Pregnancy Loss and Life

“A magical, intangible process, healing is an art, not a science.” – Herbal Healing for Women by Rosemary Gladstar

Sharing Our Stories

According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, early pregnancy loss is common. It happens in about 10% of known pregnancies.

It’s been a regular part of wombanhood since the beginning of our species; however, it is rarely shared in our culture as part of our process as reproductive beings.

A grieving mom started an awareness movement in 2002 after experiencing 6 miscarriages and feeling that her support system could not fully understand her loss. The more women share their stories, the more our communities learn, relate, and sensitively support one another through these experiences.

I went through a loss early in pregnancy in February 2021, and felt immediately connected to all of the women, past, present, and future, that have stayed the inevitable course. Channels for what is, for what is life, for what is no longer, for what cannot be controlled.

An Unexpected Pregnancy

I had to rummage through a pile of papers on my desk to find this photo printout:

Jessica’s 1st Ultrasound Pic from 2nd Pregnancy in 2021

I was totally surprised to find out I was pregnant at the beginning of 2021. The world was a mess, my husband just had ankle surgery from a skateboarding injury and was pretty immobile, we had a fire in our previous home, I just moved us into our new place with a maniacally nursing toddler racing around, and then I got ocular shingles. As the dust settled, I realized I hadn’t had my period yet! A flickering glimmer of life was multiplying deep in my belly, despite the chaos around us, filling me with joy, numbing the tumultuous mood of our recent past.

When I went in for my first ultrasound, the midwife observed a tiny yolk sac on the screen appearing to be at 5 weeks development. Normally, the first scan takes place at 8 weeks development, when cardiac movement is visible. Even though it was 7+ weeks after the first day of my last period, that little sparkle was indicating I had shown up too early to check in.

My mind was racing… did I ovulate much later than usual, meaning conception took place much later than I thought? Could be.. since I was sick and under a lot of stress. OR, is this spark of life cells subdividing and multiplying at a slower rate than normal, indicating it may not be viable?

Well, I didn’t know which way it would go. So rather than jumble my mind with worry, I took a deep breath, and scheduled another appt for the following week. At that point, we’d be able to see if this star was chugging along in its process or stopping in its teeny tracks.

2nd Check-In

So I went back for a second ultrasound, and the spark had grown from the previous scan ten days prior! πŸ˜… We could see the flickering of cardiac movement, and the ultrasound tech said it looked like a normal 5 to 6 week embryo. The midwife called that evening to congratulate me, and we made another appointment for 10 days later, when we could better assess.

I spent that whole week feeling relieved and excited… but also very confused. How am I only six weeks pregnant, when the first day of my last period was nine weeks ago? I must have ovulated way late. “Jess! Stop overthinking it… conceiving of new life is magic, so enough with the calculations!!!” — I told myself.

And so, I accepted this miracle I could see in the present moment, flickering along on that ultrasound screen. Grateful for what is. Grateful for whatever will be.

3rd Check-In

There I was again… in the same ultrasound room, with the same tech that confirmed baby was alive and growing just 10 days before.

I sat up on the table, as she got ready to begin the scan. She asked if I wanted the screen facing me to be on or off, sensitive to the fact that the news may not please me. “Keep it on,” I said. I felt open to all possible outcomes, and we’d already had a strange timeline.

So, in she went. The image popped up on the screen. She probed around until she found the sac containing the embryo. “I’m sorry. There has been no further growth, and no cardiac movement. I’ll call over to the midwives’ office and you can walk across and meet with them when you’re ready.” She left the room.

Excerpt from painting by Giselle Mariel Ibarra @sincerely.art

As I put my pants back on, I slowly took back all of the projections I’d made about this little one’s life… about what the weather would be like at its end-of-summer due date, about how old I’d be when they’d be born, about how old Yarrow would be when she’d become a big sister…

I felt sad. I felt okay. Deep breath.

I imagined my spirit baby close by, to guide me through whatever would come next, even though he had left the pea-sized physical body inside mine.

