It is estimated that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in a first trimester loss. I felt like knowing that for my entire adult life was preparation for the possibility — or what even seemed like the inevitability — that I might miscarry and it wouldn’t be that bad. I felt prepared.
On August 28, 2004, I woke up, nursed my daughter Gavriella, and then fed her breakfast in her highchair. She was only nursing once or twice a day at that point and I knew she would soon stop nursing altogether. When I got up from the chair I’d been sitting in, I realized there was blood on the chair. Never in my life had I bled through my clothes onto the surface I was sitting on, so right away I knew something was very wrong. I bled heavily for the next hour and my husband James and I commented how odd it was that I was getting my period, because I had JUST gone to the mikveh. So I took a home pregnancy test and it was positive.
I went to the emergency room, where I learned that the medical term for a miscarriage is “spontaneous abortion.” I was there ALL day long. I received injected medication (Methargine) to help the miscarriage, my veins were accessed and de-accessed, as I received fluids and endured blood tests. They tried to discharge me twice, insisting my numbers were fine and I could complete the miscarriage at home. The second time, I was very honest with the doctor and said that I was concerned that I was going to bleed out and die. She tried to argue, but I suddenly said, “I don’t feel well.” She took my hand in what I’d thought was a moment of compassion, but I now realize she was checking my pulse…and I fell back on the table.
That was all my body could handle; I needed surgery.
And I was so sad. I was sad for the baby that wasn’t going to get to be born…because I kinda like it in the outside world. And I was sad for Gavriella because with two doses of Methargine and the surgery they were going to perform under general anesthesia and the strong antibiotics that they were going to put me on for the next week, she was never going to be nurse again. And I was sad for me, because DESPITE FEELING PREPARED, two of the things that I thought my body was supposed to be able to do were both taken from me on the same day.
I had surgery — a D and C. I went home that evening and the following week, something amazing happened. I was never alone. I was served meals in other people’s homes, and was able to rely on my friends and the community that we had created for ourselves at The Bayit (our synagogue) to hold my daughter. Because after all the jabs and pokes, my veins had collapsed. And now, not only could I not nurse my child, but I couldn’t hold her very easily, either. And so other people did. And since then, I’ve wondered what people who do not belong to a community like mine do when they are in a bad situation. Because I kept telling myself that it wasn’t that bad.
Going through it believing that it wasn’t that bad didn’t prepare me for the possibility that it would happen again.
And it did.
Two years after having my second child, I got pregnant again. And at about 11 weeks, I had the first trimester screen. The sonogram technician was taking measurements, and listening to the fluid flow, and the heartbeat (which I had already heard), and then said, “I’m going to get the doctor.”
The doctor came in and took measurements, and she turned the screen to me so I could see, and I saw my baby. And then she zoomed in on its brain and I saw the hole, which looked like it was in the shape of a triangle, and she said, “Normally, at this point, we would see the baby’s brain fully developed. It might be nothing. Go across the hall for the blood work.”
I did. Then I left. And I started to daven. Out loud, in English, I asked God to heal the baby. I started singing. Because when we’re singing, it’s like we’re praying twice, and that seemed more efficient. I sang running errands. I sang washing dishes. I sang walking Gavri to school. I sang so much in those days that on one of those walks to school, Gavri looked up and asked, “Mommy, are you davening?” (Because she’s raised at The Bayit (where prayer includes a lot of song.))
Then I thought I was being impractical, so I just asked for the strength to deal with whatever came next. But that wasn’t what I wanted! I wanted a perfect child and it didn’t look like I was going to get one. So I asked God for a miscarriage.
About one week later, my doctor called. The blood tests — which have a 5% false positive rate — had come back. The results only gave us the risk likelihood, not an actual diagnosis. But we learned that there was a four out of five chance that the baby I was carrying had a chromosomal abnormality: Trisomy 13 or Trisomy 18. Most of us are familiar with Trisomy 21 — Down Syndrome. But both Trisomy 13 and Trisomy 18 are “Bad. They’re very bad. Not compatible with life.”
My doctors had us meet with a genetic counselor, and when we did, we learned that there was about a 90% likelihood that I would lose the baby some time before the end of the pregnancy, but no one could tell me when. We were told that the average survival time for born babies is 7-14 days, during which time we’d be offered palliative care. That would be like hospice for our baby.
And I knew I didn’t want it. Termination was an option presented to me. But they recommended a follow-up test called “CVS” for further information first. So I could come on Friday and then make arrangements to terminate my pregnancy.
But James knew that we needed to consult with our rabbi first. Thank God, he did, because that night, we met with our rabbi at the time, who helped us understand the question in the context of faith and family. The rabbi explained that Judaism places great value on the health of the mother, even the mental health. “It’s the mother’s decision,” the rabbi told us. “Not only do you have to support it, James, but you have to tell Ann that you support whatever choice she makes.”
I cried myself to sleep that night.
But the next morning, I woke up bleeding. I was thrilled. I was giddy. I was getting what I wanted!
I feel guilty about that to this day.
By the afternoon, I was in my doctor’s office alone with severe cramping. I had told James that I would call him before I went in for surgery because I had done this before and I felt prepared. I was standing over the toilet in the small bathroom, changing into an exam gown, and there was a huge rush of fluid, very similar to the rush I experienced when I my water broke during labor with my kids, and everything came out. And when I tell you that everything came out, I mean that there, in the bottom of the toilet, was what looked like a very small baby with its hands on either side of its face.
I left the bathroom and I went into the exam room and the doctor came in and I said, “I think you have to check the toilet. I think I just passed a mass.”
And she did.
And she said, “That looks like your fetus.”
And I said, “I know.”
She asked me if I wanted her to leave and I said,
“No! Please. Don’t leave me alone…”
I started to cry and said, “…I have two little girls…What a horrible thing to happen to a baby…”
And again, I felt sad for that baby.
Life goes on, just slightly affected. There are triggers. Newly pregnant women and early pregnancy announcements are among some triggers for me. Even my own pregnancy was a trigger: I got pregnant again a short time later with our son, but didn’t want to talk about it. With anyone. Including my husband. So I didn’t tell anyone. Including my husband.
And now, I take care of babies. One thing that’s really hard for me is when people look at one of the babies I’m caring for and say, “Can you believe his mother doesn’t want him?” “What kind of mother doesn’t want her baby?”
So, how about this, instead: “He is so lucky to have so many people holding and taking care of him.”
Or, “She is so lucky.” Because, in fact, that’s how I have felt in my journey: held and taken care of by so many.
First presented as part of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale’s program on infertility and pregnancy loss.