The first time I laid eyes on my husband, Doug, I was walking down the aisle at our wedding. We were participants on the first season of the experimental FYI reality show Married at First Sight and, like the show’s other stars, had agreed to marry the person selected for us by a team of relationship experts—on the spot. Our relationship had a rocky start at first, but after five weeks of living together, we grew to love each other. We decided to stay married.
After a year of marriage, I broached the subject of parenthood. I really wanted to be a mother, but Doug said he wasn’t ready to have children until he completed some wild adventures. So we made a “pre-baby bucket list” and proceeded to follow through with some incredible experiences: aerial yoga, skydiving, and swimming with sharks. We grew closer together with each task completed. Finally, after finishing the bucket list, Doug was in a place where he was open to expanding our family.
I was home alone when I found out I was pregnant. I ran downstairs to my empty house and paced with tears in my eyes and the goofiest smile on my face. I didn’t want to just call Doug to tell him the amazing news. The guy who loves the thrill of jumping out of an airplane with just a parachute on his back would surely like something more than a simple phone call to find out he’s going to be a daddy. So I decided to surprise him. I set up a camera and placed three gifts on a table for him, each one offering a clue to the big news. I uploaded video from the reveal to my YouTube channel so friends and family could share in our joy.
Signs of trouble
I bled intermittently during my pregnancy, but everyone kept reassuring me that it was nothing to worry about. My sister, who’s also a nurse, told me that it’s normal for some women to bleed. I was always a bit skeptical but after every checkup appointment and ultrasound, our baby was always okay. I told myself I needed to stop worrying about it and just enjoy the pregnancy. This is my new normal, I thought.
On June 18, I was in Miami hosting Married at First Sight Unfiltered, where I sit down with couples from the show to talk about how their relationships are going, when I experienced heavier bleeding than usual. I was concerned, so I went to the emergency room that night. My husband, Doug, flew down from New Jersey to be with me. I received a very thorough ultrasound similar to a fetal anatomy scan, which is typically done around the 20th week of pregnancy. We got a picture of our unborn son moving—he was absolutely fine. The doctor also checked that I wasn’t prematurely ruptured or beginning to dilate. Everything was fine.
When I got home, I went to my regular OBGYN. She did a quick checkup and said the baby looked fine but suggested I see a high-risk doctor since I was in my second trimester and still experiencing bleeding. Doug and I made the appointment for July 2; the bleeding had altogether stopped at that point, so we were very optimistic. In fact, we were planning a gender reveal party for the end of that month and I was literally on Facebook making an “event” for the occasion as we walked into the high-risk doctor’s office. This doctor, who I didn’t know at all, looked at our unborn baby on the monitor for a minute or less before saying, “The prognosis is poor. You have very little amniotic fluid for the baby. We recommend you terminate your pregnancy.”
We were in shock. Everyone else had said everything’s fine. We didn’t believe it, so we scheduled an appointment with another doctor in that same practice for the next week. In the meantime, we had lined up an appearance on the Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda. On July 5, we announced that we were expecting on live TV. But the second high-risk doctor said the same thing: that I should terminate my pregnancy. I had no amniotic fluid at all. Obviously, a fetus needs amniotic fluid to grow and thrive and develop in a healthy manner. The thing was, though, my baby still had a heartbeat. He was still alive. It was all too much.
I started searching different blogs to see if any other expectant moms had gone through something like this. There wasn’t an awful lot of information out there so I just took what advice I could find. I read that coconut water could be helpful. I don’t know a lot about pregnancy, but I am a labor and delivery nurse and I know that, especially in the beginning, bed rest, laying on your side, and being well hydrated are important things to do if your baby seems distressed at all. It may seem naïve now, but Doug and I tried our best to “fix” the situation ourselves.
The hardest decision of our lives
A third and fourth doctor confirmed what the previous two had said, that the prognosis was poor. The baby wouldn’t be able to develop the way he was supposed to, and if he did survive, he would most likely have brain damage and wouldn’t be able to see or hear. The decision came down to whether or not we wanted to chance it and see if our son would develop properly. Inducing labor wasn’t an option because I had just entered the second trimester. It was too early to save him. If we had been 24 weeks along things might have been different. The baby could have potentially continued developing outside of the womb. There were a lot of scenarios I had to weigh in my head.
Doctors told me I didn’t have to terminate the pregnancy, that I could ‘wait and see what happens’ but I was scared because I had read a blog post from a woman who was in a similar situation and chose to see her pregnancy through. Her child is now wheelchair-bound and fed through a tube. He has no quality of life. This woman wrote that she shares her experience not because she doesn’t love her child, but because she does, and had she known what her child would suffer through, maybe she would have made a different decision. It’s hard to see your child suffering day in and day out. Doug and I took that all this information into account before we made the hardest decision of our lives.
