This blog addresses various emotional aspects of experiencing infertility. It is written by a clinical psychologist who specializes in infertility counseling. Thank you for reading, and best of luck with your journey!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

On loss and miscarriage after infertility

Today, of course, is the tenth anniversary of the terrible events which occurred on September 11, 2001. For all of us, it is impossible to avoid thinking about where we were when we heard about the attacks. But for me, I also can't help remember what I was that day--which was pregnant, for the first time.

I was driving through Chicago gridlock to get my second hcg level drawn when I heard the news that planes were crashing into the World Trade Center. It was following my first IVF, which was a disaster all around, and worthy of a blog post in its own right. I was shocked and horrified all day long as the events unfolded. In addition, I was quite anxious and worried, waiting to hear "the number" from the IVF clinic. When it more than doubled, I was ecstatic, and yet I felt terribly guilty, feeling happy when so much tragedy had occurred.

But my happiness and excitement was short-lived. A few weeks later, my first ultrasound revealed a sac but no heartbeat. After a torturous week of waiting, another ultrasound confirmed my suspicions--I was having a miscarriage. I remember before the ultrasound appointment, I looked online at all the different stages of fetal development, and I had a feeling that my pregnancy would never progress in that way. I remember the way my husband, unable to reach my hand, grabbed my foot when the ultrasound technician told us there was not going to be a baby. I remember crying so hard in my RE's office that he escorted me out the back door of his office, I think less for my own comfort than his fear that I would scare the other patients in the waiting room.

The next afternoon I was scheduled for a D & C. I took a walk in the morning, thinking this was the last thing my "baby" and I would do together. At the hospital, things went worse. As I was waiting to go into surgery, crying the whole time, I heard the patient in the next cubicle, crying herself, only for a different reason--she had just found out she was pregnant, and therefore unable to have her surgery.

After the D & C, my hcg levels would not drop. Every week, I was back at the RE's office for more blood draws. During one of them, one of the nurses (and she was not, unfortunately, one of those great nurses we all know and love) questioned me as to whether or not she should put "pregnant" as my diagnosis--technically I was pregnant, but we all knew the situation. As do so many women who suffer a miscarriage, I desperately wanted to cycle again and get pregnant as soon as possible--but my body was not cooperating. Another ultrasound revealed that fetal matter had been left in my uterus during my D & C, so I had to have another one two months later. All in all, it was not a pleasant experience.

When the chromosomal test results came in from the D & C, the nurse was reluctant to tell me the sex of the fetus, but relented after I pressed her repeatedly--it was a boy, and the chromosomal tests came back normal, leaving the cause of the miscarriage, like so many, a mystery.

Although it has been ten years since these events occurred, I can still feel the sting of them. I am often asked by clients when the pain resulting from miscarriage and loss goes away. My best guess is that it doesn't really ever leave us, although the intensity of the feelings does lessen over time.

I have often thought about writing a blog entry about coping with loss and miscarriage after infertility, but the same thing has always stopped me: I don't have any words of wisdom about this subject. To me, every miscarriage or loss just seems really, really sad. There doesn't seem to be any way to avoid that. Although it is a relatively common experience among women, infertile or no, it still seems a very personal and cutting loss. The best I can offer is to listen to and sit with all the sad feelings that come up, and to pass the Kleenex when needed. A friend of mine, after struggling with infertility, lost her baby to a chromosomal disorder at 32 weeks, and with her, it seemed like she was grieving in some sort of emotional ditch. All I could do is crawl down into the ditch with her, listen, hold her hand, and try to bear witness to her incredible sadness.

The other odd thing about recovering from a miscarriage or loss is that life goes on, and so do we. As I watched my adopted daughter today, participating in a balloon release to commemorate 9/11, I reflected that if I hadn't miscarried my first pregnancy, it was unlikely that she would be here, in this town, on this football field, releasing balloons. I could not have loved her more than at that moment, and yet I still felt sad about the little one that never was to be. So many of my clients have reported a similar mix of happiness and grief, all jumbled together. I don't think there is any way of avoiding those feelings either.

To me, it is even more surprising that on this ten year anniversary of my first confirmed pregnancy, I find myself pregnant again, with a boy, who will hopefully be born healthy and happy in a few weeks. Like all mothers and mothers-to-be, I just hope that my children and I can make it through this day together, and for all
of the days that follow.