Misoprostol: my relatively good experience using it for miscarriage

After going to my first prenatal appointment at ten weeks pregnant to find out I’d had a missed miscarriage, my doctor gave me the options to take misoprostol at home or have a D&C done to complete the miscarriage.

Considering the fact that I still felt rather pregnant, I was not yet ready to make a decision. So for a week I did nothing and let the devastating news sink in. I distracted myself the best I could, but always had the thought in the back of my head that I could start miscarrying naturally that day while running errands or that night in my sleep.

I knew I needed to take another step in the process, and realized that for me, the next thing was to see another doctor. It’s not that I thought a different doctor would give me the great news that everything was fine, my baby was still healthy and growing, the miscarriage talk was all a big mistake (although these things do happen in internet forums), but I had left that appointment with a lot of questions, feeling like it had all been very rushed and impersonal, and like I mostly just needed another ultrasound where a doctor actually talked to me about what he was seeing so that I could understand and come to terms myself with the fact that there was no semblance of life inside me.

So a few days later I had an appointment with a doctor I had researched beforehand with great bedside manner reviews. He spent forty-five minutes with me talking and explaining, five minutes doing a transvaginal ultrasound which was uncomfortable physically but helped give me peace in the sense that he looked around very thoroughly, pointing to his monitor, talking me through the whole thing, explaining everything he was seeing, putting my “what if” thoughts to rest since I was able to see and learn and understand for myself.

So by the end of the appointment, I felt relatively comfortable having misoprostol prescribed to me. It seemed like the best of the two options my first doctor had given me, since second doctor advised against doing a D&C as a first choice because there is a slight risk of making future pregnancies more difficult. First doctor never mentioned any risks at all. I still had this feeling like I wanted to wait a while longer to see if I could miscarry naturally on my own, not force my body to do this difficult thing before it was ready. Doctor agreed that waiting would be fine for now, but if I did start to miscarry, go ahead and take the misoprostol to speed the process along as it can sometimes take weeks on its own.

Two days later, miscarriage started on its own.

Sunday 12/20 4:00am — I wake with cramps and spotting. Cramps are mild enough that I can still sleep, but have a hard time doing so since I fear what is happening and how it might all play out.

9:00am–1:00pm — Mild cramping with spurts of heavy cramping as well as spotting continue. Although I’ve known a miscarriage was coming for two weeks, now that it’s started, all I can think about is how I need it to be over. I google miscarriages with misoprostol and learn of many terrible experiences that are causing me great anxiety, and some relatively okay experiences like here and here. I eat a full lunch of a sandwich, chips, apple, and juice because it seems better not to take misoprostol on an empty stomach.

1:30pm — At the store, getting my prescription filled, feeling kinda sick once I pick it up because I can’t help thinking the pharmacist probably thought I was trying to have an abortion. Should’ve just TMI-ed and told him my whole life story. Also picking up pads and women diapers to be prepared.

2:30pm — At home, popping three pills of misoprostol orally (total of 600 mcg) as my doctor prescribed.

3:00pm — No change, but eat a snack just in case I end up being nauseous or otherwise sick later as some internet people described.

4:00pm — The cramping is a little heavier, so I take a couple ibuprofen. I have some prescribed hydrocodone that I picked up with the misoprostol, but am waiting to see if I really need it.

6:00pm — I figure I’ll do some lunges and squats around the living room to help get things going. I really just want to get this over with, and not be up all night during the worst of it.

6:30pm — Heat up some leftovers for dinner. After eating, I stand to take dishes to the sink and the blood starts flowing.

6:30–9:00pm — I spend a good amount of time on the toilet, letting blood and some quarter-size clots come out. I am cramping, uncomfortable but not in great pain. Nothing worse than what I experience with periods and having endometriosis.

9:00pm–12:00am — I relax on the couch reading, on the computer, watch a cheesy wonderful Hallmark Christmas movie. Make frequent trips to the bathroom.

12:00am — The bleeding is pretty heavy, but there are no more clots. I feel pretty good about taking a melatonin, ibuprofen, putting on a diaper and going to bed.

Monday 12/21 8:30am — Wake up after a surprisingly great night’s sleep. Melatonin worked nicely, as well as the diaper (highly recommend) to give me the extra assurance I probably needed to let myself sleep deeply.

