Elizabeth Petrucelli

Author, Blogger, Educator

The Flu Vaccine and Miscarriage

1 in 4 miscarriage

Newly pregnant mothers want to know, is the flu vaccine safe in pregnancy? The flu vaccine is recommended for all pregnant women and women are told there is little to no risk in receiving the vaccination during their pregnancy. Yet many vaccinations haven’t been tested in pregnant women. 

So let’s talk about it. This published study by the CDC shows an increased risk of miscarriage after receiving the influenza vaccination containing pH1N1. The 2017-2018 influenza vaccination looks to have this virus in it. Here are the three viruses for this season:

  • an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus (updated)
  • an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus
  • a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like (B/Victoria lineage) virus

The risk of miscarriage was only looked at for the 1 – 28 days following the vaccine and the woman had to have received a prior influenza vaccine which contained pH1N1 as well. The 2016-2017 influenza vaccine contained A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus (I am only listing H1N1).  While the study authors stated that it cannot establish a causal relationship, the association of receiving the flu vaccine during pregnancy and having a miscarriage (SAB) was significant.

What we do know is that pregnant women ARE at a higher risk of contracting illnesses during pregnancy and the flu is one of those illnesses. I used to receive the flu vaccine but as I have aged, I have become allergic to the ingredients in many vaccines. Even if I weren’t allergic, I personally would not receive the flu vaccination, or any vaccination for that matter, during pregnancy. I was pregnant this year and in February, I contracted Influenza B. Not a single person in my family was sick or became sick. I was miserable and I did what I could to protect my baby.

I am not certain where I contracted Influenza B but I do work in a hospital so maybe that’s where I picked it up. My symptoms did not present normally. I did not have a fever at all but I felt very sick, headache, muscle aches, heart palpitations, and I felt like I was struggling to breathe. I put off visiting the ER, mostly because my husband did not want to take me in the middle of the night. In addition, we knew the visit would be costly and that is always a consideration.

It was not easy waiting through the night not to be seen. I couldn’t sleep and honestly, I wanted to be put out of my misery.  Instead of going to the ER, I asked for a walk-in appointment the following morning. When I arrived at the clinic, the doctor was upset I was there and not in the ER. While my oxygenation was fine, I was clearly struggling to breathe. Their concern was that I had been breathing rapidly (over 33 respiration’s per minute) for more than 12 hours and my body would give out and I would “crash.” That was their nice way of saying, die.

I felt absolutely awful but I wanted to avoid the ER so I asked for any testing or procedures they could do in the office. They said they couldn’t test for the flu in their clinic and I would have to go to the ER for that, but they would give me a nebulizer treatment and see if that helped. I did not want to take any medication during my pregnancy but I needed some relief. I was convinced to take the treatment in hopes that it would help and I would avoid the ER.

It did nothing, so we were sent to the ER. I again received an ineffective breathing treatment and was sent home. I was told my blood labs were normal and that my influenza test hadn’t come back but they would call if it was positive. They had no explanation for my illness, other than I must have a bad cold (even though I wasn’t congested at all) and because I was “old” and pregnant, I was responding harshly to the virus. I later learned that my labs were not “normal” but the doctors didn’t believe my labs were indicative of anything.

During the 15 minute drive home, the doctor called my husband to confirm that I had Influenza B. I was surprised they didn’t admit me as my respirations were still horrible but they sent me home with Tamiflu. I hesitated to take the medication. There are no studies of the use of this drug in pregnant women but I needed relief. In addition, I had been symptomatic beyond the 48 hour window for the effectiveness of this drug.

I conducted a little research before consuming the drug. I had immense anxiety over this. I was well into my second trimester and  was passed the gestation where the defects could occur. There were three babies whose mothers had taken the drug who had defects (although some babies were aborted but according to the study, this was not statistically significant). 24 hours after taking Tamiflu, I began to feel relief. By 72 hours after Tamiflu, I was feeling well although exhausted.

I worried throughout my pregnancy that I somehow hurt my baby from the Tamiflu. Only time would tell and a future ultrasound did not show any defects with her heart. Once she was born “normal” I felt okay about taking Tamiflu although it’s still possible she could have been affected but we won’t know until later in her life. So far, all is well with her.

Despite the CDC study, women are still urged to get the flu shot in pregnancy. Why? The reasons cited are to reduce hospitalizations due to complications from the flu, morbidity and mortality, and to pass on antibodies to the unborn baby. This study shows that the influenza vaccine in pregnancy is 91.5% effective in preventing hospitalization of the infant in the first six months of their life (this does not say the infant does not contract influenza). I am sure my daughter has antibodies for Influenza B since I had it.

So what should a pregnant woman do? There is clearly a relationship between miscarriage and having received the influenza vaccination so it would be up to the woman to assume the risk. Do the research, make the decision. I don’t ever recommend just listening to a doctor. I want to be very clear in what I am saying; the doctors recommendation IS important; however, it should not be the only deciding factor. If a woman receives the vaccination and then miscarries, how would she feel knowing that ?

I know I would never forgive myself so I choose not to receive vaccinations during pregnancy and most especially during the first trimester. Only you can decide if it’s right for you. As someone who has experienced miscarriage twice, I worry so much during subsequent pregnancies about losing the baby and anything I can do to reduce that anxiety is helpful. Once the baby is born, I know there are many things I can do to help keep the baby healthy and I follow all those precautions and recommendations during such a fragile time.

Making the decision to receive or not receive the flu vaccine is difficult. There seems to be good research out there to help make an informed decision, although much of it is irrelevant if the baby does not make it to term if the flu vaccine causes miscarriage.

The Death of Suffering

WARNING: This is deep and is about abortion. It is not a popular opinion.

