This week we’re talking about a topic near and dear to many women’s hearts. The loss of their unborn child. Up to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage before the 20th week. That’s five months of a growing connection and deep love with the child inside you before you even get to hold her.
I was never blessed to be pregnant, although there was a time when I wanted to be. It never occurred to me how deeply a woman could feel the loss of someone she never really knew until this conversation. It came through loud and clear: love does not begin when your child is born.
This episode’s guest is Wendy Farrell.
Wendy takes us back to a time when she suffered the loss of an unborn child–twice in two years. The grief she felt turned her world upside down.
Wendy shares her thoughts and feelings, how she was treated by others and what she learned that helped her to move through the pain and build resilience for upcoming life events.
She will inspire you to think differently. That’s what this show is all about—sharing women’s views and perspectives that can help us when life turns us upside down.
It’s another in our series of inspiring stories of women learning to thrive.
This is another inspiring conversation in our series with women learning what it means to thrive. Don’t miss it. I invite you to watch our video conversation on RHGTV Network—the Empowered Connections Channel…
or read the transcript of our conversation below:
from Upside Down to Right Side Up: Tips for the Transition
Wendy Farrell: The Broken Branch
~María: Hello and welcome! This is from Upside Down to Right Side Up: Tips for the Transition, and I’m María Tomás-Keegan, your host. This is my continuing series of conversations with strong supportive women who have an inspiring story of transformation to tell and they are brave enough to share it with us here. Today’s guest is Wendy Farrell. Her story takes us back to a time when she suffered two pregnancy losses and how the grief turned her world upside down. We call this episode, “The Broken Branch.”
~Wendy: It’s nice to be with you.
~M: thank you so much. I know a lot of women who have suffered losses during pregnancy and one thing I hear is that they are expected to move on maybe more quickly than they’re ready because they didn’t actually have a child.
You suffered two losses. Why is it so important that you share your story?
~W: For starters, I know that people who go through this feel very much alone. I was blessed to have a support group that was in the hospital where I experienced my first loss and even though I didn’t necessarily get involved, those people 365 days a year, just knowing you have people around you who could understand what you were going through. As you walk into a social group, you talk to other people and for them it’s done and said, nobody understands that your body, your brain is still dealing with the trauma you went through. Just like any delivery, if you have a later loss, even if you have an early miscarriage, you often have six to eight weeks of physical recovery time, a constant physical manifestation that you used to be pregnant and that doesn’t end.
~M: So tell us what happened and what memories are most vivid for you now?
~W: Well, the first one I got to 17 weeks of pregnancy and we discovered that the baby did not have kidneys, and could not live, and it would most likely at some point, spontaneously aboard.
We chose to at that point have the pregnancy ended because a spontaneous abortion could have physical damage to me if I wasn’t in your appropriate medical care. It also allowed me to close that chapter and move on, and then, of course, it took a full year to get pregnant again. So that was a year of waiting, and tension, and expectation in every month. When you have your period, you go through that failure, all over again. And then I finally got pregnant, and so for that first 17 weeks, every ultrasound was just nerve-wracking.
I got past the 17 weeks and everything was amazing also, and I started wearing the biggest, ugliest, flaunts maternity out that you ever did see, ’cause I was screaming, I’m finally pregnant, we’ve done this, we’re gonna have a baby. And then at 23 weeks, I went into spontaneous labor and medical care has advised that that baby might have lived in today’s world, but in that one, she did not live.
So we had a second loss, and of course, that one was even more profound, goes a compounding, and I had screamed from the mountain tops, “I’m pregnant.” It took me another… That was August… It took me another six months to get pregnant again.
So over the course of four years, I was pregnant almost half of those two years to finally have a baby. That was a lot.
~M: Yeah, I can hear that. And that the good news part of this story is that you did get pregnant again. And the third one was a full-term baby, right?
~W: She’s a full-term baby. She is a beautiful 23-year-old college graduate now. So for the first two years, I did count her fingers and toes many times but we don’t do that anymore.
~M: They are firmly and planted. That is a good-news ending for this story.
I know that there are so many reasons to grieve a loss. There are so many kinds of loss that we all grieve. You’ve touched on a couple of the emotions that you felt during that time. I would love if you would take a bit of a deeper dive into that emotional journey in our next segment if you would. I believe that although everyone’s stories may not be exactly the same where we resonate with the story is through the emotional journey.
So, if we could take that deeper dive in the next segment, I would really love it.
So we will be right back for this next part of my conversation with Wendy Farrell.
~M: Hello again! I’m chatting with Wendy Farrell about her two pregnancy losses and the memories that are still so vivid from them.
