Yesterday’s post was about Domestic Violence, but I said my life had been touched by 2 of the Awareness items for October.  Pregnancy loss and infant loss seems to be such a taboo subject.  Much like cancer, addiction, and yes, even domestic violence used to be.  But pregnancy loss and infant loss touch far more lives – lives that we all too often don’t even know about because Nobody Talks About It.

My story starts about the same time as yesterday’s post does, because the beginning of it involves my abusive ex-husband.  We weren’t very smart about our sexual activity – I wasn’t on the pill (yet), and he didn’t “like” to wear condoms, so we relied on the rhythm method.  Of course, you know the old joke – what do you call a woman/girl who uses rhythm?  Mom…

Yeah, I got pregnant.  I was 17, and although we were engaged, we didn’t really have to discuss it long and hard to figure out that we were NOT ready to have a baby.  I was a senior in high school, and at that time, girls just didn’t keep going to school when they were pregnant.  I didn’t want to drop out, and I didn’t want to keep going and end up graduating baby belly first (oh! the scandal!).  We weren’t going to accelerate the wedding date.  So really, the only alternative was to get an abortion.  I got the information on the clinic from the folks where I’d gotten my test (it might have been Planned Parenthood, I honestly don’t remember), and set the appointment.  It would take most of the day on a Saturday.  He had a job, and he paid the $200 for the procedure.  We made up some excuse to tell my parents about what we were doing that Saturday morning, he came and got me and stayed in the waiting room the whole time.  The main things I remember were the deep cold of the office, the way the other women avoided looking at each other, and the terrible discomfort of the actual procedure.  The thing I remember most about the fallout from the procedure was my then-fiance calling me a MURDERER for going through a procedure that he wanted to0, and which he had paid for.  What a hypocrite…  There was that emotional abuse again…  The other thing I remember was the conversation I had to have with my mother when she found the bottle of prescription meds they’d given me at the clinic (I can’t remember what they were for – pain? bleeding?).

I refused to let myself feel guilty over the choice I’d made – I knew I wanted children one day, but not now.  I wanted to be more sure of my ability to take care of a child, to provide him or her with a good life and a safe home environment, for him or her to never have any doubt that a child was wanted and welcomed completely into my life.  I went through the procedure knowing that I was still really a child myself.  To this day, I’m a staunch supporter of a woman’s right to choose.  I simply don’t want to imagine how drastically different my life would have been with a child – with HIS child.  He’d still be (at least peripherally) involved in my life, and so would his family.  I’d always be afraid that his violence would spill over onto my child – or worse yet, that my child would become an abuser like its father.

Years later, after I had divorced my abuser, and had grown much more as a person, and had developed a much more healthy self-esteem, I married again.  We had two beautiful daughters together, and they are truly the lights of my life.  I was able to be the Mom I always wanted to be for them.

But I miscarried once before each healthy pregnancy.  In early 1997, my sister and I both went off the Pill at that same time.  I didn’t really have a Plan, per se – my husband and I figured that a relaxed approach to conception would be best – we were Trying to get pregnant, but we were no longer NOT Trying, either.  My sister never did get pregnant – it turns out that somewhere in the previous decade, she’d hit Early Menopause.  We talked about me perhaps being a Surrogate Mother for her, but she and her husband opted for a childless life.  It was the best choice for them.

A year after going off the Pill, in early 1998, I skipped my period.  I’d been very regular up to that point, so I guessed that perhaps I’d caught a baby.  I took an over-the-counter test that said “Yes,”so I made an appointment with my GP, who confirmed it.  When I got home, my husband, who was packing the truck for a camping trip we were planning for the weekend, nearly fainted with the news.  We started making appointments with midwives.  We interviewed 3 midwives before we found the one we wanted to work with. We filled out paperwork, we told all our friends, we heard the heartbeat.  I was convinced I was carrying a girl.  It was starting to become “real”.

Then, in February, I started bleeding.  The midwife assured me this could be completely normal, and asked me to come in just to be sure.  She couldn’t find a heartbeat.  We made an appointment for an ultrasound, just to be sure.  He couldn’t find a heartbeat, either.  I’d lost the pregnancy.

I wasn’t prepared for that possibility.  I didn’t know what to feel.  I felt almost empty.  Even though this new life that had started to grow inside me had barely begun, it HAD begun.  I kept telling myself that I hadn’t really gotten attached to the idea (much less the baby) just yet.  My husband and I both felt like we needed to be strong for each other (without really talking about it).  I think I shed a few brief tears, but I didn’t really grieve or mourn.  The midwife said there was no reason why I couldn’t get pregnant again almost immediately – this sort of thing happens All The Time in early pregnancies.

I did get pregnant again almost immediately.  My cycle resumed very quickly, and we conceived in mid-April.  This pregnancy was a healthy one, and I loved Every Second of it.  Many women complain throughout their pregnancy, but I sailed through it rather easily.  This is what my body was designed to do.  I was delivered of a beautiful, healthy baby girl on New Year’s Eve 1998.  I remember thinking that if I’d known in my 20s that I was THAT good at being pregnant, I’d have definitely become a Surrogate Mother

In late summer of 2000, I once again skipped a period, and we went through the whole process again – testing and re-testing to confirm, setting the appointment with the midwife, hearing the heartbeat, then weeks later, the bleeding and not finding the heartbeat and the emptiness of realizing that I’d lost another pregnancy.  I think this was the start of my depression – which I later termed “post-partum,” but in hindsight, I really do think it started here.  Getting laid off from my job in Feb. of 2001 didn’t help, either.  It took several more months to get pregnant again, but I did, and had a second beautiful, healthy daughter on Dec. 27 of 2001.

Losing those pregnancies – babies that I wanted, conceived in love – was hard.  I think the hardest part was that we didn’t let ourselves grieve and mourn together.  Without discussing it, we both decided to be “strong.”  I’m forever grateful for the children I have, and I have no regrets, but there will always be a little “what if” in the back of my mind about the ones that never were.

A year and a half ago, a fellow musician I know (Annette) lost her pregnancy at full term.  I had played music with her a couple of times, and didn’t know her very well, but suddenly I felt a strong connection to her.  She very bravely put a public face on Pregnancy and Infant Loss, writing a raw, heart-wrenching blog about her experience.  She made everybody around her uncomfortable because – really – what DO you say to someone who has lost a baby?  How DO you comfort a parent who has suffered such a huge and unimaginable loss?  There’s nothing that can be said or done that will ever make it right, or ever make it better, or ever make it easier.  We were uncomfortable because not a single one of us wanted to be in her shoes, or to think about the possibility about ever being in her shoes.  And yet, as uncomfortable as it was to read her blog, and to witness her pain and anguish, she inspired me.  By being so honest about what she was going through (and is *still* going through, having then lost a second pregnancy after conceiving again), she awakened the grief that I have been carrying with me for all these years over my unborn babies.  She inspires many, many, many other women who have also lost a baby – letting them know that they are NOT alone and they do NOT have to suffer in silence and that every single bit of emotion they are experiencing is VALID.

Every single one of you reading this story knows at least one woman who has lost a pregnancy or lost an infant (probably more).  Every.  Single.  One of you.  Do her (and you!) a favor.  Ask her to share her story.  Ask her about her hopes and dreams for that baby.  Ask her about the pain she still carries in her heart and the emptiness of her arms.  It doesn’t matter if she’s had another child or many other children – I guarantee you that loss STILL affects her.  Hold her hand, put your arms around her, listen with your heart.  It might not be comfortable or easy to listen, but she will never forget your kindness.  Every mother wants to talk about her children – even the ones that didn’t live.