“I chose to deliver Embree on April 25, 2016 via c-section. I chose late-term abortion. I did so because it was the only way I could hold my baby girl while she was still alive. It was the only way I could encounter her soul until we are together again in heaven. This is why I am PRO-CHOICE.” – Haylie Grammer

At face value, you might think that this woman had an abortion near-term but that’s not the case. She was 25 weeks. You also may have already seen this story as Haylie aborted her baby 4.5 years ago. Her situation is tragic, I don’t deny it. I do however, want to talk about it.

Her post is really about politics (which she admits) and it’s to garner your vote for the pro-choice legislators. Heck, it might even be about the Supreme Court Nominee, Amy Coney Barrett since the concern is she will help overturn Roe v. Wade but most likely this is about the presidential election. It’s quite suspect that this circulated during the last presidential election year.

Haylie tells her tragic story about how Texas forced her to have an abortion because the law would not allow an early induction. According to Texas law, there is no restriction on abortion if the baby has a severe fetal anomaly and/or the mother’s life is at risk. The ACLU for Texas confirms this. Nothing stated the need to wait until 27 week, although she could be referring to private insurance restrictions. This is most likely one of the determining factors for her choosing the abortion route.

Even in Catholic circles, there is disagreement on if what Haylie endured was abortion and those are the details I will focus on in this post because I am not so much interested in the terminology than what was on Haylie’s heart (in her own words).

The quote is above. She chose to have her baby early so that she could hold her baby while she was alive. She chose.

If you’re Christian, then you should understand that God has given you free will to “choose.” There are also laws or rather Commandments, that God has told us not to break. His command doesn’t say, “thou shalt not…unless you are suffering.” It certainly doesn’t say, “thou shalt not…unless the person will die anyway.” And most obvious, His command doesn’t say, “thou shalt not…unless the person isn’t perfect.”

All of us (whether you believe in God or not), were created by God in His image and likeness. Even the unborn were created in His image and likeness. We know that God knows the unborn because it was revealed in scripture. Psalm 139: 13-14 is one of the more popular verses in Sacred Scripture that shows us that God knows us before we are born.

I realize there is much debate on when “life begins.” Science says life begins at conception but medicine says otherwise, “at implantation.” I am not going to debate these statements. Here’s why, as Catholic Christians, we believe in science. Medicine can be manipulated, just as it was in this particular story.

There is also no question if Embree were a living person because her mother believed her to be and wanted to meet her soul on this earth. So the argument then turns to the fatal condition and mirror syndrome. She was told Embree was going to die. Embree would likely die in the womb. Haylie did NOT choose to end Embree’s life in the typical abortion fashion where the baby’s heart is injected with digoxin and then a dead baby is delivered, she chose early induction or rather, early c-section.

This is extremely tragic. As someone who has experienced the death of a baby in the womb and someone who assists families through such deaths as well as fatal diagnoses, I have a perspective many do not have. Not many people choose to get this close to families enduring such suffering.

The death of a baby in the womb is life-changing. Honestly, it doesn’t matter how early or late this occurs. Women have experienced extreme suffering whether the baby dies at an early gestation or full-term. We humans though, believe that the farther along in pregnancy a woman is, means the more love she has to lose and therefore, she will endure more suffering than someone who is in an early gestation (less time to love) but this is not the case at all.

Unfortunately, this is quite damaging to the families who lose children to miscarriage and stillbirth. With this logic, a young woman who loses her fiancé should grieve less than a woman who loses her husband after 40 years of marriage. It is nonsensical and would be damaging to the young woman.

I can tell you that ending the pregnancy early, will not lower the amount of suffering someone will have. They love the child already. We don’t love our children more and more each day they are with us, we just love them and it would break our hearts to lose them no matter what age they are. So instead of bringing in this human logic and trying to reduce a perceived amount of suffering, why aren’t we offering support to women and families enduring such a diagnosis?

I mentioned this to some friends recently and their response to this situation was “let the decision be made between the person, their doctors, without fear of persecution or stigma.” Well, that sounds good on paper but unfortunately, doctors don’t give all the options. Doctors are human too. Doctors have their own biases and opinions too. Doctors can also manipulate things without much repercussion.

Even though my maternal fetal medicine specialist knew I was pro-life, I was still encouraged to abort my 20+ week baby girl because there was a 2% chance the test I had was wrong and my daughter could have Down Syndrome. The whole reason I had the test was so I could advocate for my daughter, who could potentially have Down Syndrome or some other trisomy (even Triploidy since I already had a child with Triploidy). I wanted the specialists necessary for my child, not a judge who believed my baby should die because they weren’t perfect.

I know a family who suffered the loss of their son because a doctor purposefully allowed him to bleed to death following a routine surgery because the child “wasn’t perfect.” He was 8! It was a “medical error,” but believe me, this family knew the judgment against them for bringing forth an “imperfect” child who consumed medical services and did not live in the “normal” way nor would be a “productive member of society.” This is a horrible culture our society has created and supports.

But suffering is the big concern on everyone’s mind. Suffering MUST BE reduced or eliminated at all costs. Why have we become a society that doesn’t accept suffering? As Christians, it seems we have no understanding of the purpose of suffering and somehow believe that God should not allow us to suffer regardless of what we are doing here on earth. There is no suffering in Heaven. Are we living in Heaven?

Through suffering comes grace. We all must suffer and we all WILL suffer through the sins of our brothers and sisters (as well as our own). So I always giggle when I hear someone say, “their life and choices has no effect on mine.” On the contrary, the sins of this world affect us all. This is pretty deep and theological and most people will not take the time to learn anything about this.

So, would prayers have worked to save Baby Embree? Unfortunately, no one will know because the choice was taken away. God’s ability to provide grace on this mother and child, His ability to perform a miracle, the community’s ability to intercede in deep prayer for this child, was taken away.

Haylie used her God-given free will and took this matter to human hands. Of course, she says her in her own words that she hoped modern medicine and prayers would heal her daughter. As an outsider looking in, it would seem she carries a religious belief.

