Loss of an unknown loved one…

October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. Anyone who has lost a pregnancy or infant knows how incredibly hard it is. My first pregnancy was lost at the 12 week mark. Please know that no matter how early you lose your baby, whether they’re 6 weeks old or 60 years old, the loss is heartbreaking. I’m sharing my story so other women who are experiencing or have experienced this kind of loss know they are not alone (as I thought I was).

We started trying for a baby in the fall of 2015. And we very quickly became pregnant. My husband and I were so excited. Unknown Baby 2We already started talking about baby names. What if it’s a boy – what if it’s a girl. We talked about what we were most excited about. My husband wanted another girl – “Little girls are cute” he’d say. I wanted a boy, “Boys are so much easier as they get older,” I would say back.

I was 33 years old. I was overweight and had high blood pressure, so our doctor recommended we visit more often (about every 2-4 weeks). We wanted to be able to surprise our parents with the sex of the baby for Christmas. The doctor said they probably won’t know for sure by then through an ultrasound and recommended a genetic test that uses my blood. We asked about costs, she explained how the process worked and we signed up! They took my blood that visit and we scheduled my next visit for the 12 week ultrasound and more blood tests.

All was great, the pregnancy was going well. I wasn’t having very much morning sickness. I could feel my tummy starting to bulge, just a little. Mainly my jeans weren’t fitting as well as they used to, kind of like being permanently bloated. I had let my students know I was pregnant at this point and had showed them the picture my husband had posted on Facebook. They thought it was funny and cute. They were all so excited for me.

We had decided a boy name. It was easy with our family names. But we hadn’t landed on a girl name yet. We narrowed it down to three names, but we just weren’t sure yet. We hadn’t done a lot of shopping yet, just started planning.

As the 12 week mark got closer and closer, I was surprised I hadn’t heard anything back about the DNA screening. The screening checks for abnormal genetic factors, like different trisomies and can also determine the sex of the baby genetically. It’s crazy how mom’s blood and baby’s blood is shared. That as a mother carrying an unborn baby, a little bit of their blood is literally running in your veins. It just blows my mind! I was expecting to hear the Friday before my appointment the following Monday at the latest, but nothing.

When I got in to the doctors office, I was brought back for the 12 week ultrasound. I was sitting there watching her take pictures of my little one on the screen, but something was wrong with the tech. She seemed very quiet. At the end of the screening, I asked her if everything was okay, and she replied, “You’ll need to speak with Dr. [name] about the ultrasound.” She took me immediately to a room.

I tried to stay upbeat about it. I was naive. I had some papers I was trying to grade before going in to teach, so I just pulled out the answer key and started grading while waiting for the doc. I got through about 1 paper and the doctor came in. This is when I knew something was off. I loved my OB/GYN, but her office was never this quick about anything. Typically, you’d get an ultrasound, wait about another 15-20 mins before you even went back to an exam room. They’d usually weigh you, have you disrobe some portion of your clothes and do general well-checks like blood pressure. This didn’t happen. Then even with all that, the doctor would still take another 10 mins or so to get to your door. She has a lot of patients and we all have questions. She was very great about taking the time to answer every one, no matter how silly they seemed.

She came in, sat the file down on the table and just looked me straight in the eye. She said, “Rachel, we can’t find any heartbeat. Your baby has passed away.” It took me about 5 seconds for that to register. I just stared at her for what seemed like an hour. I could just feel it happening in slow motion: my heart… shattering. I started balling in the next second. That gut wrenching balling where you just curl up on the floor and hope the pain will end but it doesn’t. I asked her if I could call my husband (he was already at work). She said of course.

I dialed his number. He answered on the second ring. “Hey honey, you already done at the doctor?” Was the first thing he said when he picked up. I couldn’t even say the first word without sobbing again. Finally, I said, “I lost the baby, it’s gone. I have to go home now and I don’t want to be alone. Can you please come home?” I don’t know why I specifically asked him to come home. Of course he would, he lost a baby too! But for some reason, I just thought if I didn’t ask him, he may not come home. I was not myself at this point.

I had to make one more call. I had to pull myself together to call my sister-in-law (my husband’s sister) and boss to tell her I couldn’t make it in today and she’d need to find a sub for me. I got through about one sentence before I started crying again. The teacher in me actually felt guilty for calling in. But I knew there was absolutely no way I could keep it together that day.

