by Priscilla Choi | Film Photography | Lifestyle . Personal
October 9-15, 2019
[ALL THE FOLLOWING IMAGES ARE OF MY OWN AND AVAILABLE AT THE PRINT SHOP.]
Not enough people talk about loss in life, and why would they? Loss is such a painful season in every person’s life, no matter how big or small the impact of that loss is. Human beings generally don’t like to feel vulnerable, or to expose themselves that would trigger so many painful memories. When our pregnancy losses happened, we were angry, frustrated, lost, and unbelievably sad; so many waves of emotions came crashing down at us. But by the grace of God, we had hope and love, and it brought us closer together. I wouldn’t wish a loss upon anyone, but it certainly made us stronger and gained more love by losing something of ours. We build stronger friendships out of this too.
So in light of pregnancy & infant loss awareness week, I’m choosing to share openly about my raw painful experiences on pregnancy loss to raise awareness, in hopes that those who are going through a similar experience won’t feel alone, and to help others understand pregnancy loss a little more. This week, instead of going on about what not to say to someone who’s experiencing grief and loss, I’m going to post a series focusing purely on my journey and experience so far with loss. It’s taking a lot of courage to share this openly on social media, but I felt that there’s a need to share, knowing there was nothing we can do about our situations but also that it wasn’t our fault. There’s no reason to shield my pain away from others, and bottling it up inside will do no good to myself. And even though I don’t want to identify myself as an angel mama or talk about my losses all the time, it has undeniably shaped me this past year. This is my fertility journey.
1 in 4
1 in 4 women will experience pregnancy or infant loss in their lifetime. This week on National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Week, we’re sending love to those who are carrying loss in their hearts and looking up to their angel babies in heaven.
These women experiencing loss look just like you and me. Whether it’s a woman walking on the street, the lady sitting two chairs away from you on the bus, the woman ringing up your groceries, the waitress serving you, or the celebrities you see on TV, and more. Often times we try to go about life as normal but it’s not as easy as it looks and I just want those who’ve been through this or currently going through this to know they are never alone and there’s so much support out there for this. If you feel triggered and need to cry, just cry. If you don’t feel sad, that’s ok too, don’t feel guilty for not feeling sad. Loss is certainly not talked about enough, and more people should talk about it, and not feel ashamed when this happens to them. Just because it’s common doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking. Everybody experiences loss and processes grief differently. It is supposed to be sad and painful, but you’re not alone, and that’s why God created rainbows.
It’s still so hard to scroll through my photos and catch a glimpse of the ultrasounds from the multiple visits we had at our OB. Or to walk pass the closed door of our “supposed” nursery with all the baby gear our friends donated or I bought used/ heavily discounted. Or whenever I leave the house or pull up into our garage and see the stroller we bought once we found out we were pregnant for the third time, still wrapped in the box.
This was our third pregnancy in August 2019 and we held so much fear in our hearts but grew more and more excitement each day I didn’t see blood when I went to the bathroom. With the first two, we never made it to our first ultrasound, but with this third, I was feeling plenty of symptoms, and I even had “implantation spotting” so I figured this one stuck better than the first two pregnancies. The first two pregnancies were chemical pregnancies- embryo was formed but didn’t stick, and can still release hormones to trigger a pregnancy test, but then passed as a very heavy period. I was 7 weeks pregnant with the third pregnancy when we finally made it to our first appointment. We were both excited, talking in the car on our way to the doctor about what it’d be like to hear the heartbeat for the first time or see the little thing on the screen. We didn’t imagine what a tragic turn it would be once the ultrasound turns on.
It was completely unexpected when our OB started the ultrasound and the first thing we saw on the screen was a giant black circle. There was nothing there. Then she proceeded to the right side where she found another smaller black circle. She basically told us it was either ectopic or heterotopic pregnancy and we’d have to terminate soon so it wouldn’t become an emergency surgery to remove a ruptured fallopian tube. But she had us confirm with another OB at maternal fetal medicine just to be sure. I cried, of course, as soon as we got into the car. The appointment left us disappointed, confused and panicked, unsure what this all meant.