Embree could have received a miracle or should would have died. Death, as much as it hurts for those who love, isn’t the worse thing that could actually happen to us. That’s a physical death. The worst thing that could happen would be spiritual death (eternal separation from God). How does one experience spiritual death?

Rejection of God, aka breaking the Commandments.

Thou shalt not kill.

“But Embree was going to die anyway,” they say. Maybe, we’ll never know.

“But Embree wasn’t killed through abortion,” they say. Well, how do we know that her early delivery wasn’t responsible for her death? She was only 25 weeks. Many 25 week babies do not survive. Some doctors even refuse to provide any life saving care at this gestational age. The error isn’t that life saving care needed to be provided. It didn’t, but a delivery this early could have been responsible for her early death and of course removed any chance that further prayer would have resulted in a miracle.

“But the mother’s life was at risk,” they say. This is debatable. Swelling in the feet is hardly life-threatening. She says she was the size of someone who was 36 weeks pregnant so swelling in the feet at 36 weeks is normal. Haylie doesn’t disclose any other life-threatening issues except the statement about mirror syndrome. An extremely rare condition and while she fits the gestational age in pregnancy for this to occur, it’s unlikely she was experiencing mirror syndrome based on what she revealed. It seems the doctor was finding an excuse to allow this woman a c-section due to some law.

I was unable to find that information in the law. I don’t see anything about 27 weeks in the law at all. In fact, Texas law grants abortion for fatal conditions in the baby and/or threat to the life of the mother after 20 weeks. As stated at the beginning, it seems it might be a private insurance reason over Texas law. It was obvious a c-section was needed due to the tumor the baby had. A vaginal delivery would not be an option.

Someone failed this family.

Now for my Catholics who have argued that this was not abortion because the mother’s life was at risk and a procedure to save the mother is permissible during pregnancy even if the result is the death of the baby. You are correct. Fetal anomalies are not reasons for early induction though and I would argue again that this mother’s life was hardly at risk (based on the information given). It’s likely the doctor manipulated the swelling to justify an indication for such delivery. But, we must look to this mother’s heart.

I did so because it was the only way I could hold my baby girl while she was still alive.”

This mother did not want to deliver a dead baby. The only way to deliver her alive was to have an early c-section while she was still alive. Believe me, no one wants to deliver a dead baby. No one wants to carry a dead baby in their womb. It might be the journey God has asked of you.

I know this is heart-wrenching. I know that deep down many people know that this was wrong. I also know that many people believe this was an act of mercy. There is no such thing as “mercy killing” for humans though. We must always allow for God’s grace even in the toughest situations. God forbid someone end my life early because I have dementia and they believe it’s merciful to kill me (by refusing food, water, or worse, providing euthanasia).

Redemptive Suffering. Look it up. Someone doing this might have removed not only my redemptive suffering but their own! Suffering sucks. I’ve been there! I don’t want to suffer any more than you do. I’ve lost two children to miscarriage. I have experienced mental illness. I nearly died twice in 2017 and one occurrence came with a month of in-patient care for nearly complete organ failure. We’ve all endured suffering in some way or another.

That’s not what this is about though. We are in this world, but not of it. There is more to us than this little blip of time on earth. Life on this earth includes suffering. We cannot get rid of it and the more we try through these false acts of “mercy,” the more we will suffer…until the end. Only God can provide the mercy you are looking for.

We must offer up these sufferings to God. We must allow others to help us through that suffering. By allowing others to help us, we are allowing God’s grace into their lives and are allowing God’s grace to flow in ours. We are all connected.

To suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God, offered to humanity in Christ. In him God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering, which is man’s weakness and emptying of self, and he wishes to make his power known precisely in this weakness and emptying of self. (SD 23)” – Pope Saint John Paul II (Salvifici Doloris)

How to Support Miscarriage or Stillbirth – A Doula’s Guide

Were you just told your client’s baby has died?

I get calls from doulas often telling me they just learned their clients baby died and they are heading in to support them. This makes me so happy because in the past, doulas have abandoned these clients for many reasons. Here is a quick guide on how to support your client.

The good thing is, supporting a family through the labor of miscarriage or stillbirth is not that different then supporting them through a live birth. The physical process is relatively the same so many of the skills you have will cross over. Use that knowledge. Below are some key points to focus on when supporting pregnancy loss.

  • Be compassionate
    • Do not bring your bias into this space. What is hard for you to see or hear does not mean the family doesn’t want to see or hold their baby.
  • Refer if you can’t do this
  • Create a sacred space
    • Bring out the mama bear in you. Protect them from hurt (having a separate room so they don’t hear the heartrate monitor in the next room or babies crying).
  • Separate the act of saying goodbye from saying hello
    • Many times staff are focused on the sadness of saying goodbye but there is also a hello. They are about to see the baby they have been longing for. Help them say hello. Focus on fingers or toes if other parts are hard to view.
  • Encourage
    • Skin to skin
    • Holding and photographs
    • Footprints and hand moulds
    • Bathing, diapering, and dressing
    • Reading a book to baby or dancing with baby (daddy/daughter dance)
  • It’s okay to cry
    • Crying is fine but do not cry hard. The family will stop grieving to support you. Do not take away from their grief.
  • Be there at discharge
    • Bring a teddy bear for them to hold. Empty arms hurt. Sometimes taking them a back way is more helpful. Check the hall for cheerful families and new babies. Try not to go by the nursery.
  • Help them say goodbye
    • Encourage a memorial service or funeral. A water ceremony might also be an option for them. Know their religious preferences and be knowledgeable about burial rites.
  • Follow-up
    • A postpartum visit is important. Bring food when you visit. They are going through the postpartum period (even if this was a miscarriage). Check on their physical changes as well as mental changes. Do not confuse grief with postpartum depression. Review their support system and encourage meals to be brought and tasks to be completed by others.
  • Remember their baby
    • Mark your calendar for one year from the date of loss with the baby’s name (if they had one) and send them a card. We are sometimes scared to make them think about their deceased child but they are already thinking about them. The first anniversary is very important. You are not hurting them by remembering.
  • Don’t forget self-care
    • Many doulas leave on a high, even though you are supporting a pregnancy loss. You will likely crash. The next 3 days tend to be the most difficult. Rest and lost of self-care during this time to renew yourself and be the best person you can be for your family. Let them know you will be going through some tough moments.

