My first pregnancy was a dream. We weren’t even sure that I would be able to have a baby due to health issues, but after 41 weeks and 4 days, I was holding my beautiful baby girl in my arms. I ended up having an unplanned, unassisted home birth because when my daughter decided she was ready, she was ready! Everything about my pregnancy and birth felt natural, and I was left with a sense that my body was doing exactly what it was meant to do every step of the way.
When my daughter was just over a year old, I became pregnant. Again, we were surprised and excited. I trusted my body and the pregnancy. We had a dating ultrasound at 8 weeks, and I heard my precious child’s heartbeat for the first time. I didn’t know it would be the only time. At my 15 week appointment, the midwife explained away being unable to find the heartbeat as something not to become anxious about…and I wasn’t. I was given the option of an ultrasound or coming in a few days later to try again. I chose to come back in and try again. After all, the chances of a miscarriage after already finding a healthy heartbeat are slim, right? But the second appointment went much like the first, and I was off for an ultrasound. The news that came was heartbreaking. I received a phone call from my midwife on the way home to tell me that not only was the baby dead but that the doctor saw some kind of ‘mass’ in my uterus. This was the first time I heard the words ‘molar pregnancy.’
I was referred to a clinic at the women’s hospital for additional testing and ultrasounds. I wasn’t prepared for any of this. My first pregnancy had given me this false sense of security, and now I felt that my body had betrayed me. How did I not know that something was wrong? If there was something wrong, why hadn’t I miscarried already? The loss was devastating.
Over the next couple of weeks, the phrase, “Due to the nature of this pregnancy…,” was repeated over and over again to me. For the ‘mass’ that was referred to in the ultrasound was actually the placenta. In a partial molar pregnancy, the cells of the placenta are considered precancerous. The first doctor I saw explained that the abnormal growth of the placenta steals the nutrition from the baby. I was told the baby had most likely died around 13 weeks, and that the placenta was now 5-6 times the size it should have been and would continue growing. The abnormally growing placenta caused elevated hCG levels and was why I still ‘felt’ pregnant. I never experienced any of the symptoms common with a molar pregnancy. There was an urgency to get the placenta out. I was told that the longer it stayed in, the greater the chances were that it would become cancerous and spread outside of my uterus.
“Due to the nature of this pregnancy…,” signified a shift that had taken place. My care was no longer centered around the loss of my baby. Instead, it had shifted to mitigating the cancer risk. I know the fear my loved ones felt when the word ‘cancer’ was spoken, and I had a 1.5 year old to consider, as well. Everyone wanted that placenta out as soon as possible…except me. Until just days before, I thought I had a growing baby inside of me. I still felt it there. I couldn’t let it go so quickly. I wanted to give my body a little longer to do what I felt it should have done already.
There are added risks of naturally miscarrying a molar pregnancy. The abnormal growth of the placenta makes it highly vascularized and increases the chance of a hemorrhage. Also, any retained pieces of the placenta can increase the risk of cancer growing and spreading outside of the uterus. After two weeks, I couldn’t put it off any longer. I found myself checking into the labor and delivery department for a D & C alongside women in labor. I laid in a hospital bed waiting for hours and listened to brand new babies cry with their first breaths. I watched people walk quickly by excited to meet the newest members of their families. All of this while I was struggling to say goodbye. The next several months were spent doing weekly then monthly blood tests to insure that everything was returning to ‘normal’ in my body. Normal meant no cancer. Normal also meant no baby.
My story somehow became one about cancer instead of about the loss of a child. No healthcare provider every spoke to me about my baby’s gender or even about his or her remains. It all became very medical. Even when I speak about it, I find myself explaining what a partial molar pregnancy is instead of speaking about my loss and grief…like a coping mechanism of sorts, I suppose. Lab work and doctors’ appointments are easier to talk about than deep, heart wrenching pain and hurt. It has deeply affected me. I am a different person because of it. At times, I feel guilty about feeling sadness and loss when maybe I should just be happy that I don’t have cancer.
I think ‘death’ makes a lot of us awkward. I learned this when my father died when I was fifteen. Everyone is so concerned about saying the right thing or the wrong thing that most of the time it just gets weird. Since we were past the first trimester and had seen the heartbeat, we had felt comfortable beginning to tell our friends and family about the pregnancy. When we learned of the miscarriage, I relied on my husband and my mother to tell people. I couldn’t handle the awkwardness of people not knowing what to say to me. I allowed the rarity of a partial molar pregnancy to isolate me—to make me feel like no one knew what I was going through. What has become apparent to me through this is that each mother and father’s experience with the loss of a child is so personal that the circumstances don’t tend to matter as much—what comforts one, doesn’t another; what wounds one, doesn’t another. We can’t expect others to feel or think or say exactly what we need them to. I think that we should recognize that, most of the time, they are speaking in love and in an effort to comfort us…or in the very least, they are not seeking to purposely hurt us. So what should people do? For me, the acknowledgement of my babies’ lives is what I have found to be the most meaningful. The acknowledgement that they were human beings that are loved and missed.
Since the partial molar pregnancy, I have lost another baby early in pregnancy and given birth to my double rainbow baby. My losses have changed me. I find myself battling fears that I never knew existed. But in spite of this, I choose joy. I know that choosing joy each day doesn’t make my losses any less significant. I can love my life and still miss my babies. I am so grateful for a faith in Christ that promises me joy, hope, and love. I am grateful for two amazing children to hold in my arms, and the comfort that one day I will hold two more.
*The 2 white roses in the photos represent the babies that Erin lost.