Why I Don’t Want My Miscarriage To Stay Secret

I first thought my miscarriage was shameful, and unusual. I’ve since learned that it’s just something women don’t want to talk about — but should.

Alice Mongkongllite/BuzzFeed

I thought my first ultrasound would go like this: My doctor would point out the baby and I’d turn to my husband, Brendan. He’d tear up, and I’d whisper, “Can you believe it?” So when the time came, I grabbed my husband’s hand in my doctor’s office before glancing at the ultrasound machine. This was it. We’d finally see our burrito — one of our favorite foods and our nickname for our unnamed fetus.

Instead, I saw a fuzzy gray screen. My obstetrician asked, “When was your last period?” Eight weeks earlier, I told her. “Come to my office.” I slipped on my underwear, looking at Brendan. He was pale. In her office, she told me that there was no evidence of life, just a gestational sac. She asked me to come back two weeks later. If there was growth, we were in business. If my uterus was still empty, I would miscarry.

For two weeks, Brendan rubbed my belly and talked to our little burrito. We joked that she just hadn’t gotten her tortilla yet. But I had a sinking feeling that my pregnancy wasn’t moving along like my Fit Pregnancy weekly emails were telling me it should be. Despite my waves of nausea and exhaustion, I worried every day that nothing was growing inside of me. Still, I religiously read mommy online forums where other women talked about disappointing first ultrasounds, but they saw the fetus at the second. This gave me hope.

But while in the waiting room for the second ultrasound, I whispered to Brendan that I was scared.

And the second ultrasound showed that there was no baby. The bun hadn’t even made it to the oven. Talking with my doctor, I was completely calm, asking when we could try again. Brendan hunched over, covering his face with his hands. Outside of the doctor’s office, Brendan held me close. “Everything’s going to be OK,” he said. I nodded.

It wasn’t until later that I curled into a ball on our bed, sobbing. My very first pregnancy became my very first miscarriage. The budding belly I had grown fond of I now hated.

As a 35-year-old woman, my Facebook feed is filled with status updates of cute babies. No one I knew ever posted to Facebook, “I had a miscarriage today.” I was ashamed to admit that I couldn’t look at my friends’ baby pictures on my feed. It was easier to share how well other parts of my life were going on Facebook than tell people that I had developed a lovely habit of bursting into tears while driving.

I told a few close female friends, and that’s when the stories started coming out about their own miscarriages. One friend was going through a miscarriage at the same exact time as I was. Another suggested I check out #IHadaMiscarriage. What I found shocked me. So many women had had miscarriages. Many of us were still grieving. When I read the New York Times essay by Jessica Zucker that started the hashtag, I cried into my keyboard. Zucker vividly describes losing her baby at 16 weeks. I had thought I was alone, but it seemed so many women had miscarriages. I had no idea.

Meanwhile, in subsequent checkups, I was still pregnant — even though my body was slowly bleeding. A month later, my OB-GYN scheduled a D&C to remove what was inside of me.

On a late November morning, I was in surgery. The room was ice-cold. Pop music played in the background. The nurses covered me with a blanket, splaying my arms out. The anesthesiologist said, “Don’t worry. We’ll take good care of you.” I struggled to keep my eyes open. Then, darkness.

When I woke up in the recovery room, my throat was dry. I croaked, “Where’s my husband?” The blonde nurse in dark blue scrubs said, “Oh, honey, you’ll see him later. You have to stay overnight.” She’s wrong, I thought. I’m going home today. When I woke again, I nagged until I was allowed to see Brendan. “Did anyone tell you what happened?” he asked. I shook my head. It hurt to talk. “Your doctor punctured your uterus,” he said. I shut my eyes again.

I was wheeled to the maternity ward. In my room, there were breast-feeding instructions and a hospital advertisement for taking photos with your newborn on the wall. Whenever I had to go to the bathroom, I had to call a nurse. My midsection felt like I had done a million sit-ups. The nurse handed me a warm bottle of water. “To clean yourself,” she said. It burned to pee. The nurse then gave me a thick pink maxi pad to line inside the white hospital underwear. It felt like the least sexy piece of clothing ever.

