Fall, 1986 – Kate was just two years old. Sean was just months from turning four. They are 19 months apart in age. I was 26 years old soon to be 27. I was pregnant in this photo. It is the only photograph we have in which we know we were pregnant with our last baby.
October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Every year when October seems to suddenly be here and I see soical media posts about it being Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month I consider becoming part of the conversation in my own small way by sharing my story, and then I don’t do it. I didn’t decide to write it this year in preparation for this month. It was decided for me. I was looking for some photos for a project and came across this photo of me with the kids. It feels like the right time to share.
Tom and I made the decision to have children a few years after we married. I was in my early 20’s and physically fit. I had been long distance running for a few years and felt prepared physically. As planned we got pregnant just a few months after going off birth control pills. Like so many women who are wondering if they are pregnant I took an at home pregnancy test. I was pretty excited to find out I was. Two months into the pregnancy we had a miscarriage.
For sure I thought it was my fault as I had continued to run after I knew I was pregnant. My obstetrician thought otherwise and counseled me to let go of the guilt. I’m not sure I did that so easily. I was miserable that I had a miscarriage. I had to have a procedure to stop the heavy bleeding and needed some time to heal both my body and my heart.
Over a period of 18 months, we would have 3 miscarriages. Just in case running was a problem with the first pregnancy I never ran again when I was pregnant. I can still recall with laser sharpness how people tried to offer comfort that hurt more than helped. “Don’t worry, you are young, you can keep trying” “There was probably something wrong with those babies. They were not strong enough to survive.” “At least you know you can pregnant”. I wish I could say I let those words slide off of me but I didn’t. My feelings were raw and my fear was real that I’d never be able to carry a baby to term. Those sentiments shared with me did not help. I do know they were trying to help me feel better and meant no harm. People, me included, struggle with the right words during tragic or difficult times of loved ones.
All of these years later I’ve learned to offer others, and myself, more grace than I was able to back then. The truth of it is sometimes nothing can make you feel better. You just have to feel the things as they are and give yourself the space you need for those feelings. Some things in life are not fixable.
Our fourth pregnancy brought us our son. Nineteen months later we had our daughter. Each of their births were by cesearan section. We did not anticipate a c-section for either of their births and held out to the last minute before agreeing it was the right thing to do. We were not stubborn about it. We just wanted the best shot at a natural birth if at all possible. It took exactly one second of our babies in our arms to fall in love with them.
One would think two live babies who were now toddlers would be enough but we weren’t done yet. Tom and I wanted to have at least one more child. In the fall of 1986 I was pregnant again. After the births of our two children, we knew what we were in for and super excited. I had a ton of morning sickness with this pregnancy, the day and night kind of morning sickness one hears about. At 16 weeks we heard the babies heartbeat. We thought for sure we were going to go the distance with this pregnancy just like with our son and daughter.
When we were pregnant with our daughter I had intermittent bleeding. It was January. Tom worked full-time and was in college at night, four nights a week. We had one car and lived in an apartment. The apartment’s heaters were under the windows. They would make the windows moist and freeze over. It was either too hot or too cold in the apartment. When the bleeding started I was put on bedrest. Our son was just 11 months old. How does bedrest work in a situation like that? It doesn’t. The boy and I stayed home all day, all night, every day until the weekends. With frozen windows it was like we lived in an iglo. On the weekends’ Tom did everything to get us ready for the next week – laundry, food shopping, taking our son to the park, he did all the things except his homework. He never had a minute to breath on weekends. On week days he left at 7:45 a.m. and walked in the door at 11 p.m. If anyone could handle all of everything it was Tom. Amazingly, our little cherub survived the crazy life we had and came into the world at a healthy weight of 8 pounds 9 ounces and 22 inches.
Our last baby offered no clues as to any distress. I felt quite pregnant with all of the hallmarks of feeling naseous and my waist beginning to expand and then I didn’t. One day pregnant, the next day not. It was just like that. Tom and I went to the doctor and the baby no longer had a heartbeat. There was nothing to do but wait until my body released the baby. It would be a week before that happened.
Christmas Day, 1986, that’s the day my body chose to let our baby go. It was the most difficult one of all of the babies. So much bleeding, so much heartache. I spent the night in the hospital after the procedure. They let me convalese on a surgical/medical floor instead of the maternity floor. I picked up a virus while in the hospital and came home terribly sick. I don’t care what anyone says my broken heart left my body vulnerable to illness. It took me weeks to feel healthy again.
Tom made a decision to have a vasectomy. Every time we were pregnant I had surgery of some kind, so six surgeries and two toddlers who needed a momma to take care of them brought Tom to that decision. He was unmoved by my resistance to his decision. I knew he was right but hated that he was. I grieved that decision pretty hard for a long time.
Every baby of ours that died I grieved. Even though I barely knew them I grieved hard for them. I told myself a story about each of them. I gave them names and genders: Margaret, Siobhan, Oliver, and Megan. They may have came into my life briefly but they left indelible love in my heart, for always. All of these babies and the two who lived to be bright shining stars, Sean and Kate, deepened my life more than I could possibly have imagined.
To all of the moms whose babies have died I hear you. I see you.