The next day we went into MFM and the result was still inconclusive. All the OB said was “it’s probably not a viable pregnancy but we still need to run some blood tests to be sure.” Here I was sitting on the table, left hanging with so many unanswered questions. But the hardest part was waiting. Everyday that following week was torture for me; not only did I need a blood test every 48 hours, I wasn’t going to see another ultrasound for another week. I turned to friends and forums, hoping to hear the answers I wanted- that “it was probably too early of an ultrasound and it’ll show up later”, or “doctors are always wrong and off with the calculation of the dates”, “I had nothing on the screen for weeks and then I went back 2 weeks later and the heartbeat was there!” I was riding on all the hope that these women had given me, praying that this baby would be here to stay. I hoped and cried, so scared to even think about going through yet another loss- 3 in a row.
We continued to see 2 more ultrasounds at 2 different OBs, a total of 5 ultrasounds with 4 different doctors for this pregnancy, confirming our worst fears: we were going to have another loss. My levels weren’t rising as much as they should be, and the black circle in the middle (gestational sac) kept growing larger at every appointment, along with a yolk sac in it but no fetal pole each time. The yolk sac kept growing abnormally larger by each day as well, and by our 4th appointment, they saw 2 yolk sacs: twins. But still no fetal poles. We were devastated. I broke down at the 4th appointment; all hopes I had for this pregnancy vanished and all I could do was cry my heart out. The only good news was by the 3rd ultrasound at 8.5 weeks, ectopic/ heterotopic was written off and I was safe from any kind of fallopian tube rupture, there were instead just 3 follicular cysts in my right ovary that would later be reabsorbed. I had a missed miscarriage- no signs of miscarriage like pains or bleeding, but nothing is growing inside anymore, and even though it’s not growing, my hormone levels stay elevated tricking my body into thinking I was still pregnant, therefore not passing it naturally. Since I was in no life danger, each doctor was ok with waiting and letting me decide when I wanted to do the D&C procedure. We chose to wait a few more days just to be sure I wasn’t about to lose a baby that would suddenly be ok.
By our 5th ultrasound, I had the weekend to process. I was ready. I didn’t want to walk around knowing I’m just carrying dead babies, I wanted to move on and get away from this whole mess. The OB confirmed it was 100% not viable and I was at peace in my heart, I didn’t cry. I simply took a deep breath and said “let’s schedule the D&C for tomorrow”.
The next day was our D&C, I chose to do a MVA (Manual Vacuum Aspiration) in my OB’s office, because there were less risk of scarring and infection, but no matter how much pain meds and narcotics I would be given, I’d still feel all the pain of the removal. I took medication to start the contractions going, and I started bleeding as soon as we arrived to the doctors office. A release form on “whether we wanted to know about the burial or take it home to bury it ourselves” was given to us to sign after I had taken the narcotics already, and I had so wished they would have given this to us sooner to read over and not just the 5 minutes before my procedure. I was so confused and at the same time devastated that I had to consider all of these choices.
The pain was...I don’t want to go through that again. I watched a giant 10” needle prick inside of me, and then feeling multiple instruments and tubes shoved inside of me. Each time they vacuumed the inside of my uterus, I gripped the bed and my husband’s hand so tight my knuckles turned white, and it felt like someone had reached in and tore my insides out. It felt like a glimpse of child birth, and I know nothing compares to childbirth, but at the end of the day, after 20+ hours of labor, you get to take something home. I had nothing to take home, and I still had to go through the pain.
Right now we’re just learning to be a couple again together and finding our new normal through our grief. Needless to say, the procedure was extremely traumatic, and anytime I have a procedure or test that resembles what happened, gives me PTSD. The pain is ingrained in me- we don’t know if we can ever bring ourselves to try again because of all the painful memories attached to the physical pain. But I chose what I chose knowing that it was safer for my body, with fewer risks. I just wish I didn’t have to go through any of this or have a loss to begin with. I thought about getting rid of all the baby stuff in our house because I couldn’t bare these painful reminders, but they’re here to remind me everyday that all this indeed happened, and they made me who I am today. I can choose to put a smile on or not, but it doesn’t change the fact that I went through all these tragedies and they are now a part of me. That feeling of loss and devastation will never go away, because you never forget something as painful as this.
