The 1 in 4: A Nurse's Journey
Gosh! Could this really be true? Let me look at it again? It says PREGNANT.
I called my doctor’s office as soon as they opened, “I need to make an appointment, I think I’m pregnant.” My cheeks hurting from the smile I couldn’t control. Butterflies in my stomach. Giddiness. Excitement. The nurse on the other end of the phone didn’t seem quite as excited as I did. She must hear those words 20 times a day. She gave me a date and time to come in. I hung up the phone, sat on the couch, so excited. So nervous. So scared. Alone. I kept the news of the pregnancy test to myself. I didn’t want to tell my husband just yet because what if I was wrong? What if the pregnancy test was defective? We had talked about this day for over a year now. The day I would find out that I was pregnant. The day our family would grow. We would feel so complete. Like our purpose as husband and wife would be fulfilled. Right? How many times were we asked after we got married, “When are you going to have a baby?” How many times did we hold in “We’ve been trying people! Back off!” It’s not like we didn’t know how women get pregnant! I went to the endocrinologist. I started Weight Watchers. I took vitamins. We prepared finances. We were doing everything “right.”
I walked into the doctor’s office. Alone. So excited. So scared. Was it really true? The nurse gave me a specimen cup. I waited in the waiting room. I looked around and saw the other women waiting to see the doctor. Some pregnant. Some older. Then there was me. Jittery with nervousness. Could they tell? The nurse calls me back and checks me in. I wait in the examine room for my doctor. “What’s taking her so long!? Doesn’t she know that I’m a nervous wreck in here?!” The thoughts start going through my head, questioning myself if I’ve been doing everything “right” like don’t mess this up kind of feeling. How am I going to tell my husband that we’re going to have a baby? Or, how will I tell him I thought I was pregnant but I was wrong? Dr. Lee walks in and she’s smiling. GOOD NEWS! I’m pregnant! It’s true! Tears fall down my face. She places her hand on my knee to comfort me, to congratulate me. I tell her I had a margarita last week. She laughs and tells me everything will be ok. I believe her. But why am I still so scared? She tells me to come back in two weeks and we should be able to see the baby’s heartbeat. My baby will have a heartbeat? I will have a baby? It’s really true!
I stop at the dollar store and grab a gift bag and tissue paper. And, another pregnancy test. I get home before my husband. I run to the bathroom and take the test. Yeap! It still says PREGNANT. I wrap it up and put it in the gift bag. I can’t wait for him to come home! I’m so excited. So nervous. How will he react? Will he be happy? Will he be shocked? We did it! And, I hope I don’t mess this thing up.
I left the red gift bag on the counter in the bathroom. I knew he would come home and go straight for a shower. Yet, he didn’t notice the bag on the counter. So, as I’m laying in bed watching TV, trying to be nonchalant, but screaming inside, “Seriously?! Don’t you see the bag?! Do you even know what I’ve been through the last two days?! Come on man!” I calmly ask him if he sees the bag on the counter. “It’s for you.” I hear him open the bag. And then silence. Surely it still says PREGNANT right? Then he steps in the doorway of the bathroom and is looking at me. “Are you serious?” he asks. I smile and nod. “Really? Jess, you’re pregnant?” I smile bigger and nod. He rushes over to me, falls to his knees beside the bed, and we embrace and cry. Together.
The next couple days we are so excited to share the news with everyone. Everyone is asking me how I’m feeling? What I think I’m having? Are we going to build a bigger house? Am I going to go part-time at work? So many unknowns. We can’t possibly have the answer just yet people! I’m only 6 weeks pregnant!
It’s time for my next appointment. Man, those two weeks were the slowest two weeks ever! My husband comes with me. We go into the ultrasound room. Together. Both smiling ear to ear. Both so excited. But why am I still so scared?
There she is! Well, I convinced myself the baby was a she with brown hair and dark skin like mine. She would follow me around, everywhere. She would want me to play Barbies with her. She would let me braid her hair for school. She would love chocolate cake as much as I do. Want to help me cook. Want to brush my hair and put makeup on me. Want me to lay with her at night so she could fall asleep. All the things little girls do with their moms. All the things I did with my mom. I wish my mom was with me in this moment. I wanted her there. To hold me. To share in this moment. To see my excitement, to see how scared I was and comfort me.
We look up at the black and white screen and try to decipher what the ultrasonographer is looking for. I realize that she is hoping to see the baby’s heartbeat. She can’t. She asks how far along was I supposed to be? I tell her 8 weeks today. The sinking feeling of something is not right comes over me. I feel it in the pit of my stomach. My chest feels so heavy. What’s wrong? What did I do wrong? “Your dates may be a little off” she tells me. Maybe so? Dr. Lee tells us that we will wait two more weeks and repeat the ultrasound. We are sure to see the heartbeat then.
