Adam and I became pregnant the first time in November of 2013, one month after getting engaged to be married. I started spotting at 9 weeks, and miscarried within 2 days– I was in no pain. The fetus never made it past 5 weeks and there was no heartbeat. At this time, the sheer disappointment was terrible. I realized how naive I had been– miscarriages within the 1st trimester are so common, and I had no idea. I had heard stories from both Grandmothers on my mother’s and father’s sides about multiple miscarriages and never gave it a second thought. They were from a different, distant era. Medicine has come so far. No one ever talks about miscarriages on Facebook.
We proceeded in the planning of our wedding, deciding on October 19, 2014 (1 year exactly after Adam proposed).
We rode high on the hopeful statistic that women who miscarry have a much higher rate of having a successful pregnancy the 2nd time around, especially when the pregnancy occurs within 6 months of the last miscarriage. We were pregnant again by May and things looked healthy from the start. From seeing the heartbeat to passing genetic tests with flying colors, everything looked good. We found out the sex –a boy– and decided on a name: Oscar.
In October, a week before the wedding, I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling light cramping similar to menstrual cramps. I went downstairs and researched Braxton Hicks contractions while waiting for my cramps to pass. The cramps continued in intensity and I decided to wake Adam and go to the ER. By the time I got in the car, I was in full blown labor, with painful, consistent contractions. I was admitted to Labor and Delivery and we got the news that I had no cervix left (later to be diagnose with an Incompetent Cervix– cruel name for a cruel condition)- I was fully dilated at 20 weeks 2 days, and I would be delivering and losing our son. Adam was devastated and emotionally wrought instantly…I’ve never seen him so emotionally devastated. I was more calm (I knew I had to get through the birth) and requested an epidural. I was damned if I was going to feel the physical and emotional pain of losing a child at the same time.
When Oscar arrived, the nurse asked me if I wanted to see him. There is nothing that could have prepared me for that question. I didn’t know how to answer. Adam was not in the room, having been escorted out while they administered the epidural. I asked what he would look like. Part of me was afraid of what I would see. There are many things you cannot un-see…would seeing him scar me and make my healing process harder? The doctor said “At this stage, they look a bit like aliens. Their head is still disproportionally large for their bodies and their skin is still transparent.”
They set Oscar aside, on the newborn warmer, in a blanket. After a few minutes, as Adam re-entered the room, I decided that I had to see him, my baby. The nurse handed him to me and I was blown away. He did not look like an alien…he looked tiny and perfect. He had a perfectly formed nose, mouth, tiny hands with fingernails, big feet with high arches like his Daddy, a little chin and perfect closed eyes. He also had weight. Holding him, he was substantial and real, all 10 ounces of him.
I was afraid of touching him, because he seemed so fragile…seems funny now and I wish I had touched him more. Adam was fearful of holding him at first, I think he had similar thoughts to my earlier “you can’t un-see certain things” thoughts…but he did and we are both glad we had that moment as a family, the three of us.
A nurse took pictures, which seems awkward and it was a little…but I am so thankful we have them. I collected Victorian mourning art long before this time in my life and always admired the Victorians’ ability to confront death head on and create memorial relics that could comfort them and remind them of their loved ones. The hospital took pictures of Oscar with and without us, inked his little feet and hands for stamps, and presented us with a memorial box that is a most treasured possession now.
We spent the day waiting for my legs to regain their feeling and trying to process the fact that we would be leaving the hospital empty handed, without Oscar. I asked Adam to announce our loss on Facebook. This seemed natural to me. I wanted everyone to know this important event had just happened. It felt like a battle cry. It worked. The feelings, thoughts, and prayers that rolled in in the form of comments, messages, and texts sustained us during those first crazy hours. We couldn’t speak to anyone but each other. We were raw and foraging in a space we had never imagined we would be. But whenever we needed to, we could read a comforting message and know that our extended family, which reaches across many miles and time zones, was there for us in whatever way we needed.
A social worker from the hospital visited us to give us information on support groups for parents who have suffered the loss of a child. She also gave us, what continues to be, the best advice we have received. “People will want to say things but won’t know what to say. Sometimes they will say the wrong thing. Forgive them.”
Forgive them. We had no idea how helpful this would become. It became our own private joke/ comfort blanket. The friend who said “It’s probably for the best.” The coworker who said “There’s a reason for everything.” The friend who asked about what we did with Oscar’s remains. The dear friend who can retell her own successful birth story for the 99th time in front of us with the same gusto as if it was the first. The parent who decided not to come to our wedding because of the emotional upheaval. “I had to forgive someone today,” we would say.
And we did. Everyone wants to help and no one knows how. Just as we were unprepared for this, so was everyone else. And there are success stories. Friends brought food– lots of food. Matzo ball soup really is medicine and it really does make you feel better. Sandwiches, hams, soups, cookies. People gave us books and sent beautiful flowers. It all helped. People coming over and visiting helped. Not being alone helped. Adam and I joked that we could write a book on “what to say” in these situations. It’s really simple– keep it simple and don’t try to make yourself feel better or answer a curiosity. Things that work:
“I am here for you”
“I am so sorry for your loss”
“You are in my thoughts”
“Let me know what you need”
“I am coming over with a deli tray”
Our wedding was in 6 days and it felt like it had been designed that way. Our closest core of friends and family would be flocking to us and surrounding us with their love to celebrate our love. Those first few days Adam and I have never felt closer. Losing a child, quite understandably, puts all bullshit into perspective. I felt no stress over anything and cared about nothing except being with Adam. The saying “us against the world” is cliche, but it is how we both felt in those early days. I went out briefly to get my nails done (I was getting married in 96 hours) and almost had an anxiety attack being separated from him for 1 hour. I called him on my way home and said through tears “I can’t explain it. I just feel like I can’t get home to you fast enough.” He said he knew how I felt– we both felt the same way. Everyone in the “real” world was carrying on with their daily lives and had no idea that this horrific thing had just happened. Only we knew. It was only us.
It just so happened that 2 days after we lost Oscar, there was a cyber holiday called National Infant Loss Day. I was mesmerized by an instagram post from Jessica Kraus of the House Inhabit blog. She posted about a loss she experienced at 17 weeks. My world of support widened. My heart didn’t feel alone. I posted a picture of Oscar’s foot and handprints. For a second, I questioned whether I would be judged for this. And then, as has happened in my internal monologue many times since then, I said “Fuck it. I just lost my child.” And I was glad and unashamed of sharing him.
We rewrote part of the wedding ceremony to mention and honor our son and both wore light blue ribbons for him. We wanted to honor Oscar, but also allow the celebration to continue.
I wish I could say it was the happiest day of my life…it was not. It was amazing and healing, and the wedding went off “without a hitch” as they say. I was happy and laughed a great deal that day. I also felt unattractive and had never planned on getting married in my 6 days post-birth body. I had imagined a cute baby bump and that pregnancy glow. It was also a distraction. After a wedding and honeymoon, we are still left with a reality we have to deal with.
Part of my healing and moving forward is coming to terms with knowing that when I look at my wedding photos, I will also be brought back to that week….that awful week that something really tragic happened. It is also the week I realized that Adam and I are very, very good at being partners to one another. I realized our friends really are our family. And I realized that I am stronger than I ever realized I could be.
–Christie Cook Cherensky
reposted with permission from Christie’s personal blog