This isn’t an all encompassing list. It’s a start. You can do this. I know you are questioning yourself but you have so much in you that you can bring to this space. You know how to do this even though you don’t think you are the right person. This family needs you. Go…be there for them. You got this!

Letting Go

Exclusively Pumping Milk

It’s that odd place for me again. The time where I want to be done but it hurts to be done. It’s time to wean. It should come easily right? I mean, she’s almost two. In fact, she will be two in just a few weeks and here I am, crying over the fact that I am weaning.

Here’s the non-typical part. I didn’t get to breastfeed her. Sure, we started out breastfeeding well but then I was hospitalized for postpartum preeclampsia and she was on a bottle with breastmilk for days. I could have tried to get her to latch on again. She was only a week old but she already preferred feeding from the bottle by that point and pumping milk had been so easy for me, we didn’t push it.

Baby Girl would latch on occasionally. I have some pictures and video of her doing so. She wouldn’t completely stop until she was about four months old and I cherished those moments. They were blissful.

I had no idea the challenges we were going to face in regards to her eating solid foods. In reality, I probably would have stopped providing breastmilk for her months ago, perhaps even a year ago, if she hadn’t struggled for so long to eat solid food. She still isn’t eating solid foods well but we are finally at a place where we can wean her from breastmilk to see how she does.

Last fall, I was desperate to stop pumping. I was struggling with PMDD and wanted to try medications and supplements but I couldn’t. Well, I could, but I didn’t want to expose her to any of those medications or supplements. I know that many women take antidepressants and for some it works but there was nothing that proved they would work for me and I did not want to risk exposing her brain to the chemical changes from the medications. She will have enough challenges as it is.

So I suffered. My family suffered. I struggled in ways I won’t share here but they were not good ways. I was angry at people and short-tempered. I remember a time in Biblical School where my table-mate was opening a wrapper so she could have a snack and I just wanted to jump up and start screaming at her. Instead, I quickly left the room but it was infuriating and the sound of the wrapper was like fingers running down a chalkboard (silly that kids these days don’t know what that sounds like).

There was a particular day in December where I had a panic attack and had no one to reach out to. I tried. BELIEVE ME! I had never felt that way before and I was not in a good place at all. I called my therapist but she wasn’t available. She had left town for the holidays. Since I had only seen her once, I didn’t have much of a relationship with her. They couldn’t refer me to another therapist because they don’t manage “crises” and they don’t prescribe medication; which I felt I needed.

They told me to call her personal phone number but I couldn’t find it. I was in panic mode and I couldn’t even remember if she had given it to me. I reached out to a friend but even she couldn’t help me get the therapists number. She was on vacation herself. I even called my doctor.

They couldn’t help. This was a doctor that I was seeing privately for PMDD but alas, they needed me to come in to the clinic, which was an hour away, at 3:30pm and I needed to get my kids from school. It was impossible to ensure I made it before they closed for the holiday. And of course, they said they can’t treat over the phone and there was no one that would talk with me. If I felt it was an emergency, I should go to the hospital.

I didn’t. It was awful and in those moments, I saw exactly the mental health crisis that exists and why people kill themselves AND how easy it is for them to fall through the cracks. No one knows how to manage someone in a mental health crisis.

After some time away, I felt better and as my hormones have begun to regulate postpartum, my PMDD seems to be getting better and more manageable and I am looking forward to trying supplements to keep it at bay; which is why I was looking forward to weaning…until now.

I am ready. At least I feel like I am. Every time I hook myself up to the pump, I dread it and I hate those 15 minutes or so. I am tired of the bottles, the constant clean up, the entire counter space dedicated to cleaning and drying the pump parts and bottles, and replacing the pump parts. I especially can’t stand the noise of the pump, dragging it places with me, and the way it hurts during different times of my cycle.

But, here I am, crying because I am ready, yet not ready. I am not ready to stop giving my daughter something only I can. I am not ready to stop giving her that nourishment, the only nourishment she craves and truly enjoys. The nourishment that has sustained her. I have been that person. I grew her in my womb; nourishing her there and protecting her, and then nourishing her outside the womb through my milk. Sometimes, that was the only thing she could consume.

It’s been a slow process. Last week, I started shortening the length of pumping time and today, well…I haven’t pumped yet. And I feel it. I can feel the aching in my breasts. Breasts that long to have the milk expelled yet won’t find that relief. Breasts that will no longer nourish another child. Not only will I no longer nourish my child with my milk, I won’t be donating the excess to another baby. This is it. This is the last. This is the end.

Maybe that’s what is making this hard? I thought Timmy was last. I pumped for him for 27 months. I don’t remember what weaning was like. I think there was more joy in it then this time. 23 months is enough. I know it is and I am ready to move out of this pumping phase but it’s hard to let go.

Where do I find joy in this? I am having a hard time finding the joy in it today.

I Still Miss You

Nine years ago on Palm Sunday, I prayed a rosary for you with your daddy in the pews following Mass. We had never really prayed together before and certainly not at the church.

As we prayed, I felt that the prayers would lead to nothing. I was desperately trying to save you and it was likely the last ditch effort/appeal to pray to our Blessed Mother for you to stay within my womb and grow. Nine years ago!

Today is Palm Sunday, and as I adorn myself in red to symbolize Christ’s Passion, I can think only of the blood that poured out of my womb during your loss. We are friends with the people who sit in the spot where we prayed for you. We use to sit in that spot every Sunday until they began sitting there. It was a reminder, as if somehow, we were close to you.

