I have a Facebook friend who, a few months ago, suffered a tragic loss. She was 20 weeks pregnant and her baby died in utero. The doctors induced her, and she suffered through labor and gave birth. The hospital let them hold him for a while, took pictures for them that they have now, and treated her and her husband very gently. A few days later, they had a funeral for the baby.
This was all recently brought to my mind as I read about Diana’s tragedy on Hormonal Imbalances. Part of the entire horrible experience involved some “20 week pregnancy standard” where she was treated differently when her water broke at 18.5 weeks versus 20 weeks. Her loss of babies just shy of 20 weeks is overwhelming her and she’s absolutely broken. As I read about her experiences, there’s no way not to think of my own.
I have suffered many losses. I talked about them in my post The Reversal. With these two recent 20-week losses on my radar, I am often thinking back over 16 years ago.
I was in my second pregnancy. The first one had ended in miscarriage at about 6 weeks. I discovered I was pregnant one day and lost it the next. This pregnancy, though, seemed perfectly normal. I felt good, I was in maternity clothes, we were talking about names. I went to my 20-week appointment and got to see the baby on the ultrasound machine. The doctor listened to the heartbeat, gave me a clean bill of health, and I scheduled an appointment for the following month.
The next day, I was at work training my replacement. Out of nowhere, I felt like something was wrong. I had no reason for it. No light headedness, no pain, nothing. I called the doctor’s office, and they said someone would call me back. The doctor did within a few minutes. I said, “Something is wrong. I don’t know how to explain it, but I know it.”
He suggested I come in just to ease my own mind. I left work with a sense of dread and drove to the doctor’s office. He was very nice and very upbeat. “I’m sure nothing’s wrong,” he said, and put the microphone on my stomach and started searching for the baby’s heartbeat.
After several minutes, he started acting worried. “Let me just get the ultrasound machine,” he said. He left the room and he and a nurse returned, wheeling the machine on a cart. The whole time he was reassuring me.
He pulled the baby up on the screen. It was perfect. It was small enough that I could see the whole baby on the screen, and it was perfect. Perfect head, perfect body. But, within seconds, he turned the screen so that I could not see.
“We need to send you to the hospital,” he said. “I can’t find the heartbeat, but they have a better machine.”
I immediately started crying. It was the only time during this entire experience that a rush of emotion overwhelmed me to the point that I cried. A nurse gave me a box of tissues, and while tears poured out of my eyes, I made arrangements to go to the hospital. This was pre-cell-phones as a standard extension of the human body, so there was no way for me to contact my (ex)husband.
I went to the hospital alone and they took me almost immediately into the big ultrasound room. The tech was a young man, who did not speak to me in any kind of conversational manner. He gave me directions, but made no small talk. He did not let me see the screen, either.
As soon as I got home, the doctor called me. “Your baby is dead,” he said. “I don’t know why. But we know it was alive yesterday and it’s rare that we catch a fetal demise this early. If we move quickly, the tissue won’t be as broken down by your body and we can probably have an autopsy to find out what happened.”
This is seriously the conversation I had with the doctor about four hours after my initial phone call to his office. And those tears in his office were the first and last tears I cried about the whole thing. I reported to the hospital at 7AM the next morning. I remember grabbing my (ex)husband’s hand in a panic as they were wheeling me to the operating room. “What if they’re wrong,” I said.
“They’re sure,” he said. “They’re not wrong.”
That was it. I was put to sleep. When I woke up, I wasn’t pregnant any more.
There was no labor. No delivery. No name. No concerned nurses giving me and my (ex)husband time with our baby. I don’t even know if it was a boy or a girl. No funeral. No flowers. No anything. I had a normal, healthy pregnancy one minute, and nothing the next.
My (ex) husband did not mention it again. Ever. I did not go through a grieving process. My normal stoicism set in and got me through it.
I wonder if I had been handled differently, if I would have handled it differently. I wonder if the doctor and hospital staff had treated me like a patient losing her baby instead of with the excitement of discovering a fetal demise so quickly after death that it allowed them an opportunity to run a science experiment if I would have felt differently.
I wonder, just recently in light of the two stories I shared with you in my introduction, what it would be like to have been able to labor through giving birth to this child, then been given the opportunity to hold that baby and say goodbye. I wonder if I would have actually grieved instead of just handling it in my typical unemotional fashion.
Diane said that at 20 weeks, they somehow consider the loss as “more”. That wasn’t my experience. It was all very clinical, very clean. Anesthesia, sleep, wake, go home in clothes that are somewhat looser than what you wore into the hospital and never speak of it again.
We never spoke of it again.
I don’t know if it’s just because 16 years have gone by and things were done differently then, or if it was me, or if it was my doctor.
I know that just a month later, I was pregnant with Kaylee. And, I wouldn’t trade her for the world. But these things have been on my radar lately, which has put my own experiences and how different they are on my mind.
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