I am not a stranger to loss. Grief is not an unfamiliar feeling. But to mourn the loss of a person I never got to meet, a person perfectly half me and half Dustin: that is new to me.
Five weeks and six days. At our 8 week prenatal appointment, the day we should have heard a heartbeat for the first time, we learned that our baby had not yet reached 6 weeks of development. There was no discernible heartbeat, no joy at seeing those first images. Instead, over the next two weeks, we had a confirmed blighted ovum - a fertilized, implanted egg in which no embryo had ever begun to form. An empty gestational sac. Blighted ovums account for about 50% of miscarriages, and women often miscarry before ever learning they are pregnant. However, in some cases (as we’ve learned) that sac hangs around, continuing to grow for a time, resulting in increased pregnancy hormones and unrealized hopes and expectations.
On the day we should have celebrated 10 weeks of pregnancy, my body completed a natural, painful miscarriage.
When we first realized that this pregnancy had likely resulted in a miscarriage, before I truly understood what the empty sac on the first ultrasound meant, I wondered whether our first child had been a boy or girl. Whether he or she would have had gray eyes like Dustin, green eyes like me, or blue eyes like my dad. I wondered whether he or she would have been an athlete or a musician.
In some ways a blighted ovum makes the loss a little easier - technically we didn’t lose a developing baby. But at the same time, we spent weeks celebrating the milestones of an embryo - milestones that were never reached. As first-time parents in our 30s, we approached the first several weeks of pregnancy with cautious optimism, understanding the risk of loss. But, as we've learned, it was impossible to be wholly emotionally unattached to the idea that we would become parents next summer.
I no longer wonder about what this undeveloped child would have become, but I do wonder at how many couples go through this process in silence. How many keep the journey quiet to avoid burdening someone else with such pain. And yet, if we opened up, we'd discover just how many people have walked a path so similar. I will not say "the same" because as I've learned first hand, every grief is different. Every miscarriage is different. I cannot begin to imagine the hurt of losing a baby further into pregnancy, after a heartbeat, after feeling your baby kick and move. I've known at least 4 women in the last two years who have lost their babies after carrying them to term. I hurt for them, as I hurt for myself, in different ways.
The other thing I've discovered in not keeping our journey a secret is that family and good friends want to be there for you, whether it's with a kind text or an offer to help in any way. Just as I would not want my friends to walk this journey alone, I've discovered that mine do not want that for me either. And when the day comes for us to celebrate a healthy, developing baby, these same people will be the ones to celebrate with us most. Life is meant to be lived in community - the good parts of life and the hard times.
Pregnancy is a miracle. That God made our bodies to complement and work together to create life is a miracle. A growing baby - from the moment he or she begins those first stages of development, no bigger than a sesame seed, to the moment you hold that baby in your arms - is a miracle. And we'll get there.
Above all during this season, I am thankful for my husband. I am thankful for a partner who loves and cares and prays. A friend who knows when all I need is a quiet hand to hold and who understands when I need to vent. He is strong but kind. He mourns but puts my needs first. He is everything I could have hoped to have in a partner for this season, and I simply cannot wait to see him be a dad.
Our journey to parenthood is far from over. I do have faith that we will come to see and hear a baby's heartbeat someday. I believe - just as I believed for Dustin - that God knows the desires of our hearts. Have I felt anger toward God? Sure. But I learned a long time ago that He doesn't mind. I'm His daughter and I'm hurt. He understands. He also knows that I still believe He is good and that He has good things for me, for us. So we start again. We continue to pray and to believe for the miracle of life.