After that, the sobbing lessened. I was still crying uncontrollably, but I could at least ask some questions and hear my doctor talking to me. She had told me the test did come in Friday, as we thought, but the results came back that the baby was positive for Down Syndrome (Trisomy 21). She also asked me if I wanted to know the sex of the baby – I automatically said yes. It was a girl. A precious little girl! That, of course, brought on a whole new wave of tears.

The doctor reassured me that there was nothing did to cause this. She explained that it is a lot more common than we realize. She shared her personal experience with it as well. This is how I knew she’d be my OB/GYN for all my babies. She was willing to be a little personal with her patients. She shared some more important pieces of information about the rest of the process (I’ll spare you the details on that).

On Saturday, December 12th, our little baby girl left us forever. She had passed away a few weeks prior to this, but this is when she was truly gone. The process was physically difficult, but even more emotionally draining. I ended up going to the ER, since it was a weekend.

By this point, we had let people know we lost the baby. I couldn’t believe how many women then told me their stories. Before this, I had only known one person in my life who had a miscarriage. But now, there was this whole community of women. This is not a topic that we can easily talk about. Just writing this, I’ve gone through a half a box of facial tissues. So when I ended up in the ER, I called one of those women for support. She was the absolute best thing for me at that point in my life (she had three miscarriages in all). She talked me through the process, told me what I could possibly expect and that I basically needed to prepare myself emotionally for the next few days.  She was right!

So, why do I write this? Why do I share my sad experience on a blog, no less? Because there is a woman out there right now experiencing what I experienced. Whether she just had her doctor’s visit where they gave her the devastating news or is in the ER. Women need to share their stories more. It’s not just that we’re “struggling with infertility”, but many times it is so much more emotionally. It’s not just a “miscarriage”, but a life of “what ifs” lost too soon.

I will always wonder if I would have been a good mom for her. She would have had Down Syndrome, but I feel as though I would have been such a loving mom. I feel as though she would have taught me so much about how to love. My faith allows me to step out of the grief knowing I will see her in her perfect glory again. I’m thankful for that. It helps me reconcile my feelings. It helps me move forward and not dwell on the “what ifs”.

Friends and family also help. Do not push them away because you feel as though you are a burden or just don’t want people around. You need them and honestly, they need you. My mother and brother’s wife had never experienced miscarriage. I remember telling my mom and how heartbroken she sounded. However, she said to me, “Honey, I’ve never experienced this, so I don’t know what to do to help. What do you need from me?” She was honest with me, but still wanted to be there for me.

I am a mom of three, one is just not with me. I was blessed with two more children after this sad day. They are some of my purest joys and I am so grateful for them. They would not exist without having this sad event come first. Though that gives me little comfort, I do appreciate the two little individuals I have. The pain lessens over time, but it is always there. You will and can get through it even though your world feels like dark, bleak nothingness.

Pregnancy after 35…

I had the luxury of getting a lovely little stamp (well typed and printed) on all of my pregnancy records: Advanced Maternal Age. If turning 35 isn’t enough about starting to feel that uphill climb, you are now considered “at risk” just because you hit that 35 mark.

Old PregnantNow, I had other risk factors that were much more serious than just my age. I was considered obese and also have hypertension (high blood pressure). Those items, I would think, should be much more at the forefront of someone’s records than “Advanced Maternal Age”. Perfectly healthy women, with no previous issues, still get this stamp of “disapproval” from our lovely medical community.

Please do not misunderstand my words. I loved my OB/GYN. She supported me through miscarriages, first birth (with HBP) and my second birth (with the AMA). She was amazingly supportive throughout the whole thing and only once mentioned the age thing early during the pregnancy.

First, why do we get this tag anyway? This is not a science article, so do not expect a lot of references to specific studies; however, here’s what I’ve learned when trying to find out how my age could affect my pregnancy.

We get this tag because there are certain risk factors that increase as we age. This is generally true, but when pregnant, more so. Ladies, if you’ve been pregnant, you know. If you haven’t been pregnant, you understand. Pregnancy is HARD. It’s truly the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever endured in my life. (No, I haven’t climbed Mt. Everest.) Then add to that our naturally aging bodies. It’s a lot for our system to handle. Sometimes, it’s too much.

Some of the most common complications with AMA pregnancies are (you may have guessed from the above):

  • High Blood Pressure. This can be a result of preeclamsia – a form of high blood pressure only found during pregnancy.
  • Gestational Diabetes. I had this with my second (after I turned 35).
  • Genetic abnormalities. This can include Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome).

