A reflection on Pregnancy Losses
One of the puzzles in life is why people have been so reticent to talk about miscarriages. They occur in 20% of pregnancies, usually before the 10th week. Most of the times, now that genetic studies can be performed on the fetal tissue, it is due to a congenital problem which stops the growth, makes it impossible to go on. Like a house which is being built, where the plans are missing several pages, the process has to stop. Sometimes it is about the heart or the kidneys or the lungs. Some miscarriages occur much later, with those organ-system “birth defects”. And some babies do make it, which sometimes leaves them with a crippling problem, but alive. Did you see the movie “Crips”? It is great.
The general reticence to talk about miscarriages also applies to a lot of medical complications, and even cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Secrecy is just one of the ways people try to limit having to talk about the pain they are feeling. The vulnerability can be excruciating. And some families feel that sharing vulnerability is a cardinal wrong–they think of other people as “outsiders”— and say “it is none of their business”. They do not expect others to be a source of loving support and compassion.
My husband was in severe pain about our miscarriages, but had no language to be able to talk about his pain. And he believed in secrecy. It was excruciating.
Until we had ultrasounds and genetic testing, most people’s questions about WHY were unanswerable. Sometimes it is about the way the uterus is formed, but often it is about going into premature labor. Sometimes, in the early 20th century, uterine suspension was prescribed, which is using stitches to hold the uterus up, like a half-inflated balloon, instead of letting it fall over on itself, bent, which might put early pressure on the cervix to make it open too soon.
In my case, I was 37 when I got married, and I had the first miscarriage at almost 39, and then Andy was born when I was 39. Then I had 4 more early miscarriages, before the 10th week. In each case, they had looked good on the first ultrasounds. Doctors think there is more likelihood of miscarriages with advancing age in the mother, (due to older eggs) so that was what we thought mine were due to. It is hard to have the courage to try again, but we so deeply wanted children, we had to try. Sebastian was born when I was 41and a half. I never was able to conceive again.
I was grateful for a program of healing at my church, which did a guided imagery and blessing. The guided imagery was to go see these babies who had gone to heaven. We can not tell before at least 12 weeks whether it is a boy or girl, because on ultrasound the genitalia are ambiguous until then. So I don’t know about the genders of my lost babies, but I gave names to them all, and one is buried in the back yard at the grandparent’s house, because I was allowed to take “her” home. I had this lovely time, with all of them having a picnic with me, healthy, apple-cheeked, busy children, playing under a big oak tree, on a sunny day. And then the priest asked us to give them back to God, in heaven, and let them know we will see them again there. This was a very healing thing for me. It is very hard to lose a wanted child, even this early in pregnancy.
I felt that I was given this lesson 5 times in order to really have compassion and understanding for the pain of my patients; not just say “oh, its a miscarriage”. There are women who are so traumatized they won’t try again, and some won’t ever even have sex again. Some men also, back away from the kind of suffering it causes; the risk of those months that parents hung an ornament in the shape of a stork on the Christmas tree, symbolizing their hope. Learning to talk about it really matters, and we can now help a lot more, give answers and sometimes real reassurance. It is also important to let people know when we are in early pregnancy, because there is a risk the pregnancy is NOT in the uterus, but in one of the tubes, which is called an ectopic pregnancy, and it can kill a woman, because all the bleeding is hidden inside the belly, when it ruptures. It is a surgical emergency.
One of the miscarriages I had occurred when I was 3 hours away, visiting my sister. I started hemorrhaging. I packed myself into the car with a lot of towels between my legs and under me, and drove straight back to my own hospital, and got into the ER, spilling clots and spatters of my blood all over the place, and begged/demanded for them to get the resident on call to do a curettage (cleaning out the uterus) because I was bleeding so much I knew I would need a transfusion if they didn’t hurry.
The uterus cannot clamp down and stop bleeding until the embryo or fetus and the placenta are out. Sometimes the placenta doesn’t separate cleanly from the wall, and the walls just keep bleeding profusely, until the uterus is empty and can close down. Sometimes the muscle is too inflamed or infected to close down effectively and we need a lot of medicines to help strengthen it, to stop the bleeding. This is one of the reasons I have fought my whole life to get universal healthcare. Women need to be able to get into the ER and have care for a miscarriage like this.
This is the main job I did for a long time— to try to stop the uterus from bleeding, after a baby was born, or after a miscarriage. In third-world countries this is the common highest risk reason for mothers to die.
I have a deep attachment to the cup at Communion, that it is the blood of Christ. There are times when all I could think about was blood. It is good to connect to the life-saving potential of blood, and the soul-saving potential of Christ’s blood. It is wonderful that the actual symbol is wine. Wine which is love and blood. Perhaps this image has helped me, to hold on to the faith that there is spiritual growth possible, even in these painful losses. There is nothing so wonderful as a baby, for bringing us hope for the future, and bringing the love both from us and to us, in a family. And it was my privilege to help many moms and dads make it safely through that process, to arrive at the joy of having a newborn baby in their arms!