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I have a folder on my computer called “1st Pregnancy” and it is full of things that still make me sad. Pictures of my growing belly, a video of us telling our family the news that we were pregnant, this story, and the pictures we took from the miscarriage I had in February 2013. I was a student of traditional midwifery at the time (I am now a midwife), so my take on the experience, and the details I share may be different than most miscarriage stories. It is really long, really honest, and really raw, but I wanted to share it in its entirety, both to honor my experience, to share it with others that are going through similar stories themselves, and for those that support women (friends or clients) that are experiencing a pregnancy loss. This story was written in the days after the miscarriage, and I am thankful that I took the time and energy to put it all down. I hope that this story can serve as a resource for women going through pregnancy and baby losses, and that we at Indie Birth can provide support for these experiences as well.
So, read on if you dare [there are also graphic photos of the tissues I passed at the bottom of the page]. The story starts on February 6th, 2013. I was almost 9 weeks pregnant (for the first time), planning a move across the country, and had already shared the happy news with our families.
I had just gotten back from a walk around the neighborhood, and I got myself together to go study at a coffee shop for the day. I was feeling mad about an argument Russell and I had the night before, and wanted to get some space. I went to the bathroom before leaving, and when I wiped there was blood, dark brownish red blood. I remember saying “this is not good… oh my god… this is not good.” Then I starting sobbing (the first of many times over the coming days) and Russell asked what it meant, if it was going to be ok, what to do. I said I would just relax and see what happened, but I think deep down I knew what was coming. I got in bed and read miscarriage chapters in my midwifery books to see if I could reassure myself. The spotting continued through the day, and I got in contact with Maryn who happened to already be across the country where we were headed a few weeks later. We waited and watched, and that night decided to go into the ER just to see if I could get a quick ultrasound. They don’t do ultrasounds at night (which the people did not tell me on the phone earlier), so we picked up some dinner and went home. The bleeding was heavier, more like a flow, and I thought I had what felt like a few cramps. I cried and cried, thinking I was going to have to be up all night, delirious, losing my baby. I took a lavender and Epsom salt bath like I had gotten accustomed to since getting pregnant, and Russell sat with me while I calmed down. When nothing more happened, we eventually went to sleep, but I slept badly, waking up every hour or two to see how much I was bleeding. It was back to light spotting which seemed promising. I was hoping we were in the clear and that this would all just be a bad memory soon.
The next day, the bleeding got progressively less, until at lunch time it was almost nothing, and was light pinkish brown. I was still resting in bed, and still wanting to go get an ultrasound to get some more information (I had arranged an appointment for 2pm) but I felt like it was possible that this was all just a fluke, and I’d still be happily pregnant in the coming days. Russell went out to get some helpful herbs, and I took some crampbark and false unicorn root in the hopes that it would put an end to whatever was going on.
Then, as we were getting ready to leave for the ultrasound appointment, I started having some definite discomfort, and felt myself start bleeding/releasing more. When I checked, it was bright red again, and more than the evening before. We still decided to go to the ultrasound, because even if we were losing the baby, I wanted to know when they had stopped developing for peace of mind, and to know what to expect as far as what would come out. Russell was still hopeful on the way to the appointment, but I knew something was wrong, and I was trying to keep from completely losing my mind until after the appointment. I could feel myself holding everything in (physically and emotionally) as best I could, and the sensation was like a dam bursting and me trying to plug it back up. I remember laying the seat back and looking out the window while we were driving, feeling numb, and not sure I had the tools to get through any of this. My stomach felt hot and full of acid from holding in the worry I had that this would be the last day of my pregnancy.
After waiting an excruciatingly long 15 minutes with a full bladder (as per their request), while bleeding, and trying not to sob in the waiting room, the ultrasound tech came and got us. It was amazing to see my uterus on the screen, and the gestational sac quickly came into focus. I knew immediately that the baby hadn’t made it. She measured it, and showed us the tiny embryo inside it, only ½ a centimeter long, with its yolk sac still visible. The baby had no heart beat and had stopped developing at about 6 weeks.
She kept pointing things out on the screen, but I felt like I was a mile under water, not hearing anything. I felt my uterus start cramping and bleeding more heavily, and I put all my energy into watching the screen, trying to soak in what I could about the life this baby had had in there. Seeing the screen was like looking into outer space, a world completely apart from ours, but not any less real. And though we could see and measure and guess, this place was something obviously beyond our comprehension, so magical and mysterious. So simple. A nice place to spend some time I think.
