Category Archives: Meredith

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A loss by any other name

It’s amazing how the hierarchy of medical terminology can impact our perception of miscarriage. My first three pregnancies are medically classified as “chemical pregnancies.” Basically: they were lost too early for anything to be visualized by ultrasound in my uterus. Its a minimizing term. Diminishing. It has allowed so many people to invalidate my experience and my pain.

“It was only a chemical pregnancy.”

“Are you sure you were even pregnant?” 

“Chemical miscarriages don’t count as recurrent pregnancy loss. You can’t really say you have recurrent loss.” 

“It’s just like a period.” 

Whether it’s a friend, a well-meaning loved one or a doctor, those words hurt.

When my 4th pregnancy progressed to the “clinical pregnancy” stage I felt… relieved. It was official. At 5 weeks, 3 days we saw a perfect gestational sac, measuring on target. Proof that the pregnancy was really there. Proof that our baby existed and was growing in my uterus. Clinical sounds so much more official than chemical. My baby wasn’t just a chemical reaction gone wrong, but on its way to becoming a person. I assumed we’d have another loss, but I knew this time it was far enough along to “count.”

When the pregnancy hadn’t progressed enough to see a heartbeat and fetal pole by 6 weeks, 3 days I feared it was just an empty sac. A “blighted ovum.” Such an ugly term. It sounds like a medieval curse of some kind. Like I’d angered a wood nymph and been fated to barrenness. Maybe our baby wasn’t in there after all.

When we saw a heartbeat at 7 weeks and 1 day, too slow to be truly viable, I was relieved. I hated myself for that reaction. We found out that our baby was still going to die and I felt relieved to learn that there was something other than an empty sac to mark its existence. That the pregnancy wasn’t a blighted ovum. That it was a “missed miscarriage,” a pregnancy that was ending, slowly, but that my body hadn’t quite caught on yet.

Missed miscarriage. That didn’t seem quite right either. With all the early monitoring of an IVF pregnancy the miscarriage hadn’t been *missed* at all. I was graphically aware at every step that our baby lived and when it started to die. As if the betrayal of my body was a betrayal of my baby’s life too. That I’d “missed” their passing without a hint. I didn’t miss it, I lived it.

After the D&C I needed a rhogham injection because my blood type is RH-. They handed me a card for my wallet in case I ever needed verification I’d received it. On the front of the card there is a list of reasons for getting the shot. “Pregnancy termination” was checked. In my online insurance portal my claim for the procedure read “missed abortion.” My diagnosis quietly and officially changed in my medical records to “habitual aborter.”

No one thought to warn me about these changes. Each time I noticed this harsh language I’d cry. (Sometimes I still do.)

Let me be clear: it isn’t that I don’t want to be categorized with those who have terminated electively- the procedures we usually classify as “abortions.” But my story is different from theirs. Using the same words to describe them, no matter the medical accuracy, feels wrong on a visceral, emotional level.

So I cling to the words that feel more right: pregnancy loss, miscarriage, baby loss. It’s the smallest comfort, but it feels validating to be able to define what happened to me on my own terms.

Category : Meredith , Volunteer Bloggers


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In ritual, we mourn

We walked out to a remote clearing in the woods. The sound of birds chattering loudly surrounded us. The wind whispered gently. The brook babbled nearby. The sunlight filtered down through the trees.

In silence, we laid out the things we had brought on a makeshift altar, a blanket we used in our engagement photo shoot and a silk scarf that bound our hands together during our wedding ceremony.

 

Two ceramic birds.

A silver bell.

Stones for four birth months.

A sculpture of a windswept tree.

A candle infused with crystals and essential oils.

An ultrasound photo.

A book of poems.

 

We meditated. Tears rolled down my face. We held each other. We lit the candle.

The officiant who married us opened the space with her words, chosen so perfectly for us in our heartbreak.

We read what we had written, each of us, with tears in our eyes. There are no words big enough for grief; we tried.

I read a poem by Mary Oliver, “In Blackwater Woods.” There in the woods the words captured the moment we created for ourselves and for our babies.

“To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.”

