External Miscarriage

October 15, 2021

Guest blog by Melanie Lehane

October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.  If you’re going through fertility treatments, you’re most likely hyper aware of (and probably triggered by) all of the miscarriage stories you hear this month, especially on social media.  I remember two years ago I had just finished my first egg retrieval and we were waiting for the results of the genetic testing on our four embryos to come back.  A woman I barely knew felt the need to tell me all about the miscarriage she’d had 15 years earlier and then ended with “loss is simply a part of life”.  To be honest, I had mixed emotions.  My main response was empathy, as I couldn’t imagine the loss of a child at that time.  However, if I’m honest, part of me was extremely jealous that she was even able to get pregnant.  Then I looked at her two healthy children and considered her insensitivity to loss, and all I really wanted was to punch her in the face! 

     When we started our IVF journey, I quickly discovered that how a person answers the question, “When does life begin?” would drastically shape their response to our IVF journey.  Those who believe that life begins at conception were far more empathetic and responsive to our journey than those who believe that life begins at a later point.  To clarify, I believe that life begins at conception and that the four embryos we had made were, in fact, babies.  After all, they contained our DNA, had a knowable gender, had all of their chromosomes, and were already distinguishable from the placenta around them.  When the call came that three of our four embryos were chromosomally abnormal, we were devastated!  We had lost two little girls and a little boy.  Then she told me that the little girl that we had left was a day 7 embryo and my heart sank further, knowing that we would need to do another retrieval.  In that moment, when my hope and heart were breaking, the lab tech on the other end of the phone said something that changed the way I saw everything.  She said, “Please take time to grieve before you jump into another retrieval.  Right now, your body and mind are experiencing trauma, much like they would if you had a miscarriage.  Except, in your case, your hormone levels are higher than they would be if you lost a baby in the first trimester (I had just retrieved 33 eggs!), you know the gender of your babies (most first trimester miscarriages don’t) so that can make it feel a bit more real, and you just lost three at once.  You really need to make sure that you grieve and take care of yourself right now.”  It was in that moment that I realized that she was right and that what I was feeling was the result of, what I now refer to as, an “External Miscarriage” …times three.

     Though I will always be grateful for this strangers’ care for me in such a vulnerable moment, I was left with an epic war of emotions.  On one hand, I was elated that we had a healthy little girl in cryo-freeze.  On the other hand, I was trying to figure out how to grieve three babies I would never get to meet.  To be honest, I have never felt more helpless in my life.  The only thing we could do for these three precious babies was to give them each a name, honor their exceptionally brief time on earth, and grieve “what might have been.”  When others asked us about our embryos, their focus was always on the one we had and rarely, if ever, on the three we had lost.  There were no flowers sent or cards of sympathy.  A close friend brought us a meal, but otherwise, only a handful of people even acknowledged the epic loss we were feeling at that time.  My husband and I felt completely alone in our love and grief for these precious lost lives.  For us, it was exactly like a miscarriage.   After all, we had desperately wanted these babies.  We had spent years dreaming of them and who they might become.  We had worked so hard for them and emptied a 401K to get them, and now they were gone.  I had lost three babies without the privilege of ever carrying them in my womb.   Our hearts were broken and we knew we would never be the same. 

     Over the next few weeks, I found myself having to justify my grief.  Insensitive people often say extremely stupid things.  One person asked, “How can you call yourselves parents if you haven’t given birth?  How can you claim to have lost a child if you were never pregnant?”  To which I replied, “Adoptive parents are still parents, even though many have never been pregnant or given birth.”  It was hard to hear others dismiss our children as though they never existed and didn’t matter.  It was as though, somehow, our grief wasn’t valid because we hadn’t had the joy of a positive pregnancy test first.    

     Two months later I found myself right back in that same awful position.  Another retrieval, five embryos, and another phone call telling me that we had lost another little girl and another boy.  The same war of emotions.  The same mix of grief and joy.  The same pain, mingled with hope.  When our first Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) failed, and we lost another little boy, I knew that I needed a break.  After all, we had lost six babies in as many months and our emotions were fried!  We did more tests, more blood work, and more meds to try to answer the never ending “why” that haunted our world.  Finally, I had had enough.  Even though I’m 43, and it felt like time was running out, we took a six-month break from fertility treatments to grieve and heal.  Now, as we prepare for our second FET, I can feel hope returning.  It’s not the blind, blissful hope of the past, but rather a more subdued, cautious version of hope.

     So, this month, when we’re surrounded by stories of loss and waves of candlelight, I will tell my story.  I will light my candle.  I will mourn the loss of my six precious babies, even though I’ve never had the privilege of being pregnant.  I will pray that I never have to go through another external miscarriage again.  I will grieve.  I will hope.  I will fight.  I will move forward…because I am an IVF mama.         

In Loving Memory of our babies:

*Annabeth Zoe Lehane * Josephine Kaye Lehane * Zachariah Leon Lehane * Kamilla Grace Lehane * Finnley Theodore Lehane * Charles William Lehane

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