An hour later the head of OB-GYN came in. He demonstrated with his hand how my uterus was inverted. When my doctor went in to dilate me, she accidentally punctured a small hole in the top of my uterus. They had to go in and stitch me up, leaving me with small scars on either side of my stomach.

Later, I took a walk down the hallway. Brendan held my arm as I wheeled my IV with me. I clutched the blue hospital gown to cover my butt. A group of medical workers were walking through the maternity ward.

“Congratulations!” one woman said to me. I shook my head. “No, there’s no baby.” She frowned then left.

Even after taking a sleeping pill, I barely slept. I was still pregnant. The D&C hadn’t happened. I would still be wearing maxi pads. When I was discharged, a volunteer wheeled me out. “Congratulations, mommy!” chirped a nurse. I didn’t bother to correct her.

At home, I spent two days in bed. I marathon-watched Gilmore Girls. I changed my maxi pads. I ignored my email. The physical pain made it hard to get out of bed, so I didn’t. I didn’t cry. I just wanted to not exist anymore.

On the third day, I called my doctor’s cell. I wanted to be done. What could she do? Could I take a pill? She said there were risks with a pill, and no matter what I would have to wait at least three weeks before I could do anything about the miscarriage. “This experience has been really sad for me, and putting me in the maternity ward didn’t help,” I said.

“As your doctor, I need to know if you’re depressed,” she said. “You should be taking antidepressants.” I wanted to scream at her, but I didn’t have the energy to fight. I just wanted this failed pregnancy to be over and done.

Our awful phone call led to my frantic search for a new obstetrician. Through a friend’s recommendation, I saw a new doctor. She answered my dozens of questions. “The uterus is a strong muscle. You’ll heal just fine.” She brought me into her ultrasound room. I was shocked to actually see the outline of my uterus on the screen. With my former doctor’s seemingly ’80s-style ultrasound machine, Brendan and I joked that we could play Atari games on it. Now, staring at the screen, as my new doctor showed me around my uterus, I felt stupid that I had never questioned my first doctor.

She told me I would have intense cramping during my miscarriage. I didn’t. She said my body would naturally abort. It didn’t. When she told me she didn’t believe in prescribing a pill to help my uterus contract, I didn’t listen to my gut instinct that what she said didn’t make any sense. She was the one with the medical degree, years of training, and a wall of baby pictures to prove she knew what she was doing. This was my first time being pregnant, so what did I know? The only information I could find on miscarriage was one page in What to Expect When You’re Expecting and some stories on the internet. So instead of trusting my nagging feeling that something was very wrong, I trusted my doctor.

My new doctor told me that there wasn’t much left inside of me. With the aid of misoprostol, a pill intended to treat ulcers, my uterus would contract and flush out what remained. While waiting to get my blood drawn to monitor my pregnancy hormones, my old doctor called me. She noticed I’d canceled my appointment and apologized if anything she’d said had hurt my feelings. I told her I was seeing someone else. “Does this new doctor know your history?” she asked.

“I think it’s best for both of us if I pursue a new path,” I said.

When the miscarriage finally happened, I welcomed the cramps and the tissue that came out. I was relieved to see the end. Now that the physical part was over, I could finally move on.

I told more friends via email. The outpouring of support and love was tremendous. Flowers arrived. Cards came in the mail. The “Girl, that is crazy!” from my outraged girlfriends was exactly what I needed to hear. The laughter that came from saying, “I finally saw my uterus!” was a relief.

Two months later, Brendan and I were shopping at Target. I “accidentally” wandered into the baby section with rows of cribs. I told myself I was completely fine. I had talked to my therapist about every detail of the miscarriage. I had cried. I was ready. Besides, I wanted to look at cribs. That turned into looking at baby clothes. Those tiny booties. Adorable onesies with “I love mommy” written on the front. Hats with cat ears. Suddenly, my heart raced. Tears were coming. My only thought was to run like hell. So I ran out of the baby aisle, passed the kids’ toys, and found Brendan in the DVD area.

All I had to say was, “I went into the baby section. I don’t know why.” He pulled me into a giant hug. I rested my forehead on his chest. “I need to go,” I whispered.

What I’ve learned is that there is no “getting over it.” The grief of my loss is part of me. It always will be. Now instead of being ashamed to tell anyone on Facebook, I’m going to break the bad-news barrier and say it: Last fall, I had a miscarriage.