This was probably the first Palm Sunday where I didn’t “think” of you before and during Mass. Obviously, I am thinking about you now and all that took place. I prayed for the bleeding to stop on Palm Sunday and it did. The next day, Monday, was blood free but Tuesday, well…Tuesday would change my life. Tuesday, April 14th, and it all changed.

Today is April 14th, so nine years ago, on April 14th, I felt your presence leave my body. I still wasn’t bleeding but you died. You died near 4pm that day. I distinctly remember it. I was in my kitchen and I felt a warmness come over me and your spirit flowed throughout my body, up through my head, and out. It was so distinct and I just knew you left me.

I called a friend immediately exclaiming you were gone and what had just transpired. She was hopeful. She told me I was probably wrong and just anxious but I knew. I knew with every fiber of my being you were gone, so I after I talked with my friend, I called the doctor.

I needed confirmation. I called and asked to push up my ultrasound that was scheduled for April 16th. They offered for me to come in the next day, Wednesday. I didn’t sleep all night. I was on the internet researching miscarriage and the next day, I went in.

The odd thing was, Joey was home that morning. He was six years old and wasn’t feeling well so he went with us to our appointment. While there, he began throwing up. I remember looking at the ultrasound screen briefly as they tried to find your heartbeat, knowing they wouldn’t. I felt sick.

He was there when the doctor told us you were dead. I don’t think he was sick, I think he knew what was happening. The nurses watched him for us so we could mourn. I wanted to have you removed immediately but they wouldn’t. We would have to wait.

At the time, it was horrible waiting. I was offered nothing for my anxiety and inability to sleep. I just had to suffer. I couldn’t live with a dead baby inside me. It was horrific. There was just something strange about having a corpse in my womb. It seemed like no one cared and no one understood.

A corpse…was in my womb!

I can’t believe it’s been nine years. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like if you had survived. I am sorry that I didn’t try harder. I don’t know if it would have changed the outcome but there was more I could do. I know now but it’s too late. I will continue to pray for you and I hope to be reunited with you in the end.

My love…Ruby Josephine.

Don’t Talk About the Baby – Review

It’s a crowdfunded movie that I financially supported. I anxiously awaited the release of the movie after several years of spreading the word about this much needed movie. My hope was that it would break the stigma and silence on pregnancy loss. I was thoroughly disappointed and completed shocked with what I saw in this movie.

It started out well (for the most part). The woman who shares about her daughter was moving. She brought me to tears with her story and I could relate on many levels with her and I was in awe over her mothers intuition. She opens the movie but her full story begins mid-way.  You will see her throughout the movie. I seriously just wanted to hug her.

The first portion of the movie addresses miscarriage. Families share stories of miscarriage and I was so glad they shared about blighted ovum and chemical pregnancy, two forms of loss so often overlooked. The female doctor who speaks is very well versed and I felt she was an excellent resource and empathetic as well as compassionate to her patients.

But that beginning portion began to become concerning for me. They discuss IVF; which to the secular world is fine but as a Catholic, this really bothered me. At no time was faith brought into this and while that wasn’t the point of the movie, religion was not a topic discussed yet is a primary force in the majority of families. In fact, MANY of them wore crucifixes or crosses. These were obviously chosen individually for the interviews.

While IVF was discussed as an option, the way it was presented was almost like an advertisement. The IVF message: The best way to achieve a genetically perfect child, especially for older couples is to utilize IVF. This is my paraphrasing, not the movie but what they didn’t talk about were the losses in each of those IVF trials. The babies who are genetically imperfect that are killed (discarded) in the process. I felt the male doctor really pushed for IVF and gave very little information about the real statistics on IVF.

It lines his pocket financially but the parents lose financially, emotionally, and physically and can leave them in utter despair if they aren’t lucky enough to conceive and carry to full term. The movie did nothing to touch on the fact that IVF increases the risk of stillbirth. This movie is about stillbirth so shouldn’t that have been addressed if you are putting this out there? I suppose IVF can help with creating a genetically perfect child to reduce the risk of miscarriage due to chromosomal abnormalities but then the family is left with a higher risk of stillbirth. I felt like this part of the movie could have been left out. Why discuss IVF at all unless we are talking stillbirth??

IVF is not the only option for older couples or couples struggling with infertility. And before anyone begins to crucify me as ‘not understanding infertility,’ I implore you to read my blogs. I suffered with infertility for over 20 years. It took 3.5 years to conceive my son and 10 years to conceive another living child (Ruby came after 6 years of infertility treatments). I could completely relate to those who had experienced pregnancy loss and those struggling with infertility although I have living children so not all aspects were the same.

I know a movie can’t possibly cover all the pieces of loss, types of loss, and be completely inclusive especially when we bring religion into it but the inclusivity this movie attempted to achieve, deviated onto a path I cannot support. It feels sinful and had I known where this movie was about to go, I would have never supported it.

Abortion. The movie segue’s into abortion. First and foremost, abortion IS a loss. While there are women who utilize abortion as birth control and have no problem with this nor feel any loss from it, there are many women who choose abortion because they believe it’s their best option to reduce either the suffering of their child, their own suffering, or to save their own life.

The woman in the movie described her abortion as medically necessary. The doctors presented her with “your child is suffering inside of you” and your child will gasp for breath, be in pain, and suffer if he is born alive. This mother, like any mother, would never want suffering for her child. Not once though, did the doctors explain the suffering her son would experience from the medication they injected into his heart to stop it.

If this child was born alive, the doctors could have reduced his suffering by giving him medication. But honestly, gasping for air doesn’t always necessitate suffering. I watched my grandfather-in-law die and I have watched multiple babies die. While gasping is uncomfortable for us to watch, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is suffering. But I digress.