8:00pm — Pretty heavy bleeding all day, but not so much that it prevented me from doing normal things while changing pads frequently. Some more cramping. But the worst was my emotions. Surprisingly I didn’t feel very emotional yesterday, mostly just glad to be getting the miscarriage started. After thinking about it for weeks, it had really felt like this was the last and most vital step to healing, to being able to move on, and get mostly back to my normal life. But today the emotions have kicked in like ten months of moody menstruation all smashed into one twelve-hour span. Emotional once again about the loss of a baby, emotional about the loss of six months that I could have been trying for a healthy pregnancy (three months pregnant and then three months recommended by my doctor to wait before trying for another), emotional about feeling alone, emotional about not having much family close by, emotional about feeling depressed and guilty for being a bad, short-tempered mother with my son who’s been spending way too much time watching shows and on the ipad lately while I’ve been moping around, emotional about the unknown, wanting to know the whys, wondering if my future will be very different than how I’ve always imagined and maybe not in a good way, etc etc etc. But I’m reading some books with my son now, getting him to bed, then laying on the couch the rest of the night with a movie and snacks.

Tuesday 12/22 4:30pm — Today is a world away from yesterday. I feel good. I feel like I really am on the mend. A few days ago, I had feared this process was going to be so awful physically–something similar to being in labor by yourself at home–that I truly am surprised to feel like I’ve already passed the worst of it. I never even took any of the prescribed hydrocodone, just a few ibuprofen. I am bleeding like a normal period. No cramping.

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Tuesday 12/29 10:00pm — I’ve been spotting the past couple of days. Prior to that, I was bleeding like a normal period, heavier some days than others. I got back to the gym this morning and yesterday after not going much for the past couple months, feeling sick, tired, low-energy, depressed and what not. But yay, my stamina and motivation have returned! This miscarriage still sucks, and I know it will always suck every time I think back on it, but I have reached the point where I don’t have to think about it every day and I can move on to whatever comes next and that feels important.

If you’re reading this because you’re going through/preparing to go through your own miscarriage with misoprostol, my prayers and thoughts and best wishes go out to you. I hope my experience helps calm your nerves, and I hope your experience will be much more like mine than some of the other experiences you’ve probably already read about. (Go ahead and stop reading now, end on a relatively good note;) Positive thoughts, you can do this, your last and most vital step to healing can begin soon. I wish for you (and me both) a happy, healthy, darling baby in the near future.

(Also see: 9 things I’m grateful for as I miscarry.)

9 things I’m grateful for as I miscarry.

As you probably guessed, I took the two blood tests, just as my doctor had told me to do, and the results were that this is 100% not a good pregnancy and will end in miscarriage.

I had little hope for a different outcome, but I must have had a little, or I wouldn’t have been so devastated all over again once the nurse finally called with the news. Still, the official knowledge was somehow better than the worry and literally-sick-to-my-stomach anxiety that had preceded it.

At first, I thought having a miscarriage after trying to get pregnant for a year seemed cruel. When I had briefly thought about the possibility before knowing the fetus inside of me had stopped developing, I had quickly pushed it aside, thinking, “No. That wouldn’t happen to me. And if it did, I’m not sure how I’d take it. I’d be incredibly angry. Angry at God, even. He wouldn’t give me relief and hope and happiness just to take it away again. I don’t deserve that.”

Which brings me to this:

I am grateful for my relationship with the Lord, and my faith and trust in Him. 

There have been many times where I’ve felt like my relationship with God was severely lacking. I’m happy to say that it is better and stronger than I realized. Almost as soon as the initial shock and sadness that I would have a miscarriage had worn down, I began thinking about what I could learn from this experience. And then I thought, “Wow, I’m being a much bigger person about this than I’d thought I would be.” And I know I owe that strength to God.

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I am grateful that I will have the capacity to truly empathize with other women who’ve had a miscarriage.

This is one positive thing I know I will take from this experience. After all, I believe we are all on this earth for the purpose of gaining experiences. I can’t always be choosy about which experiences I get to have. I know that our Savior, Jesus Christ, has felt every experience and emotion–good or bad–any of us have ever felt. It is my goal and desire to be more like Him, and I believe gaining experiences–good and bad–is one way to do that. I am increasing my ability to understand and truly feel for others, just as He’s done in a way no one else ever could.

I am grateful for well-timed visits and unexpected joy.

The night before my prenatal checkup, a friend of thirteen years who lives out of state, whom I see every year or two, called saying she was driving through and could she spend the next night at my house? I excitedly said, “Yes, of course!” Sixteen hours later, I thought, “What a shame my friend is coming tonight of all nights, when I’ll be sad and depressed and no fun.” Turns out, once she arrived, for the next twelve hours I almost forgot about my sadness. We talked and laughed and had a wonderful time catching up. We stayed up until the early hours of the morning when I could hardly keep my eyes open any longer, and once my head hit my pillow, I was zonked until my son’s eyes were boring into me from four inches away the next morning. It was several nights before I had a sleep that sound again.

I am grateful for loving and supportive people. 

These people come in the form of parents, siblings, aunts, cousins, longtime friends, shorttime friends, people on Facebook I haven’t talked with in years, and a good number of people I don’t know at all. And my husband, who has only shown kindness and understanding, even though I’ve often reminded him in the past to work on being more sympathetic. When I first found out about the inevitable miscarriage, I wondered if something was wrong with me, and then wondered if my husband would think the same thing. He didn’t, of course he didn’t, and that lifted a load that would have weighed me down heavily. And so I thank you all; your compassion, personal experiences shared, and thoughtful words have meant more than you can know, and have been a strength to me much greater than I could have expected.