Our officiant wraps our hands in the softest knitted blanket with the colors of the rainbow. Rainbow for pride. Rainbow for love. Rainbow for her hopes for our future – hopes we don’t dare to hold for ourselves anymore.

We sob. The light filters through the leaves. The brook runs softly. The birds whistle their songs.

We ring the bell. Snuff out the candle. Pack our things. We walk back to the road in silence.

In this sacred hour we achieved what we could not do on other days. We created some ritual from our pain. Space to grieve that the world has not given freely to us. We recognized each of our pregnancies, and each of our losses. We honored our babies in our own way.

On October 1st I put a filter on my Facebook profile picture for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Sometime this month I’ll make a(nother) post about pregnancy loss and the fact that it has touched my life. I’ll share our story to remind other people that we exist, and that our babies did too. I’ll light a candle on October 15th at 7pm for the Wave of Light. But those actions have never felt like enough. That lack of “enoughness” is what drove us to design the ritual in the woods for our babies, the space we needed to grieve, in our own time, for ourselves and our family.

Category : Meredith , Volunteer Bloggers


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It’s Personal and it’s Political

The irony did not escape me. On Wednesday, June 19th, the day we were supposed to hear our baby’s heartbeat for the first time, we instead were told that her development had stopped. Also on Wednesday, June 19th, the Reproductive Privacy Act was finally passed and signed into law, enshrining in the Rhode Island legal code all of the protections of Roe v. Wade. When I campaigned for this law I never imagined that it would come to fruition on the day we learned our fourth pregnancy was (also) not to be.

I am grateful that my ability to access reproductive choices allowed me to opt for a D&C procedure to remove our baby from my uterus rather than trying to collect the remains myself at home for testing. Haven’t I been through enough without that added trauma? Insurance paid fully for the procedure. Having access to that D&C is the reason we know that we had a daughter, and why she died. I wish I didn’t have to be grateful for that.

It’s a complicated thing to fight for reproductive choice even as the choices you’re left with to decide the fate of your own family are bleak and hopeless. Even as women with my experiences are left out and left behind over and over by a reproductive justice movement that largely shies away from the most wanted pregnancies of all.

The Reproductive Privacy Act doesn’t include any safeguards for people who are using IVF to (try to) grow our families, technology that would be at legal risk if Roe v. Wade were overturned. I took it up with the Senate sponsor at a house party once and she told me it wasn’t as important as the other protections at issue in her bill because it impacts fewer people. In her (flawed) analysis IVF was not at risk no matter what the Supreme Court decided so there was no point in making those protections explicit. I was annoyed, but resigned. As hard as I fight for the reproductive freedoms of others it seems mine are content to be ignored. I smiled anyways when the Privacy Act was signed, even though my heart had been permanently shattered earlier that same day.

The Friday before I had the D&C was the last day of the 2019 Rhode Island legislative session. A bill near and dear to my heart died that day as the House refused to take it up even after it had been passed unanimously by the Senate. The Rhode Island Parentage Act would have provided updated protections to families who conceive with assisted reproductive technologies (ART), and especially to same sex couples who are subject to particularly burdensome processes for second parent adoptions in the state, a process that unnecessarily takes months and costs thousands of dollars. With that bill’s death so died my remaining hope, that small glimmer that by the time our baby arrived we would have heightened legal protections and less arduous hoops to jump through – after all, haven’t we been through enough already?

But our baby is not arriving, and we were again left behind. I’ll keep fighting but I wish we didn’t have to.

Category : Meredith , Volunteer Bloggers


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Learning to Love My Body Through Recurrent Loss

The title is aspirational, mostly. After infertility and recurrent miscarriages loving my body is a daily challenge. As a woman, I’ve struggled with body image my whole life. Too thin, too chubby, not athletic enough, way too short. My hips are too big and my head is too small. But there were things I appreciated about my body even as I picked it apart for its flaws. I danced for many years and felt strong and graceful. My legs were capable of walking me to work, to the bus, to the store, for many years living without a car. Even if I didn’t like it all the time, it worked.