There are other factors, but when my OB talked to me about it, these were the three big ones she brought up – maybe because they were the ones to most likely affect me, but ultimately they did in one pregnancy or another. Due to my other conditions (HBP and Gestational Diabetes), I also saw a perinatal doctor. These are the docs who deal with the realities of high risk pregnancies on a daily basis. Either the baby has high risk factors or the mother, as in my case. When I worked with my perinatal doc, he explained more to me about the AMA risk factors. However, his big three were the above mentioned.

Because of my early miscarriage, we did the early genetic screening on all my pregnancies (including the miscarriage – before knowing). My first screening came back that the baby had Down Syndrome. We found this out the day we also found out she passed. (A whole other blog on that…) It was most likely the heart not developing properly, which is common with babies who have Down Syndrome. However, with that we knew every time after that we would be getting the genetic testing.

This is something that is recommended for women over the age of 35. I highly recommend it for everyone woman! There are many reasons, but for me the research in early genetic testing is critical. It can help doctors determine possible reasons for miscarriages (much like my first) that they may otherwise not know. This testing is not free, but it is affordable. The testing is also very general. It is not like a micro array test where they look through each gene. This is just a general overview making sure there’s no missing or too many genes. They can also let you know the sex of the baby (if you wish to know early).  Best part, they only take blood from the mother! No invasive needle poking in to the womb.

Having HBP and Gestational Diabetes with my second pregnancy forced me to eat very specific foods and be aware what I was eating and when. I learned that pregnant women release a hormone that is part of the cause for the Gestational Diabetes (it inhibits insulin production, increasing glucose levels in the body). This hormone is released in a way that your body has had the hardest time to lower your insulin levels while you’re sleeping. This is part of the reason they give you those icky sugar drinks in the morning. Bleh!

While the process of pricking myself four times a day and taking my blood pressure twice a day was not what I would call fun, I did enjoy the science of it. I enjoyed seeing my numbers come through and thinking about what it was that I ate to cause that number. I enjoyed recording the data and then discussing it in my meetings with the docs. I really learned a lot when I asked questions related to my specific eating habits and how they affected my pregnant body.

I have had HBP since my mid 20’s.

Swollen Pregnancy Feet

A side effect of HBP & Pregnancy – Swollen Feet. Only flip-flops fit them.

So I knew going in with all my pregnancies I would be “at risk” from the start. This, for me, meant more, like a lot more, doctor’s visits. In the end, I went to the doctor’s office twice a week for the last 6 weeks of my pregnancies. And I visited the perinatal doc every two weeks. This is tough to do when you’re working on top of that! You also get more ultrasounds – this is a nice thought. Where Gestational Diabetes can cause the baby to get extremely large in the womb, the opposite happens with HBP. The babies are undersized and underweight. This is why I got more ultrasounds. They wanted to track baby’s progress to make sure she (and then he) were developing within the norm.

My first baby, no problem. She was developing perfectly. I also did a lot during pregnancy on my own to eat right and exercise when I could. I didn’t gain weight until the very end and only gained 15 lbs total. I brag, because that didn’t happen with my second!

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36 Weeks Pregnant with #2

With my second, he was a monster baby. I gained almost 30 lbs total and that was still with me eating well. The scans always said his stomach size was over the 99% percentile… how can one be OVER the 99% percentile? His head size was also quite large. Don’t worry though, it ended up that he was just super crammed in my little belly. He came out 8 lbs 7 oz and 21.5″ long. So sometimes those ultrasounds are not as accurate as we’d like to think. Just know they’re a gauge, not a deciding piece of data.

So, why do I discuss all these things? Mainly to say that pregnancy, no matter what age, is a risk. It is putting a woman’s body through extreme circumstances. As we naturally age, our body doesn’t rebound and recover the way it once did. This means we naturally take on more risks. So add to that a pregnancy, one of the most extreme things a human body can do – MAKE ANOTHER HUMAN – and it’s understandable why this stamp goes on all of those medical forms. I was the walking, breathing, living embodiment of 3 of those risk factors. Some were not the direct cause of my age, but they certainly never got better either.

So, although the thought of seeing that on a form can sting, know that it’s for the best. It means your doctors want to take special care of you and your little human(s). They want you to get the absolute best care you can receive and want to make sure that the life growing inside you is healthy and safe.

It also means you need to be ready. You need to be aware that you may inherit these risk factors, for a time, so you can bring a life into this world. Do what you can ahead of time: get regular check-ups, manage your diet and exercise when possible. And do what you can early on: don’t eat for two, do continue to work-out lightly and see your doctor regularly. This can help make those risks minor. And if you do happen to get the AMA-related diagnosis, you can always make the best of it by learning how you can be the healthiest person for your baby.