It’s OK to not be OK
It’s ok to grieve, it’s ok to talk about it, and it’s ok to not be ok and not just move on. Women who go through losses are simply looking for support, hope, and love. When women share their grief, their feelings are often not validated. They’re told all these things like “maybe it’s not meant to be”, “oh you’re still young”, “maybe you should stop trying”, “it’s for the best”, “it’s God’s will”, “you can always try again”...the list goes on and on. All hoping to make her feel better, and no doubt it is coming from the good of the heart but it doesn’t make her feel better or less frustrated and angry and upset and depressed about the situation. Being told that the little life inside her that she’s already loved so deeply within minutes of knowing his/ her existence “isn’t meant to be” just magnifies the pain, and ends up discrediting her feelings or making it seem less traumatic than it actually was for her. Just listen to her and tell her it’s ok to be scared and sad, acknowledge the pain, but allow her to feel sad. Saying these things will only make her feel ashamed for grieving and no loss should make a woman feel ashamed. As someone who’s been through loss, we are not looking for any help to move on, and we don’t need to be told to move on or any positive spin to cheer us up. In their effort to console us, they put a positive spin on the situation to remind us that it’ll be ok and it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, when in reality the things being said in order to cheer us up in return dismiss our pain, our loss, our grief, and cause more confusion, frustration and pain.
In our case, “trying again” will never be as simple as just having sex, and people don’t even know half the story. It’s more than just BBT, OPKs, scheduling. There’s so much physical and emotional pain and PTSD attached to the words “trying again”—the needles, the instruments, the countless appointments, X-rays, ultrasounds, the chronic pain, even sex hurts. The physical pain alone is enough to make me not want to do anything, and I wish to not feel pain for once but that’s not going to happen. I spend time trying to heal my pain only to be triggered at the doctors’. It’s just not worth all the pain to us so stop telling us to “try again”.
Loss, not miscarriage
I can’t stand the term “miscarriage”; as per one Mr. Van der beek wrote, miscarriage implies it’s the mother’s body’s fault to mis-carry a child when truthfully, it is not. It is still a loss, and each person faces at least one kind of loss in his or her life, whether it’s a parent, sibling, family, friend, pet, coworker, someone they once knew etc. This is just simply a different kind of loss; it is a loss of hope and dreams. It’s a loss of someone you’ve never met before but love so deeply already, the strangest kind of connection. It can be hard for people who've never experienced this kind of loss to understand and empathize because it's something you can’t see or touch, unlike a physical person that you've spent your life with and created memories with; which is why this particular loss is so difficult to process.
Dads go through losses too
So often people forget that dads are just as crucial in this whole process, even though it’s all happening in a woman’s body. We as women feel it immediately, physically and mentally. But it’s even harder for dads because it’s a loss for them too, but they don’t get to feel the same attachment, and they want to be strong for us at the same time. So they swallow their grief and feelings while trying their best to be the backbone of the family. But they also desperately need comfort and reassurance in their own ways, and to express or process their grief instead of bottling it up.
Arguably it’s even tougher for them because they have to come home to see their wives suffer and can’t do anything to fix her. For Dan and I, it was exactly this for the longest time. He didn’t want to talk to me, not because he thought of me as any less but he didn’t want to burden me with his issues when I had so much going on already. I’ll never understand what it was like for him to watch me go through the pain, struggle and anxiety everyday. Everyday he came home to a wife who was struggling with anxiety & depression by herself all day, alone at home, and there was nothing he could do about it. He felt helpless, and I couldn’t relate to him as someone who knew what it’s like to care for his wife. He just wants to talk to someone who knows and understands what he’s going through, and to reassure him.
Men, if you know a friend around you who is struggling with loss, I’m not asking you to go over to his house in PJs with a tub of ice cream and tissues (of course if you do, no one is judging), but that you lend a listening ear and be present for your friend without any preconceived notions or unsolicited advice. Because you never know when someone just needs a friend at the most crucial time.
