Brittany's story contains miscarriage, pregnancy loss, bleeding, D&C, and grief.
Brittany is also the creator of The Understanding Heart, a pregnancy loss blog. Blog site and Instagram information below her story.
Photo credit: Michelle Jones Photography
Two days after Christmas, I was rolling meatballs in my mother’s kitchen.
I let my mom sit down after entertaining my family for the past few days on our visit to Cleveland. My parent’s house was full for Christmas and unfortunately, it didn’t feel like Christmas at all as a lot of my family members couldn’t make it in town. I was sad to have pieces of our family missing, but smiled at the thought of my own little family finally coming together – I was 9 weeks and 6 days pregnant.
I was washing my hands after finishing the meatballs. I stepped away from the sink.
And then, I felt it.
I hurried my steps as I walked to the restroom. “Think about every time you’ve gone to the bathroom thinking it was this. It’s not this. It can’t be this.”
Sure enough, there, on my bright pink underwear, was blood.
I called for my mom who came to comfort me as my husband had just left the house. I called him to come home. My thoughts raced with what to do next, what steps to take. No one gives you a “miscarriage survival guide.”
I called my doctor’s office. I was met with the voice of a nurse on call, exceptionally less concerned than I, even after sharing the information that would inevitably change my life. “Since it’s a Friday, you should probably go to the ER…but this happens a lot in pregnancies. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong.”
This was the same contradicting calm I was met with when I had messaged the office a few days prior to share that my nausea had essentially disappeared. The “home stretch to the end of the first trimester” they called it.
My husband came home and went to our suitcase to get me new underwear. As I was changing, the reality of the situation hit me. Our baby was in trouble, and there was nothing I could do to save him. I crumbled on the floor as I tried to slip my legs back into my jeans in between sobs. “I’m not strong enough for this,” I cried, shaking my head. “Why is this happening to us? What did we do? I can’t do this.” He held me up as I sank lower to the floor.
My husband drove me and my mom to the ER. The ER was packed due to the flu that was taking over that season. As we waited, my mom and I talked to pass the time. I even managed to laugh when something interrupted our conversation on the hospital intercom: Brahm’s lullaby played in light, child-like tones. Somewhere in this same hospital, a baby was being born. I cradled my stomach and cried.
When it was time for the ultrasound, the ultrasound tech emerged from an empty room and seemed nice enough at the start. She calmly guided me with what to do, even though this wasn’t my first rodeo. She did an abdominal one first (which was actually new to me), and seemed unphased when she couldn’t find anything there. Then it was time for the transvaginal one. The room was quiet as she muttered undecipherable comments under her breath. She seemed anxious, so I stopped looking at her and looked at my husband. The look on his face is something I will try to forget for the rest of my life. A mix of confusion, hope, pleading, pain – all of it, in the handsome face I love. My sweet husband, looking for his son. I closed my eyes.
Still, the tech kept on mumbling. I didn’t understand why it was necessary to speak when all that was going to come out of your mouth was a whole lot of nothing that would help us. We asked about the heartbeat, and she said she wasn’t “getting one,” but again, she seemed unphased. I asked her, “You can’t tell us anything though, right? Until we talk to the doctor.”
“No, uh, I can’t,” she said nervously, “you know, not until the doctor sees the scans and, uh…you know, stories like yours, they don’t tend to have a happy ending…”
I sat in disbelief. She left the room so I could go to the restroom to change. I sprang up, “did she just tell us we miscarried? Is that what just happened?” I couldn’t believe the lack of professionalism, the lack of sensitivity to this matter.
After a few more hours of waiting, we spoke with a doctor that told me I had a subchorionic hemorrhage and a “threatened miscarriage.” I was told to be on complete pelvic rest, no heavy lifting, and to give myself plenty of rest. He went into details of what could go wrong, rightly so, as I needed to know and my head was already there. However, the details stopped after what the pregnancy would be like. He told me if I did miscarry, it would feel like “the worst period I’ve ever had.” When he left, my husband hugged me and said, “this is great news. You’re still pregnant!” Then why did I feel like someone just gave me a death sentence?
