” I don’t remember that nurse’s name, but I will always remember what she said and the guilt it relieved me of. On Easter Monday of 2015, we had a graveside service and buried Gregory with my husband’s grandfather.
After losing Gregory, I knew that I needed two things. I needed to find some answers as to why I keep losing babies and I needed a community to fight the extreme loneliness that accompanies loss. As for answers, someone in a fitness community I belong to told me to look into being tested for an MTHFR mutation—it is one of the few things linked to miscarriage that isn’t ruled out by having had previous live births. I did a little of my research and I have a multitude of symptoms that are strongly associated with this gene mutation so when I went to my 2 week post-miscarriage follow up at TBC, I asked that this test be added to another battery of tests that I would have done to get some answers—tests that are only ordered in the event that you have had 3 miscarriages. It turns out I have 2 heterozygous MTHFR mutations, and it is very likely that they are related to my losses. Although the research into it is very young, there are a few things I can do to try to counteract the effects of the mutation during subsequent pregnancies; I took some of these preventative measures and gave birth to my daughter Zélie on March 25th, 2016.
As for the community, I have found that too. A woman in my online homeschooling community directed me to a Catholic pregnancy and infant loss support group on Facebook. It was a sort of serendipitous occurrence (read: inability to use touch screens effectively) that I met another TBC mom through this group. Through reaching out to her, and also getting in touch with two friends who are also still birthday bereavement doulas that I was able to take the time I needed to grieve and start the healing process.
As I have had time to process my losses and the need for community, it has become apparent that this is not just my own need. Other women need to know that they are not alone. On October 15th at 4PM, I will be helping to host a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance and Candlelight event for other mothers in our TBC community who have suffered the loss of their babies.
If you would like more information about this event please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org You are not alone.