October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. We’ve invited author Jennifer Harris Dault to share about her experiences with a post that previously appeared on her blog. Jennifer lives in St. Louis with her husband and 8 month old son.
I’ve been meaning to write for days, but I just haven’t had the words. What do you say after the loss of your second pregnancy? I’m now the seasoned grieving mother, the old pro at navigating this space between death and loss. I’m the pariah that might be contagious, the reminder that well wishes do not make everything okay.
And yet for me, Benjamin’s death is something entirely new, a pain that is quiet, but heavy in it’s silence. I knew early. A week and a half ago I cried on the way to the doctor’s office. There were no particular signs of loss—no heavy cramping of bleeding. The pregnancy just felt too quiet.
It was my first actual appointment, although I’d already been through three rounds of blood work and had a meeting with the nurse to train my husband to give me progesterone shots. This first appointment included an ultrasound. Although Allyn and I planned to use our midwife for my prenatal care, I couldn’t resist having one appointment with the doctor to be able to see what was going on.
On the road to the medical center, there are two awful anti-abortion signs. One that reads “Pregnant? You have the choice to choose life” (or something along those lines). The other claims the heart starts beating at 18 days. Neither are signs you want to see when you are terrified of what your ultrasound will show. I argued with the billboards, bitter that anyone would think about placing such signs on a St. Louis interstate. I was pregnant, but I couldn’t choose anything. I certainly couldn’t make my babies live. And heartbeats? 18 days after what?
My ultrasound offered little relief. Benjamin was measuring a week behind with a pulse of around 110. The doc declared himself “cautiously optimistic,” thinking that perhaps the dates were wrong and the heart was just beginning to beat, explaining why it was so slow. The doctor added that it was also possible that development had stopped and we were witnessing the slowing of the heart that would mark death. “But, I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said. I read his face. It looked concerned. I was glad to see a heartbeat, but continued feeling what I had for the two days before—that something just wasn’t right.
The next week was hell. What do you do when it is unclear whether you are holding life or death? How do you act when your body wants to grieve, but your heart needs to hope? I wondered if this was what it felt like to have a loved one on a missing persons list—the answer out there, somewhere . . . but not yours to have.
After waiting a week, I called and begged the office to change my appointment (still a week away because the scheduler could not find an opening). They worked me in. This time it was Allyn yelling at the billboards. At the doctor’s office, I was called back almost immediately—directly to the ultrasound room. Doc asked if it would be okay to do another ultrasound. I responded that it would not be okay if we didn’t. Benjamin had not changed size. Allyn reports that according to the screen, he was actually a day smaller. There was no blinking indication of a heartbeat.
I’d anticipated crying at whatever news we were offered. Instead I stared, nodding at the words. I felt the relief of knowledge at the end of an eternity of waiting.
At this point there are no explanations, no reasons. My perfect pill taking could not save us from the death of a second child. And starting a pregnancy fully aware of what it feels like to lose a child did not protect me from the pain now.
The world is heavy. And now, I’m back to waiting for miscarriage.
Read more about Jennifer’s journey on her blog: View from the Rafters. Also pick up Jennifer’s book, The Modern Magnificat: Women Responding to the Call of God.