sharing your stories and remembering your children
By: Kathy Petersen
I found out I was pregnant with my second baby when my oldest was only 9 months old. We were pretty overwhelmed, but excited, and went to the first OB appointment at 10 weeks. We didn’t hear a heartbeat.
Our physician gave us encouragement that it was still early, position and size of the baby could affect the ability to hear the heartbeat, and said, “we’ll just check next time.”
Four weeks went by and at my 14-week appointment, there was still no heartbeat. My OB sent me for an ultrasound to confirm, and while I was no ultrasound expert, there was no movement, no heartbeat, and no life on the screen.
I went home sad, disappointed, and a little unsure of what I was supposed to do or expect. This new information didn’t just change that day; it changed that week, the next nine months, the next 18 years, the rest of my life. But 20 years later and as a mother of eight, I have come to realize that every experience in our journey of motherhood, every joy and every suffering, changes us. We grow, we learn, we adapt, we cope. Every experience, my miscarriage included, has shaped who I am as a mother.
I didn’t expect that my miscarriage would shape who I am as a nurse as well. As a labor and delivery nurse for 20 years, I have been at the side of many women who have had a pregnancy loss. I have cried with them, taken pictures for them, and just sat at their bedsides. Women who experience a pregnancy loss need postpartum care: physical needs like Tylenol and Motrin, pads, and fluids, but also emotional needs like visits, meals, and friends.
People know how to celebrate babies, but most people are uncomfortable supporting others during a miscarriage. It’s not easy, but those of us who have had miscarriages should be first in line to be present to others who have sadly joined us.
Groups like the Early Pregnancy Loss Association are a great support and are helping to bring the topic of early pregnancy loss into the light so that no woman feels alone.
Women might also experience something similar to postpartum depression after a miscarriage, though there is debate as to whether it is actually postpartum depression or not. A drop in hormones coupled with the emotional event of losing a baby can trigger extreme anxiety and other mental health issues.
Many women may think that because the pregnancy ended early, postpartum symptoms like this are not possible. They are, and no loss mother should feel ashamed to ask for help.
The emotional and spiritual struggle following miscarriage does not always look like “depression;” it often manifests in anxiety, the inability to sleep, confusion or being overwhelmed, obsessive thoughts or extreme focus. Women experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention.
Mothers who have lost babies early in pregnancy should know that they are not alone, and that their grief may spread into many areas of their life. Women who have suffered losses previously can and should reach out to those miscarrying, helping them carry their burden and supporting them by working to address both their physical and emotional needs.
Kathy Petersen is an RN and mother of 8