Pregnancy loss is devastating. I felt a depth of hopelessness I’d never known when I delivered twins at 20 weeks. Friends, family- nobody knew what to say. What words could possibly assuage the shattered hope and love and deep connection when a precious little life is no more?
I’m weeping for Chrissy and John, as I wept for my own lost babies. And I applaud Chrissy for sharing her experience. Too many women suffer loss in silence. Such isolation inhibits healing, prolongs grief, and obscures the fact that 20% of all losses happen in the second and third trimester. For many of these families, nothing could be done to prevent their heartbreaking loss. But for others, medical diagnosis and treatment could have prevented their tragedy.
I’m one of those ‘others.’ I lost my twins because two treatable conditions were never diagnosed, thus never treated. I’m one of the lucky ones, now with two healthy kids to treasure every day. But it took a long period of grief and depression and therapy to feel whole again. I wrote a memoir to share my experience, voice it for all mothers who’d known loss and needed others to understand what they had went through. If you’d like to know what happens in hospital rooms when doctors know there is no hope while parents pray for a miracle, here’s an excerpt from ‘To Full Term: A Mother’s Triumph Over Miscarriage.’
Trigger warning: This is bare and real and what it was really like for me to lose my babies. My hope is that readers will feel the gravity of loss, know that recovery takes deep love and support from friends and family, and talk about pregnancy loss to put a spotlight on this neglected women’s health issue.
“You have to push.” The resident’s now-pale face is contorted with frustration, hair disheveled. When I got to the hospital at midnight last night, leaking amniotic fluid, twenty weeks pregnant with twins, this resident refused to call an experienced doctor. “At this hospital the residents run the whole show in maternity,” she had said, beaming with pride, as though her resume should be my primary concern.
“I did push. Nothing’s happening.” The resident looks at the monitor that graphs the crests and troughs of my contractions. The line is rising. My stomach feels firmer, like I’m doing crunches, but not painful.
“Come on. You have to push. The baby has to come out.”
“It’s not working. He’s just not coming.” What does she mean, push him out? He’s only twenty weeks. He’ll stay here. With me.
Jon stands close to my hospital bed, wired, terrified, speechless. The resident paces the room, stops to speak in hushed tones to a nurse. Then Dr. D walks in.
“I’m so glad you’re here.” Jon dissolves toward our regular obstetrician.
“Darci, I’m sorry to see you back here.” The doctor shakes his head, no doubt thinking about seeing me just yesterday, when I thought something was wrong, when he sent me home.
When I paged him at noon, he met me at the ER, coming back from a holiday to personally care for his patient. He had heard my twins’ strong and steady heartbeats; he had tested the strange discharge and said it was not amniotic fluid; he had performed a pelvic exam, which showed no external signs of dilation. He then reassured me that my babies were fine before mentioning one additional test: an ultrasound to confirm no internal signs of labor. He believed the ultrasound was unnecessary but was willing to do it if I needed more proof to allay my fears. I’d studied my trusted, seemingly infallible obstetrician and deferred to his judgment.
Would I be here now if I’d insisted on the ultrasound? Would we have seen that labor was imminent before I began seeping amniotic fluid?
“Dr. D, what’s going on?” I rise to my elbows.
“You are leaking amniotic fluid from the lower twin’s sac.”
“My son, Dr. D. You mean my son’s sac.”
“Yes. From the male.”
“How can this be happening? I just saw you yesterday. You said my cervix was closed. You said everything was fine.”
“I don’t know what happened.” He hangs his head.
“But when I came in last night with the back pain, the leaking, they gave me drugs, inverted my feet higher than my head …”
“They tried to stop your contractions. But your cervix is well dilated. You are in labor.”
“I know my son is in distress. But what can we do?”
“There’s nothing more we can do.”
“But his heart is beating. I saw when we came in last night. I know it’s gotten weaker …”
“Darci, his heart is no longer beating. He is gone.”
“There’s a heartbeat on the monitor.” I point to the machine, hear its bleeps, see the lines jump.
“That is the female. The male has no heartbeat.”
I turn away from the monitor. Jon grasps my hand.
“Darci, we need to take the babies. They need to come out.”
“No. I can’t. They’re just twenty weeks. They can’t come yet.” He can’t be gone. There must be something. And her. She’s not gone. “Her heart is beating. You just said so. You can’t take her.”
“When we lose one twin, it’s rare to save the other. And there is great risk for the mother.”
“What’s the risk?” Jon steps closer.
“There is a high risk of infection for — “
“I won’t let you take her.” I stare and Dr. D looks away.
“Push. Bear down,” the doctor commands.
I grunt. Yell. Grip the rails of the hospital bed. “He’s not coming. Can’t.”
“He has to come out. I need you to push.”
I can’t. I won’t. How can I push him out into a world with no place for him?
“Darci, he is gone. He has to come out. This is our only chance to save the other baby. You have to push.”
No. God, no.
“Once he’s out, we can try to stop your labor. We can try to save her. But there’s a high risk for infection. Are you sure you don’t want me to take them both?”
“NO! Please. Please. I need to save her.”
“Then you need to push. Now.”
“How can I do this to my son?”
“He is gone. Darci, He Is Gone.”
Oh, God. I have to push him out but how can I do this how can I let go of the baby I need to protect. Grip the rails. Scream. Oh, God! Push until I begin to shake. The phone starts to ring.
I scream through gritted teeth and the phone keeps ringing.
“All right. Keep pushing. Push.”
Tremble. Ring. Ring. My head may explode from the pressure and my gripped hands are white. Ring. Ring.
“Stay with it. Come on.”
Pushhh. Pushhh. Ring. That fucking phone. Let go of the rails. “STOP IT! JUST STOP!” I scream toward the phone.
The resident grabs the phone, rips the cord from the wall.
I fall back into the bed. Close my eyes. Drift away.
“Darci, no! Stay with me. You need to push.” Dr. D stands above me, yelling, forbidding the escape of unconsciousness.
Jon stands by my bed, face white, hands pressed to his cheeks. A nurse walks out of the room. Dr. D steps toward the end of my bed. The heart rate monitors bleep. Mine. Hers.
I’m so sorry, little boy.
Grab the rails. Push. Grit my teeth.
Please forgive me, my precious prince.
Pushhh. Can’t let up.
I love you. I swear I do.
Something gives. Slowly. Faster. Sliding through my body and I have to see. I need to look at him and let him know his mother’s gaze just once. I thrust forward.
The room goes black.
I wrote this because several hundred thousand women endure loss after 20 weeks every year in the U.S. and very little is being done about it. I interviewed about 40 doctors and researchers for my book. A key interview was with the NIH’s Director of Research on Women’s Health. My request of her was simple: How many $$ does the NIH spend on research to prevent miscarriage and pregnancy loss? She didn’t know, and in her 15+ years as the Director, she had never even been asked the question.
This must stop. Our children are not interchangeable, and our grief is not insignificant. We matter, as do the children we’ve lost but will never forget.
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