I felt this mother was presented with little choice but to follow the doctors recommendation to abort. No where did they offer her comfort care for her very loved child. No where did they offer her support to carry him to term. No where did they offer her any choice but to end her son’s life because he “had no brain function outside her body.” THIS, is where the movie could have helped the medical community and parents enduring fatal diagnosis. Instead of helping a family through that fatal diagnosis, they want to end the life early. Why did they have to normalize abortion instead of carrying to term? Maybe the movie addressed it? I stopped the movie at this point (I did watch the rest the next day).

I feel sick that I supported this movie financially and I was blindsided by it. Had I known they would include such a story, I wouldn’t have opened my check book.

Here are my thoughts after finishing the movie.

I realized this morning that by writing what I have, I am alienating the grief of those who chose to abort their baby. I needed to sit with that statement for a while because alienation is not ever something I would want for those families. I think they feel it enough from the community despite the acceptance of abortion. I am upset that the woman in the video was manipulated by medical staff into thinking that her only option was abortion. I listed other options above. Difficult options. It’s not easy to carry a baby inside you that you know will die inside or at birth but I believe that’s what we should promote. Why?

Because I have had so many mothers who chose abortion for their terminally ill babies who carry immense guilt that they chose the date of death instead of allowing the inevitable process. Many regret the time they lost by choosing abortion. They struggled on choosing the date of the abortion because they didn’t want to become more attached but they didn’t realize how attached they already were. Does every woman or family fall into this? No, but hearing the stories of those who do is gut-wrenching.

I did not want to support a film that would normalize abortion. I am ashamed and this is my public confession. I didn’t know that Ann Zamudio would bring the normalization of abortion into the film “Don’t Talk About the Baby,” and I can tell you that there are more people upset by this than are coming out to say so. But as a Catholic, I can’t keep quiet about it because I don’t want to bring scandal. I didn’t know and I wouldn’t have supported it if I did.

I know many will not agree with me and that’s okay. You are also entitled to your opinion. I won’t berate you, don’t berate me. This is not my judgment against you. I have not stated anything about judgment. This is my opinion. If you are struggling with the words I wrote here, I ask you to explore why. I won’t open comments on this post either because this is very controversial but if you want to engage in open, non-hateful dialogue, you can contact me through the page.

I finished the movie this morning hoping that it would get better, but it didn’t. One of the professionals, kept saying “fetus.” STOP it already. The movie wasn’t called “Don’t Talk About the Fetus.” It made me sick every time she tried to dehumanize the baby by calling it a fetus. I lost all respect for her.

I think the movie is important. It helps shed the light on the stigma of pregnancy loss. It shares the shame associated with it and the silence as well as why there is silence. There are some good resources shared as well and the bereavement doula featured has excellent ideas. Boy, do I wish those ideas would come to fruition all over! She was spot on but I am sure I felt that way because those are the same things I have been screaming for the past 8 years.

Boy, 8 years. That hit me writing that. Ruby would be 8 next month. I can’t believe it.

While I disagree with some of what was presented in this movie, it’s not enough for me to say I wouldn’t recommend it. What I DO want people to know is that the directors placed abortion in here and not all loss mothers can or will relate to that specific topic. In addition, I know many have and will find it offensive. Proceed with caution when watching “Don’t Talk About the Baby.”

As a side note, I thought “Return to Zero” was much better.

New book announcement

I have been contemplating for quite sometime, turning my bereavement ministry over to my faith. At last year’s October 15th Candlelight Vigil and Remembrance Event, I really felt a draw to make Dragonflies For Ruby a Catholic ministry. I have supported people of many different faiths and spirituality and I would never turn anyone away regardless of their faith but I have a desire to really focus on the Catholic side of supporting Catholic women and families through miscarriage, stillbirth, and child loss.

Catholics are pro-life. I am pro-life yet there is a problem in the Church. Women experiencing miscarriage and stillbirth are given very little support from their priests, pastors, and bishops as they navigate their loss. I was very fortunate to have a priest educate me on the importance of my baby’s life (no matter how short) and celebrating that life. His name is Father John Paul Leyba (formerly the parochial vicar at Our Lady of Loreto Catholic Parish and now Pastor at St. Frances Cabrini in Littleton).

I wrote about him in my book, All That is Seen and Unseen; A Journey Through a First Trimester Miscarriage, even placing my personal conversations and letter to him in the book. Father John Paul encouraged me to pray about the sex of my baby, name my baby, and celebrate. When we lost Gus, my Pastor, Monsignor Ed Buelt at Our Lady of Loreto, encouraged us to have a commendation ceremony. It was so beautiful and healing to have this and I want more Catholic’s to know about this option.

But even more so, I would like to share these resources with many Catholic women and help them navigate their miscarriage, knowing the teachings of the Church so I have started a fourth book! It is tentatively titled, The Catholic’s Guide to Miscarriage. The book will contain scripture verses and information from the Catechism as well information that’s out there on how to handle miscarriage according to the Catholic faith. Of course it will have the medical aspects of miscarriage in it but it’s a guide and hopefully will serve as a wonderful resource for Catholics and clergy.

So stay tuned! I am hoping to release the book before the end of the year but I will be seeking endorsement from the Archbishop of Denver so it may take longer. Prayers that the book comes along easily and receives Catholic endorsement and prayers for Dragonflies For Ruby as we make the transition to a Catholic faith-based organization!

When the mother is allowed to mourn

I have been quiet for a while. That’s what happens when you get busy raising three beautiful children. I got lost in that life and while I haven’t forgotten the two little saints I have in heaven, I haven’t been here to talk about them or share about loss in ways I used to.

Courtesy of Seattle Times

Today though, we are hearing about Tahlequah, the Orca whale who delivered a stillborn calf. I read the story about two weeks ago and watched the video but it was so incredibly painful. It was so painful to watch this mother mourn over her dead baby. It was also beautiful. This is what mourning is. She will let go of the physical body of her baby when she is ready.

