This is the most difficult blog post I have written so far. I wondered whether I should keep quiet about our loss and keep our pain private. But there is a tendency to share the good stuff and hide away the bad stuff, especially when it comes to pregnancy loss, and I thought I’d break out of that pattern. This will be the sad story of how we lost our baby boy halfway through my pregnancy. (If you find the topic of pregnancy loss triggering, please don’t read any further.)
We got happily pregnant in August and were looking forward to the birth of our second baby. I was nauseous during the first trimester, just like with William. I got through those tough first few months of queasiness and fatigue, emerging on the other side with energy and excitement: the second trimester truly is the honeymoon period of pregnancy for me.
At 19.5 weeks, on December 15, we had our 20-week ultrasound. It was excellent! The baby was developing well, all organs were doing well, and basically everything looked good. We were having a little boy! We made jokes about it because we had had a bet: I’d said that it’d be a girl, and my husband (Jacob) had said it’d be a boy. Well, he’d been right, and we were going to have one more healthy little boy.
At 20 weeks exactly, on December 20, I rolled over in bed upon waking up, and I felt my membranes rupture, or my “waters break.” I wasn’t sure because it wasn’t as dramatic as the big rupture during William’s labor, but it still felt similar. It was way too early for the membranes to rupture (this was at 20 weeks of pregnancy, and the usual duration of pregnancy is 40 weeks), so I called my obstetrician. We were called into the hospital to get checked out and, yes, my membranes had ruptured.
We weren’t sure how bad this was; we were mostly anxious. Then, two gynecologists came to speak to us in the examination room. You know things are bad two gynecologist come to speak to you at the same time. They were very, very kind, and they explained that this was a truly unfortunate situation.
Apparently, my membranes had ruptured, which meant that amniotic fluid was leaking out. There were two ways this could develop: either enough amniotic fluid could stay with the baby, in which case the pregnancy could continue alright, or the amniotic fluid leaking could trigger early labor, in which case the baby would be born too early and most likely would pass away. They couldn’t give us probabilities on the two outcomes; we’d just have to wait and see.
“But what caused this?”, we asked. Did I do something wrong? Did I cycle too far? Did I walk too much? Did I pick up William when I shouldn’t have? Did I do the wrong exercise? “There’s nothing you did wrong,” they said. “You couldn’t have done anything to prevent this.” Apparently, it was a structural issue of how the membranes form on the placenta, something called circumvallate placenta (we found this out after the delivery). “Building a human is very delicate work, and it can go wrong. This is like a glitch in the system where something just doesn’t go the way it should.”
In a way, it was reassuring to know we hadn’t done anything wrong. In another way, it was terrifying to think that something can just go wrong so late in pregnancy. I knew that miscarriages are common in the first weeks of pregnancy, that sometimes the baby just doesn’t form well, doesn’t embed well into the uterine wall or whatever, and that’s why early miscarriages are common. But at 20 weeks of pregnancy? After the 20-week ultrasound had assured us everything was fine and we were having a boy? Glitches weren’t supposed to happen at this stage.
Things going downhill
In the beginning, we didn’t allow ourselves to think it would be so bad. Sure, a little bit of amniotic fluid was leaking, but the placenta makes amniotic fluid, so it’s fine, it’ll replenish it, the baby will be fine. Things will go well for us, we’re not going to lose this baby. It’s just a little scare. I’ll go home and rest, I’ll take it easy for the next few months, and everything will be okay.
Gradually, over the next week, things started getting worse. My symptoms got more severe, with more amniotic fluid leaking, more bleeding, and contractions starting. I can’t describe the painful uncertainty of those 8 days. It was like living in limbo, not knowing whether the pregnancy would continue for another day or not, whether our baby would live another day or not.
We were in the hospital every other day for check ups or midnight visits, depending on my symptoms. With every increase in symptoms (stronger contractions, more bleeding), we thought this was it. We were going to lose our baby now. And then we’d go to the hospital, where the doctors would try to give us hope. There may be a tiny chance left that things go well. And we’d go home, hoping against hope, waiting.
Here, I have to give a shout out to our friends Sue, Petra, and Marjo who took care of William. One of my biggest worries was who would take care of William while we’re at the hospital, and since we had 5 evening/night visits to the hospital in 8 days, this was an actual concern. Sue, Petra, and Marjo were on call during evenings and nights, so we always had someone to take care of William if we needed to rush to the hospital. I can never thank them enough for what they did for us and the peace of mind they allowed us regarding William while everything regarding our new baby was falling apart.
