Pregnancy After Loss: Healing and Hoping. My Personal Story and 5 Things I learned
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and while this topic is often reserved for October, it should be acknowledged and discussed at any time of year. In Canada, 15%-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage meaning that to date in 2020, between 5,676,153 to 7,567,204 women have been affected by early pregnancy loss.
I experienced my first loss back in 2015, a few months before I got married. It was a chemical pregnancy and we weren’t trying so the loss came and went without much thought. As much as I wanted to get pregnant I wasn’t necessarily in the right frame of mind to think about pregnancy.
Fast forward to January 2016. My husband and I were married for 6 months and growing our family was definitely on our radar. I was taking some basic prenatal supplements and 3 months into trying, I decided it was time to “up my game.” Being a Naturopathic Doctor with a clinical focus in fertility, pregnancy, postpartum and pediatric health, meant that I had insight into the reproductive world. When I hadn’t conceived by March 2016, I decided to reach out to my Family Doctor to do a comprehensive hormone and fertility panel because I didn’t want to wait for the 12-month mark and a potential label as “infertile.” I borrowed my girlfriend’s fertility monitor and the following month we got pregnant. We had our first daughter in January 2017.
I felt lucky, I felt unstoppable and I felt ready to grow our family again come the fall of 2017. I pulled out my handy fertility monitor, got back on my basic prenatal supplement program and on December 25, 2017 we got another positive result. Needless to say we were ecstatic. Things were “going as planned” and I was excited to have a September baby.
But something didn’t feel right.
I had a gnawing anxiety - a feeling in the back of my mind and deep down in my heart. We celebrated my daughters 1st birthday while I experienced what I thought was horrible morning sickness (it wasn’t. It was a stomach bug that I so graciously passed along to all our guests).
When I went for my dating ultrasound a few days later I knew something was wrong. My husband was running late and I went into the appointment alone – after all, they don’t allow the partner to be present for the entire appointment, only the last few minutes to see the baby. The technician had a horrified look on her face and after what seemed like forever, told me that she could only see a gestational sac but no fetal pole or heartbeat. She questioned if my “timing was correct” or if I could have been off with my ovulation (I wasn’t). I was advised to return 1 week later to see if there was any growth. I knew there wouldn’t be any. I knew what the ultrasound meant.
I spent the next 7 days in a constant state of panic. As devastated as I was at the idea of experiencing a miscarriage, my biggest fear was actually having a D&C. You see, in 2011 I chose to have an abortion. I was dating an alcoholic and having a baby was not an option. It was a traumatic time for me and I chose to go through the process under general anesthetic. I literally did not want to be present for the experience and it took me many years to move past that traumatic situation.
When I had my second ultrasound 1 week later confirming that there was no growth, I was diagnosed with a “blighted ovum.” I wondered if it was a karmic event: was I experiencing this torment because I had an abortion all those years earlier? I prayed that my body would naturally miscarry and the night before my scheduled D&C it did. That was truly the one and only silver lining.
One of the hardest parts about experiencing a miscarriage was going through it alone. Even though my family knew (I had shared the news about the pregnancy weeks before. Could this have been the reason I was miscarrying? Was the superstition true?), I didn’t want to talk about it with them. My husband, who is normally super supportive, actually didn’t understand what I was going through and to be honest, kind of brushed the experience to the side. In his mind “it was early” and “there was never a heartbeat” so it wasn’t really such a big deal. He couldn’t understand why I was feeling so sad, so depressed and so alone. He simply thought we would just try again, not recognizing the toll the miscarriage was having on me physically, let alone emotionally. It probably took 7-8 months for him to finally get it.
One of the hardest parts about having a miscarriage after having a child is having the put on a brave face all the time. Sitting at home and crying, binge watching Y&R or focusing my anger and pain into a work out was hardly an option. Going through the experience with a partner who simply didn’t understand made the process incredibly lonely and difficult.
We decided to change our experience. Instead of letting the expected due date (September 6, 2018) show its face in the normalcy of our typical routine, we decided to take a trip with our daughter to Portugal. We wanted to create a new memory – one that was happy and filled with hope. We booked our trip and decided to try to get pregnant one more time but under one stipulation. I was only willing to try for 1 month because I refused to be pregnant in Europe during my first trimester. I wanted to know I was close to home in case a second miscarriage would be part of my story.