We call this episode, “The Broken Branch.” I am always honored to share inspiring stories, like Wendy’s, because these women have figured out how to move through life’s inevitable trials and tribulations. And come out in triumph. They help us to know, as Wendy said, that we are not alone when our own world turns upside down.
Thank you so much, Wendy, for sharing the story. I think it must have been a very difficult time in your life. Would you first tell us what “the broken branch” means?
~W: The broken branch in the pregnancy lost community was representative of when the bell breaks, the cradle will fall. And what they would do, because women of loss pregnancies are frequently on maternity wards where they can receive the best postpartum care, they would put the symbol of a broken branch on their door or the medical chart so that the medical professionals walking I wouldn’t say, “How is our baby today?” or “How is our new mom?” which is a very traditional thing. If you’ll notice if you’ve ever been in a maternity ward, that’s what they often say. And of course, if that is said to someone who’s just experienced a traumatic loss, you practically wanna throw yourself out the window when somebody says those words. And this allowed the medical professionals to know this is a different room, this person requires very different treatment, and maybe in a very fragile state.
~M: I love that story. I didn’t know that before, having never been pregnant myself. I was never blessed with children of my own, but I love the compassion behind that story. That is just… That’s a beautiful story, I love that.
~W: I don’t know if all hospitals do that but I was blessed to have been in two hospitals that did.
~M: That’s great and lucky for you. That’s a blessing for you, indeed. So you have talked about when we were talking before this conversation, you were talking about some of the emotions that you felt. You talked about quiet shame and a sense of inadequacy. Tell us more about those, and what else you experienced from an emotional standpoint, as you were going through these losses?
~W: Pregnancy loss is weird because you feel like everybody does it easily, teen moms, drug addicts. They’re all out there having babies, too many babies, sometimes. They don’t know how to care for them, they are a nuisance to do it, and here you are or I was and so many other women I knew through the support group in loving, committing relationships wanting to have children, desperately wanting to have children, and our bodies were not cooperating. And you feel like a failure. How can this be so easy for some people and so hard for me? And you don’t wanna share that.
As you said the word, shame, inadequacy, failure… And there’s also that on the part of your partner, is it something he’s doing? Male virility is just as tied up in that so you get that conflict with your spouse too or whatever it might be. And it’s just heartbreaking ’cause you feel alone in this shame. And you shouldn’t because it’s remarkably common. As I started sharing my pain, so many women who I’d known for some time would say, “Oh yes, I went through this too”, but it was like a quiet sisterhood. It was a little tapping that let you know they were there too. It’s a very difficult thing to deal with.
~M: I’m so interested in this part of the story because I know there are a lot of women out there who’ve gone through this, especially in your case, you had not only one child, but you have another daughter don’t you?
~W: I do, I now have two step-children and two biological living children, which sometimes I feel is necessary to say that because I did have four children that I gave birth to just two of them didn’t live.
~M: Yeah, I think it’s so important for people to know that even those women who never have success getting pregnant that it does not have to define them going forward. Would you speak about that for a moment?
~W: Well, and even women who never marry and never have children, many of them are symbolic mothers.
I actually have a friend who does college admissions work for people. She never had biological children and she’s at a point in her life she will not but she mentors. And there have been so many young people that she has influenced with her work and her volunteering that I consider her as much a mother as anybody else.
You don’t have to give birth to be a mother, and you have to remember that.
~M: Thank you so much for saying that because there was a time in my life when I wanted to have children and I never did get pregnant. I wondered why. And at some point, I got to the age where I knew it would not likely happen. I got to the age after that but I was kind of grateful that it didn’t. But you’re right, I have been blessed with three older brothers who were relatively prolific and I have a niece and a whole bunch of nephews. I get to be an aunt who has very special relationships with those kids who are now grown and in their 30s and 40s. I get to have that relationship, and I love to mentor as well.
So glad you said that there were other motherly roles that we can play. I have a god-daughter and I never had kids myself but I’m married to a man who has a daughter and two granddaughters so I just got to skip motherhood and go right to grandmotherhood, which is pretty cool. But it’s all how we look at it, isn’t it? It’s all how we decide and choose to see it.
~W: And you talked about the pregnancy chase, which is weird… I call it that because it’s this constant pursuit of pregnancy, which you’re either trying to get pregnant or you’re pregnant, and praying it’s gonna last or… It’s consuming and people who have not gone through it have no idea. And whether you have a later miscarriage like I did, or I had a friend who had a stillbirth at eight months, or you have a miscarriage that you missed a period practically, or you just missed a period and you think you might be pregnant, and then you find out you’re not. Every one of those is a loss.
Now, the physical implications may be greater for some of those situations than others, but every single one is a loss. A choice has been made for you and you don’t have control of it, and all you can do is deal with it.
And every month, I had a period that I wanted to be pregnant was another loss, another betrayal of my body, another nobody knew why I was so incredibly moody and bitchy. It was horrible.