This was it
On Monday evening (December 27th), we went to the hospital again because of increasing symptoms but were told we could go home because labor had not begun. On Tuesday morning, we had a regular check up at the hospital and were told the same thing. Then, in the afternoon, Jacob went to work, William was napping, and I was watching a movie on the couch when labor finally began. It was a strange realization: “It has begun. We need to go.” Quite simple, even practical. I called an ambulance, called Jacob back from work, and Sue and Petra to share the afternoon and evening with William. It was happening.
We went to the hospital, and I delivered our little baby boy. He had passed away by the time he was born, but we still got to hold him afterwards. He was beautiful, a perfect little baby. It was so unfair that he couldn’t make it. I wanted more than anything in the world to put him back in my belly, add amniotic fluid, and seal those membranes. We held him for a long, long time, trying to get ready to say goodbye. It was heartbreaking to lose him, and it was impossibly hard to leave him there at the hospital.
At the same time, I kept thinking about William. Was he doing okay without us? Had he eaten dinner well tonight? Were we going to make it in time for his bedtime? It was strange that things such as bedtime still existed while we held our lifeless baby in our arms, but William was at home, and he needed to eat and sleep.
We left the hospital and went home. I felt empty inside, figuratively and literally: my belly truly was empty, our baby had stayed behind, we had left him at the hospital, and we were walking away from him. The sadness was swallowing me whole.
The world continues to turn
And then, we got home, and William saw us. “Mama!” he exclaimed. I held him close. He was okay. He was alive. Petra had taken excellent care of him, and he had eaten all of his dinner. He took me by the hand to build a puzzle. We built a puzzle with cows, sheep, and chickens. Then, we changed his nappy, put him in his sleeping bag, read him a goodnight book, and put him to sleep. I was beyond grateful for this simple evening routine, and I didn’t want to let go of his little hand.
Jacob and I ate a late dinner, sitting at the table across from each other. I have no idea what we said to each other. What do you say when you’ve just lost a baby together? But we stayed by each other’s side the entire time, and he supported me in an incredible way. We cried together, and we held each other. Not much more to do or say.
I didn’t sleep much that night. I kept re-watching the events of the afternoon and evening, unable to stop the tape, like it was a video playing right behind my eyelids. The ambulance. The doctors. The nurses. Our baby. The anesthesiologist. The operating room. Jacob. Our baby.
It never stopped.
What do I even do with myself?
The next day was unreal. The feeling of loss, ever-present, and still difficult to believe. I kept forgetting I wasn’t pregnant anymore. It felt like nothing had changed and everything had changed, at the same time. Life was continuing, things were as usual, the world still kept turning, conversations still worked the same way, William still liked to build puzzles. And yet, the world had turned on its axis, something was very different, very wrong. I was off balance. The world was off balance. I didn’t know how to put one foot in front of the other, and yet I kept doing it, on autopilot. I was exhausted beyond belief.
Those first few days must have been the hardest of my life. That inexplicable, guttural sense of loss. The mind trying, and failing, to reconcile what has happened with the world I knew and lived in. Standing in the kitchen, preparing lunch, and suddenly, I’d remember: we lost our baby. He is no longer in my belly. He is gone, forever gone. An abyss opens up beneath my feet, and I fall in, head first, never hitting bottom. Falling, falling, falling.
Fortunately, it got better over time. The first few weeks were heavy, and I had very little energy. Slowly, my energy started returning, and my interest in life began to come back as well. I am beyond grateful for William for the joy and love he brought us. Every time he saw Jacob and me holding each other, feeling sad, he came over to give us hugs and kisses. He didn’t understand that we’d had a loss, but he understood we were sad and knew to comfort us.
Gradually, we were able to have hope again. Hope that life may slowly become “normal” again, even hope for another pregnancy. Our doctors informed us that the condition of circumvallate placenta is rare and doesn’t carry increased risk for a following pregnancy. They told us we have “a bright obstetric future,” although I can’t help but find that ironic. Nobody can guarantee that we won’t suffer a devastating loss again. It’s great to know that it’s not more likely to happen, but we also don’t delude ourselves that things will simply be fine next time.
This is the price we had to pay, in addition to losing our baby boy: we know how quickly things can go from good to bad. We have hope and lots of love but no illusions of safety, certainty, or guarantees. And yet, we continue, putting one foot in front of the other. Fortunately, the human mind capitalizes on hope. It’s a survival mechanism.