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jenniferchen/why-i-dont-want-my-miscarriage-to-stay-secret

I Asked My Mom Why She Didn’t Vaccinate Me

Her answer shows the power of a trusted doctor. “I was totally pro-vaccines, really, until Dr. Taylor.”

Virginia Hughes

People are always shocked to learn that I wasn’t vaccinated as a baby. I’m a science journalist, after all, and studied neuroscience in college. I believe in science, and science is unequivocal about whether babies should be vaccinated: They should be.

But my parents weren’t so enamored with mainstream scientific authorities. We lived in a small town in rural Michigan, where my mom had also grown up and where everybody knew everybody else’s business. We nominally had a family doctor — Dr. Burris, an osteopathic physician — but I don’t remember ever going to see him as a kid, or ever being sick at all. (Once when I was 5 or 6, according to my mom, I came down with a bad cold, and my nanny threatened to quit if my parents didn’t take me to a doctor. So I went, got antibiotics, and was fine.)

I didn’t realize that being unvaccinated was odd until grade school, when my parents had to sign a form saying they objected on religious grounds. When I was 16, I had to get a tuberculosis skin test in order to volunteer at a nursing home, and at 17, I had to get a series of shots so that my college would let me live in the dorms. Otherwise, though, it rarely came up.

I haven’t thought much about my vaccination history until this week, while covering the measles outbreak for BuzzFeed News. I realized that I’d never actually asked my parents why they didn’t vaccinate me or my younger sister.

I knew it wasn’t because of the (now thoroughly debunked) link between autism and vaccines; that research didn’t make headlines until 1998, and I was born in 1984. I figured my parents’ choice boiled down to their politics, which were of the conservative/libertarian/small-government variety. They were those people who refused to give Social Security numbers to anybody, for any reason. With a handful of like-minded friends, they created a group, called “Citizens for Improved Government,” and published a newsletter taking aim at what they saw as an overreaching city government and school board.

It was fitting, I thought, that they refused state-mandated vaccinations, the most pervasive and successful public health strategy of all time. But I didn’t know for sure. So I emailed my mom to request an on-the-record interview, and she readily agreed. After some small talk, we got around to the Disneyland outbreak.

“They’re trying to connect it to the conservatives — it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen,” she said over the phone. “It’s the vegetarian people and the ultimate hippies who started the movement, and they’re all liberals! It’s not a political thing anyway; it’s ridiculous.”

I told her about my assumption — that her stance on vaccines came out of libertarian values. Was that true?

No, she said, that wasn’t it at all. “I was totally pro-vaccines, really, until Dr. Taylor.”

Dr. Taylor was my parents’ dentist. He was part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which was somewhat unusual in our town. “They look at things differently,” mom said. “They’re vegetarians.” My parents were decidedly not, but they respected this guy because he was well-educated.

A month after I was born, my parents took me to meet Dr. Taylor. He gave them a brand-new book, called How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor, written by a medical doctor named Robert S. Mendelsohn. The book seems to be a favorite among the alternative-medicine crowd, and Mendelsohn, a self-described “medical heretic,” was apparently against heart surgery, water fluoridation, and “modern medicine.”

That book changed everything, mom said. “There were a couple of chapters on immunizations, and that was what we zeroed in on.”

Listening to her rattle off the book’s specific claims about vaccines, I was surprised at how much time and consideration she had put into thinking through the data — or at least the data she knew about. Dr. Burris, an osteopathic physician who “was not into meds,” my mom said, was also sympathetic to Mendelsohn and Taylor’s ideas. In other words, all of the experts my parents knew and trusted were steering them against vaccines.

But they didn’t just make a blanket decision about all vaccinations. When considering the MMR vaccine — a combination jab for protection against measles, mumps, and rubella — mom and dad analyzed the risk-benefit ratio of each disease, one at a time.

Wellcome Library, London / Via wellcomeimages.org

Measles was an easy no for them, my mom said. “We all had the measles, before they had the shots. It went through the whole community, and it didn’t hurt anybody.” She remembered having the characteristic red rash, and missing a week of school while holed up in her room with the shades drawn. And yet, she said, “I’m sure there’s something good about them — they helped me build some immunities or something.”

