Every year on October 15th, I think back on my own experience with pregnancy loss as I remember other families. Some people miscarry their babies before they even know they were pregnant, or before their first doctor’s appointment. Others go through prenatal visits and even some “normal” ultrasounds. We were one of the latter families. Towards the middle of the first trimester in a fog of debilitating morning sickness and weight loss, we got to see Helen wiggling on an ultrasound machine and hear the reassuring whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of her heartbeat. Eric and I held hands and quiet relief washed over me, because she was ok despite how sick I was. He cried as the sonographer captured her heartbeat for us. He just smiled at me the entire drive home any time I looked at him and squeezed my hand. It was so surreal.
3 weeks later, was when our midwife, Kathleen did the ultrasound to confirm I was going to miscarry. She pressed the wand into my barely swollen belly and I saw, before I had to be told. The baby was perfectly still across the bottom of the screen and we could hear the loudest silence from the machine. She said the dreaded, “I’m so sorry” and stepped out of the room to give us privacy. I was still pregnant, but my baby had died. I can still hear my tears hitting the paper that stretched across the exam table before I sat up.
Later that week, when I found myself in the afterloss, with a shrinking womb and a shower that ran cold, I felt nothing but empty. I moved through my days as a shell of the woman I used to be. From the moment I had a positive pregnancy test months earlier, I had identified as a mother without really knowing it. Once we lost Helen, my identity was shaken to its core as if I had mothered her my entire life and I was so lost. It was a month before I was ready to go back to work full time and a few, long months more before I learned I was pregnant with Judy. I thought I would pick right back up where I left off, feeling like an excited, expectant mom but I was wrong. I stumbled through her pregnancy on pins and needles, angry and scared to go all-in to motherhood. Letting go of control felt better with each week until I truly felt happy and ready towards the end, but nothing prepared me for the trauma I carried into the delivery room. I don’t know if I had ever truly believed I would take a living baby home in the end, until Eric placed her on my chest for the first time.
I will always grieve for Helen and for the parents who never got a “rainbow baby” or a living child at all. I still, in random moments feel the deep ache in my bones for the baby I didn’t get to bring home. Four years later, she’s the reason I talk to butterflies, walk beside other loss families in the trenches and hold an urn instead of a four-year-old’s hands. To honor her, we choose to find the joy in our loss. We are able to support other parents experiencing pregnancy and infant loss, validate the grief they feel and make miscarriage a little bit less isolating for them. When I tell my clients that I am so sorry, they know that I mean it and that I truly get it. When their trauma sometimes surfaces in labor like mine did, I get to honor their experience and keep them grounded in the moment. I can’t ever take away the deafening silence, but I can sit in it with them for as long as they need and I like to believe that was Helen’s gift to us...the ability to be comfortable in the quiet and hold space for others’ grief and our own.