We returned home to southern Ohio after the holiday break and I still had no new developments. As far as I knew, I was still pregnant but was also still at risk. After way too much back and forth with my doctor’s office, we scheduled an ultrasound for January 2nd. The ultrasound tech started the machine and after a few moments, sure enough…
“So, I’m sorry, there’s just…nothing there. There’s no baby.”
In shock, I just nodded and said “okay.”
After some more apologies on her end, I asked what would come next. She said it would get worse within the next few days. When I asked her to clarify this time, she said the same thing; “the worst period you’ve ever had.”
As my husband and I left the hospital, I still hadn’t broken down. All I could, selfishly think about was what would happen next? What would this pain be like? What will my body go through? This was soon replaced by this overwhelming feeling; he needed a name. And it needed to be Anthony. I held on to this, and held on to the peace I was feeling. Even then, I knew this was a blessing and that he was safe, even though I still believe the safest place would have been with me.
I was scheduled for a D & C the following day and took the weekend to recuperate. Before the procedure, my husband and I had to fill out some paperwork. A nurse, I think her name was Katie, was very kind in explaining everything a few steps at a time. In fact, everyone was fantastic that day. I was thankful to finally have people that cared in my corner. Unfortunately, it all felt a little too late.
Katie pulled out a final form and her demeanor changed. “This decides what you would like to do with the leftover tissue from today.” I scanned the form with check boxes next to these heartbreaking options
“leave at hospital,”
Burying my son.
As I sobbed, she comforted me and gave my husband and I time to decide. She also mentioned that a new addition to this form was to put the tissue in a mass plot in a local cemetery for the pregnancy losses from the hospital and surrounding hospitals. We decided on this option.
In the weeks that followed, all I could think about was visiting this mass plot. I needed closure and I felt like my baby’s life, all 10 weeks and 5 days of it, deserved to be honored in some way. After COUNTLESS calls back and forth to the cemetery and to the hospital and connected calls and unreturned calls, no one could tell me where this plot actually was, or more importantly, when Anthony’s remains would be sent. After weeks of calling, I had to separate myself from the situation.
A month later, I was ready to try again. I called the cemetery to find that our baby had been sent to the plot and buried a month prior along with a bi-annual service, and no one had contacted me.
My son had been buried for a month. And no one told me.
That weekend, defeated and hurt, my husband and I swallowed our pride and went to the cemetery. After more phone calls, we were finally told where we could find the plot at the cemetery 30 minutes from our home. We stopped to pick up flowers and quietly made the trip.
The large cemetery spanned for miles up a hill. Snow was melting from the unusually sunny February day. Our shoes squished in the slush as we made our way to the “infant section.”
We began the task of scouring the ground for the plot that “belonged” to us. We walked up and down the rows, holding our breath for the moment we would find the plot and our son would be found. His only presence on this earth outside of my own body.
The plot wasn’t there.
Months passed. Again, I had to step away. More calls made. More frustration. More pleading to the hospital to do better by the women and families. They tried to make up for lost time by having a special private service with a Chaplain in Anthony’s honor. We were going to be moving across the state by then. Too little, too late.
It wasn’t until I called one more time to check before we visited on Father’s Day to find that the grave had been marked. Again, no one was notified. I was told 15 other babies had been buried there. That’s 15 families, mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents that weren’t given closure.
Throughout this experience, I begged for someone to listen to me, but no one did and I will always wonder why. The people I trusted, the medical professionals, strung me along with low-impact reactions when most moments warranted more.
No one listened when I worried about his low heart rate at his first ultrasound.
No one listened when I worried about the lack of development.
No one listened when my symptoms stopped.
No one listened when the ER ultrasound tech couldn’t find the heartbeat.
No one listened when I tried to contact these “professionals” the week before our diagnosis.
By the time I felt heard, it was too late. No one could save him. This is why I felt compelled to create my online community The Understanding Heart; so that women and families going through loss felt less alone, but also to cultivate conversions about loss and the silent pain that comes with this journey.
I always knew his story would be more than just a statistic. More than just some “leftover tissue” or “products of conception,” or “worst period ever.” He is, and always will be so much more. It is amazing to me how someone could be a part of you for such a short time but have such a permanent hold on you.
He is and always will be my Anthony. My baby.
Ultrasound picture of Anthony given by Brittany
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