My story is a little different then others that you may have heard. I’ve never met anyone who has been through what I have. I will try to just touch briefly on some of my experiences and then share more about others. All totaled I have been pregnant six times, with only one live birth in 1985 at the age of 27. I’ve had several different types of pregnancy losses from the time I was 18 and a half until my last pregnancy at the age of 29. My fourth pregnancy was an ectopic one and I had to have emergency surgery at twelve weeks. The results of how the doctor handled that surgery left me incapable of conceiving normally. Sometime after the shock wore off, we decided to get our names on a local adoption agency list, knowing it would take awhile. We wanted to be parents however we could make it happen.
Later after several infertility treatments, my doctor told us that I was a candidate for the in-vitro program so we decided to give it a try. I prayed harder than I ever had before in my entire life! That fifth pregnancy resulted in three embryos being implanted, one of which we were blessed with was my daughter, and the other two were lost early in the pregnancy. Then two years later, we tried in-vitro again, and my sixth pregnancy resulted in five embryos being implanted, only to have lost them all about eight weeks later. After that pregnancy loss, I told my husband that I was done. He wanted to try again a few years later in order to give our daughter a sibling, but I told him I just couldn’t put myself through all the physical and emotional pain again.
Looking back, my second pregnancy loss was by far the most traumatic for my husband, my parents, and myself. My husband and I had been married almost a year when I became pregnant. We weren’t ready financially and I wasn’t ready on an emotional or maturity level. The pregnancy progressed without any issues and I adjusted to the shock. I gradually began feeling some excitement about the pregnancy. Then when I was about 17 weeks along, I had contracted a salmonella virus and became violently ill. We didn’t know what it was at first. We thought it was some kind of stomach flu. I could barely move off the couch or to the bed. Looking back, somebody should have just taken me to the hospital. I was so sick that I even forgot that I was pregnant.
About a week later, I had gotten up to use the bathroom and I felt water running down my legs. I had no idea what it was. I thought it was my bladder. I went to sit on the commode and all of a sudden, I felt something moving inside of my vagina. I looked down just in time to catch my baby. He wasn’t moving so I knew he was dead. I just sat there holding him while I screamed for my husband. I say “him” because he was developed far enough along that I could distinguish his gender. He was still attached to the umbilical cord so I had to pinch it in two in order to separate him from me. I couldn’t help notice that he had this large, red bubble on the top of his head that looked like it was a tumor. I knew that it wasn’t normal. At that point, I can’t remember if I wrapped the baby in a hand towel or if my husband did. I was in shock. He called my parents who lived in town and they rushed over. I remember that I began to hemorrhage just as my parents got there and my mom wrapped me in bath towels. They helped me to the car where I laid down on the back seat and then rushed me to the hospital. Years later, my dad (a Chiropractor) told me that he had held the baby on the way to the hospital and confirmed that it was a boy. When I think about it now, that must have been so difficult for him to hold his first grandchild like that.
During the week I was in the hospital, which was another bad experience, I had asked about my baby and what was wrong with him. All I got for an answer was that my placenta was “inflamed.” Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to hold my baby again or take a picture of him. They never asked if we wanted to plan a funeral. Nobody discussed these things with my husband or me. I wondered what they did with my baby and just assumed that the hospital would bury him. I found out many years later that the hospital uses their incinerator to dispose of tissue and body parts, including fetuses. After I learned this, I remember feeling that my baby had just disappeared. I had nothing to remember him by except an unused baby blanket that my grandmother had made for him.
As traumatic as that loss was, we rarely talked about it as a couple or a family. Thinking back, I’m sure everyone thought that it was better not to talk about it so that they didn’t upset me. I know my family meant well but it would definitely haunt me for a long time. Each pregnancy occurred about two to three years apart and I had no sooner lost one baby, then turned around and tried to have another one. I never gave myself time to fully grieve the loss of each child. Family and friends didn’t mention anything and at that time there were no support groups for pregnancy loss. Miscarriages were just not talked about. We suffered in silence. The culmination of my pregnancy losses hadn’t fully hit me until after I had also lost my husband, when my daughter was just five and a half years old and I was 32.
I was struggling to make some sense of my life while trying to stave off depression and decided to go back to college to finish my art degree. I wanted to try and make a new life for my daughter and myself. My professors asked us to look inside ourselves to find our passion for the form and content of our work. Little did I know that that reflection process would unleash years of bottled up emotions from the losses of my unborn children. I knew I had to face those losses before I could fully grieve the loss of my husband.
At first my professors were saddened by my story, but they were very supportive and helped me find a way to honor my losses and use my art as an outlet. Every semester, whether it was drawing, painting, or ceramics, I tried to release the pain I had kept locked away for so long. For some of my projects I would focus on one pregnancy at a time and others I would combine them into one. One of my projects was a book I made with a ceramic cover that has a three dimensional uterus and embryo on the cover. The pages are dedicated to each of my pregnancies, telling the story of what I remembered about the pregnancy and on the day that they each left this world.
Another large, ceramic installation piece had a series of uteri, depicting each of my pregnancies. On each card describing the piece was also an angel name that I had given each of them. Naming my unborn children, eleven in all, was something that hadn’t occurred to me until after I had attended a pregnancy loss group that had begun at a local hospital where it was discussed. I left that support group meeting and researched angel names because that’s who they were. It was very healing and empowering being able to name my children. I almost felt like I was breaking some unspoken or unwritten rule because nobody ever talked about it, but it felt so right. Every mother has a right to name her children, on earth and in Heaven.
I can’t remember how many times I sat at my computer crying and typing while taking myself back in time to each pregnancy and trying to remember what emotions I was going through. I was so afraid of not being able to stop crying, but somehow I always did. By the time I graduated with my fine arts degree, I felt like I had grieved a lifetime! I also came away with a strength I never knew I had and the ability to talk about my pain without being reduced to a puddle each time. I was able to share my pain with other faculty and students and I know it helped in some small way to make them more aware of how devastating pregnancy loss can be.
Moreover, the positive outcome to all of my pain and loss is that I was able to have a beautiful, healthy baby girl who will turn 29 this year and who has given me two beautiful grandchildren! If you are of a certain faith and believe in a higher power, you can get through this. I have a faith in God that has only gotten stronger over the years and I believe that He was right by my side holding me up every time my heart was broken. Please don’t give up hope!
-Donna L. Robichaud
Corpus Christi, TX