October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month.
Below, expectant parents discuss a recent experience of miscarriage and offer tips for coping with the physical symptoms. They found that talking about their experience losing little “Pip” is helpful for their grief process and hope that sharing their story may help others grieving the loss of a pregnancy. If you are experiencing a miscarriage or need to talk to someone about grieving a loss, please reach out to your midwife or health care provider.
It seems that when miscarriage is spoken of, it is only to talk about the grieving process and emotional recovery rather than the physical pain. Having an idea of what to expect physically and strategies to cope with it would have been valuable to us, so I am sharing this not to diminish the grieving process (which is real and ongoing) but to fill another need.
My first two miscarriages were both at 4 1/2 weeks. Had we not been charting, it is likely that we wouldn’t have known for sure that I was pregnant and could have convinced ourselves that it was just a late, heavy period. But we were charting, and we did see a second temperature rise about a week after I ovulated. It stayed elevated several days – long enough to convince us that it wasn’t just a low-grade fever, but it dropped back to its normal luteal phase number before my period was expected. We were very confused the first time, between moving temperatures and a faintly positive pregnancy test. Half a week after my period would be expected, I finally started bleeding. It was a little crampier than a normal period, and the first day was a little heavier, but the vocabulary for a period was all appropriate.
My third pregnancy, I started spotting brown mucous a few days before my scheduled first prenatal appointment (11 weeks). We assumed it was benign, but we went ahead with a transvaginal ultrasound after our midwife couldn’t find Pip’s heartbeat with the doppler. We would learn that Pip had stopped growing some 4 weeks before. Overnight, while we were still awaiting the ultrasound report, I started cramping fiercely. The next day, I started bleeding for real. I was expecting something incrementally more intense than the earlier miscarriages, but not terribly different. The cramps turned into about six hours of proper contractions with a side of backache. The pain was manageable only because it was intermittent. The scariest part was passing an initial clot about the size of a golfball followed by more than half soaking a pad in 20 minutes (fortunately, the bleeding subsided enough that the pad wasn’t soaked after an hour). Toward the end, I was telling my body out loud that it had done its job to hold onto Pip and that it was time to let go. And then the contractions stopped abruptly, without passing a sac. After 2 hours of nothing, we were wondering if the sac had deteriorated. And then an intact sac a little smaller than the palm of my hand slid out painlessly. The next day, I was tired from my belly button to my knees. The second and third days, I had as much bleeding as a regular period, although it wasn’t nearly as bright red. The third day, a large clot slipped out painlessly, which prompted an ultrasound to verify that I didn’t have any retained tissue (I didn’t). The bleeding subsided, and the last of the spotting was on the 9th day. This is also about when my belly rearranged itself back to normal and my pants started fitting correctly again.
Since we had never been to how-to-have-a-baby class, we didn’t have much in our toolbox for coping with contractions. Things that were helpful for us:
- Having my husband come home from work as support. The earlier miscarriages I didn’t need him, but this time, I did. (Given the amount of bleeding I experienced, it also probably wasn’t safe for me to be alone.)
- Giving my husband the passcode to my phone so that he could communicate with our midwife while I had all I could handle managing contractions.
- Trading pants for pajama shorts (my perception of the temperature went up about 15 degrees)
- A rotation of cool washcloths for my head waiting in the refrigerator, to address the temperature as well as nausea.
- A water bottle handy at all times. My husband thinks he refilled a 20 oz. bottle 4 times in the course of the afternoon.
- Frozen blueberries were my snack of choice. They were cold. Also, there were probably benefits of not being able to snarf too many at once, given that I was nauseous.
- A cool shower was the ultimate ticket for me – it refreshed me and gave me energy to continue. I was also able to empty my bladder properly in the shower, which wasn’t working on the toilet. I wish I would have tried this sooner. I know warm showers are a more popular choice, so try both.
- Being up and moving around as much as possible, which required a leaning post (my husband, the wall, the kitchen counter…) during contractions.
- My husband putting the pillow on the couch and making me lay down during the heavy bleeding phase.
- At the end, exhaustion and intensity made me sit down. Our couch with its broken spring was a very bad choice for sitting. A better chair or the exercise ball probably would have been better choices.
- My running-recovery roller stick was fabulous for the ache that developed in my quads (apparently, I was tensing them) both between contractions and the next day.
We are still grieving. I will offer recommendations from my grandma, who buried day-old twins going on 70 years ago and then spent a career as an OB nurse:
- It’s not strange to want a picture of the baby.
- Don’t blame yourself.
- Expect a hormone crash.
- Trust God.
- Remember that your husband is grieving, too.
- There isn’t a lot you can do to help her through the physical pain. Your job is to think clearly (since she is probably overwhelmed) and to remain calm.
- Try to brainstorm things that might help make her comfortable, then make suggestions.
- Patience is key. Sit with her, hold her hand, and rub her back.
- She may not notice the passage of time. Remind her to drink plenty of water and to eat as she is able. Don’t forget to eat and drink yourself, too.
- You may have an adrenaline crash at the end, too
(a poem by Pip’s father)
A little heat
To a wick untouched, newly white
Not a match full ablaze
Lest heat enkindle heat
To light the wick with steady flame
Why? Our Pip
Did we not ask you to wait?
But alas you had no ears
We longed to hear your heartbeat
But there was not yet a flicker
Just enough to make it smolder
Wisp, smoke after smoke
Faintly curling upward
Soon no trace except the scent
What sense? Our Pip
You who were and then were not
Who could have been dancing
With grandmother’s red hair
But arms and legs were buds
A twist, a curl
Fan it with breath
That coddled coal may catch
Making rising plume
To breach and touch the air
Whence? Our Pip
A shovel full of earth
Left to rest and moulder
A wisp, a plume of dust
Where in time lilacs will grow