I am 1 in 5: Being in Limbo
(Disclaimers: Trigger warning – miscarriage, pregnancy loss. Also, this represents my experience only, and as such, YMMV.)
I had always assumed that I would have the same number of pregnancies as I wanted to have children. I mean, my mom had 3 pregnancies, and I have two brothers. Sure, I knew a relative had had “too many miscarriages to count,” but that wouldn’t happen to me. And of course, over the last few years, pregnancy and infant loss has become more and more widely discussed on social media—Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day (it’s October 15th every year), acquaintances opening up about their losses on Facebook—but again, that wouldn’t happen to me. I watched as “internet celebrities” experienced infant loss with incredibly raw vulnerability. I even started meeting people in real life who had experienced miscarriage, and I still assumed that it wouldn’t happen to me.
I was wrong.
Apparently, 15 to 20 percent of women who know that they are pregnant will experience a subsequent miscarriage (some sources put this number as high as 25 percent). This does not account for the half of fertilized eggs that are lost before implantation, or the number of women who thought they just had a late period without knowing she had been pregnant (called a chemical pregnancy).
In any case, I found myself in an OB’s office on a Monday for my first prenatal appointment. Most OB’s don’t want to see you until 8 weeks after your last menstrual period (LMP) anyway, ostensibly because there’s nothing much a doctor could help you with so early in pregnancy. I had pushed for a slightly earlier appointment because I wanted my progesterone levels checked as early as possible (I had low progesterone in the first trimester of my first pregnancy), so I was there 7 weeks and 3 days after my LMP to check my progesterone and HCG levels. I had a routine Pap smear and scheduled a dating ultrasound for Wednesday.
On Tuesday, I had some spotting.
By Wednesday, I was bleeding.
I went for the ultrasound and they found a heartbeat(!), an “irregular yolk sac,” no source of bleeding, and an embryo measuring 5 weeks 4 days. The last part wasn’t particularly concerning; I had been charting my cycle and knew I had ovulated at least a week after the “typical” Day 14 ovulation that doctors love to assume. I was now considered to be “threatening miscarriage.” (Who knew there was so much new vocabulary to learn in this world I never wanted to occupy!?)
HCG levels doubled appropriately from Monday to Wednesday of that week. The OB wanted to check HCG again on Friday of that week (which was a problem because I was scheduled to go to the BIRTHFIT Coach Seminar in Dallas) and also advised against flying (to the contrary of any scientific study that I could find). We would repeat everything in a week.
I had previously assumed that miscarriage was a fixed point in time: it either happened or didn’t. Unfortunately, I quickly found myself in a state of limbo that no one had ever warned me about. I now had the distinct displeasure of second-guessing every move I made and every twinge I felt. I was googling like a mad woman, making phone calls, giving myself a headache thinking in circles, all while knowing the real facts: it is extraordinarily unlikely that anything that I had done or would do could cause a miscarriage to happen or not.
Many early miscarriages are the result of chromosomal abnormalities and almost all the rest are deemed “idiopathic.” Despite knowing this, I couldn’t help but overthink every large and small decision until such time as I had an answer (though I’m still not sure what answer I was looking for). I realized that I had never seen this process discussed. For all the women I had heard say, “I had a miscarriage last September,” or, “I have had both successful and unsuccessful pregnancies,” I had never heard someone acknowledge that this diagnosis will put you in a limnal state where you can’t confidently move forward, but there is nothing to act on in the present moment.
So here I am to acknowledge it: threatening miscarriage is a miserable state to occupy.
Even worse, you may occupy it for an indefinite amount of time, and there are only two ways to get out of it:
- Bleeding and cramping stops, hormonal levels shape up, and ultrasound confirms viability, or,
- Miscarriage is confirmed.
I was hoping to get to write this blog post while solidly living in Option #1, but that is not to be. I will write a future post on the crappy process of actually having a missed miscarriage. This post is about limbo.
BIRTHFIT’s Four Pillars—fitness, nutrition, chiropractic, mindset—are all about taking charge of your pregnancy (indeed, your whole life! You don’t have to be pregnant to work on bettering your wellness!), so with nothing else to be done, I tried to apply them while I bided my time in limbo.
Fitness felt iffy. As a regular exerciser in the middle of the 2017 Open, I suddenly felt disconnected from my community. It was strange to be in attendance at our “Friday Night Throwdown” while making excuses as to why I wasn’t doing the workout. Meanwhile, I know that you can’t exercise yourself into miscarriage, so I was questioning whether I actually SHOULD be doing the workouts. In any case, since I have made conscious decisions to be BIRTHFIT from the start of my pregnancy, I was suspiciously scaling the workouts anyway. The best I could do was to practice the Functional Progressions with integrity and assure myself that my best intentions would be enough.
Nutrition has always been my weakest pillar. Making any major changes to my staple diet in this chaotic time was just too much to expect of myself, so I didn’t. I focused on hydrating appropriately and taking a quality prenatal vitamin (one with pre-methylated folate, since I know I carry MTHFR mutations), and then I tried to be gentle with myself.
Chiropractic is my easiest pillar because it is something I can check off a list! I kept my regular adjustment schedule.
To no one’s surprise, mindset has been the biggest challenge through this journey because there is nowhere to be except in your mind. Unfortunately, I do not have a magic answer for the next person that has to endure this. I have tried my best to be kind and merciful with myself. I have given myself as much time “off” as possible to just sit with my thoughts and emotions. Of course, there are daily responsibilities that have to be taken care of, but, where possible, I have rescheduled appointments and been honest with people about what I have been going through. Herein lies the silver lining of having spread the word about our pregnancy so early…
A few different factors led to sharing the news of my pregnancy a good bit sooner than the “recommended” 12 weeks. At first, I felt strange about telling people so early, but I started by sharing the news verbally with people that I would want around me to support me even if something happened. And then a few more people found out, and I thought, even if something happened, maybe it could be my place to start talking about it.
In the birth world, we know that you can’t change who you are in labor. As in, you don’t magically become a mindful, calm person when contractions start if you never put in the work to evolve your mindset during pregnancy. I have always had an aversion to inauthenticity, so I just can’t be anything other than fully myself. In this case, I have not magically become close-lipped just because I have a tiny human on board or because my body was unsure about continuing the pregnancy. Because a lot of people in my life knew about my pregnancy, I have the benefit of having a lot of people in my life to support me through threatening miscarriage and, now, a missed miscarriage. I built my Tribe with purpose.
The fact is, even though miscarriage is extremely common, many women don’t want to or don’t feel like they can talk about it in any amount of detail. You hear, “I had a miscarriage between kids two and three,” but it seems like an event that got wrapped up with a bow and was done. Although tides are changing to where pregnancy loss is acknowledged far more openly, there still isn’t any discussion about what it’s like or even the logistics of how to go through it. For my part, I’m glad I have people around me who know what’s going on. I could not even fathom going through this long process in silence. If you have suffered in silence, not by your own choice, I hurt for you, too.
The fact is, waiting in this sort of limbo is a one-of-a-kind experience. I experienced it one way, but that doesn’t mean it will be the same for everyone. I wish there was a handbook for “How to Dread The Worst While Clinging to Every Last Hope for The Best,” but I haven’t found one. If you’re going through this, or have gone through this, what was your approach? What advice would you give to someone else facing this? What would you have done differently? If you’re suffering in silence and need support, reach out to your nearest BIRTHFIT Regional Director (we’re all really nice!) or contact me via email or Facebook.
All the Love,
Abi GlissonBIRTHFIT Atlanta