~M: Yeah, I’m so glad again that you’re sharing that piece of it because I know that other women are gonna resonate with that and understand that they’re not alone. Number one, it is what I say all the time that you need to know you’re not alone, that there are others of us out here, who have been through something similar and have gotten to the other side of it, and we are willing to share what we’ve learned.
So that’s a beautiful segue to our next segment which is for you to share with us what you’ve learned on this journey that carved a path for you so that you can help others with this story. So I am so delighted that you will share some of that wisdom with us in our next segment.
~M: So we’re saving the best for last. We’re gonna share some wisdom with you now, which is why we call the show, “Tips for the Transition.”
Wendy is an eclectic and creative soul, and if you’ve noticed her background today, you can see that she’s sitting in her creative space. She has a long-standing love affair with the theater. She worked as a photojournalist for the US Army and created a company called “Wonder Wendy and Friends.” so very eclectic. Women like Wendy are role models for the rest of us when it comes to learning ____.
Wendy, I’m so grateful you came here today to share your story about pregnancy loss. I am certain there are women watching who have felt that quiet shame and held themselves back from talking about it. And I think you’ve opened a door for that conversation to start so I wanna thank you for that. I’m sure you have learned some lessons along the way that you have applied to your own life since those losses that have helped you, and I’m sure have helped others. So, would you share some of those nuggets of wisdom with us?
~W: Well, boiling it down to just a few minutes could be a challenge. Interesting one that actually came up this morning, I was talking to my youngest about coping with stress and how I work things out during the night. So I often wake up with solutions to problems. And it actually came out of the time when I had experienced the pregnancy loss. I was being tormented by nightmares, nightmares about loss. Most often than not, it was a dream of or a nightmare of a fire consuming everything I own. I was desperately trying to save the dog It was just me and the dog, for whatever reason. And I think he was the one living object I had to care for, at that point, my husband was in the Army frequently deployed. I was frequently alone, so saving that dog was emblematic for me of my pregnancy losses and everything else.
Instead of letting the nightmares continue to get worse, during the daytime I would work and work out fire safety plans, as crazy as that sounds, and figure out how the dog and I would get out and be safe. Slowly but surely the dreams evolved ’cause they kept giving me new challenges, but my solutions also evolved. After a short period of time, the nightmare stops happening because I was working on solutions while I was waking. And somehow over the last time since that happened, it’s evolved now that I actually work out solutions while I’m sleeping and frequently wake up with answers. So that problem solving that came out of such a horrible place has actually turned into a valuable tool for my life.
~M: That is so interesting to me. It’s like preparing yourself, isn’t it? It’s understanding what the challenge is, whatever it is, and preparing for how to solve it.
~W: Yes, in case it happens.
~M: So that is a wonderful tool. I love to call these tools in your treasure chest that you can pull out. And I love that you are teaching your daughter how that happened for you so that she can adapt that technique so that it suits her as she is growing up into her 20s now.
~W: As younger people, we look at our role models and say, “Oh my gosh, you’re so amazing, you do this, that and the other thing. Guess what? I couldn’t do this when I was your age, learned from where, how I got there, not who I am now, I think how amazing you can be in 30 years if you learn from what I learned.
~M: Oh, I can remember my father saying, “l learn from my mistakes so you do not make your own.” It never works out that way. I think we have to learn from our own mistakes, but I do think you’re right that role models can teach us something that we want to emulate, so we’ll find our own way to do it or to be like that… A way that feels right to us. But having those role models is so important.
I love that tip. I think that’s a great one. What else do you have for us?
~W: Be gentle on people who have gone through loss ’cause not everybody’s been through this, and the worst thing that happens is… Or not the worst thing, obviously the worst thing is the loss, but the secondary waves come when people don’t know what to say to you. I remember walking into one social gathering shortly after, probably the second loss ’cause by then it was so much bigger and so much more public and it was this convivial loud social gathering outdoors and people literally saw me approaching from the car. And I felt the gathering grow quiet, ’cause nobody knew what to say to me and that in and of itself, I needed love, and laughter, and support, and to be greeted like the Grim Reaper was awful. So yes, be sensitive to what that person needs but also listen, ask them what they need, just give them a hug, ask if they need a hug. There’s so much to be learned from the person and don’t assume.
~M: Those are such wise words, be compassionate for any kind of loss, right? Be compassionate for the loss. I love that you said to ask them if they need a hug. I think also it’s important you said what you needed was to be among laughter, and fun, and to feel a part of that. I think also when we share what we need, being the one who experienced the loss, when we share with others what we need and let them know it’s okay, I’m okay and I’m here because I need to participate in this laughter. And I think that gives them permission, “It’s okay that you guys are happy and having a good time. I just wanna participate in that.”