We got pregnant that month. The new expected due date? February 14, 2019, almost a year to the date of my miscarriage. I was terrified but I was hopeful. I didn’t just start a basic supplement regimen: I took a number of different supplements that are meant to prevent miscarriage. I saw a Naturopath who gave me acupuncture to boost my outcomes and reduce my anxiety all the while acknowledging my grief.
We travelled to Portugal and spent the morning of September 6th 2018 in an old Jewish Synagogue where I silently prayed for our healthy baby during our tour. We planted a tree in Israel to honor the baby that we lost. My heart felt full for the first time all year because my husband finally truly understood the loss and even though he didn’t necessarily feel the same way, he was able to acknowledge how it affected me. My heart was full because we had created a new lifelong memory, just as we wanted. Our daughter was with us and I was pregnant with our second daughter. She was healthy. I felt good. We were having a baby and I was full of hope and gratitude. In February 2019 our beautiful daughter was born and we truly came full circle. Instead of reliving the grief of the miscarriage that February I had a beautiful home birth and lived my own miracle. Once again, we created a new memory that was full of happiness, hope and gratitude.
Today we are pregnant once more with our third daughter. This pregnancy wasn’t planned and she is truly our bonus baby. We always said that we were happy with 2 children and if we were meant to have a third it would be up to the universe. She is due February 2021. A month that was full of so much loss is now filled with so much joy. Joy can come from loss.
So what did I learn from my own experience? A few things, that’s for sure.
1. Miscarriage is more common than we think but because we don’t talk about it women often feel alone, isolated and ashamed. Finding support is essential in moving forward. Once I started talking about it, I had so many friends reach out to me that shared my experience. I wish I hadn’t waited so long because the support of other women would have filled a void that my husband couldn’t understand.
2. Karma had nothing to do with it. I didn’t “deserve” to have a miscarriage for any reason. There is no act or thought that I did or had in the past that caused my miscarriage. A does not equal B. Part of getting over the grief of my miscarriage was accepting this concept and letting go of my past decision to have an abortion. I held on to the guilt and grief of that decision for so many years and while that was an experience I did have control over, I did not have any control over my miscarriage.
3. Grief is not something that diminishes over time. The intensity of grief is always the same but the time between those grieving moments eventually get further between. When you experience a loss, there is no such thing as “getting over it.” When a wave of grief hits you acknowledge it, accept it and sit with it. Identify the trigger, feel your pain and reach out for support whether it's speaking with your partner, a friend or family member or a health care professional.
4. Find a way to change your story. This doesn’t mean rewrite history or find a way to erase your experience. It means to find a way to turn heartache into joy. For me that meant planning a family vacation and honouring our expected due date in a way that filled my heart. Now, every time September 6th rolls around, instead of reminiscing on what could have been, I have a beautiful memory of Portugal – a once in a lifetime experience that I am so thankful for. Every year on February 8th, the day of my miscarriage, I have a “me day” where I get my hair and nails done, go for a massage or do anything that fills my heart. It’s a day where I commit myself to self-care.
5. If your goal is to grow your family, consider different methods to optimize your fertility and pregnancy outcomes. Conventionally that means speaking with your Family Doctor or working with a fertility clinic but it also means working with a Naturopathic Doctor. Naturopathic Doctors often look into additional factors that might be impeding your fertility success. They typically recommend more in depth testing that their conventional colleagues overlook and prescribe supplements or medications that can prevent miscarriage and optimize your chances of a successful pregnancy. I truly believe this made a difference for myself but I have also seen this time and time again with my patients. Feel free to learn more here.
If you’ve read my blogs in the past, you know this one isn’t like anything I’ve ever written. If you’ve read to the end, I appreciate you taking the time to read my story. It is the first time in almost 3 years that I’ve actually shared it. When I first sat down to blog today I didn’t expect to write about my personal experience but it’s what came to me and I’m glad it did. If you have experienced a miscarriage and want to share your experience, feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me any time. Whether you’re my patient or not, I am here to listen. I will always offer a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on.
If you do want to learn more about how I can optimize your fertility and pregnancy outcomes, feel free to click here or complete a free consultation request form. Visits are available both online and in-person, out of my home office in Maple or out of Uptown Midwives and Family Wellness in North York. Visits are covered by Extended Health Insurance so if you have benefits, be sure you’re taking advantage of them.
Thank you for reading my story,
Dr. Shelly Ordon, N.D.