Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Silence is Maddening

December 2014, David and I found ourselves driving home from yet another devastating doctor appointment. We had found out that my pregnancy was not viable - there was no baby, just an empty sac. We would be having a fourth miscarriage. It was heartbreaking looking at the ultrasound machine and just seeing a dark blob where a baby should have been, hearing my daughter ask, "Where's the baby?" and having to tell her right then, in front of medical staff, "There is no baby." During the car ride home, we tried to explain miscarriage to our little girl who had just turned three a few days before.

We got home and a monumental task loomed in front of us: notifying the family and friends who knew we were pregnant. In the weeks before our our appointment, I made sure to tell them repeatedly when our appointment was. And yet, we waited for hours for someone, anyone to ask us how our appointment went. We just found out our baby died! And the world went on exactly as before. No one noticed. It seemed no one cared. We'd been waiting for this appointment for weeks, it seemed our future and maybe even our entire lives hinged on that doctor appointment and yet no one else even remembered it was happening, not even the family and friends who we had entrusted with the knowledge that we were expecting again. Not even after we'd gone through so many losses. Eventually, we realized no one was going to ask us, so I told my husband to just make the calls.

January 2014, almost a year earlier, I found myself pregnant again just three months after our first miscarriage. We found a doctor who we thought would take my short luteal phases seriously and would monitor my progesterone levels, not knowing if that's what caused my previous miscarriage but thinking it might and knowing that was one of the only causes I could actually do something about. I called as soon as I got a positive test and got an early appointment two weeks later. We shyly told just a few friends and family that we were expecting again, knowing that we would need their prayers and support.

The chances of two miscarriages in a row is very small. Statistically, it almost seems like one miscarriage is a guarantee that your next pregnancy will be fine. But that pregnancy pretty closely mirrored the previous one and I had no symptoms and very little hope. Still, we headed into our first appointment with what optimism we could muster. When the ultrasound screen showed an empty sac, I knew. The doctor thought perhaps my dating was off and since we were just past the point where you could see a heartbeat, that maybe everything was still fine. So we scheduled an appointment a few weeks later and prayed to see a heartbeat, but I already knew we never would.

It was so lonely waiting for our next appointment. It seemed like an eternity. Days went by, a week, and still none of the friends or family who knew we were pregnant and who had asked several times when my first appointment was ever asked how it went. I just wanted one person to remember. One person to realize how important that appointment was. Over the course of two weeks, I was just waiting for one person to ask me, "How are you?" so I could tell them. No one did.

I suppose I was being unrealistic. Unless you've gone through pregnancy loss, prenatal appointments just aren't a big deal. But for me, they're a matter of life and death.

When I was pregnant with Lucia, I saw doctor (well, midwife) appointments almost as inconveniences. Each time I went in, it took a few minutes for the midwife to check me, everything was fine, I never had any questions, and then I was on my way. I never did anything to prepare for my appointments, I never really thought about them until I saw them on the calendar for the next day.

Now, my doctor appointments take hours of mental preparation. I play out every possible scenario in my head: everything is fine; there is no heartbeat; there is a heartbeat, but it's slow and/or the baby's growth is behind; there seems to be some kind of birth defects or genetic anomaly; there is a problem with my lab tests, etc., etc., etc. I remember the dates of my appointments exactly and on any day I can tell you exactly how many days until my next appointment and how many days since my last appointment. In many ways, my life seems to revolve around these appointments and time seems to divided into eras by them - the time between my first and second appointment, the time between my second and third, etc.

Family members and friends who have only had healthy pregnancies don't seem to understand why I always ask when their appointments are and always make sure to ask them about them hours afterward. They can never seem to remember when their next appointment is, but I always know. I put them on my calendar.

I just don't want someone to come home from a doctor appointment with bad news and have no one contact them with concern. Too many times, I've had another appointment gone wrong, another ultrasound without a heartbeat, another heartbreak, and even though I made sure to tell family and friends a hundred times the date of my appointment, no one asks how it went. I hate having to contact them specifically to tell them or having them ask a week later and reopen the wound. It's much easier for someone to ask, "How did it go?", to know that they care, and to simply be able to answer, "Not well. Not what we'd hoped for."

I don't presume to speak for everyone. I'm sure there are plenty of people who don't want to be asked about a devastating appointment and who would rather decide themselves how and when they'll share the news. But for me, when something goes wrong and no one asks, the silence is maddening. It seems as if no one cared enough to remember when my appointment was. When we have to be the ones to call and tell family, it feels kind of like, "Hey, I'm not sure if you actually want to know, but..." If we really didn't feel like talking about it, we could just avoid the phone call or text, but having to be the one to pick up the phone puts all the burden on us. And I really want someone to share our burdens.

It's very hard for most people to ask for the support they need. So when you get bad news, it's much more difficult to have to be the one to pick up the phone, share the news, and ask for support, than to simply answer someone who has already done the hard work of bridging the gap and reaching out to you. So if a friend or family member gets bad news at a prenatal appointment, I want them to receive that call or text from me and make it so that they just have to answer if they need someone. If they ignore me because they don't want to talk to me about it yet, I respect that. But I don't want anyone to ever feel like no one cared enough to remember when their appointment was or to ask how it went. Or to feel that they are alone or that they have to seek out support. I want to give them the option to answer and the acknowledgement that someone knows and cares.

That phone call is like extending a hand. Your friend may not decide to take it, but if she does need a hand and none is offered to her, she may fall.


  1. I'm so sorry. I feel very differently about things in general, but it's such an unnecessary blow to not receive support in the way you need it at such a time.

    I'm so very glad that you've taken this pain as an incentive to reach out to others

  2. You hit on the head something I have never been able to articulate, but how I feel about things when I think about friends/family members pregnancies. I had a loss at 13 weeks in '10, 6 weeks in '11, a healthy son in '12, and a 36 week stillbirth this year. I've had so many doctors appointments in the 4 pregnancies and to me, they are all a big deal, but they come and go to other people. I am always so nervous waiting for other people's appointments to be confirmed "ok" and they just don't get my concern. Lucky them. I wish I didn't either. I've been following your blog since our loss in January and I'm thankful I have found it. Best wishes for your current pregnancy.