~W: The only caveat I put on that is too often we asked the mourner to put us at ease. And I’ve found occasionally, I’ve done that. I’m a pleaser. So somebody says, “Oh this is so awful.” and I turn on a look and say, “Oh no, it’s okay.” No, it’s not okay and why am I comforting you? I’m in pain and it’s okay that you’re uncomfortable but what I’m going through is not okay.
It’s a weird thing that many of us make the person approaching us to try and to make them feel more comfortable and it puts more burden on the mourner.
~M: Yeah, and I wasn’t meaning that we should look to the mourner to ease our discomfort. What I meant by that was that when we are the mourner and we need something by walking into… You went out to that social gathering for a purpose, for yourself. So letting them know that you’re there for this reason. So just go ahead and keep doing what you were doing ’cause that’s what I need to participate in, that just gives them permission to not walk on eggshells around you because that’s not what you need.
~M: Does that make sense?
~W: That makes perfect sense, just that the whole “Okay thing” like get so awkward.
~M: Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, I hear you. I think that’s an important distinction. Thanks for mentioning that.
Alright, you got another one for us?
~W: Oh, it’s gonna go on. It never goes away. It’s been a long time and every so often, we’ll be watching a movie or a TV show, and somebody goes through that sort of loss. Not alike or very different from my own, but a loss and all of a sudden the waterworks are on.
I may be almost smiling, but at the same time, I can just feel the tears forming. It doesn’t hurt the way it used to hurt, but I feel it and I go through it a fresh.
~M: You told me something that I’d love for you to share with our audience today because you’ve done something for each of the girls that you lost. I would love for you to share that story because I believe it’s symbolic for you. Tell us what you do.
~W: I have two Christmas ornaments, I believe that’s what you’re talking about, that have… they are just little brass ornaments, they’re flat, a two-dimension ornament of an angel in a crib and each one has a name on it, for each of the… We did name each of the two children that did not get a chance to live. They’ve now just got impact way with the ornaments every year, but my daughters know they kind of lovingly pull them out and remember the siblings they don’t have and put them up for me now. I did it for several years, but now it’s great touching to watch them honor that loss. And for them, it’s a weird sort of loss too, ’cause they know there might have been other siblings. And we’ve done that. It’s nice to know you have that for you.
And another friend had given me a stained glass angel, that it was about three inches tall and I’d hang it over my kitchen sink. It was with me for many years. And then the friend I mentioned too had a late-term stillbirth was in the hospital and I took it off the window, and I took it to her and I said, “You will always remember this child.” She has since had a few children of her own and her life has gone on, but she will always have that angel to remember that baby.
~M: I think that is so precious that you have not forgotten. You have moved on for sure. You’ve had two beautiful daughters, you remarried into a man who had two other children so you’ve got four children. So you have definitely moved on. Yet, there is a tribute. I believe when we have losses that are so significant that one of the ways we can ease the pain is by creating some kind of tribute for those we’ve lost. So, I have done this in my life. I have planted trees for both my parents. I’ve moved three times since my mom died and I have planted a new tree in my yard, in honor of my mom, and then when my father died, I planted a tree in his honor, there in my backyard and they are with me always. And I’m a little hesitant to admit this because somebody’s gonna think I’m crazy, but I talk to them. I sit under those trees, and I feel the wind blowing through them. And I just know for me, it is very comforting, to have done that and I’m sure when Christmas time comes around for you hanging those ornaments in honor of your two daughters whom you never got to hold is very… It’s just precious. I am so glad you shared that story, thank you.
Alright, I think those are all great tips that hopefully women who are watching, who are going through something like this can see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. And I’m sure it’s very comforting to them that you’re willing to open the door and share your story. So Wendy…
~W: Thank you!
~M: Thank you so much for being here with us today.
~W: Thank you for letting me share my story.
~M: And for those who would like to maybe hear more about you and your story, how can they connect with you directly? What’s the best way.
~W: On Facebook, Wonder Wendy and Friends is a public Facebook page that they can very easily find me through that page. That’s probably the easiest way.
~M: Okay, perfect! That’s wonderful. So I wanna thank you again, Wendy, for sure. I feel blessed that you were here to share this story today. And I’d like to thank everyone for watching and for being a part of our community. This series of conversations with women is inspired by my latest book, Upside Down to Right Side Up: Turning Transition into Triumph. My book, the articles I write, and these conversations are intended to share stories from the heart and life strategies that can help others. As I’ve said many of us have gone through similar experiences and we are here to support you.
I invite you to share these videos with women you know so none of us will ever feel like we are alone.
I believe it’s our time to thrive. Would you join me on that ride?
I’m María Tomás-Keegan. ‘Till next time.