Losing a Life: The Trauma of Impending Miscarriage

JUNE: I became pregnant while my husband was in the middle of his medical residency and working 80 hours a week. We were living in a place that provided us little support and without family around. I was a full-time, stay-at-home mom to my three children, all under the age of five, one of whom has profound special needs that required my constant  attention and advocacy. I had already suffered three prior miscarriages over the course of just a few years, each one devastating, difficult, and painful, both emotionally and physically. 

Here my husband and I were, almost 11 weeks along, undergoing  an ultrasound, happy and hopeful. Then the technician averted her eyes and I saw it, the heart rate—70 bpm, less than half the rate it should be. The appointment abruptly ended and we obediently followed as she led us to speak with the doctor. 

There is nothing like miscarrying a baby. The body goes through the birth process in order to expel a vessel that isn’t viable. The uterus will start to contract, causing cramping and pain. There’s no warning when it will start or how long it will take. Eventually the fetus will be birthed.

I have heard doctors tell me this over and over again. And yet, the sterile language leaves me feeling as empty as my uterus will soon be. My pregnancy was not viable. Miscarriage was imminent. Hopefully, my body would do this naturally, but if not, I would need surgery to extract it. 

I had gone through the indescribable trauma of losing a baby three times before this. Each time, alone and unsettled. I passed an embryo in the bathtub alone, before anyone even knew I was pregnant. I passed an embryo in the bathroom at my child’s school, with silent tears filling my eyes. I passed an embryo, alone and in the middle of the night, with a cold sweat and unspeakable pain.

So when I received news that this little hope living inside me was barely alive and going to die very soon, I was crushed. I realized I would most likely suffer the trauma of passing this baby alone while trying to fulfill the responsibility of caring for three small children who may also be traumatized by my suffering. My doctor knew my situation and suggested Cytotec, which is also known as the “abortion pill,” as an option for me to use at anytime along the process. 

I left with a prescription in hand, but remained unsure whether or not I should fill it. 

For an entire weekend, I lived in trauma, waiting for my baby to die inside me. In between making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I wondered if my baby was dead, or while scrubbing toilets, or picking up countless Thomas the Train pieces. I clung to my pro-life values and told myself to endure this senseless suffering on principle. My husband guilted and coerced me into not even thinking about taking the pill. He had no capability of understanding my pain. For an entire weekend, I suffered in silence. 

Monday morning, I was brought back into the clinic for an ultrasound. No flickering heartbeat. My hopes were extinguished. My baby had died. Now, I would have to wait again for the inevitable birthing pains to start the process of expulsion, whether I was ready or not. Who knows how long I would have to wait for this process to even begin.

My week was full of responsibilities: making lunches, picking up toys, completing housework, loads of laundry, after-school activities, church meetings, and therapy for my son with special needs. Functioning as an exhausted mom with an absent and distant husband while simultaneously going through yet another gut-wrenching miscarriage and birth alone was more than I could take. I panicked at the thought of experiencing an entire week of this trauma all over again, like I had so many times before—waiting and wondering if the contractions would start in the middle of making macaroni and cheese or driving my kids to school. 

And just like that, my views changed. I became pro-choice in this small and quiet moment alone. No earth-shattering experience. No amazing revelation. Just me, my pain, my previous experiences. And the knowledge that I knew what I could handle and what I couldn’t. I would no longer judge any woman.

I inserted a pill in my vagina late at night and, warm cup of tea in hand, began mentally preparing for the impending birth.  The cramps started early the following evening as I was fixing dinner for my three hungry children. Once they were in bed, I decided to take a bath to comfort myself through the cramps. Later that night, the embryo was expelled as I sat on the toilet.

In solitude, I looked at the lost life. It had a round nubby head and little stubby arms. I held my tiny baby in the palm of my hand. And then I flushed it down the toilet and cried. 

~June~

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2 Replies to “Losing a Life: The Trauma of Impending Miscarriage”

  1. I’m so sorry. It’s such a terrible thing to experience, and there isn’t really space for us to grieve. I’ve had two miscarriages, each physically and emotionally debilitating. I have two children who are old enough that people ask when we will have more, or worse, why we haven’t had more. I don’t know what to say. Should I be truthful so they realize their inappropriateness? My gut reaction is that I owe no one an insight into my private grief just because they ask.

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  2. So sorry for your loss and trauma. Miscarriage is a so stigmatized and usually holds a private grief. Sometimes I think that is helpful to maintain and promote healing but other times I wish we could be more supportive and sensitive to the unique needs that those who suffer miscarrige have. I try to teach my kids emotional and social intelligence in these situations. With this they can learn to respect boundaries and take cues about this.

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