Part of the brokenness of infertility and pregnancy loss is having your body fail at the most mundane of tasks. Getting pregnant, a basic function for many people, became an impossibility for me. “Where is your biological imperative!? Why can’t you manage this simple thing?” the voice inside my head angrily scolds my body, which helps nothing and changes nothing. Staying pregnant proved even harder. In moments of desperation I tried the opposite approach. “Please, please work. Please keep my baby alive. You can do it.” But my body doesn’t – can’t – meet that plea.

Some days I feel trapped inside this skin. Disembodied. Acutely aware that with every breath I take that I am coexisting with this shell I live in, the body that killed my babies. I feel hatred and guilt. If I could claw my way out I would, but there is no easy fix for this pain.

After each miscarriage I’ve slid into mistreatment of my body in a combination of grief and anger. Sometimes I eat only cereal for four days in a row. An entire package of chocolate candies in one sitting. Or I don’t eat at all, the hunger pains dulled by the emotional fog. When we start the next IVF cycle each injection, each ultrasound, feels like penance and punishment. This is what you get for failing again. More needles, more discomfort, more heartbreak. More loss.

When I prioritize “self care” it isn’t me I am prioritizing. It is easier to focus on eating well or exercising when I think of it as something I must do to maximize our chances of a successful pregnancy. I do it dutifully, like homework. Less than 50g of carbs a day, barre classes 3 times a week, a pill box overflowing with supplements and vitamins. Not to care for myself but to coerce my body into sustaining a baby. Trying to punish good eggs out of the scrambled mess of my insides. I am thin and hollow. I am afraid to fail.

Over time, I’ve tried to reconnect with my physical self. My therapist recommends deep breathing and mindfulness exercises. At first I couldn’t do them at all because the thought of being present in my body-prison was terrifying. With practice it comes more easily. Breathe in, breathe out. Center yourself. Hear your inner thoughts, acknowledge them, and let them pass.

Acknowledge them. “Wow, those are strong feelings. Do you really hate yourself that much? What could you have done differently? It’s not your fault, don’t blame yourself.” I come to my own defense. I rescue myself. I begin to think of that subconscious voice beating up on myself like a bully hurting my inner child. No! Be gentle to her. Nurture her.

I practice on other people experiencing infertility and loss, treating them how I wish I could treat myself. I’m not alone in these feelings of self-loathing. In my support group circle I’m the first to jump in: “You did everything you could. Don’t blame yourself.” I nurture and caress those scared inner children and try to help them heal to wholeness.

Not your fault. Not your fault. Not your fault. Not our fault. Not my fault.

I try to love them like I want to be loved, like I want to love myself. And slowly I reclaim my sense of self, and with it some of my self worth. It’s a work in progress.

Category : Meredith , Volunteer Bloggers


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A Bouquet of You

I collect their birth month flowers. One for every month our babies should have been born.

Daffodil.

Gladiolus.

Marigold.

Iris.

A year of grief. A due date missed for every season.

I wear the flowers on charms around my neck. I gather a bouquet on every due date. I plan a tattoo to inscribe them tangibly on my skin forever.

Endless death that even the beauty of flowers can’t erase.

I only hope that one day there will be a flower among them to symbolize a living, breathing child for us to mother.

Category : Meredith , Volunteer Bloggers


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Grieving in Reverse

These days I am reading a lot about grief and the grieving process and half the time it makes me feel worse. The atypicality of pregnancy loss grief only seems to underscore the magnitude of what we have lost.

Common grief advice is to tell a story about how you remember the person you lost. Or to do something that you liked to do together. To honor the person lost by reflecting on the good times you had or their most positive traits. With the loss of a child that hasn’t yet been born there are no concrete memories. In our case it was just the fleeting failure of pregnancies too new to even be properly celebrated.

Here’s what I remember about baby L: after 2 years of trying we finally saw those two pink lines. It was after our first IVF embryo transfer. My wife and I stood by the bathroom sink staring in awe at the test delivering the news that we would be expecting our first child. Finally. Confirmation that this long process of trying and tests and IUI and failure and finally IVF was worth it. That success was possible. We dared to hope. We went to Target and for the first time in a year walked through the baby section without tearing up. We bought a onesie with a rainbow on it and a box of digital pregnancy tests. I took another test the second we arrived home. “Pregnant,” it read.