We tried to be selfless in our decision. We didn’t want to put our child through a life of suffering. We prayed a lot. Doug felt that it would be selfish of us to hope for a healthy life for this child when every single doctor had told us there would be no quality of life for him. At the advice of the fourth high-risk doctor, we decided to go through with the termination. Because I was 17 weeks along, we were able to deliver our baby. He was tiny, small enough to fit into my hands, and bruised. We got to hold him, kiss him, and say our goodbyes. I’m really thankful for that because, now, I feel like some people around us act like our firstborn child never existed. That really breaks my heart.
We took photos of our son, too. I’ve thought about sharing the images on my blog but haven’t, because I know people will have things to say, both good and bad. I would love to hear the supportive feedback, but I can’t bear the thought of opening the door for commenters to say anything negative about my son. But then I think, what about other women who’ve miscarried and want to share their children’s photos? Someone’s got to do it first so that other people will feel like they can. You don’t want this child to be forgotten just because no one else got to meet him.
We put together a memory box where we saved all of our baby’s ultrasound photos, his footprints on cardstock, the blanket the hospital gave us, and mementos from the day I told Doug we were expecting. Writing and documenting all of the feelings I had from the time I found out I was pregnant—even the miserable ones like morning sickness—helps me remember my child. He can’t just be gone in history because he was never born. I hope that he is in heaven, bouncing on clouds and happy, and that he knows that he was wanted and loved.
Doug went back to work the very next day. I felt so alone and I didn’t quite know why. Even though Doug, his family, and my sisters were very much there for me, I felt like no one truly understood what I was going through and that they just pitied me. No one knew this baby the way I did. I decided to write about the miscarriage on my blog. It’s the best thing I could’ve done at the time. Once I posted about how I was feeling, I heard from all of these women who had gone through similar experiences. It was comforting and I began to feel less lonely. Hearing from these complete strangers also confirmed that I wasn’t being irrational, which I had feared. My husband had been able to return to work—why couldn’t I control my emotions just as easily? It seemed like it was only a couple of days after the miscarriage and my family was expecting me to be a normal person again and just pick up where I’d left off, but I didn’t know how to.
People in my life, who meant well, tried to console me by saying things like, “At least you know you can have a baby,” or “At least you weren’t that far along in your pregnancy,” but all I’d think is, Are you kidding me? Even something as innocuous as, ‘It’s God’s timing, everything happens for a reason’—everyone always says that, for anything in life—is just not comforting. There’s no empathy in it whatsoever. It’s like saying, ‘Oh, just try again. This happens to so many women.’ Comments like that were the last thing I wanted to hear when this baby I was looking forward to, who was so real to me, had just been taken away from me. I was angry. I vented about it on my blog, but now, looking back on it, I feel bad for people who really are just trying to find the right words and don’t know what to say. It’s hard. There really isn’t anything anyone can say to ease the pain.
For the person trying to find the right words, simply saying, “I’ve never been there, I have no idea how you’re feeling, but if you ever want to talk about anything, I’m here” is enough. Listening and holding her when she’s crying and missing her child is enough. Those are the most comforting things you can do. Don’t try to fill the silence with a bunch of words. Don’t expect the woman to be better after a conversation, or a few days, or even a couple of weeks. It doesn’t happen. For the woman who has just experienced this loss, people may not know how to show their sympathy. Even your husband may not know what to say. My husband is grieving in his own way, even though to me it does not make sense at all. It does not mean he’s not hurt too. He’s trying to figure out his own way to get along.
Miscarriage is a taboo topic in our culture—that’s something I want to change. The minute you mention that you’ve had a loss, you can see in the other person’s face that they want to run because it’s the last conversation they ever want to have. They don’t want to discuss it at all. Then you don’t want to bring it up because you don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. It’s such a controversial topic because the only people who are willing to talk about it is the people who’ve experienced it. You can talk about the death of a father, a grandfather, or even, unfortunately, an older child, and people respond because it’s someone they knew. More people have gone through that type of loss. They’ve felt the pain and they understand it. The father of a living child understands the pain the mother goes through if that child passes, but when it’s an expectant mother who has miscarried, no one knows what that feels like except that mother of the unborn child. A few days after we lost him, Doug and I named our baby. We didn’t want to keep calling him Baby Hehner because he was a person to us.
The names we had been throwing around for our firstborn didn’t seem appropriate though, because he became so much more special to me than any of those other names that I just thought were cute. I wanted something so meaningful for this child. That’s why we decided on Johnathan, which means “gift from God.” I don’t know why God would give us this child just to take him away but I still consider him a gift from God. When you name your baby, you’re sharing with everyone that he’s real. This was more than a 17-week pregnancy that vanished; this was a baby who I loved. His name was Johnathan and he was my son.