Grieving after first trimester miscarriage

Grieving After A First Trimester Miscarriage

Miscarriage is one of those experiences where most women have either had to go through it themselves or have known someone else who has gone through it. But no one talks about it. We are told not to disclose our pregnancies until the second trimester when the risk of miscarriage has decreased significantly. And while that does make sense, for the women who experience a pregnancy that is not viable during that first trimester, the grieving process can be remarkably lonely.

I wasn’t even sure I wanted to write a post about my miscarriage experience since only a few people knew I was pregnant. But I think the real reason I’ve felt so stuck is that I’ve been struggling with allowing myself to the energy to lean in to my feelings. At this point, I’m just forcing myself to put words down just to get it out.

My husband and I had only been trying to conceive for a few weeks before it happened. Our first son was an “oopsie!” baby that happened in the two weeks between me switching from a hormonal birth control to a non-hormonal one. Clearly, my husband and I are two very fertile people, but I was still a bit surprised to see the positive pregnancy test so soon. It wasn’t until I had taken 3 different pregnancy tests (all positive) and received the confirmation from my OBGYN that I started to plan for the baby.

I’m not sure why I was so anxious from the beginning. I think it was partially due to the fact that I didn’t have as many symptoms as I did during the early stages of my last pregnancy. Those first nine months (AKA the whole fucking time) were miserable and it took a couple of years before I felt mentally and physically ready to try again. With this pregnancy, I told myself that I was worrying over nothing and that I should be thankful that the worst I was experiencing was mild nausea, fatigue, sore boobs, and some slight heartburn that was easily treated with Tums. However, the worry remained and I knew I wasn’t going to get over it until I saw evidence of the pregnancy on my ultrasound scan.

I would never get that reassurance. My first obstetrician visit (following the initial confirmation of the pregnancy) occurred when I was 7 weeks. I still distinctly remember the radiologist’s pause after she had begun the scan and then her question, “Are your periods on a regular 28 day cycle?”

I knew why she asked that before she said anything else. I could see what was on the screen: an empty gestational sac. No heartbeat and not even a yolk sac. I knew what it meant. During my first pregnancy with my oldest, my first scan had also showed an empty gestational sac. But the difference between then and now is that, this time, I was on a regular 28 day cycle, unaffected by hormonal birth control, and I was 100% certain as to when I ovulated. This time, I knew that I hadn’t messed up my dates. But my scan showed my pregnancy 2 weeks behind where it was supposed to be.

The radiologist tried to comfort me by saying that it is possible that I conceived late, but  her words went in one ear and out the other. And when I saw my OBGYN afterwards, her face confirmed it. She would run some blood work to see where my hormones were and have me come back in next week for a scan. I asked her how likely it was that we had just misdated the pregnancy. Her answer: “Unlikely.”

My doctor also told me my options in case what we thought was happening ended up being confirmed the following week: wait for my body to recognize and expel the pregnancy on its own, take medication to force the miscarriage, or have a D&C (dilation and curettage).

I cried that day. A lot. In the doctor’s office, in the parking lot, on the phone to my husband afterwards, back home on the bed and the couch. Even though I had worried that something might not be right before that visit, I had mostly convinced myself that I was worrying over nothing. Many women have very little pregnancy symptoms and go on to have normal, healthy babies. My doctor reassured me that my symptoms, or lack thereof, were not indicative of anything abnormal with the pregnancy.

I wasn’t officially diagnosed with a failed pregnancy yet. But I’ve never been the type of person to pursue false hope against facts staring me in the face.

The hardest thing to let go of was all the plans I had already started to make for the baby. I had already planned to clean out our extra room once I hit my second trimester and I had spent too much time on Amazon and Etsy looking for furniture and décor to place in the room. I’d hoped that the fact that I wasn’t throwing up into a toilet every morning meant that we were having a girl this time and I already knew what I wanted to name her. I would turn 30 this year in September and every discussion on what we wanted to do for my birthday centered around making sure that it was something I could still do while nearing the end of my final trimester.

In 5 minutes, all those future plans became past dreams.

Miscarriage statistics

It didn’t take me long to decide that I would have the D&C once I received the confirmation from my doctor of the miscarriage. I already felt so betrayed by my body, not just because of the failed pregnancy, but because the fact that my body hadn’t done what it needed to do to physically miscarry. My body still thought I was pregnant. While my pregnancy symptoms were tolerable, they were still present and uncomfortable. The idea of waiting around to miscarry became abhorrent to me. I knew I wouldn’t be able to move on until my body was completely my own again.

A few days later, I received the results of my blood work back which showed that my HCG and progesterone levels were not increasing at the pace one would expect from a normal pregnancy. Then, a few days after that, with my husband by my side, we received our official diagnosis of anembryonic pregnancy (sometimes also called a blighted ovum) after the second ultrasound scan showed no changes from the first. I was 8 weeks pregnant, even though the scan showed that the pregnancy had stopped progressing around 5 weeks, 5 days.

Immediately, I told my doctor that I wanted to move forward with the D&C. I looked to my husband for reassurance from him that he was okay with this decision and he told me that he would support whatever I wanted to do.