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I am grateful for fun and distractions. 

Particularly, a son who keeps me busy and my thoughts occupied most of the day. Xbox and our recent love for Just Dance, how my son begs to turn it on even when I feel like being lazy, and then we’re both moving and laughing because it’s silly and I know I look like a dufus, but every now and then I get my groove on and feel surprisingly cool. I’m grateful for Netflix, Jane the Virgin, my sister who recommended me watching it, seeing Mockingjay Part 2 with my other sister and loving every second of it, good books, and obviously good food (and no longer having any pregnancy aversions to it).

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I am grateful for deli sandwiches. 

If I’m going to feel depressed and sometimes crappy, I better be able to eat one of my favorite foods. Turns out I can since I no longer have to worry about listeria in my unborn child. I don’t believe rebellion is one of the 5 stages of grief, but I’m pretty sure it’s one of mine. After finding out I would have a miscarriage, besides eating ham, turkey, roast beef, and oh yes, baloney sandwiches for days, I stored away my prenatal vitamins, deleted my pregnancy apps, ate cookie dough, pushed my box of maternity clothes farther back on the top shelf of my closet, whitened my teeth, and used sleeping aids at night. I guess now I know: if I’d ever had a bad breakup, I totally would have thrown all his things in a backyard bonfire and maybe even slashed his tires Carrie Underwood style.

I am grateful for my son and the miracle of every living human. 

I didn’t know I could feel more grateful for my Desmond, but I do now. He is more precious to me than ever, as well as the fact that he is smart and active and healthy and perfect in every way. I am grateful for the power of women and the abilities of our bodies. The process of life being created. I knew it was a miracle, but now it seems so much more so. The fact that each one of us started as some microscopic little being and developed and grew with all or even almost all the right factors coming into place even amongst millions of other variables and possible outcomes and the vast majority eventually came out of our mothers safely and ready to begin a lifetime of growth and experiences is simply amazing. If the creation and development of life doesn’t speak to the existence of God and miracles all around us, I don’t know what does.

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9 things I’m grateful for during my miscarriage

I am grateful my 3-year-old still lets me cuddle him to sleep.

Not every night, but almost half the time, and those sweet moments fill my heart in a way I think nothing else presently could. He’s certainly not a baby–he hangs out of my arms in every direction and I sometimes can’t get him to stop talking in his sensible, imaginative, argumentative, clever paragraphs–but to have him pressed close to me, his body finally relaxed and voice silent, looking up at me as his eyes grow heavy and finally drift to a close, his breathing now steady and slow, just the way he did three years ago and just the way I hope to see my next baby do, these quiet moments in the dark feel like a true blessing.

I am grateful for the desire to write and share this experience.

Writing is therapeutic for me, so it only seemed natural to start writing my thoughts and feelings about this situation as they came. I debated on sharing, believing most people don’t share their miscarriages with just anyone–it’s too private, too big of a downer, would seem too much like I just want attention and for people to feel sorry for me as if my problems are so unique and tragic, etc etc etc. A big part of the reason why most women wait to share their pregnancy news until they’ve passed the first trimester, the time where most miscarriages occur, is to avoid the possibility of having to share their miscarriage with the world, right? But how sad it would be for those women to then have to go through it all alone, because no one even knew they were pregnant, and now they feel like they can’t share this bad news, because no one will understand.

Turns out people will understand and will support you and lift you up with their kind thoughts and prayers no matter when you decide to share what you’re going through. Maybe you really don’t want to share, don’t feel comfortable doing so, your feelings are too raw and personal, it just doesn’t seem right, hardly even possible, to talk about it publicly. And that’s okay. But I hope you find at least someone, maybe a stranger, maybe even me, whose experience you can learn about and let you know you’re not alone.

I know I’ve been so grateful for that extra strength, knowing other women have been through this same thing, felt what I’m feeling, understand the loss and pain I had almost no comprehension of a month ago, and are now on the other side of it all. I can only hope to be another source of that love and support in the world, spreading it among others in their time of desperate need. If something good can come from a miscarriage, I’m pretty sure it’s added compassion and empathy.

A Letter to the Doctor Who Informed Me I Would Miscarry

A letter to the doctor who informed me I would miscarry. Stacey, I’m afraid this doesn’t look like a good pregnancy,” you said.

For some reason, I’d had a couple second’s premonition that you would say something like that, but your words hung in the air so final, and for a moment, the world stopped.

