October is popularly known as “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” but it is also a month devoted to another women’s health advocacy campaign, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I felt inclined to share my story, one that I know will resonate with women on this blog.
I’m a Certified Nurse Midwife. It’s my job to meet newly pregnant families and help them understand and be well through their pregnancy experience. More often than anyone likes to admit, that journey ends early and abruptly. Prior to this year, I only knew pregnancy loss from a sympathetic and clinical perspective. I always felt sad for the families who’d come to me for their first pregnancy check-up, and then they’d leave in a grievous state after finding out their pregnancy wasn’t going to mean a happy ending in nine months. I had been taught how to speak to these women kindly. I knew all the resources for grief and pregnancy loss support. But I, like most people, didn’t really get it.
Prior to this year I had two incredible, healthy pregnancies. They were both planned, easily conceived. My labors were easy and I now have two lovely children as a result. Because of my experiences with pregnancy and birth, I trusted my body fully. My knowledge of the female reproductive system and my luck that mine worked like a charm never left me with the slightest bit of doubt as to what to expect from its performance. That was until this year. I was humbled, big time.
At the beginning of 2015, we decided it was the right time to expand our family. I had my IUD removed. I had my “last menstrual period” and then got a positive pregnancy test, easy-peasy just like before. I made plans for my pregnancy confirmation ultrasound, told a few people I was expecting, and waited for the time to pass. Two days before my appointment I started spotting. I had a tiny panic, and then I told myself, like I was trained to tell all my clients, “it’s probably normal, small amounts of bleeding in the first trimester are very common.” I bought it, for a while.
The eternal optimist in me took my family to the ultrasound appointment. I was planning on the ultrasound being so cute, my kids getting excited and moving on happy and healthy. Well, needless to say that didn’t happen. I left with confirmation of what I was dreading, this pregnancy wasn’t going to end like my previous ones. It didn’t require a lot of explanation, I knew what was happening and what to expect. I decided to go home and let nature take its course.
Meanwhile there was bleeding, sobbing and disconnection from my husband who I forgot wasn’t a midwife and could have used more information about what was happening. My kids kept asking if I had a baby in my belly yet, and I had to say no. I healed up physically within a few weeks and told people the bad news when they asked how I was doing. I had the repeated agony of informing each of them that I had miscarried and I was fine. That usually ended in apologies back and forth, mostly due to the immense awkwardness of not knowing how to talk about the loss.
I went through another sobering month, confirming pregnancies for women who were going to see their pregnancies to fruition and celebrating milestones in other women’s pregnancies. My rawness healed and my family and I moved forward. Two months later I found myself pregnant again. I was renewed with a sense of hope and ready to move beyond my previous sad experience. To make a long story short, it ended the same way. I’m still not sure if it was easier or harder to have my second miscarriage. I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer may be “both”. On one hand I knew what to expect. I hadn’t told anyone of my second pregnancy out of self- protection and fear of awkward conversations. On the other hand, I had another layer of distrust in my body, and increased sense of being let down by the nature that I wanted to trust so much.
I’ve taken a few months off trying for a pregnancy. I’ve traveled and done some self-reflection. I haven’t decided what happens next. Part of me really wants my rainbow baby and the other part of me is screaming, “be happy with what you have.” Only time will tell, and for now I’ll trust the universe to tell me where to go next.
In the meantime, I want people to understand that pregnancy loss is really common, twenty to twenty-five percent of women experience it at least once. It’s more than just a disappointment and blood in panties. It’s an utter loss of hope. It’s a new lifestyle crashing down. It’s harder than you can even imagine. Please try not to be uncomfortable, treat people like they’ve just told you they’ve lost a loved one because they have. Give people time to grieve, without expectation.
To the families going through infant or pregnancy loss, and those that will, eventually you are not broken. You don’t have to hide. More people suffer this than you’d think. There aren’t many things to say that aren’t invalidating so I’ll say this, it’s tragic. Take as much time as you need. Sadly, I feel your pain.
Traci Gamet, CNM is a native of northern Nevada who received nursing degrees from Western Nevada College and the University of Nevada. She completed the midwifery graduate program at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y. Additionally, she is an Internationally Board-Certified Lactation Consultant who enjoys helping promote success and normalcy of breastfeeding. Traci’s passion for midwifery lies in her desire to optimize healthcare for women and families. She believes that all women deserve the care of a midwife during all or some portion of their life. Her specific interests are in normalizing birth, adolescent care and LGBT health. She is a member of The American College of Nurse Midwives.
In 1988 President Ronald Regan proclaimed October as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. He stated, “When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them. This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the Unites States and around the world. It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS and other causes.”
This year, Governor Brian Sandoval has proclaimed October 2015 as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month for the state of Nevada. The statistics speak for themselves. One in four to five pregnancies end in a loss. The stillbirth rate is one in 100 births and the newborn death rate is one in 110 births.
There are many organizations that are dedicated to supporting bereaved families through memory making, keepsake items, and support group meetings. Locally, one such organization that facilitates a monthly support group meeting is the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Organization of the Sierras, PILSOS. This group includes medical professionals that are committed to providing support, resources, education, and compassionate care to families who have suffered the loss of a child during the prenatal or neonatal period. A memorial plaque dedicated to all babies lost too soon is in progress at the rose garden at ldlewild Park.
This post is sponsored by Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center.