People are often asking me what's helpful to say to someone who's experiencing pregnancy loss, or saying "I don't know what to say". And while there's a lot of things when it comes to "what NOT to say", there's not a whole lot of things TO say because it's not so universal and far more personal. Everyone's way of processing grief is different, and everyone's needs are different when it comes to being consoled and empathized. It's not exactly one perfect formula. But at least for me, the best thing someone can say is...nothing. Many women don’t heal within a given time and each woman’s grieving process looks very different; some women might not be ready to move on yet and people can hurt them even more without realizing it. I don't need you to say all these things to make me feel better because often times it ends up feeling more hurtful than helpful. Really I just need a lending ear, someone to be willing to devote their time to listen to all the pain, trauma, experience, frustrations, fears, worries, thoughts, then hug me to let me know I'm not alone through it all. Sometimes saying nothing at all holds more power than saying too much.
PSA: If you really want to say something, the best things to say to someone who’s been through a loss are simply, “I’m sorry for your loss”, “how are you really feeling?”, “I’ll pray for your healing”.
I am not strong
Before you tell me “oh you’re so strong to share this” or say other supportive messages, I’m sharing this because society just doesn’t speak up enough about such a sensitive topic. There’s absolutely no shame in this, and I want to be an advocate towards this to let the world know that just because someone chooses not to talk about it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I chose to share about my experience so that those who went through it and hiding the facts won’t feel so alone.
I know I’m not strong. I have so many days where even though I know that God always has a plan for each one of us, it doesn’t stop me from questioning and feeling angry at Him. So many days, I just let fear consume me and I wallow in sadness and depression.
I know I’m not strong because I can’t shake off the fear that’s now attached with trying for a baby again. Reality is, having a child doesn’t just end at seeing a positive pregnancy test, like those happy endings in movies where it’s all sunshine and rainbows with a glorious hallelujah, jumping for joy. Because I’ve been through these losses, pregnancy will never be the same exciting 9 months it would’ve been the first time around. There will always be this looming fear of whether or not we will be able to see this through and hold our child in our arms. Every positive test will bring hope and excitement followed by anxiety and fear, which in hindsight felt like false hope, and even the slightest cramp or twitch or sign becomes paranoia, only for your worst nightmare to come true at the first sight of blood or bad news delivered by your doctor. You never forget something as painful as this.
I know I am not strong because I constantly have these thoughts in my head. But I am not strong because I’m absolutely not meant to do this without the strength of God. I am not God. My strength to power through each day with hope and joy comes from the only source - The Lord.
No one prepares you for the heartaches that comes with planning a future together as a family. We’ve recently experienced our 3rd loss. We figured 3rd time’s the charm but instead, it resulted in another devastating loss, and now we’re going through endless clinical tests and blood work, feeling more like test subjects rather than parents. I honestly didn’t think I’d become a statistic being [1 in 4] with the first loss, and certainly not [1 in 50] with the 2nd, or even [1 in 100] with the 3rd. That’s 3 in a row. No one ever expects tragedy to happen to them, and even though you read about it, you think “that’s not going to be me.” Textbooks tell you how a pregnancy happens but not all the things that could go wrong. I prepared myself for the birth, picking out names, designing the nursery, baby clothes shopping, studying everything from breastfeeding to sleep training; and suddenly everything’s put on hold every time a loss happens. Deep down, it’s so hard to be happy for others’ pregnancies. It’s hard to walk into a room full of pregnant women and not think why is it happening for them and not me. It’s hard not to spiral down this deep dark rabbit hole of negativity: thinking my body has failed me multiple times, that I’m somehow broken and this is all my fault, even if it isn’t.
This entire experience changed me, for better and worse. Going through this experience was unexpected and soul sucking, but it also revealed to me the strength God has given me, and I grew in ways I couldn’t imagine otherwise. It’s definitely gotten easier over time to talk about it, and I’ve learned the best way for me to heal is to talk about it. Hiding it as a secret won’t do anyone good, and I was able to receive the support my body and heart needed knowing God has provided us a village who cares about and loves us through the pain and joy. We are still parents despite not having a physical child.
So in remembrance of the 3 babies we’ve lost, I designed and drew this tattoo as a memorial to seek closure, to remind myself that something beautiful came out of these tragedies, permanently making them a part of me and keeping them close by, even though they’re no longer here with me anymore.