Losing my Heartbeat: Miscarriage Explained, by Laura Smothers-Chu

No words can describe losing a heartbeat, especially when you’ve seen it fluttering quickly below your own. It is difficult to describe the physical and emotional feelings of labor pain, especially the agony you have to endure without a crying baby to reward you at the end.  And that’s why I’m writing about my miscarriage.

I was in your shoes. I didn’t understand how to even unpack the concept of miscarriage. And, quite frankly, I wanted to avoid talk of dead babies…before I had a miscarriage myself.  Here’s why I’m telling you about my experience.  This information is going to help you, whether you experience miscarriage yourself or your friends or family members do. Let me introduce myself – my name is Laura, and I am an advocate. I am the person who will talk about the hard stigmatized stuff life has thrown my way.  I’ll simplify, explain, and walk people through the difficult things.

I wish I had researched miscarriage before I even tried having a baby. According to the American Pregnancy Association, up to 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. As if that wasn’t high enough, the probability increases if you have a hormonal disorder (like me). We women are not nearly as educated about miscarriage as we should be. I am a staunch believer that the more you know, the more you can prepare and manage your expectations realistically. I promise I will try to explain my miscarriage experience as clearly as I can to meet you in your understanding. My aim is to relate to similar emotions you’ve felt when experiencing these major milestones in your life.

 

Miscarriage = Break Ups + Loss + Other

First, think about your last break up, and try to put into words what you were feeling when your boyfriend/girlfriend told you they couldn’t be with you anymore. It has been a while since I’ve been broken up with, but I won’t forget the physical feeling that my heart was yanked out of my chest. I felt hollowed out for days, weeks and months, and the night time was the hardest to get through.

Next, combine that with the emotions you feel when you do the breaking up. You likely experience the same emptiness (perhaps a bit less), but the guilt is all-consuming. You knew it wasn’t working out, and you wanted to save you both the time and the frustration of staying in an unhappy relationship. But this logical justification doesn’t remove the guilt you feel for making the other person sad and angry for ending a relationship that, while unhappy, still had love present.

Now add onto both of those break up feelings the feeling of loss. This is even harder. Think about a relative you were very emotionally close to that passed away. Now replace the pain of the memories of your loved one with the sadness of lost possibility and excitement. But you also lose part of yourself: physically and emotionally. I hear this from multiple moms, but the moment that you find out you’re pregnant, your life changes. Your day becomes more structured, and you have to take extra pills. In order to nurture the little human in there (trust me, that blew my mind the first time I saw my baby’s heartbeat), you need to eat every four hours, drink a TON of water, and take lots of naps. I started to prioritize the baby without even realizing it – asking my husband to save funds we would normally spend on favorite things on Amazon for the baby. My memory started to go a bit, and my subtle symptoms of pregnancy started. I was starving and ate twice as much as usual, my body was hot, and I got dizzy when I stood up sometimes. The baby was part of me.

So, for something as emotionally jarring as a miscarriage, it felt like a combination of loss of myself and someone I loved, being broken up with and breaking up. Finally, once you imagine all those feelings swirling together, add a lot more hormones to the mix (think major PMS) as well as your partner’s grief. When I found out we lost our baby, the heartbeat had stopped two weeks earlier. I didn’t find out until 10 weeks. I suddenly felt betrayed. I wanted this baby out, but also felt like I had lost a part of myself as well. I felt shock at first, followed by intense grief and sobbing. I was angry at the doctors for not telling me earlier and wondered if they made a mistake. I wondered what I did wrong. I was frustrated that I structured my daily routine and diet to nurture this baby and it was essentially all for nothing. I was happy we hadn’t found out if the baby was a boy or girl. I was happy we hadn’t heard the heartbeat, even though we did see it for the first time a couple of weeks before. And all of this was just the emotional aspect of the miscarriage!

 

Miscarriage = Aches + Agony

Physically, I went from experiencing annoying, but normal, pregnancy symptoms (constant sweating, persistent lower back pain and gas) to a night full of mild cramping. I got no sleep, and knew something was wrong. The next day I found spots of blood in my underwear, which started getting heavier as the day progressed. The next day, before my check in appointment with the OB/GYN, I started passing blood clots. It wasn’t much heavier than a heavy period, but I knew it could be a bad sign. (Just to be clear, these symptoms can still happen and the baby can be fine, but that’s why it’s important to get checked out by your OB/GYN). The doctor examined me and told me the baby was gone. I saw its little body in the ultrasound, but there was no heartbeat.

It turns out that with the blood clots I was passing, my body had already started rejecting the baby, as my body knew the baby was gone before the doctors did. Thank God I had pain medication that night. I had issues with really painful cramps before, but this pain was like nothing I experienced. The cramps, which were really contractions, continued to come in rhythm only leaving me a few minutes to catch my breath. Luckily the whole thing only lasted about an hour. It was a blessing that I didn’t pass the baby, because I couldn’t imagine how traumatic that would have been for me emotionally. The next day I had what is called a D&C, which is basically suctioning out the baby and scraping away any of the remaining tissue that was sustaining the baby in my uterus. The procedure went well, and everything came out.

The soreness from the D&C appeared a few days later, and the emotional suffering was difficult, but the fact that I lost my pregnancy symptoms was like salt in my open wounds. I was acutely aware of each pregnancy symptom that faded away each day and it was another sense of loss I felt in addition to the baby. I felt like I had failed. I was depressed for about a week. I didn’t have the energy to do chores or anything else that took energy. In my hormones’ efforts to get back to normal, my face broke out in a bout of acne. I wanted to sleep all the time. But the other thing I wanted was support from my friends. What was most helpful the night it happened was talking to friends who had experienced miscarriage themselves. We sobbed on the phone together and in that moment I felt more love and understanding than I thought possible. I also became closer than ever to my husband through this ordeal.

 

Here are the main things to remember if this happens to you or a friend/family member:

  • Miscarriage is not your fault. A majority of the time that it happens, it is chromosomal and the baby likely wouldn’t have made it to term healthily.
  • Miscarriages are way more common than you think and you probably know someone who has had one (even if they haven’t told you yet).
  • Be careful with your words. Do not judge yourself or others in this situation.They wanted a baby or they wouldn’t have tried for one. Just offer your sympathies. I very much appreciated people hugging me and saying, “I am so sorry.”
  • Miscarriages are really tough on self esteem and marriages, and social interaction with sincere hugs are really important in getting the couple through this difficult time.
  • I recommend getting through the particularly tough days by inviting a friend to come over to eat a takeout meal on your couch. I was lucky enough to have four friends come over on four different days (people who had never even had miscarriages) and it was a huge part of what got me through being depressed.
  • Check in on them on the following holidays: The month of the original due date, Mother’s Day, and December especially. Be more cognizant about making a baby announcement or talking about your pregnancy around her. Grief takes us by surprise during those times.
  • Ice cream never hurts either 😉

 

I hope that by reading this article you feel empowered to help yourself, a friend and/or a family member through a miscarriage. Also, keep in mind that this Pink Elephant website you’ve found has other really helpful resources. I’ve even used them in my journey with my husband. I encourage you to check them out!

 

 

Laura Smothers-Chu is the CEO and Founder of  Befriended Heart: Discover Joy in Dementia,a social enterprise where she teaches women practical steps to help navigate their parents through dementia.

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