The following guest post by Lisa Roose-Church appeared in The Livingston Daily, a newspaper in Livingston County, Michigan. Permission was granted to The Blogging Owl for the article to appear here.
Guest writer, Lisa Roose-Church is a justice reporter for The Livingston Daily in Livingston County, Michigan. She is a graduate of Central Michigan University.
Unpregnant: Mothers’ Secret Grief
Samantha Fox’s eyes glisten with tears as she looks at an urn and light brown teddy bear on a corner shelf in her home.
Inside the small box are the ashes of Fox’s daughter, Lucy Fox, who was diagnosed in utero with anencephaly, a defect that meant she would likely be stillborn or survive only a few hours to a few days after birth.
“I love having her here rather than going somewhere to see her,” Fox said as her 2-year-old daughter, Grace, climbs on the kitchen table. “It helps us with our loss.”
Infant loss – whether through stillbirth or miscarriage – is one of the most devastating losses to women.
A group of Livingston County women, including Fox and spearheaded by Ashley Haponek, is sharing their grief and healing through a Facebook page, We Are Not Alone.
Haponek, who experienced postpartum depression following the birth of her daughter, said she wanted to find a way to help others with similar experiences.
“The biggest thing I felt was alone and going crazy,” the Howell woman said. “Nothing felt normal and it felt like nothing would be normal again. …
Each Monday, Haponek moderates discussion and reaction to a guest speaker’s live video stream. Each video is a woman sharing her experience with the loss of an infant, whether it is through stillbirth or miscarriage, or postpartum depression.
“Once I went through it and realized how common it was, I wanted to do something,” Haponek said.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that 10 percent to 25 percent of all clinically recognized pregnancies – those confirmed by a doctor or clinic – will end in miscarriage.
Chemical pregnancies – which takes place before anything can be seen on an ultrasound scan – may account for 50 percent to 75 percent of all miscarriages.
The likelihood of a miscarriage increases by 25 percent for women who have had one miscarriage, statistics show.
“Exact statistics for miscarriages are never going to be completely accurate due to so many early miscarriages that women aren’t even aware of,” said Jenna Rogers, education coordinator for the American Pregnancy Association.
“For example, with a chemical pregnancy … the bleeding that happens when the pregnancy ends can be mistaken for a period or a late period, since it often happens during or soon after implantation occurs.”
Rogers said some women do not see a doctor after an early miscarriage because they may not know what they experienced was a miscarriage or believe there is not much a doctor can do after an early miscarriage “other than to ensure the health of the mother since miscarriages, for the most part cannot be stopped.”
Many women do not openly talk about miscarriages, in part because they feel alone or ashamed.
Tiffany Shepard, who helps Haponek with We Are Not Alone, was home alone when she felt “the worst pain I’ve ever experienced.” There was no position that gave her relief. When she went to the bathroom, she noticed the blood.
Shepard, then 22 and single, was about two months pregnant when she miscarried.
“I felt ashamed,” the Howell mother said. “I felt like a failure. That’s what women were created to do, and I felt like a failure because I couldn’t get it right. … I remember thinking, ‘Could I ever have children?’
“I don’t want to say I felt foolish, because they were very real feelings,” Shepard added. “I didn’t want to talk about it. … I was in my 20s, and I think I coped with it by partying.”
Howell mom Jessi Western had two miscarriages about one year apart, which was devastating after the successful and uneventful pregnancy of her oldest daughter.
In both pregnancies, Western’s doctor found a blood sac near the fetus. She experienced mild spotting, but thought “nothing of it” because there was a healthy heartbeat at her 6-week doctor’s appointment.
At 12 weeks, there was still a heartbeat, but the baby had not grown and the blood sac remained.
At Western’s 16-week appointment she heard news she hoped would not come: The baby’s heartbeat had stopped.
Western and her husband had options: deliver, wait and miscarry naturally or surgery. The couple opted for surgery, but she had to wait, making a difficult situation more unbearable.
“It happened on a Friday, and I didn’t have surgery until the following Tuesday,”’ she said. “That was the worst part. I was pregnant, but I wasn’t. … I shut myself off from the world.
“We decided after two miscarriages we would stop. We couldn’t take any more heartbreaks,” Western said.
It’s uncommon to have multiple miscarriages in a row. Fewer than 5 percent of pregnant women will experience two consecutive miscarriages, and only 1 percent will experience three or more, according to statistics from the Los Angeles USC Fertility Center.
Why it happens
Miscarriages or stillbirths are oftentimes “naturally occurring,” Rogers said. Sometimes, it can be due to chromosomal issues, birth defects, chronic disease or an inhospitable uterine lining, she noted. Other times, they are behavior-induced, such as though drugs or a physical accident.
Western said not knowing the cause was one of the most frustrating aspects for her.
“They were never able to give me a rhyme or reason,” she said. “It was something that, unfortunately, happened two times in a row. It wasn’t based on medical history. That would be nice to know – the why. But, I try not to think about it.”
Fox said her doctors questioned whether her medical history contributed to Lucy’s anencephaly.
Fox was hospitalized for 10 days following her honeymoon in Jamaica after she contracted leptospira, a bacterial disease that can lead to kidney damage or meningitis if not treated.
“I was high risk because of the leptospira,” she said. “The doctors were being cautious.”
When a scan showed Lucy had anencephaly, the doctors told Fox she could carry to term, but the baby would not survive. The doctors decided to induce labor and after 12 hours of labor, at 2:30 a.m. Oct. 14, 2016, Lucy arrived. She was 8 ounces and 8.5 inches long.
“Nothing hit me until I pushed her out,” Fox said. “It was really rough. I found out I was pregnant again three months to the day after delivering Lucy. I think that helped me.”
Experts say that women who experience miscarriages, including recurrent miscarriages, have a chance of eventually having a successful pregnancy.
Haponek, whose husband described her postpartum behavior as “being checked out” of family life, did not experience postpartum depression following the birth of her second child, son Jack. She said she learned to recognize the triggers following the birth of her daughter, Emma Haponek, 3, and she made changes to avoid depression.
“Still, to this day, I feel guilty … that I had the bond with (Jack), but not with her,” Haponek said, adding that motherhood is her biggest joy in life.
Western has two daughters today and Fox, who has an older daughter, Grace, 2, is expecting her third daughter, who she plans to name Daisy, in September.
Shepard welcomed daughter Addisyn Shepard four years ago.
They all agree that motherhood is their most rewarding, albeit sometimes frustrating, role in life.
“Motherhood is the craziest, most wonderful, exhausting thing,” Western said. “It’s hard to describe. It can be the worst thing on some days and not others. It’s an oxymoron. That’s how I describe motherhood – an oxymoron.”
On the Net:
The following organizations offer support for people who have lost a baby:
CJ First Candle – http://cjfirstcandle.org/
Compassionate Friends – https://www.compassionatefriends.org/
March of Dimes – http://www.marchofdimes.org/
MISS Foundation – https://missfoundation.org/
Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support – http://nationalshare.org/