I only thought the last two weeks were the longest two weeks ever. No, not nearly! The weeks following the first ultrasound seemed like forever. I couldn’t focus on anything really. Then came the self questioning. And the feeling of something wasn’t quite right. Everyone else, our family and friends, were over the moon with excitement. My mother in law bought a box of diapers. I lost it when I saw her walk in with it. She was excited. She wanted to be proactive. She truly cared. But how could she do this to me? I’m so scared. I don’t feel the morning sickness everyone keeps asking me if I feel. I must be doing something wrong. Why couldn’t we see the baby’s heartbeat? I know my dates are right. How could she not see how scared I was? How could my husband not want to protect me and tell her how inappropriate that gift was at this time? Why do I feel so alone?
Two weeks go by. I give report on my patient to the next nurse; a patient in labor about to experience one of the happiest days of her life. Did she notice that I was a little off today? I hope not. I would hate for my emotions to have dampened her experience. She deserves the absolute best today. She’s having her first baby.
I walk over from the hospital. We are in the ultrasound room again. Together. My husband met me there. This time, it definitely doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel exciting. I’m scared. So scared. There she is! I see her on the black and white screen. I know what I’m looking for this time. I look so hard. So does the sonographer. We are both on a mission to find my baby’s heartbeat. But, it’s not there. She’s not there.
The tears fall. The emotions overwhelming, jittery again and heavy chest. So heavy. There’s a knot building in my throat. I look at my husband. The only words I can think of are “I’m sorry.” He tells me that it’s not my fault. But why does it feel like it’s my fault? Like I let him down. Like I let her down.
The sonographer walks us through the back door of the clinic. I get it. She doesn’t want the other ladies in the waiting room to see me crying. She doesn’t want to upset them. She doesn’t want them to know that I lost my baby. But does she know how she is making me feel? So isolated? So alone? Shame because I’m crying, upset, grieving?
The following weekend was filled with rollercoaster of emotions. I didn’t want to speak to anyone. My sister calls for the third time. Her voice is cracking on the other end of the phone as she’s trying to comfort me. “Just know that this is not your fault Jessy” she tells me. I tell her “I know” in an attempt to comfort her. I don’t believe it though.
I chose to have a D&C. I want this over! I want these feelings to go away! But they don’t. I’m home. Alone. I feel shame. So much shame. Like I failed. I’m angry. Words echoing from others trying to comfort me are only fueling my anger: “You’re young, you’ll have more kids.” “This was God’s plan.” “Good thing you weren’t that far along.” “Something must have been wrong with the baby.”
Shame comes again. I wasn’t that far along. I have been with women that have experienced a full-term loss. My loss is not as significant as theirs. They have the right to be upset and grieve. I was only 10 weeks. They had to lay there baby to rest in a coffin, plan a funeral, say goodbye to a future they had all planned in there head. But, wait, I had plans too. I wanted to wash and brush and braid my baby’s hair. I wanted to play Barbies in the living room. I wanted to watch her walk into her classroom on the first day of school. It hurts. So much.
Anger comes and goes. Shame always followed. Peace finally shows up. “Jessica will you lead our Perinatal Palliative Care team?”
Over the last 6 years, I have had the opportunity to go to perinatal loss grief training all over the country. I have had the privilege of talking to women after they have experienced a loss at my hospital to get their feedback on how we could have made their tragic experience a little easier. I have sat at the bedside and listened to grieving parents speak about how the hospital staff members’ words hurt them. How if the staff would have done this or said this they would have felt more supported. They thank me for listening to them. I take it all in. I listen to them and I hear me. Their words are my words because I remember. I know what they are talking about because I have felt the heavy feeling in my chest. I know what it’s like to have planned it all out to only find out that those plans will never come to fruition. I’m able to comfort them in their grief. I’m able touch her knee and look at her and say “You are not alone. We will get through this together.”
I have two beautiful children. Addyson Rose and Hayes Edward. They light my world up and fill it with so much joy. They also remind me of the plans I had for my baby girl. She was supposed to be born on March 17th, 2011. She would have been their big sister. In the joy there will always be grief. But to know that I am not alone has brought me more peace than anything. To hear others' stories and to be able to tell mine is where my peace is found.
I read this quote from Maya Angelou and it has stuck with me ever since: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Society tells us that we are young, we can have more kids, that God has other plans for us, move on, get over it. And where I do believe that God has other plans- I’m living, breathing, walking, talking proof- I also believe that there is strength and peace in sharing your story with others.
It was an absolute honor to write this post for Anna’s Grace Foundation. They bring light to our stories. And I want to bring purpose to yours by sharing mine- give meaning to your heartache because you are not alone.
About Anna’s Grace Foundation Anna’s Grace Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supporting families in the Greater Baton Rouge Area who experience miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss. Each and every day one of our neighbors, friends, coworkers, or family members will experience the devastating loss of a baby, and Anna’s Grace is there to provide emotional and financial support so that families can focus on healing. The Anna’s Grace Quarter Marathon is on March 22, 2020. For more information or to register, visit http://www.annasgrace.org/registration.