As a newborn photographer who works with many rainbow babies, while I share dreamy photos of babies it’s just as important to me to honour the women who don’t get to welcome their babies earth side. When I decided that I wanted to collect and share the stories of real women navigating pregnancy loss, infant loss, and infertility, I never realized I would be one of these women.
A few years ago, I had a very early pregnancy loss. A “chemical pregnancy”, they call it, which I think is such a dismissive term for an experience that is painful no matter how early it was. When you’re hoping and planning for a baby for a long time, to have this happy news followed by bad news a few days later is devastating. Fortunately, I got pregnant just a month later with my son who is now three.
This past summer, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw two lines on the pregnancy test. How could it be this easy this time around? Is it a false positive? I took another test, then another, and then another the next day. I had to be SURE I was pregnant before I would allow myself to get excited and tell my husband. Eventually after the gazillionth test, I ordered a “Big Brother” t-shirt for my son and paraded him in front of my husband who was just as surprised as I was.
The thing about pregnancy after loss is you never quite trust a positive pregnancy test. Even weeks later, you wonder if you should be planning for a baby that might not come. In our case, my mother-in-law guessed I was pregnant 1 DAY after I peed on the stick – she’s a retired midwife and has an almost eerie skill for detecting pregnancy just by looking at someone! We denied it and tried to hide it from her for awhile longer until we felt closer to the “safe” period of telling people. Just when we started feeling like we could share the news with a few people close to us, at 8.5 weeks I started spotting.
My midwife told me spotting is very normal in pregnancy, and that unless there was cramping I shouldn’t worry. Maybe I was cynical from my previous experience, but I just KNEW this wasn’t going to end well. The spotting continued for several days, and slowly got worse. The hardest part was not knowing if baby was ok or not, for several days in a row, and having to carry on living my life as if nothing was wrong. I had photo sessions and meetings to carry on with during that time.
Finally I couldn’t bear the pain of not knowing and called every ultrasound clinic in Greater Vancouver to try to get an appointment. The earliest time I could get was not for another two weeks! So I called various clinics each morning, on the brink of tears, asking if there had been a cancellation that day in hopes that I would be able to get into a clinic.
At the ultrasound, I had to sit alone in the waiting area while my husband waited in the car. I was surrounded by pregnant women, I was fully bleeding at this point, uncomfortable, and emotionally exhausted. Finally I got in and the ultrasound tech said the dreaded words: “I need to do an internal to try to get a better look”. After the longest 10 minutes of my life she had to speak with the radiologist about what she was allowed to tell me.
Baby was measuring at 6 weeks, and they couldn’t detect a heartbeat yet because it was too early. I knew what this meant, since I knew I was supposed to be 8.5 weeks along. I was numb, and just wanted it to be over. That same night, at home, I miscarried naturally, while my son wandered in and out of the bathroom to see what I was doing (he’s going through a mommy’s boy stage). I felt a strange sense of relief after this, followed by an emotional crash and grief the next day.
The hardest part was actually wanting to talk to anyone and everyone who would listen, but not feeling like it would be appropriate to do so. Some family and friends knew about it from others but didn’t say anything because they didn’t know what to say. I wanted to tell clients that I wouldn’t be able to photograph their newborn that week because I had a miscarriage. I DID tell a few people who I knew would only be supportive, and it was a relief not to hide it like some deep dark secret. I was amazed at how many people said “I had one too” or “my sister had one” or “my mom had one before having me”.
Only a week after miscarrying, I was back to photographing babies, and actually didn’t find it difficult, but instead used my experience to fuel my deep appreciation of new life. I felt emotionally I was okay, but physically I still wasn’t. A few weeks after the miscarriage, I was still having intense bouts of bleeding and cramping that felt like labour. Eventually my midwife referred me to the Surrey Early Pregnancy Unit, but I would have to wait for a week to see the OB there, and at this point I was at risk for an infection. So I waited in the ER for a total of 12 HOURS – one night it was almost 7 hours just to see a doctor who could order an ultrasound, and the next day was for an outpatient ultrasound and to wait for the results for 5 hours before being told what I already knew: I had retained products of conception and needed a D&C.
Miscarriage doesn’t always happen as one big, sudden event like it’s portrayed on TV. In my case it happened over the course of several weeks. My way of coping was to talk about it, to connect with other women, and to even have some photos taken of my keepsake items – the pregnancy tests and the Big Brother onesie. My wonderful teammates Iris, Dani and Felicia were there to help me commemorate this part of my healing process – thank you Iris for the beautiful images I will cherish.
Going forward, although I have come to terms with the loss and am thankful that it didn’t happen when I was further along, I will always have a place in my heart for the baby I thought I would have. Next time I get pregnant, IF I get pregnant, I doubt I will have any kind of excitement or hope for having a baby until at least getting past the first trimester – I know that sounds so pessimistic, but it is real and I can’t help but feel that way.
I refuse to hide my miscarriage story as if it’s a taboo private topic that women shouldn’t talk about. That is such an outdated way of thinking and I think we NEED to share our stories to normalize this experience that happens to so many of us. Women shouldn’t have to be surrounded by pregnant women while miscarrying in a waiting room. We shouldn’t have to call every ultrasound clinic in town, every day, just to find out if our baby is alive inside us. We shouldn’t have to wait in an ER for half a day just to be told we can have a procedure we already know we need to move on. We shouldn’t have to suffer in silence, alone at home, coming up with excuses for why we can’t work or see people.
In collaboration with the Butterfly Run Vancouver, BC Women’s Health Foundation and Reproductive Mental Health we are sharing real stories from real women to support pregnancy loss, infant loss and infertility awareness. If you have a story you’d like to share, please contact me. We would love to honour you, your baby, and your experience by sharing and connecting with you.
As a storyteller with a passion for documenting real women’s journeys, newborn photographer Kim, of Kim Forrester Photography, created the Pregnancy Loss & Infertility series inspired after her own pregnancy loss; featuring stories of many women as well as herself.