The tech left Russell and I alone so I could get dressed and get my things together. We both were crying, and just wanted to get out of there. We called Maryn on the way home to let her know, since she’d been helping us through the whole experience so far, and it looked like we would be continuing to need her help for a little longer. I was having small cramps that felt sharp in my cervix, not menstrual like, as I had been expecting.
When we got home, Russell asked me what I wanted to do, and I wanted to get into comfortable clothes. We sat in bed for a little bit, and he suggested a movie, but that sounded terrible. If I had to be doing this awful thing, I just wanted to be up doing it, not pretending like it wasn’t happening. His dad came by to drop off a load of wood, so Russell went to help him. I was pacing around, feeling shaky, nervous and not sure what to do with myself. I took some Lobelia to help me open up and let everything out. I kept trying to remind myself to stay present, and make this the most respectful and sacred version of this shitty thing it could be. So I focused back in, and decided I wanted to clean up the bathroom and set up a small alter in there, since I figured that was where I would be passing the baby. I wiped down the counters first. Then I gathered some sparkly winter solstice tea candles I had made (baby happened to be conceived on the solstice), a tall red candle in glass that I had burned when inviting the baby into our lives through meditation, a beautiful piece of birth art, and Russell’s silver baby bracelet. Once this was set up, and Russell came back from helping his dad outside, I shakily lit the candles, tears streaming down my face, even though I thought it might be too early to be feeling so dramatic about everything if I was going to have to feel this way for another 12 or 24 or 48 hours or something. Then, not knowing what else to do, I just cried and cried. I wailed, I sobbed, I felt my heart break in my chest. I was crumpled in a heap next to the bathtub, and Russell came in and sat behind me and held me, and stroked my hair until I had caught my breath. Then I had the first substantial cramp across my whole abdomen from hip to hip, and felt myself gush some blood onto the cloth I was using as a pad (minus the emotional distress, the cramp and the gush weren’t too unlike a heavy period day for me). This made me cry more, not because it hurt, but because it was really happening, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
A few minutes later I felt another coming, and told Russell I wanted the bowl we had set aside for me to use so I wouldn’t risk passing the baby into the toilet. He seemed to think I should just sit on the toilet since we had just gotten home, and I think he was expecting a longer affair (so was I though), but I said no, I wanted the bowl. So I quickly got my pants off and sat on the bowl, kneeling on my right knee, with my left knee up. [This is the position I always have pictured myself giving birth in] After the cramp/contraction was over, I wanted to look in the bowl before another one came, just to note how much blood I was losing. And surprisingly, there in the bowl was the tiny gestational sac that had housed our tiny little baby, and it was perfect and whole and shiny white (about 2.5 cm in diameter). I tenderly held it in my hands for a few minutes, looking it over gently, smiling, and amazed that Russell and I had created this strange little thing, seemingly out of thin air. We put it in a glass bowl so I could look at it more later and I had Russell take a picture to send to Maryn so we could be sure that was what we were looking for.
I stayed over the bowl a little longer until I felt like it had ended and then got up to get my clothes back on. I swear it was just like a birth scene. Blood dripping on the ground, bloody toilet seat and bowl, maybe even a mini-oxytocin rush even (I wouldn’t have guessed I would smile at the sight of the tiny gestational sac). [All things that might have made this a scary experience if I hadn’t seen similar scenes before, and been confident that I was ok] Then I had a surge of adrenaline – I felt like I had accomplished this task with dignity, and was feeling proud of the job I had done, and was, of course, also not quite in my right mind.
Russell and I agreed we wanted to have a burial ceremony before dark, but first I wanted to open up the tiny sac to see if I could see the embryo (alledgedly.45 centimeters long, and still with a yolk sac). I looked and looked, but couldn’t see anything, which is normal for that early of a gestation (even though they identified the embryo on ultrasound), but I still felt sad that I’d never really get to see the tiny baby. I later learned that putting the tissue in saline or water helps slow down the drying process, and might have made it more possible to see the baby.
Then Russell and I brought the baby outside to find a special spot in the garden. We buried the baby next to a sweet little flowering violet, the only flowering plant in the yard, in a spot right outside our front door that we can see from our kitchen. We said a few words, although we were both too distraught to really say anything poetic. We wished the spirit a safe journey and invited it to come back to us again either in spirit or physical form if it wants to. We said we were very sad that they wouldn’t be joining us for longer, but that we were grateful for the time we had had together, and grateful for the lessons we had learned. Then we covered the tiny sac with dirt and stood up to look. We turned to go back inside, but I started crying again and said I thought the baby really deserved a name. Russell sort of jokingly said how about Violet, and I said it was perfect, and then we both cried together, standing there for a long time.