This idea of measles as a mild disease is demonstrably inaccurate. The virus isn’t likely to kill, but it makes kids miserable. And it can lead to terrible complications: 8% of cases get diarrhea, 7% an ear infection, and 6% pneumonia. About 1 in 167 will get seizures, and 1 in 1,000 swelling of the brain.

Mumps, mom continued, was also an easy choice, because the virus was only really a problem for boys. This is not really true. Mumps is a somewhat benign virus; about half of all people who get the mumps won’t develop any symptoms. But the other half will get a fever, headache, exhaustion, and swollen glands. Adolescent boys, as mom noted, may develop inflamed testicles. In rare cases girls, too, can develop inflammation in their breasts and ovaries.

But even she acknowledged that rubella was much more serious. She knew that if a pregnant woman contracted this virus, there was a very high risk of her baby having birth defects. The reason she didn’t vaccinate me against rubella as an infant, she said, was so that I would be more likely to get a shot later. “Otherwise, the kid assumes they’ve got a lifelong immunity, and she doesn’t necessarily get a booster during her childbearing years, when she needs it the most.” To me, that sounds like twisted logic, but it was her logic.

The DPT vaccine — for diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus — was more complicated. Diphtheria, a bacterial infection that affects the respiratory tract, has long been eradicated in the United States. “Diphtheria is pretty much unheard of anymore, so we figured we didn’t need that,” she said.

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a bacterial infection that can be deadly for young babies, mom acknowledged. (In 2012, in fact, a pertussis outbreak killed 20 people, and most were infants younger than 3 months.) But the pertussis vaccine, according to her new book, was perhaps equally dangerous. “I think I read that it caused mental retardation within two hours,” she told me. (This is not true.)

Tetanus, though, my parents were absolutely worried about — they had seen for themselves the lockjaw it causes. And so, mom said, they went to Dr. Burris with their decision: They wanted me to get just one vaccine — one specifically for tetanus, instead of the DPT combo — and none of the others.

Dr. Burris had to special-order the tetanus-only vaccine, which led to my parents receiving a call from a public health nurse. “They thought we were poor and we couldn’t afford the shots,” mom said. Eventually the shot came, and my mom took me to the doctor’s office. By then I was about 5 months old. “I had to look away when you even got that tetanus. I felt like leaving the room with the doctor there, poking you with that needle.”

I asked her whether she had read my post about the harms of measles. She hadn’t, so I summed it up. Why, I asked, wouldn’t you want to avoid putting your kid through all that pain? “We figured everybody else was immunized, and so there’s no way you would catch it from anybody.”

And that, of course, is the crux of the problem. When herd immunity is high, there isn’t a pressing reason for any given individual to be vaccinated. At the time, she thought vaccines came with scary side effects. So why would she risk it, no matter how small that risk? But that creates a dangerous paradox: If everyone made the choice she did, then everyone would get very, very sick.

My mom knows that I don’t agree with her about the dangers of vaccines. And, after reading some of my articles and others over the years, she seems to be less worried about vaccines than she used to be. Still, she doesn’t regret her choice.

“That book, talking about what was happening to those babies after a pertussis vaccination, it was just…” she paused. “Maybe it’s all a fable, I don’t know, you know how this stuff gets started.

“But when you have a baby you feel differently than before you have children. You are responsible — this is your baby! You look at things differently than you would as a concerned scientist.”

The conversation was revelatory for me, for two reasons. First, it made me wonder whether vilifying anti-vaccine parents — as the press has done repeatedly this week — is a good strategy for increasing vaccine coverage. When parents make medical choices, good or bad, it’s for one simple reason: They’re trying to do the right thing for their kid. Refusing vaccination is not a political statement.

Second, my mom’s story illustrates that data and authority and expertise can have real power, but only when communicated effectively. For whatever reason, the ideas of Dr. Burris, Dr. Taylor, and Dr. Mendelsohn resonated with my parents in a way that mainstream medical voices did not. Why? This is the question I wish more doctors would ask — and more journalists too. If we did, then maybe we’d better understand how fables about modern medicine are written. And, perhaps, how to erase them.

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/virginiahughes/why-my-mom-didnt-vaccinate