But we, as humans, aren’t given this opportunity. And here, the world watches and waits. They mourn with this whale and they empathize with her. They want to see how long she carries this calf and they see all the other whales carrying this calf FOR the mother. Yet I am saddened that we, as humans, can’t give each other the same empathy and compassion.

Why is it that we can empathize with this whale but not with our neighbor?

It actually makes me angry to see how society is reacting to this whale and her mourning because women have their dead babies ripped from their arms, thrown in boxes and told they “don’t want to see their dead baby” every day! Sure, some hospitals allow time to grieve, a few hours, maybe even a day or so but then the mother is pressured to turn over her baby. She isn’t allowed to let go of the physical form of her baby when she is ready (that’s extremely rare).

Human families aren’t given all their options for processing their losses. They are told to move on, move past it, forget, this isn’t a big deal, it’s better not to look, you will forget faster if you don’t, etc. I have seen this countless times in full term stillbirth but much more in miscarriage (mostly because it happens more often).

Society doesn’t value human life. If we did, we would mourn with these families. We would carry them, we would even carry their dead baby for them (without judgment) if that’s what it required. But that’s not what we do. A few days, maybe a few weeks are given to mourn the loss of something so great and then they must move on.

Look, this whale mother is carrying around the physical form of her dead baby. This is just the beginning of processing the loss. Once she let’s go of that physical form, her journey continues. It’s not over for her and it’s definitely not over for humans when their dead baby enters the ground. What society is witnessing is a view that they would see in humans IF we were given the same opportunity, to let go of the physical form of our babies when we are ready, no matter what that looks like; and yes, that may mean taking our dead baby home and laying them in their crib (read Ghost Belly).

But if we did that, it’s seen as crazy. Society would tell you to seek mental health care or that the mother needs to be put in a psychiatric ward. Some doctors would medicate the woman or family for wanting or doing such a thing. You see, we aren’t allowed to grieve the way our whole body feels they need to grieve. Sometimes it takes a while to let go of that physical form. Not everyone is the same. I have seen mothers hold their little ones for an hour or so and then hand their baby over to the funeral home and it was fine. They were ready but I have also seen others who were given merely a few hours and told they HAD to give up their baby.

This is incorrect and completely wrong.

The nurse was uncomfortable, society was uncomfortable, but there was no real reason. Heck, I have seen nurses blatantly lie about why the mother needed to “turn over the baby.” “You’re holding up a room for a living baby to be born,” “the funeral home won’t come back another day,” “the autopsy can’t be performed after two hours,” “you’re baby will start bleeding,” and more.

I have also witnessed a mother hold her baby and keep her baby for days! A great hospital and great staff helped this mother and kept her baby in a state where she could hold and love on her dead baby until she was ready to let go of the physical form of her baby. I remember this mother distinctly saying, “It’s time. I want to remember her looking like this and not much different.” It didn’t make it easy to let go of her physical form but she was ready.

This is what we must provide families. We MUST give them all the time they need and desire with their babies. We must allow them to tread through the water, pushing their lifeless one, until they are ready. What hospital wants to support that? Do they want to spend the money on the mechanisms needed to provide such care (like the Cuddle Cot?) Or a special room, in a designated area to provide the care the family needs? It’s a RARE hospital to do that, but they do exist!

Mothers deserve to mourn their loss in the way they need to, for as long as they need to. It’s a lifetime of grief. Mothers who have experienced the loss of their child (through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant loss, toddler loss, child loss, adult child loss), will ALWAYS carry them. For now, we must carry them in our hearts.

Ovulation – The Perfect Design

As you can see, it’s been months since I wrote. Life with three living children has certainly made me busy. It’s a blast though and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My last post was in December where I shared a bit about grieving our last child. It wasn’t about grieving a child we lost but grieving in the sense that we will never have another child…well, that we plan.

Our “last child” wasn’t planned at all. She was conceived unexpectedly and in the way that we had wished would have happened for all our children in the early days of our marriage. Surprise blessings are wonderful; although we hadn’t expected or planned for one in our 40’s. Pregnancy in your 40’s is vastly different in many ways, at least, that’s how my experience has been.

I have blogged before about ovulation. God has designed fertility as a powerful and amazing gift; one that secular society tends to damper and suspend through the emergence of birth control, contraception, and abortion. I truly wonder how wonderful it would be if women were to embrace their fertility by not suppressing the innate organization of their body’s design and giving their bodies the power to bloom. This does not mean that babies will be pouring out of homes. That’s not what I mean here .

I am once again about to ovulate. Something that my body suppressed for 20+ years and has only become more and more normal as I have aged. It’s odd. It’s a cruel joke of sorts but I understand it’s God’s design and plan for me. Maybe because I am finally in a place to allow God’s will instead of forcing my will, has He allowed me true fertility. It’s amazing but difficult.

The practice of Natural Family Planning (NOT the Rhythm Method) is a challenge. As Catholic’s it is a sin to contracept, it is a sin to kill our babies through abortion, and it is a sin to create life outside the womb. Oh how I longed for many years for a baby and wished I could have stepped outside my religious faith and demand a child. But we knew that God’s ultimate blessing and gift on a marriage is a child and we prayed that he would bless our marriage.

This is hard for many to grasp and accept. I have had my share of struggles with this as well. 22+ years of infertility (3.5 years to conceive our first and 6 years to conceive the 2nd whom died). I have experienced threatened ectopic pregnancy where I needed to chose abortion or removal of a Fallopian tub, a very sick baby in my womb with the potential to make me very sick and die, to having to say yes to a new life when I was clearly not prepared to accept her and had been contemplating abortion should I ever fall pregnant again.

Before you judge, I am not perfect. I am a sinner. I have contracepted. I have sinned in my thoughts and in my words so I am far from perfect and I contemplate sterilization often. And yes, I certainly felt like I would seriously abort any future baby and then suddenly was faced with the decision. I would love to have sex with my husband any time we felt like it without the worry of creating new life. But that’s not how He created us and I know that’s confusing for secular society. I certainly feel like an outcast.

