Living in Grief And Recognizing Gratitude After Losing My Rainbow Babies
In 2008, I discovered To Write Love on Her Arms after a close friend died by suicide. When I learned about their flagship event, I couldn’t have felt more drawn to the concept. That night was called “Heavy and Light,” the title captured from words by Jamie Tworkowski, put on a tee-shirt to celebrate Casey Calvert’s life and mourn his loss.
“Our hearts are heavy and light. We laugh and scream and sing. Our hearts are heavy and light.”
I’ve felt this term Heavy & Light in my bones, deep in my heart and my soul, since I first learned of it. Over the last 13 years, it has represented so much to me. In every season of my life since then, there has been some heavy, and some light. There have been stark moments of contradiction—those that I want to simultaneously yell into the void and also celebrate the impossible magic. It’s a wonder such contrasting feelings can co-exist, and be honored, moment after moment. To be honest, I’ve lived in countless spaces over the years where I’ve felt both the anchor weighing me down and the feathers offering to lift me up again. I’m not a stranger to this.
But this season, I’ve lived through a unique lens, as I’ve navigated recognizing gratitude and experiencing joy during unimaginable heartbreak.
In June, after 10 months of trying to conceive on our own followed by 11 months of fertility treatments including two early miscarriages, surgery, two canceled embryo transfer cycles, a mock cycle to complete an ERA, and another round of IVF including an egg retrieval, I was finally pregnant with our rainbow babies.
However, what should’ve felt like coming up for air after such a long time didn’t. There was no celebration. There were low beta numbers to start. The threat of a chemical pregnancy. Extra testing. Extra anxiety. There was early spotting, at 6 weeks and 2 days. There was finding out we only had one viable baby. There was constant anxiety. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. The inability to say out loud that I was pregnant. The lack of decision on if, how, and when to announce. The celebration was missing. The fear was real. Every ultrasound started the same, with a racing heart and frantic prayers that there would still be a heartbeat. I was deeply grateful to be carrying life but overwhelmingly fearful of losing it. How complicated is that?
At 10 weeks 1 day pregnant, I had my first MFM appointment. I’d gone into preterm labor with my older daughter, and I live with Crohn’s disease, so we knew that this pregnancy could have a bit more to monitor. I had an ultrasound, anxious but perfect. My husband was on FaceTime due to COVID policies. I met with the doctor afterward and asked a thousand questions, including about pregnancy loss at that point. He said very directly, “there is a nominal chance after seeing a healthy growing baby and a strong heartbeat like you did today. Like, less than 5%.” I exhaled, a little bit anyway. And I walked out feeling like maybe, everything would be okay.
The next morning, I was scheduled to fly to Florida. I was so caught up in my anxiety that my body trembled. At the time, I thought it was because of the actual flying, because of the COVID exposure, and because of the nature of the trip. I was going to spend time with a close friend who possibly didn’t have very much time left. I knew the trip would be full of emotions and maybe a really hard goodbye, and I was suddenly questioning everything.
In the airport, and on the plane, and waiting for my luggage on the other end, I felt sick to my stomach. It wasn’t just the fear of COVID, or of being alone in transit. It wasn’t fear about reuniting with my friend, or what we’d share in the following days. It was fear about my baby. Even though I was assured that the baby was snuggled in tight, I felt so worried.
Twenty-four hours later and the consistent light spotting I’d been experiencing due to “vanishing twin syndrome” turned into bright red bleeding. Paralyzed by fear, I called the doctor on call, knowing that it was Sunday night, and I was far from home and without my husband. I sobbed on the phone as she told me that she couldn’t assure me I wasn’t losing our growing baby without seeing an ultrasound. And I knew that at that moment, I couldn’t walk into an ER in Florida, alone and terrified to find out if my baby was still alive.
So, I prayed and I cried and I stayed up all night. I got on the first flight back home, all the while vigilantly checking the toilet. Was that blood too much blood? Was my growing baby going to die? Was I at risk of hemorrhage? To say I’ve never felt so actively terrified might be an understatement.
When I landed in Chicago, my husband picked me up at the airport and we went to OB triage at the hospital where I delivered my daughter two years prior. The same one I planned to deliver this sweet baby at. We sat in a crowded waiting room amongst full-term mamas in the height of labor until we were finally called back. We waited and waited and waited, and finally, on an internal ultrasound, we saw a heartbeat.
