IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Had A Miscarriage and Didn’t Even Know It

I'd had a dead embryo inside of me for a long time.
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Wendy Castellanos-Wolf
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I'd had a dead embryo inside of me for a long time.

It was Sunday afternoon and I sat next to a 90-year-old former opera singer turned narrator. The piano played a De Falla piece. I smoothed out my red Flamenco dress and white fringe.

The narration began, I played a crisp roll on my castanets and soon enough it was my turn to dance. Correction, it was our turn to dance. To the audience, I was a soloist, but we knew better. Baby and I were a duo and had been at all of our recent engagements, marveling and deceiving audiences, our complicity building with each successful show. We felt healthy and alive and had made a pact to stop performing only when we both got too big to fit into the costumes.

I danced up until up until the end of week 7.

I danced up until up until the end of week 7.

In my experience, dancers do not get pregnant. I have not known too many dancers who one, get pregnant, and two, actually return to dance at full capacity after becoming mothers. 

While I have always wanted to be a mother, it is understandable that since my art requires the use of my body, I have also always feared that pregnancy and motherhood would equate to giving up dance. 

As a woman who prescribes to the Lean In and Work Life Balance mantras, I took pregnancy on as a challenge. I had a very specific idea of what I wanted my pregnancy to represent. I was going to be pregnant dancer extraordinaire. I would defy all of the stereotypes of what a pregnant woman should look like, act like and be.

That was extremely arrogant. I know this now. One cannot control something so grand as the creation of a human life. I thought that I could be an example of perfect health. I thought that I could work my day job until it was time to give birth, dance at night until it was obvious that I was pregnant, and prove to myself and to others that it could all be done with grace. Pregnancy was not going to hold me back, no matter how exhausted I got. 

Dancers are very in tune with our bodies. We feel everything. So it is almost comical now that I was so in my head about pregnancy, something that was happening in my body, that I missed all of the warning signs completely.

At the end of our performance that Sunday afternoon, I went to the bathroom and found blood. Not a lot of blood, but enough for me to worry and then try to hold at bay the panic that I immediately felt. Blood is never something that one wants to see in early pregnancy. The disappearance of blood confirms an impending birth, while its reappearance is an omen of possible death. 

The very next day I felt a rush of blood escape my body. It was then, at the doctor’s office for an emergency visit, that I learned that our duo had turned into a trio. A blood clot had formed next to the embryonic sac.

There are no definitive answers as to why blood clots form. Some doctors speculate that during implantation the egg separates slightly from the uterine wall causing a bleed. I read everything I possibly could on blood clots, and while all sources said that it was never the mother’s fault and that blood clots cannot be prevented, I was filled with guilt and remorse. 

At six weeks, my husband and I had seen the heartbeat. Up until that moment, while I felt pregnant, I could not be certain that I was not just making the whole thing up. We were elated to see the fast paced light flicker in the darkness of the ultra sound machine, like a star in the vastness of a clear night sky. This baby was real. 

We were filled with hope and anxiety and love for this tiny being whose light I carried within me. Had my dancing and my arrogant need to prove a point put this fragile little light at risk?

The doctor said that there was still a viable pregnancy and that the best thing to do was nothing, stay off my feet and wait. For two weeks I lay around the house, reading, watching documentaries and taking long leisurely baths. I would reach for the loofa to scrub my skin clean, all the while repeating to myself “My body is my temple and this temple is your home,” a ritual I performed as a way to honor my body and speak to my baby.

All the motherhood lore I read or heard about suggests new mothers wait until the end of the first trimester to announce pregnancy. The reason being that if one miscarries, it will be difficult to then tell everyone the bad news in the midst of dealing with one’s own sorrow. It makes perfect sense, but I did not adhere to the rule. 

In typical Millennial fashion, I sent out a mass text to the women in my life explaining what was happening and how they should interpret my upcoming silence. The outpouring of love and support from my strong female support system was vital during a time when only another woman could understand the physical and emotional tribulations I was going through. 

According to the American Pregnancy Association, 10-25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. The research says that it is a very common occurrence, yet not once did any woman I know speak about her own miscarriage experience, until I mentioned my diagnosis. This kind of sisterly solidarity made it possible for me to sequester myself to positive thoughts and ignore that miscarriage was even a possibility. I held on and so my baby held on, a true partnership till the end.

Why do some blood clots dissolve, getting reabsorbed into the body, while others threaten miscarriage until they get their way? How is it possible that someone could have a miscarriage and not even know it? What the heck is a missed miscarriage anyway!?

The ultrasound was a chaotic jumbled mess of tissue floating on the screen. “It’s not gonna happen this time folks,” is what the doctor said, leaving me breathless and unable to speak or touch anyone.

My husband tried to embrace me but I pushed him away. Contact of any kind would be like pushing a button that released the dam holding my emotions in calm stillness. “I’m sad about this too,” he said defensively. But I could not respond. All I could do was try to breathe deeply and hold back my tears. 

“It’s not gonna happen this time folks,” is what I said to everyone who had been rooting for us.

I was in the bath, rubbing my belly when I realized that my body was my temple and my temple had turned into this baby’s tomb. I'd had a dead embryo inside of me for a long time. 

According to our ultrasound, our little light had stopped flickering at almost seven weeks. I had to wait until nine weeks to be told that I had miscarried. My body refused to expel the remains naturally because the placenta kept producing pregnancy hormones. I had what is called a missed miscarriage, which only happens to about 1% of pregnancies

To remedy this, I could have a D & C, which is basically the same operation as having an abortion, I could take a pill that is sometimes prescribed to induce labor, (and sometimes abortions), or I could wait. But I could not wait too long because leaving any of the remaining tissue in the uterus could cause problems, like infection or worse. I took my chances with what lay behind door number 2.

Misoprostol or Cytotec is prescribed to women who have had a missed miscarriage as an alternative to a D & C.

Misoprostol or Cytotec is prescribed to women who have had a missed miscarriage as an alternative to a D & C.

I was prescribed a poison so powerful it caused contractions for fourteen horrible hours. Fourteen hours of pain and reflection on the fragility of life, while “Hot in Cleveland,” played in the background trying to pry some laughter from me, so that I would forget even for a second, that 800mcg of Misoprostol, also knows as Cytotec, roamed through my blood stream attempting to dislodge the embryo from its home, my uterus, the sac that had once contained a baby.

It is the inevitable curse of human existence to attempt to provide or derive meaning from life’s experiences. So what did my miscarriage mean? How did this experience change me? My healing process has been a private and solitary act but I can share that I am humbled and afraid. I hope that with time this will change, but right now I am afraid of getting pregnant again and if I was, I would be too paralyzed by this fear to even think of dancing.