Now what comes next? How will the teeny body, now void of life, find its way out of mine? What does that process look like?

As I walked over to the midwives’ office, I voice-to-texted my seemingly endless questions… which perhaps distracted me from my emotions.

Friends, I took a lot of photos of what I experienced in the coming days, which are shared here when you scroll down. They may seem overly graphic, but I think it’s important to share more realness on this so that more of us have a greater understanding of what SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO many women go through. 1 in 4 pregnancies! It’s a lot.

Midwife Meeting

So I met with the midwife, who assured me that most all early miscarriages are due to a chromosomal abnormality, and that the embryo and my body were wise to halt its development. She handed me a generic, nice enough form about self-care for pregnancy loss and instructions for monitoring my temperature.

She said I had the choice of either letting my body expel the embryo and the cushiony contents of my uterus naturally, or to schedule a D&C procedure, where they’d surgically remove the remains of the pregnancy under local anesthetic.

At that point, I was technically 10.5 weeks pregnant, even though the embryo looked to have stopped growing at 6 weeks. I asked if she thought I’d be able to pass it naturally, or if it would be like birthing an avocado.

“Oh, no no no… it is still relatively small,” she said. “Maybe the size of a blueberry tops. You’ll have a lot of bleeding and pass a lot of clots, but it will not feel like full-term birth labor. If you choose to do this naturally at home, it will likely occur within a few days to a week. If you don’t like the idea of waiting, we can give you a drug to speed up the process.”

I was relieved to understand I could do this on my own. My womb shuddered at the thought of being surgically scraped out, and I anticipated that I needed the gritty, slower physical process to feel more deeply in touch with what was happening. The midwife said I’d first experience some cramping as a sign that things were beginning, then the bleeding would start shortly after.

So, with that news, I headed home to my husband and toddler. We all hugged and cried, and then carried on with the rest of our afternoon routine.

Back Home with my Family

Yarrow seemed to nurse A LOT that evening. A LOT the next morning. Maybe partly because my energy was needing the snuggles, but also, I felt her knowing. Her nursing releases oxytocin in me, that helps the uterus contract, just as it did at her birth. We three bodies, Yarrow, embryo, and I (and my womb) were re-entering our familiar primal state of hormonal chemical communication.

We were completely surrendered to our scenario. Then sure enough, early that morning when I got up to go to the bathroom, I noticed I had passed some pink tissue… maybe the size of a dime. I was certain it was part of my mucus plug. My cervix was softening, preparing for the day.

First signs of the process of release: bits of pink tissue from the mucus plug

Yarrow was up early with me. We were hosting friends later, so we did what any normal miscarrying woman would do: we began to prep a lasagna! πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ

Early morning routine of emptying out the kitchen cabinets. IYKYK

Our friends arrived that afternoon, and I debated if I should let them know I expected to miscarry any day (or really any moment).

Bodies Bleed

Wintry walk with friends before the release got to really releasing…

We all went on a walk together, and when we returned to the house, I went to the bathroom to see that some bleeding had begun. I didn’t know how much time I’d have before it would increase in intensity, and I really thought I’d have some warning cramps first, as the midwife described.

Nope.

I sat down on the (thankfully DARK navy) sofa, and bam… I felt a big gush. Crap. Well, I better tell our friends what they’re in for…

“Hey, so… I meant to bring this up sooner, but didn’t know exactly if it would be going down while you’re here, but… I’m miscarrying. Like right now. I feel okay. (Do I feel okay??). Maybe a little lightheaded. If you guys want to go home, that is totally cool, but yeah, I just want you to know what I’m going through, and that I’m happy for you to stay.” Truly I was. And I needed the support.

Of course they comforted Andrew and I, as good friends do, but I’m not sure if they realized my body was doing a lot of releasing in that moment… I slowly stood up and walked backwards in my black jeans to our bathroom.

Bloody exhale

When I went to the toilet, I could feel blobby clots coming through and plopping into the water. I honestly wasn’t noticeably cramping. I put on a pad, and decided to hang with our friends and have some of that lasagna… still thinking I wasn’t fully in it yet.

