Monday, October 11, 2010

Multiple early miscarriages between 1999 & 2009
Puerto Nuevo, BC, Mexico

I found out I was pregnant the day before my third child’s first birthday party. I’d had miscarriages before, so I knew better than to announce the pregnancy, but we had a huge party and everyone was there and I was so excited. Very shortly afterward I noticed the faintest pink spotting. I tried to pretend like it wasn’t there, but over the next several weeks it came and it went, sometimes heavy, sometimes light, sometimes red, sometimes brown. Each time it changed I tried to tell myself a different story, make up a different excuse. It’s just old blood, it’s because we had sex, last time it stopped so this time it will stop too, etc…Normally when I miscarried I started bleeding, it grew heavier, and then the miscarriage happened, end of story. But that time was so much different that I convinced myself something different was going on entirely.

My Spanish is terrible, and the first obstetrician I saw didn’t speak a word of English so I had to have my husband translate everything. The doctor rushed through our appointment and didn’t even catch the fact that I was bleeding until I was dressed again and he was rushing us out the door. The baby was too small for a heartbeat at that point, so the ultrasound, and really the whole appointment, was for nothing. If anything at all useful was to be learned, it was lost in translation. We tried another obstetrician who did speak English, and that time there was a heartbeat. He diagnosed me with a subchorionic hemorrhage, which I’d never experienced before. My previous miscarriages happened around six weeks. At that point I had passed six weeks, and I had a non-baby-related reason for the bleeding, so even though I continued bleeding I was incredibly relieved and certain the bleeding would stop and the baby would be fine. And then the bleeding did stop. I stopped worrying, and my obstetrician didn’t seem concerned anymore. This was followed by a couple of uneventful weekly follow-up appointments.

During my last ultrasound my toddler son Pablo excitedly danced along to the beat of the baby’s heartbeat. I was anxious to go to the next appointment to see the baby and to see Pablo do his little dance again. I knew this time the baby would not be a shapeless blob like it had been the other times. I looked forward to seeing tiny arms and legs and maybe even some acrobatics. But when the doctor started the ultrasound that is not what happened. There was no sound. The baby was just lying there still. I started to panic and told the doctor that the date I had given him for my last menstrual period was off by one day, as if that made any difference. “El embrion no tiene frequencia,” he said. My Spanish is terrible, but not so terrible that I couldn’t understand what he said. The next day I would have been ten weeks pregnant. Despite my prior losses, I had never made it that far before without ending up with a baby in my arms.

“The baby is dead?” I asked. He said the baby was measuring right on target, so it must have just died the day before. After all I had been through, and the fact that the bleeding had finally stopped and everything seemed to be going fine, he seemed as shocked as I was. I don’t remember anything about the appointment after that. I sat on the table and cried while he and my husband had a conversation I couldn’t understand. Afterward, even though it was only ten in the morning, we headed straight to Walmart, where I put on a pair of giant sunglasses to cover my red eyes and headed straight for the liquor section. I stayed drunk for two days.

When the obstetrician offered me a D&C I refused. I had already been through a recent tubal reversal and a c-section, and I didn’t want any more surgery. I opted to go home and wait for the baby to pass naturally, but after four days of walking around thinking about the dead baby inside me I became spooked and changed my mind. We didn’t have much money, and here in Mexico you either have to go to the public hospital or you have to pay in full up front to go to a private one. Even the parking lot of the public hospital seemed ghastly, so we decided that was not an option, however we weren’t sure we had the money for the private hospital. We went to the doctor and explained our situation. He said there was a medication we could use, but he did not recommend using it unless it was in the hospital under medical supervision. You can buy just about any medication over the counter here without a prescription, so after some pleading he agreed to tell us the name of the medication. Actually, he refused to tell us, but he did agree to write it on a piece of paper, which he did and then very dramatically slid it across the desk to us. Citotec. It was just Cytotec without the “y,” which was hardly a secret Spanish code. I could have Googled that and asked for that in the farmacia myself without all of the mysterious dramatics.

In the end, we opted not to go the Citotec route. We were afraid I’d hemorrhage, and we didn’t trust the public hospital should I require emergency medical assistance. After some haggling the obstetrician came up with a figure that we decided we could afford, though it would be a struggle, and we went to the hospital the next day. After having us come in and sending us home a couple of times, the OB finally applied a gel to my cervix to start the process, then he promptly raised the fee by $800 that we did not have. We didn’t know what to do. We had to leave the hospital. The OB urged us to go to the public hospital so I could at least be observed, but I was afraid. My sons were with relatives overnight—the toddler for the first time in his life--so my husband and I went home and watched horror movies and waited for something to happen.

Eventually the contractions started, and as they progressed my husband became concerned. I had miscarried in the privacy of my own home before, but never when I was that far along. We weren’t sure what to expect. Would there be a tiny baby to deal with? What were we supposed to do with it? What happened if something went wrong and we couldn’t fight the insane and chaotic Mexican traffic and make it across town to the hospital in time? We decided to go to the public hospital to check it out. Once there, they told us it would be $300 for a D&C. I didn’t want a D&C, and eventually they agreed to admit me overnight for observation, with the understanding that I would get a D&C if it became necessary due to some unforeseen complication.