My OBGYN knew how important this was to me to get the surgery done quickly and she was able to work me into her schedule 2 days later. The procedure would start at 7AM and I would be back home by noon. The surgery itself went perfectly fine. My OBGYN is amazing (it took me leaving two other OBGYNs to find her) and the nurses at the hospital were so sweet and so empathetic. It took longer to prepare me for the surgery then the actual procedure itself (which was about 30 minutes long). It was all done under general anesthesia. That was part of the reason I chose the D&C. Some women want to actually experience the process of losing that pregnancy which is completely understandable. I did not. I wanted to wake up not pregnant. The thought of being awake and conscious when my body went through the miscarriage terrified me and drove my anxiety to new heights. I’m happy to have had a doctor and a husband who respected my choice of how I wanted to do this.

Recovery-wise, physically

The rest of the day after the D&C, my body from the waist down felt a bit weak. The night following the procedure and the day after, I had some major cramping, ones that I would characterize as slightly worse than my normal menstrual cramps. For the next few days after, the cramping intensity lessened. Although I received pain medication following the procedure, I barely had to use it. I had no more cramping after a week and the bleeding had stopped as well. I was able to go back to work the day after the D&C and resume all my normal activities a few days later.

Recovery-wise, emotionally

One day, I’m completely fine. I eat, I laugh, I work, I play with my son, I talk about “Game of Thrones” with my husband. Then, that night, I turn into a sobbing shit show on my husband’s chest. I’m still able to focus and do my job. But I haven’t slept more than 5 hours each night since the D&C. My mind would race each night as I tried to fall asleep. These are the things I told myself:

 Suck it up. You already have one child. At least getting pregnant isn’t the issue.

 You were only 8 weeks pregnant. You should be over this by now.

 It’s not like you lost a real child. What’s wrong with you? Stop crying.

Even worse than saying these horrible things to myself, I also blamed myself for the miscarriage. I was convinced, even though my doctor explicitly told me otherwise, that something I did or didn’t do must have caused the loss. Was it that one time I had sushi for lunch (despite the fact I ate sushi regularly through my entire pregnancy with my son)? Was it those two days that I forgot to take my prenatal vitamin? What about that Starbucks latte I had that one day (even though I had checked to confirm the amount of caffeine was within the acceptable limits)? Or maybe it was just purely a chromosomal abnormality, one that my body recognized and reacted the way it was supposed to by ending the pregnancy.

Well, it couldn’t be that last reason because I would have no control over that. It’s as if having something that I could blame myself for gave me control over what had happened.

I also kept being reminded of the failed pregnancy in various ways. My health insurance learned that I was pregnant (presumably through my OBGYN visits that they paid for) but were a bit behind on receiving news about the miscarriage. A week after the D&C, I received a call from a nurse with my insurance carrier who wanted to talk me through the benefits of this case manager program they had available for women who were expecting. I allowed her to finish her explanation of the program and why I would get value from participating. Then I told her that I had miscarried the week before. I could hear the mortification in her voice as she repeatedly said that she was sorry. She then said that she would let me go and apologized again. I’m not sure who felt worse afterwards, me or her.

Over the past few weeks, I have also experienced a deluge of close friends and acquaintances who all happened to get pregnant around the same time. I can be honest and say that I am genuinely happy for all these women while also admit that it’s really hard to watch others celebrate their pregnancies while I’m still not really doing okay from the loss of my own.

It wasn’t until I acknowledged that I really wasn’t fine that I realized how much of a disservice I was doing to myself. A loss is a loss. No one, not even your own brain, gets to tell you how to grieve. While my feelings about this loss may have been different if I were farther along in the pregnancy, it doesn’t change the fact that this baby was already so wanted and so loved as soon as those two lines appeared on my pregnancy test. I love my son more than anything in this world and the thought of having another little baby in our family to love brought me so much joy. It wasn’t just the loss of the baby; it was the loss (or at least the delay) of that future.

We know that we will try again for another and there’s nothing to indicate that we won’t eventually go on to have another healthy, viable pregnancy. But I will still mourn this one and take whatever time I need to do it. I want to encourage other mothers out there to do the same. It’s also okay if you don’t feel sad. Grief, or lack of grief, are both acceptable responses to a pregnancy loss, no matter what stage.

Always remember to be gentle with yourself.

This link will take you to several organizations that offer support after a miscarriage.

Grieving after first trimester miscarriage

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  • Shilpa

    Can’t imagine the pain! I know someone who’s been through this pain at least 3 times. This is probably the closest I get to understand the pain!!

  • Bianca

    For me it was one of the loneliest moments of my life. No one felt the same pain I did for the babies I lost. As moms we feel a different connection from the get go. Our bodies are already in tune with that new life and we hold on the the pain and memories forever.

    I am sorry you had to experience this too. Hugs to you!

  • Baby Boomer Super

    I’m so sorry you had to go through this, and I’m sorry for your loss. Everyone grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way. Take it easy and allow yourself all the time you need.

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