Clots and clots of blood were scooped out from my insides. I was told my cervix was slightly open, and that I was likely experiencing a bizarre phenomenon—one where I was miscarrying the second baby, the vanishing twin, while still pregnant with the first. A miscarriage during pregnancy. Who even knew that was a thing that was possible? Everything I’d been told, everything I’d read told me that if I lost one baby while keeping the other, my body would either absorb the first, or if the loss was further along I’d deliver both babies together at term. I mean, that’s what I assumed would happen if we lost one baby during the pregnancy.
I was told that I probably wouldn’t lose the growing baby, but that nobody could be sure. That I had to follow up with my doctor, and that all I could do was go home and wait.
The next morning, I spoke to a nurse on the phone. She was rude and missing any shred of empathy that should’ve been required for her job. She told me that the MFM team wouldn’t see me for another week. Then, they’d do what they’d call a viability scan—to see if my then 12-week old baby was still alive inside of me. It didn’t matter what they offered. Or how many times I called back. Or if I reached out to our RE to see if they’d provide me a reassurance scan, even though we’d already graduated.
That night, 36 hours after seeing his heartbeat for the 6th time over 5 weeks, I delivered our son Noah. He was about two inches long and weighed approximately 2 ounces, matching in size to my index finger. His birth was quick and the trauma for us both was what happened afterward.
Perhaps these are words that shouldn’t be shared, that should stay private in my heart and in my home, but I’m choosing to share them anyway.
In the hours and days after delivering my son, I frantically and desperately searched the internet for accounts of live miscarriage or pregnancy loss that looked like mine, and all I could find was ONE. So today, I’m adding to the noise, so the next parents in the height of their trauma know they’re not alone. If this part feels uncomfortable or too graphic, please feel free to skip it.
Around 1:50 in the morning, I woke up feeling the urge to push. In my sleepy haze, being almost 11 weeks pregnant, I mistook the urge for one to pee and walked to the restroom like normal. But then I felt it. It was a small contraction, followed by a large plop. And even though I was in shock, I knew. The toilet was filled with blood, and I couldn’t see the baby, but on instinct alone, I reached into the bowl, and blindly pulled out a very full handful—what turned out to be my baby, still attached to his placenta but no longer inside of it, along with the empty sac where his sister had started to grow, still attached in a way to where his roots had been planted. I held him in my hand, and in a completely trauma-induced haze, I set him down beside me on some toilet paper and screamed out for my husband.
How was it possible that I had just delivered our son, and watched him die? He was just growing safely inside of me. One minute we had a whole future planned for him, and the next, we were placing him inside a Tupperware container to bring to the doctor for testing. How horrific. How utterly traumatic, terribly transformative, and forever life-altering.
It’s been 10 weeks since that moment, and while some days I can pretend that I’m functioning, other days I still feel completely shattered inside. It’s like there’s this dramatic line drawn between who I was on August 3rd and every day beforehand, and who I became on August 4th, and everything I’ve tried to survive since then.
But the reason I started writing this, the thought that set these words into motion was that of heavy and light. This season has been dark. It’s been filled with grief and angst and anguish and ache. Heartbreak and trauma are defining, unpredictable, and all-consuming. Except I couldn’t be fully consumed. Not entirely, anyway, even when I wanted to be, because I still have a little girl. A living, breathing, sometimes screaming invitation to believe in better things. My daughter is 2.5 and didn’t know mama was carrying a baby. She didn’t know that mama watched that baby die. She just knew that mama was big sad. And that mama has been different.
In an effort to spend more focused time with her, I’ve tried to notice the smallest things. The way that her hair curls into her eyes because it desperately needs to be cut but I just can’t bring myself to do so just yet. The mannerisms she’s picked up from watching the world around her, like a finger on her chin when she’s thinking, and some dramatic side-eye when she knows she’s being all sorts of mischievous (and most definitely going to get away with it).
Those are my favorite moments. The moments where I accidentally feel joy. Most of the time it surprises me, these days, but I’m recognizing my deep and plentiful gratitude for it. I know that it’s not a betrayal to my body or to my son, nor is it an admission that “I’m fine” or that I’ve “moved on.”
It’s life. It’s the light in the midst of heaviness. It’s the reminder that we’re still living and breathing and believing. It’s the tiny moments, the small resemblance of balance that ultimately keeps me moving forward.
Amanda Osowski is a mom, Infertility and Pregnancy Loss Doula, and patient advocate. She is a self-proclaimed empath and an Enneagram 2 who was born with a writer’s soul. You can follow her on Instagram at @heartfeltbeginnings.