And then back to the bathroom I went. Many times. Regular pads were not enough. I didn’t have any heavy duty ones, so I grabbed Yarrow’s luxurious bamboo diapers and wore them like pads, changing them often. It was actually a perfect solution.

I finally got the cue to retreat from our friends, to let them play with Yarrow, while I tend to my experience with my red raspberry leaf tea in hand.

Andrew went out to get me some heavy flow pads, but by the time he returned, the bleeding had calmed down. I lined up all of my pads (mainly diapers!) on our bathroom floor in chronological order so that I could wrap my head around what just happened from 4-7pm:

I went to bed, feeling a little crampy. The next morning, I woke up with some newfound energy and a deep desire to meditate on this piece of life that passed through.

Excavation Meditation

Andrew & Yarrow went out for the day, leaving me hone by myself for the first time in forever. I honored my burning curiousity to find the sac amidst the clots on the chux pad that still sat on my bathroom floor.

Half mad-scientist, half mama-beast, I followed my instincts and found it right away! It was so beautiful. A spherical jellyfish-like transparent orb, about 1.5″ in diameter, glowing, filled with the magical sacred waters that foster new life. I stripped away a bot of the tissue (placenta?) around it to uncover more detail.

To cup it in my hands, to peer inside, holding it up to the light was AWE.SOME. My heart was bursting, visualizing the tiny, holographic cellular embryo, suspended in holy fluid, that couldn’t quite follow the prescribed path to becoming a fully-formed human. It was a heavy, special moment. It’s okay. It is all an honor to witness, to hold, to carry, to pass. How fragile, yet fierce, the beginning of life is.

What a truly humbling experience. I felt complete. I felt grateful to embody a process that so may go through and will continue to go through, for as long as birth and death exist.

Yarrow came home and we took an herb-infused bath together. She put her head on my heart and she said she wanted to listen. She’d never done that before. So in tune.

To the spirit baby that fluttered away, we are here, we are listening. When your time is right, know that our hearts are open to you.

The Cycle of Life Continues

Another weird and wonderful alignment with my February pregnancy loss was the birth of my niece, my sister Carly’s first born, just a week later.

Carly went through a confusing loss almost exactly a year before, and I witnessed her strength and rightful frustration throughout that trying time, as by-her-side as I could be. She recovered, and by late spring, was excitedly pregnant again.

We hosted her mama/baby blessing before I had my first scan to confirm my pregnancy. When it was determined that I’d miscarry, Carly was only a week away from her due date, and I struggled to find a resonant reason to share my news with her. I also didn’t feel like I needed to share. She gifted me so much insight as a witness to her experience the year before, that I felt her with me, supporting from our realm of subconscious sisterhood.

The weekend after my miscarriage, I really wanted to see Carly, in all her glowy full-pregnancy glory. Yarrow, our other sister Amy, and I, went to visit and cuddled up close to Carly and her pregnant belly.

Feeling self-conscious of my energy, I checked in with myself. Am I bringing darkness to her holy space, having just sat with death inside me? Was it okay to touch her? My guides rolled their eyes at me and declared, “Girl, you are full of light! You better get in there and do what you do!!!”

Okay. Yes. Proud of the work I had done around my own completion the last weekend, I rubbed my hands together and softly felt around my sister’s body, offering comforting touch and so much love. She felt SO CALM, so relaxed… the perfect demeanor for a soon-to-be-birthing mother.

Her peace made me certain the baby would go past the “due date.” I spent the next half hour pushing on acupressure points for encouraging labor. We ate some pizza and then we kissed Carly goodbye.

Hours later, we got texts that she was in labor!

Hours after that, our beautiful niece Linlee was born! 2/15/21!

Yarrow and I holding Carly’s new baby girl in our matching sweatshirts.

Life is beautiful. Loss and birth, cycles and sisters, all layering and overlapping, reminding us to keep our heads in the present, where life truly is happening. When one portal closes, another is opening. Magic everywhere.