I've been thinking back to last year this time. It was just about this time that I started having complications which landed me in the hospital on several occasions. Unexplained bleeding and cramping. Two symptoms which no pregnant woman wants to experience. There were many visits to the L&D unit at the hospital, after calls to my OB directed me to head there just to "get checked."
I remember one of these visits so vividly. Down to what I was wearing and who my nurse was. Crazy how the brain holds onto some details so meticulously.
It's been all coming back to me lately because the weather has been changing, and it's exactly as it was last year this time. Everything happening right now takes me back to last April.
I remember Kia saying the same thing about January. How the feel of the crunch of snow under her feet reminded her vividly of the month her daughter was born and died.
I wonder if there will ever be an April that doesn't feel wistful for me. I wonder if there will be ever be a January for Kia.
But I'm getting off track.
There was one particular visit to the L&D unit last April that is etched in my mind. It wasn't my first visit, and it wouldn't be my last, but it's the one that I remember most clearly. I had gone in for the usual complaint--bleeding and cramping--and was eager to see the baby, hear his heartbeat, and make sure all was okay.
I checked in at the front desk, made small talk with the receptionist who I had come to know by first name, and was ushered back to my room to change in to my tent style hospital gown.
And then I waited.
Soon my nurse arrived and completed my intake. Took my temp, checked my vitals, and asked the usual questions. What brought me in today? How was I feeling? Eating? Sleeping? Had anything changed? Had I been feeling the baby move?
And then it was time for the Doppler to listen to the baby's heartbeat. My nurse pulled up gown and coated my belly in warm gel. She passed the handheld Doppler over my belly, listening for the tell tale "chug chug chug" of baby's heartbeat.
She searched and searched. Nothing.
"These machines are terrible at picking up fetal heartbeats, don't be nervous."
She kept searching. Checking from one side to the other.
"How far along are you? 18 weeks?" she kept checking.
She moved over to my left side, and then my right. Twisting the Doppler in all directions trying to find a trace of his heartbeat.
"I may have the doctor come in with the bigger machine, it can be so tough to get a good read with these. But we'll try for a few more minutes."
She continued to search. But still the machine was silent.
In the far distance over the speaker of the machine I could hear my own heartbeat. Far in the background, "ba-bum....ba-bum....ba-bum...."
I stared up at my nurse, searching in her eyes for any reflection of panic, any sign that she was worried, because I was getting EXTREMELY nervous with each passing minute.
But there was none, she remained calm.
I didn't realize I was holding my breath, and I quickly took a breath to speak, "They always find it so quickly at my OB's office...I don't know what could be wrong.."
I know she could hear the fear in my voice. "It's okay," she said, "I'm terrible at getting a good read and these machines REALLY need to be updated." She sounded calm.
She kept searching.
I kept waiting.
"Ba-bum..ba-bum..ba-bum.." my own heartbeat, still distant over the Doppler, was getting louder and faster.
"I can tell you're nervous," she told me in a soft, calm voice, "just try to relax."
I nodded quickly, secretly crossing my fingers under my hospital gown.
She kept searching. Still nothing.
"Please baby, please please please, little baby, let us hear your heart beat. Let Mama know you're okay in there, please please please...." thoughts raced through my head.
And then a faint, "chug chug chug," made its way over the Doppler speaker.
My nurse looked at me, her eyes sparkling excitedly, "hear that?"
I nodded, too scared to actually open my mouth to speak.
"That's your baby's heartbeat."
I couldn't hold it in. The tears started rolling down the sides of my face.
"I could tell you were so scared, I'm sorry that took so long. But listen, there it is!" she was so sweet.
"Chug chug chug chug chug," I could hear it clearly now, my own heartbeat still echoing in the distance.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you baby, thank you God. Thank you, thank you thank you," my thoughts were racing with gratitude and relief.
I felt a little bit embarrassed to be CRYING in front of this nurse over something so seemingly small, but I couldn't help it. Tears of relief came streaming out of the corners of my eyes, and tried in vain to wipe them away.
"It's okay," she told me comfortingly, "it's okay to be relieved. It's a scary thing sometimes. You're already in here for complications... and then to have something like that take so long...it can be scary." She was so kind.
I sat up and just nodded. She knew exactly what she was talking about.
"Can I have a hug?" I asked her. Don't really know where it came from, but I was just overwhelmed with emotion in that moment and needed someone to hug me.
"Of course!" she said brightly, and hugged me tightly.
Nurses are awesome people.
Up until that day, that was closest I had ever gotten to feeling what it feels like to lose a baby. I had never miscarried, never had a loss, never been one of those people who received the devastating news of "I'm sorry, but your baby has no heartbeat" from a stoic sonographer.
But every day, somewhere across our country, a mom is receiving that news.
"I'm sorry. Your baby no longer has a heartbeat."
I had never been one of those people, though I knew many many women who had gone through those situations.
And naively I just never thought that I would be in that position. You just DON'T think it's going to happen to you. Those are terrible, sad, awful things that happen to other people. But you just don't even consider that it could happen to you.
That day I got a small taste of what babyloss felt like. And it was terrifying. I got a small glimmer of what my friends who had lost babies must have experienced when it happened to them. Call it foreshadowing. Call it a preview of what was to come for me. I thought that day that I was so lucky. And I went back to thinking that everything would be alright.
Because those things happen to other people. Right?
One in four moms who discover they are pregnant will not get to see their baby alive. Whether it be through miscarriage, second trimester loss, stillbirth, or infant death. The statistic is on average 1:4. And I'm not saying this to scare people, or worry my friends who are pregnant. I'm saying this to make those 25% of moms who've experienced this feel less isolated.
You are not alone.
We are not alone.
I am not alone.
And for anyone that ever experienced a loss, whether it be a full term loss, or a miscarriage at 6 weeks, we ALL have the right to grieve.
It doesn't matter if you hadn't yet "announced" your pregnancy. You still have the right to grieve. It's okay.
It doesn't matter if your baby was only 20 weeks, and not yet "viable." You still have the right to grieve. It's okay.
It doesn't matter if you had complications your entire pregnancy, and mentally prepared yourself as much as possible that you might lose your baby, only to make it full term and have your baby die after birth. You still have the right to grieve. It's okay.
I doesn't matter if you have struggled with infertility and cannot, despite all your best efforts, conceive on your own. You still have the right to grieve. It's okay.
It doesn't matter if you were told you could NEVER have children, or that you cannot have any MORE children. You still have the right to grieve. It's okay.
It doesn't matter if you made the heart wrenching decision to terminate a pregnancy, because you are afraid of bringing a child in to the world with life debilitating defects. You still have the right to grieve. It's okay.
We all have the right to grieve.
I have had so many friends reach out to me in confidence. And share with me their stories of pregnancies that ended in miscarriage, or loss of one type or another. Situations where they didn't feel they could properly grieve because "it was so early on," or "we hadn't told family yet."
You know what? That's bullshit. A loss is a loss is a loss.
You don't have to legitimize your loss.
If you felt loss, then you have the right to grieve.
And of course, you don't need my permission to grieve either.
Just as my nurse told me, on that terrifying April day, "it's okay," so will I tell you, "it's okay."
It's okay to grieve.
Because it's only through that process of resolving grief that we can move on, and grow, and be hopeful again.