So here I am, I know I have the power within me to create life this weekend and I am fighting the natural and spiritual pull. Ah, how powerful God’s perfect design is!! I have baby fever. I am exhausted and I yell at my kids too much these days but here I am longing to create a new life and have a new baby in my arms. Yet the thing is, I know that if I wait just four days, that longing and desire will dissipate.

I wonder if women who suppress ovulation through the use of birth control pills still feel this urge? I know that not only am I feeling the urge, my husband is as well because our bodies are complementary to each other. His hormones work in conjunction with mine and men are more attracted to women during the fertile period. This has been studied numerous times so it seems that women on birth control don’t have these fluctuations and may actually be “less attractive.”

I digress.

It’s been a while since I wrote and I have had so many thoughts to share but I have writers block I suppose. It might just be a lack of time. I certainly would like to share about my near death experiences last year. Many of you don’t know I was very sick in December and was in complete organ failure. It was scary but I had complete faith that God would heal me and I was.

For now, I need to get through these next four days, without “taking advantage” of my husband. Another child could kill me on many levels but it’s so interesting that ovulation creates changes within the body in order to “pressure,” not only the woman but the man in her life.

Ovulation is perfectly designed.

Oh, and if you want to read more about God’s intricate design and plan, read what Archbishop Aquila just wrote on Humanae Vitae.

Grieving Your Last Child

I thought I was done having children. I really did. After Gus died in 2015, we had decided that he would be our last. He was supposed to be our last anyway. He was supposed to be the child that brought three children to our kitchen table. I grieved his death but I grieved so much more. I had been down this path of grief once before but this wasn’t grief due to the death of a baby. It was the loss of not having any more children.

After our first was born in 2003, we tried for years to become pregnant again. We wanted to add another child to our family and I struggled immensely with the inability to become pregnant. After five years of trying (tests, acupuncture, chiropractic care, Mayan abdominal massage, supplements, teas, fertility enhancing drugs, and thousands of dollars spent), I gave up hope and began to grieve that I would no longer have anymore children.

This was such a different kind of grief. I literally had to change my focus in life from wanting to become pregnant and have a baby to raising the child I had as a single child and working on my career. Just as I had, I became pregnant. Just as I was about to begin my police career, I found myself expecting a child. Switching gears again was so difficult and I wasn’t happy about the pregnancy at first. I share this in depth story in my book All That is Seen and Unseen; A Journey Through a First Trimester Miscarriage.

Somehow after we lost Ruby, my body became fertile and I now had a hole new journey on my hands. Practicing NFP according to the teachings of the Catholic Church in order to space my children and/or prevent further children. Let me take a moment here to explain that NFP is not another form of birth control. To properly use NFP, a couple must discern each and every cycle whether or not to give in to desires and potentially create life. Sex is designed by God to be both unitive and procreative (there are a few other reasons such as purity as well). A couple must give everything to each other and that includes their fertility. To remove either of those pieces, is to sin.

But this post isn’t about NFP or the Catholic teaching. It’s about grief specific to no longer being procreative. It’s about all I feel like I am losing out on and things I will miss. It’s about learning to let go of future children, even though right now, my family feels complete.

The pregnancy with my last baby was difficult. Wrought with nausea, exhaustion, anger and irritability (first trimester only), tests, more exhaustion, physical pain, and when the baby was born, I developed a fatal condition (postpartum pre-eclampsia) which I survived, obviously. In addition, postpartum depression was/is alive and well. My age is also a very big concern and was the driving factor in some of the conditions above. Another baby should not be considered. I am not sure I will survive.

So I find myself grieving once again. I don’t want to grieve this. I already had but let’s put it out there.

Here are some of the things I grieve:

Never having sex again during the God-designed, most desirable and pleasurable time of my cycle.
Never again experiencing the excitement and joy from a positive pregnancy test.
Knowing that we created a new life.
Sharing the news that we created a new life.
Feeling the “superpower” of creating new life.
Seeing the new life on an ultrasound (oh, that beating heart!).
Watching my belly expand and nourish a new life.
Reveling in the joy my husband and children have when we are growing new life.
Anticipating the new life’s arrival.
Looking down in the shower to see the massive belly, feeling it, rubbing it, etc.
Loving my body, feeling like a true woman, the essence of femininity.
Feeling the first flutters and then kicks.
Hiccups!
Birth, yes birth. I feel like I finally have this down and the last birth was just fantastic.
Making milk – being the only person providing the nourishment.
Raising the baby

There are things I won’t miss:

Progesterone supplementation (shots or pills)
Test, after test, after test
Anxiety that this baby will die too
The baby jumping on my cervix
The pelvic pain
Not being able to roll over in bed
Doctors appointments
Recovering from birth
Night sweats
Baby Blues
Postpartum Depression

But mostly, it’s really about the fact that I will no longer create life. I am old. I shouldn’t. We shouldn’t. It’s not mentally or physically healthy for us or the family. So I grieve. I grieve for my empty womb. A womb that is just beginning to fill with cobwebs and it will remain that way, for the next 40 years or so of my life. My womb will never hold new life again.

I am not sure if my husband grieves. He might, but I don’t imagine him grieving the fact that he will no longer produce more children. Well…at least we *think* we won’t. Neither of us have done anything like birth control or sterilization in an attempt to prevent creating new life. At this point, we rely on abstinence and THAT SUCKS!

I will process through this grief just like I always have, but the grief resurfaces. There are triggers. The biggest being my bathroom. Anytime I see myself naked in the mirror and long for the big, round belly or anytime I am in the shower and look down to see flab instead of round. That big, round belly means so much. As I said before, it’s the epitome of femininity. Maybe that’s what I will miss the most?

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