The bathroom floors in the hospital were covered with urine, the toilets filled with worse. Women in hard labor—by that point myself included—moaned and cried in the filthy hallways. I lay down on a gurney in the hallway. I have no idea if it was clean or who had been on it before me, but I could no longer stand and it was better than the floors. There were no available seats, and none of the men in the waiting room seemed to feel the need to give their seats up to any of the laboring women. The nurse who started my IV looked like a bleached blonde Jabba the Hut with black lipliner. Her white Crocs were splattered with blood, and she laughed when I started crying because they didn’t tell me my husband couldn’t stay with me until they were wheeling me out of the room. I tried to tell them that I’d changed my mind, but it was too late. No one could understand anything I said.

To my horror, they wheeled me into a labor room. The women in the room were drugged up and eerily silent. I heard the occasional moan, but aside from that the only noise was the rowdy, partying nursing staff, who sang, laughed and yelled to each other in lieu of treating patients, and the swooshing, pulsing sound of the fetal monitors that were monitoring the still-living babies, which seemed designed to torture me Telltale Heart style.

A very young nurse in training who spoke a few words of English seemed to be caring for all of the patients by herself. She was kind enough to turn down the monitor that was right next to my head. She shot me up with something, but when I asked what it was she refused to tell me. While I was in there listening to the nursing station fiesta and the moaning and the beating of the fetal heart tones, I thought to myself, Is this really the way you want this birth to happen? Even though my baby was dead, I suddenly felt fiercely protective of it. I had this overwhelming urge to deliver it in the peace and quiet of my own home. I was never a good housekeeper, but even my toilet was more sanitary than anything in that hospital. And it’s a good thing, too, because the toilet at my house ended up being exactly where I was when the baby was born.

When the nurses realized I was trying to remove my own IV so I could leave they panicked. Largely unable to communicate with me, they didn’t know how to stop me. I could understand much of what they said, but I didn’t care what they had to say and I didn’t know how to respond. I just wanted out. They refused to remove my IV, so I simply decided to remove it myself. They threatened to make me sign myself out against medical advice, which was supposed to discourage me, but I signed without hesitation. Over and over I demanded my husband, and as a last resort they tried to tell me he’d left without me. My husband had my clothes, so they thought that would stop me, but it didn’t. When they realized I was so frantic to leave that I was going to rip out my IV and walk home alone in my hospital gown, they summoned my husband from the waiting room. They tried to persuade him to make me stay, but he knows I am not a difficult patient or one who causes scenes. If I was trying to leave, he was sure something must be terribly wrong.

Once we left I was suddenly ravenously hungry, so on the way home we went through the Burger King drive-thru. I devoured a Whopper, and then promptly delivered my tiny baby in the toilet. It was completely painless. In retrospect I think I must have done the hard part on that gurney in the hallway, before I even made it to the hell that was the labor room. I was so afraid of what the baby was going to look like, but when I fished it out of the toilet it was covered in a blood clot and my husband and I had to stare at it a while before we were even sure it was the baby at all. After all of that worrying we had done that week regarding what to do with the body, we ended up keeping it in our refrigerator for a couple of days until we could take it to the lab on Monday, which greatly upset my teenage son.

The lab said the baby was malformed. The next time I was pregnant I tried to tell myself that it was a genetic fluke and to relax because it was random and wouldn’t happen again, but I was never really sure. I didn’t trust the lab. I could never really convince myself that they hadn’t simply taken my money and thrown my baby in the trash. After what I went through, I never trusted any medical anything here ever again.

A little over a year has passed, and I have since given birth to another healthy son. I try not to think about the baby that I lost. I try not to think of any of them. We bring it up as infrequently as possible. I have two teenagers, a toddler, and a newborn to contend with. My first miscarriage was over twenty years ago. My daughter is grown and out of the house. I’ve had a long time to deal with these things. I am exhausted and overwhelmed, too frazzled to spend time dwelling on first trimester losses. Other women have it a lot worse, I tell myself. There are stillborns and healthy babies who strangle on cords, and of course the dreaded SIDS. In the grand scheme of things, I have no right to complain. It could be so much worse, I remind myself every time it pops into my mind. I try so hard to bury it. I know this last one traumatized the hell out of me, but I need to cook dinner, and to nurse the baby. Sometimes both things at the same time. And there are no therapists here as far as I can tell. I wonder if grief therapy is too frivolous a thing for a place like Mexico? In any case, I cannot think about it. I don’t have time to think about it. But still…

A few days ago a cartoon came on TV about a birthday party for a baby girl named Luna, which is what we had planned to name that baby. I am so busy, so tired, but when I saw it and saw baby Luna’s sweet face I dropped everything. I cried and cried, and I didn’t tell a soul.

I held my tiny dead baby in my hand. I don't know what they did with its body. I still think about it all the time. I can’t help it. I can’t stop myself.

You can contact Gina at


Anonymous said...

Your story touches me deeply. I too feel that I have no right to dwell on my first trimester loss when so many other women experience far worse horrors. I too had to fish my baby out of a toilet, but it was at a restaurant, and I only wanted to hold it once. I had to flush my baby away. I had already been to the emergency room and was told everything was passing naturally, I just had to follow up with my normal obstetrician to make sure everything passed. I came across a phrase in the months following my loss, and I hope it too can bring you peace.
" A little life, not a little loss. "

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