A little later, before dinner, I had some more cramps and went to the bathroom and passed a huge clot that also had some tissue in it. I wasn’t sure what it was (later figured out that it was part of the membranes of the bag of waters). Then I felt bad that I had moved on so quickly to the next step, when I wasn’t really done with the first (I got this same lesson two more times after this in the following days, so maybe I’ve learned it by now).
That evening was hard. Trying to eat something nourishing even though I didn’t feel hungry. We finished watching a movie, but I felt guilty that I was trying to distract myself. I got a wicked migraine, probably from the huge hormone shift plus all the crying, and my cramps hadn’t really stopped. We moved the tall red candle into our room where we let it keep burning, and every time I woke up during the night, the candle comforted me back to sleep. It all still felt surreal, and Russell was amazing at comforting me, and listening to me talk through how I was feeling.
Waking up the next morning was the hardest part of the whole journey. Knowing that is was real, that I didn’t dream it, and that now I would have to get through the day was really awful. I didn’t know how to start, or what to do, or what not to do. My head still hurt and I was still uncomfortable. I felt sad that my belly already felt smaller, and my breasts were already back to normal, too. I felt jipped. My legs were also incredibly sore, probably from the squatting I had done over the bowl when passing the baby. It was a cloudy day. Maryn checked on me again and had some great suggestions for nourishing, healing ideas which helped me regroup. Russell and I took a short walk around the neighborhood. We went to Wisdom of the Earth to get some essences – Clary Sage and Geranium, and then a friend working there suggesting Violet, which of course made me cry, and seemed very appropriate. Then I picked up some movies to watch during the day, and tucked back into bed. I ate leftovers for lunch, and then felt like the cramps were really hurting again. I thought a bath would feel good, so Russell helped me run one. I got in and it did feel good, but I was still cramping. I felt like I should feel inside, curious about if my cervix was closed back up or not, so I did. I could feel something fibrous and ridged hanging out of the cervical os, which freaked me out. My natural instinct was to gently pull on it, but I felt again to make sure of what I was feeling. It was definitely something, and after 2 or 3 gentle pulls I pulled out what appeared to be a tiny placenta (around 2pm). I got out shortly after and put it in water so it wouldn’t dry out like the gestational sac had. I called Russell over to look at it, and called Maryn again to ask her about it too. We took some pictures of it and then buried it next in the same spot in the garden after I got dressed. [I learned in Anne Frye’s Holistic Midwifery Volume 1 that that is a common pattern, for the sac to come out first, and then the placenta a day or more later since it is so firmly implanted at that point]. That was the second time I realized I was in shock and hadn’t been paying enough attention in the rush to put this all behind me, thinking this was all over, when really I needed to be focused on myself, resting, and paying attention to what I needed.
That night, I had the first full nights uninterrupted sleep I’d had in months. No getting up to pee, no scary or weird memorable dreams. Just peaceful sleep, and for that I’m grateful. We woke up to snow on the ground and in the sky. I felt my belly even smaller than the day before. But I cried a little less that morning, and every morning after. I looked out the window at the snowy little spot where we had buried our first baby and knew everything would be ok, even if I was going to carry this sad memory forever. The red candle burned next to the small woodstove in our bedroom as I wrote this story down. It is the same candle I lit when I invited the being into our lives, and I let it burn until it went out, sometime during the third night after passing the baby. So, we honor this little being and the experience they have shared with us, and the lessons we have learned. This baby made us a family, and inspired Russell and I to finally change our last names to our new family name. I do my best to surrender to all of it, and somehow I know something sweet still lies ahead for us.
This is the gestational sac, which was the first tissue to come out. I left it like this in the fridge, and it became sticky by the time I wanted to look at it a few hours later. I opened the sac and looked for the baby, but either it was too small, or had deteriorated both in the weeks before the loss, and in the hours in the air.
This is part of the membranes, which came out a few hours after the gestational sac. They were in a tube sort of shape and were surrounding in clots which I removed before the photo was taken.
This is the small placenta. It was slightly larger than the sac in diameter, and had a distinctly bumpy, rough feel to it on one side, and it was smooth on the other side, just like a full term placenta. It came out 24 hours after the gestational sac. I was still having cramps, and decided to feel inside to see what my cervix was doing, and this was hanging out of my os by about a cm or so. I gently pulled on it and it came out in one piece.