And then our baby was gone. Afterwards, I felt stupid for thinking it would work on our very first IVF attempt.

With our second baby, H, things happened pretty much like the first time, minus the unmitigated joy. I briefly wondered if the rainbow onesie we purchased previously could signify that this was our rainbow baby. That short pregnancy was clouded by fear and the longing for our first baby and terror that it would also end in disappointment. By the time I started to miscarry I already knew the signs well enough to know what was happening. Again. I tucked the onesie into the back of the closet where I wouldn’t have to look at it anymore.

With baby O we were afraid to hope at all. We waited on pins and needles for bad news, and bad news came.

I will never know my babies or what they would have liked to do. I have no special memories to remember them by. Not even an early ultrasound. And worst of all, I don’t really have anyone besides my wife to share them with. To most people, it’s as if our babies never existed.

I worry I might break apart from grief. Three losses in less than 8 months is absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. Is grief supposed to get better with distance from the loss? My grief comes in reverse waves, aching more with the passage of time rather than less. All of the milestones we will never experience. The due dates that will come and go. The pain of never being able to meet our babies and watch them grow up.

They were my first children. But I almost never say that out loud. With most people, we don’t use their names. We really aren’t supposed to talk about them at all or it’s considered “fixating” and we are perceived unable to move past the losses in the socially acceptable amount of time. I get the message loud and blunt and clear: these babies didn’t matter to anyone but us. Let’s put them aside so we don’t have to keep being sad, or seeing your sadness and pain. Other babies will surely come, people say. (Unless they don’t, I think.) But even if they do, they won’t replace the children we lost.

The hollowness of missing someone we never got to know feels debilitating. The whole lifetime of memories we won’t ever make as a family. The hole in my heart that feels gaping and eternal. As time passes the loss becomes even more profound, counted in the months and years that stretch ahead. Some days I fear the raw emotions will swallow up everything else in my life until there is nothing left. To cope I do the exact opposite of what every grief expert recommends. I stuff my feelings down and crumple them up into a minuscule ball, so small that it can fit inside the tiny box carved by my grief and pain.

I’ll keep writing about them because it’s the only way I know how to soothe this ache and make sure they aren’t forgotten entirely. I miss them, but just as much I miss the version of me that I’ve lost in all of this pain and hurt. I will live with this loss for the rest of my life, no matter what happens next.

Category : Meredith , Volunteer Bloggers


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What makes a mother? 

Yes, I’m a mother. This Mother’s Day I can’t sit by silently without acknowledging that fact.

After experiencing infertility and pregnancy loss I feel strongly that having a living child is not the only criteria that makes someone a parent. I am a mother by virtue of the focus of our babies in my life. My wife and I have made years worth of decisions based on our hope to become parents, and nearly a year’s worth of decisions and actions informed by our parenting of the children we have lost. Even if they aren’t here with us, I mother them daily in so many small ways.

I share their existence with others, even as the world tries its hardest to erase them. I think about them every time I comfort another loss mom or drop a savings deposit into our “next steps” account. When I see the closed door to the unfinished room that is meant to be a nursery. When we plan our calendar around the loss due dates, and the hope of potential due dates in the future. I imagine what we will tell our future child about their siblings someday.

I’m no less a mother because I couldn’t keep them alive. Or because getting pregnant was hard to begin with. I’m no less deserving of recognition because they didn’t make it here. Or because I lost them early.

I know it is a hard concept for many to grapple with, this identity I hold so strongly. Though it might be controversial to some I feel it with every fiber of my being. I’m a mom – their mom – and I won’t shut up about it just to make someone else feel more comfortable.

So while there will be no cards, no festive brunches, no kisses from sweet little ones to their mother for me this Mother’s Day I know in my heart that no one can take that label away from me. Mother’s Day is hard enough without trying to deny myself that.

Category : Meredith , Volunteer Bloggers


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If you've come to this blog, it likely means you have suffered a pregnancy loss of some type. We are so sorry you have found yourself here, but hope the stories of life after loss can help you on your road to healing and recovery. Remember, we are all in this together!

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