Storytelling Through Charts - Pregnancy #4

One rainy January night I was doing some upkeep of my paperwork as an NFP instructor. I shuffled through the loose papers in my drawer, scanning the papers that had piled up, making piles of “scan”, “shred” and “recycle.” And then I came across a small handful of my own personal charts.

I’ve been charting online for several years now, so these paper ones I knew had to be pretty old. My practical side was already deciding whether or not they would be useful or if, being so old, there would be no reason I would ever need them again.  I had all but made the decision to put them in the “shred” pile, when I noticed the comment I had written in the “note” section of this particular chart: “pregnancy #4.” And all of a sudden I knew I wasn’t just looking at any old chart. Pregnancy #4 was my miscarriage. This small handful of charts documented a time in my life when I experienced my first and (thank God) only miscarriage, and the several cycles afterwards of recovery.

Now, this pregnancy and miscarriage occurred 5 years ago, and since then I have been blessed with two more beautiful children, so these days I rarely think about this time in my life. I have had plenty of time to grieve, process, and resolve all of my feelings about what happened. But on this night, experiencing the surprise of seeing that pregnancy chart, I was struck by how very real of an event it was. It wasn’t just a bad dream.

To back up a bit and offer an explanation of why that reality might have seemed startling to me, there had been a couple of unknowns surrounding that event. Even though I was just about 10 weeks along at the time, I hadn’t had an ultrasound yet. I believe I had one scheduled in a couple of weeks. And then there were the frantic phone calls to the medical practice when I began cramping and spotting. It was New Years’ Eve, and they were only open for a few hours in the morning, and everything was all booked up. No one was going to see me that day, unless I took myself to the ER. I still remember the inexperienced young medical assistant on the other end of the phone responding to my objections that I really wanted to come in that day: “It’s probably just a miscarriage.”  JUST a miscarriage. That’s all. No need to get upset, lady. Nothing we can do. 

I did eventually take myself to the ER, where in the line at the reception desk, my body began, without regard for my readiness for it, the event of miscarriage in a rather forcible way. I spent the night in the hospital because of heavy blood loss. Everyone at the ER was so compassionate. Over those hours of tests and IVs, I would have an ultrasound done. When I met with my midwife the next day, she explained that the ultrasound didn’t show anything. There was an empty sac, but that was it. She said that most likely what happened was what they call a “blighted ovum,” which means that while conception and implantation occurred, development of the embryo stopped very early on. So while I had been fearful of coming face to face with the reality of my dead baby, all of a sudden I was struck with the sadness that I would never meet this person, and was there even a person to meet? My midwife assured me this was absolutely a loss, and something to be grieved, and I was appreciative of her compassion. But still, it was so hard to process that even though I had been just about 10 weeks along, and had almost reached the end of the first trimester, and had been suffering from nausea and fatigue all that time, the growth of this little one had probably stopped before I even had my first positive test. And so my healing process stumbled along, puzzled, trying to understand what to feel.

And then there was that appointment later on, probably during my next pregnancy, where I discussed the miscarriage with a different midwife, and as she tried to reference the baby, she hesitated a bit, thinking what to say, then used the term “the product of conception.” I balked internally, and in hindsight, I wished I had corrected her. No mother wants her baby referred to as “the product of conception.” Such a denial of humanity. So many words that one needs to create in order to get around the reality of a baby. I knew it wasn’t true. But still, her words had an effect on me. How does one process something that had been called “just a miscarriage?” A “blighted ovum”? And the “product of conception”? I believe that to some small degree, over the years I had let those phrases have their effect. Did it really ever happen in the first place? Had there been a person?

pregnancy 4But here I was now looking at my pregnancy chart. There it was. Such a classic “second rise” in my temperature pattern, to reflect the surge of hormones that come with implantation. I had written in a numbering of my high temps, the countdown to get to 18 of those highs, which would definitively mean that I was pregnant. There was the date I recorded a positive test, exactly 13 days into that count of highs. And that gap of time in between this one and the start of my next chart…all that time of holding this life inside of me, however small it might have been. Not to mention what biology tells us about conception…that from that moment, there is a combination of DNA present and growing that is completely unique and unrepeatable.

And I knew, and I remembered that yes, I WAS pregnant. I lost a life. And because of my faith, I hold the hope that someday when my time on this earth is over, there will be a son or daughter waiting for me on the other side, and I can find consolation in that hope and expectation.

As an NFP instructor, I see firsthand how charts can offer such a window into our lives. There are the notes scribbled along the bottom about important events, in case they may have some effect on our cycles: “moved to new house,” “car accident,” “quit my job,” “wedding day!”  In some way, our charting can be a kind of journal, chronicling those events and how our bodies responded to them. But that night staring at my chart titled “pregnancy #4”, I received such a powerful example of how much a chart really can convey. This life was real. In my hands was the paper to prove it. And after soaking in all of my memories, I put that paper in the “scan” pile. I was keeping this one.

After further reflection on this concept of having a chart that tells a story about our lives, I thought that there must be many women who have a chart that tells a meaningful story. Would you like to share yours? Let us know!