Lessons From My Late Mother: How I Survived A Miscarriage In COVID-19
My biggest fear after my mom died was having a baby without her. How could I be a mother without mine? Now I would have to lose a baby without her.
“So, I guess congratulations are in order?” our doctor asked after seeing our beaming faces in her office. “I think so?” I reply, cautiously optimistic. My husband and I had been trying for seven months for our first baby and had just been referred to a fertility specialist in Toronto. The positive pregnancy test result that we got — on Family Day of all days — felt like a little miracle.
After inundating us with prenatal information, my doctor sent me to the lab for blood work. “I’m pregnant… I just found out,” I told the nurse as I handed her the requisition forms. Apart from my husband and doctor, she was the first person I told. I wanted that person to be my mom, who I lost to cancer just over a year ago. Sharing this news with a stranger, I fought back tears thinking about the injustice of time. But the nurse’s warmth and words made me feel my mom’s spirit, “Honey, now this is your time to just relax.”
The next week I had my first ultrasound. Thanks to the pregnancy apps I had eagerly downloaded, I knew my baby was almost the size of a blueberry. When my doctor called to say that my blood work and ultrasound results looked good, we were hopeful. We had been waiting for that reassurance so that we could tell our family. It was my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday, and I could think of no better present. We surprised her with a gift-wrapped onesie that said “plot twist”; watching her face light up with joy was priceless.
In mid-March, on the brink of Canada’s COVID-19 explosion, I was eight weeks pregnant and scheduled for a second ultrasound. As the technician scanned the screen, I scanned her face for some semblance of a reaction. She was expressionless. After what felt like an eternity, she told me we were finished. I was afraid to ask but did anyway: “So… can you show me something?” “No, I can only show you something if there is something clear to show.”
I was one foot out the door the next morning when my doctor called. She asked if I was sitting down. “The baby died at 7.5 weeks. There was no heartbeat. I’m sorry, it’s going to be a miscarriage. But the good news is you can get pregnant!” she offered. I thanked her, hung up the phone and burst into tears.
As Ontario was readying itself to declare a state of emergency, I was trying to handle my own.
I had always assumed that you’d know if you were having a miscarriage, that blood would just start gushing out of you, confirming your worst fear. But this was not that. My body still thought I was pregnant, but the fetus inside of me was dead. I was now waiting to have a miscarriage.
As Ontario was readying itself to declare a state of emergency, I was trying to handle my own. I spent a week waiting for an appointment at a hospital early pregnancy loss clinic, scouring the internet for information about miscarriages and seeking counsel from friends and relatives who had suffered the same fate. On the day of my appointment, I was certain that I wanted a D&C, a surgical procedure to remove the fetus under general anesthesia; to me, this was the least traumatic treatment. Unfortunately, that was not an option since D&Cs had been deemed “non-essential” to preserve hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients. Instead, I would either have to wait for for the physical miscarriage to start itself (a process which could take weeks and happen at any time), or I could induce it using pills I would have to insert into my vagina. The nurse was empathetic and honest: “Either way it’s awful. At least with the pills, you have some control.”
The decision was agonizing. I had heard that the pills could exacerbate the physical pain, which I was terrified of. At the same time, I didn’t know much longer I could mentally endure the thought of carrying my dead baby. I felt trapped in a twisted purgatory between pregnancy and miscarriage.
My biggest fear after my mom died was having a baby without her. How could I be a mother without mine? Now I would have to lose a baby without her. I thought about how, when she was in the hospital recovering from emergency brain surgery and undergoing harsh radiation and chemotherapy, she wanted me to do her makeup everyday; it became our special routine, a lesson in resilience and Revlon. It dawned on me that the only way I would get through this would be to emulate the strength that my mom modelled her entire life, up until the end. After all, this was the same woman who, at the age of 21, left her family in a bustling city in Pakistan to start a life with her husband in the foreign lands of rural Canada. The same woman who, after becoming a young widow, managed to raise three successful kids with little money, but a lot of love. And the same woman who, upon being diagnosed with terminal cancer, never asked, “why me?”, instead posed “why not me?” and then, with a twinkle in her eye, delivered a stand-up routine from her hospital bed: “I don’t have a brain tumour… I have brain humour!” My anguish was darkly ironic: The way I mustered up the courage to rid my body of my lifeless baby was by channelling the spirit of my late mother. And so, I put on some lipstick, and put in the pills.
It dawned on me that the only way I would get through this would be to emulate the strength that my mom modelled her entire life, up until the end.
Six hours later, there was blood. To control the cramps that I so feared, I loaded up my body with as many painkillers as possible. Cradling a heat pad in bed, I felt latent cramping and then hot flashes. When I got up to use the washroom, the room felt as though it was spinning. I vomited. From that point until the next morning, I was back and forth between my bed and bathroom, passing large clots that I assumed contained the fetus. When I woke up the next day, I breathed a sigh of relief thinking I had gotten through it. But two days later, I unexpectedly started to feel cramps again. The pain intensified to the point where I became doubled over on the toilet, pressing a heat pad into my aching pelvis as more fetal tissue fell out of my body. All this from a blueberry. I was exhausted.
As my body started to settle, news of the virus spread and I received a message from a friend overseas. She was nine months pregnant and, because of the pandemic, going to have to deliver her baby alone. She was panicking and had remembered I once shared how my mom, oceans apart from her own mother in an era where husbands waited outside, gave birth to three babies on her own — and shrugged it off as though it were nothing. My friend told me that she had found some solace in thinking about my mom’s story. I was touched by her remembrance but also troubled by its necessity, reflecting upon the stark and disproportionate toll this pandemic is taking on women. More often than not, we only have each other for support, indeed; it was the women in my life, who, in sharing their devastating experiences helped me to get through mine.
When I knew that my mom would not live to see my children, I asked her for the best parenting advice she could give me. Her answer was simple and true: “Be there for your kids.” Remarkably, even after her passing, my mom was still there for me when I needed her most, helping me to push through my pain — a testament to her indomitable spirit. Through losing a baby, I realized the true power of a mother’s love; it can transcend body, time, and even death itself.