And for some reason, while tears flowed, I thought how amazing language is. We say and hear the same words, over and over again. Place them in one context, then another, place them in one sequence, then another, take out one word here, add another there–the possibilities of meanings are endless. And the emotions those meanings can extract feel almost as varied.

This probably makes no sense to you, because you don’t know me. You don’t know I love words and I love to write, how finding the perfect words to express what I’m feeling inside gives me relief, makes me feel heard and validated. I guess that’s what I’m doing right now, in writing to you. 

After you said those words, I thought how I’d spoken each of them so many times myself before. I’d heard each one of your words so many times before. But never together, in that sequence, directed at me. And my immediate reaction was a feeling almost foreign: instant heartbreak. But not like the heartbreak caused by that boy long ago who was obviously never really mine anyway, but the heartbreak caused by losing something that seemed so within my reach, it was literally embodied within me. The heartbreak of a dream come true, of so many prayers answered, only to have them snatched away in an instant.

But you don’t know me, Doctor, and you certainly don’t know my struggles.

I knew you wouldn’t have said those words if you, in all your wisdom, didn’t believe them. As tears flowed down my cheeks, a hand gripping my forehead, the other to my heart in devastation, the world started again, and you continued.

“There’s no heartbeat. At ten weeks, we should be able to hear a strong one. This dark area is obviously the gestational sac–there’s not much to see inside, just this little white area. That could be the yolk sac or fetus remains. I would guess it stopped developing at least four weeks ago. Your uterus is tilted, so we’ll check transvaginally to be sure.”

You began to stick something inside of me, since you’d done a pap smear just several minutes before, and I’d been lying there naked from the waist down besides a crinkly sheet of paper ever since. These procedures usually make me uncomfortable, but this time I didn’t notice. My mind had just barely caught up to the words that had been spilling from your mouth.

“A tilted uterus? What does that mean?” It actually seemed rather unimportant, but I was grasping at whatever I might presently have the capacity to comprehend.

“Oh, it’s nothing to worry about. It just means things are harder to see in a normal transabdominal ultrasound.”

I don’t know why, but I snatched at that bit of information and clung to it, like it offered some semblance of hope. I held my shaky breath in anticipation.

But moments later you removed your tool inside of me and said nothing about what you’d seen or felt, so my brief feeling of respite turned to uncontrollable sobbing. You began talking about options.

“You have two options for miscarriage. You can have a D&C, a brief surgical procedure that dilates the cervix so we can remove the uterine tissue. This is the fastest and least painful option, that is if it’s covered by your insurance–you’ll have to check on that. Your other option is [some pills] (you had a name for them obviously, but I don’t remember what it was) that we would prescribe to you, and you would take at home. They would cause uterine contractions, which could become fairly painful, and you would experience a fair amount of bleeding for several hours up to a number of days.”

You stopped then, apparently noticing that I was still crying. You asked the nurse, who’d been standing silently behind me all this time, getting a few good views of my bare bum, to hand me the tissues. I accepted and said “thanks.”

My son, sitting across the room by his dad, piped up for the severalth time, pointing to the screen displaying my womb. “Where’s the baby? I don’t hear bum-bum, bum-bum, bum-bum.” We’d all ignored his previous inquiries, but this time in the silence, my heart broke even more. My husband then took the opportunity to ask you a question. “So what exactly happened? Is it possible that there’s still a healthy baby in there?”

I don’t exactly dislike you, Doctor, but I can’t help but remember the slight smirk and pursing of your lips before you answered, as if it was… a stupid question, perhaps? “I’m 95% positive that this is not a good pregnancy and the fetus has stopped developing. Of course, there’s a slim chance that the pregnancy is much earlier along than you believed and that is why we can’t see or hear anything, but based on when Stacey had a positive pregnancy test and her last menstrual cycle, that is very unlikely. As for the cause, it was most likely simply chromosomal abnormalities. It’s quite common. 30-40% of pregnancies actually end in miscarriage.”

You must think that your numbers and percentages, big words and facts are important. I suppose they are. You are a doctor, after all, so I guess it would be hard for you to impress or seem legitimate if you couldn’t spew such things, even if they are all used to ensure your patients’ hopelessness. But, just a thought, perhaps you could add a little feeling and compassion, as if you were talking to a relative–even a distant one would suffice. Granted, you did tell me the situation was common, and that was probably to make me feel better. But instead I felt like I was silly for being so upset, like I was overreacting, because this happens to women all the time. I should have come to my appointment with you 50% expecting good news and 50% expecting bad news. Better yet, 40/60, because it’s always easier to be surprised by good news than bad. If I had had the chance to talk with you weeks ago, I think that’s what you would have recommended.

You turned back to me. “We’ll have you take two blood samples, one today and one in two days. They will each measure your pregnancy hormones (you had more technical words for this that I don’t remember); if the numbers go up between the two days, that would mean your pregnancy is still progressing. But most likely, the numbers will go down, and that will let you know for certain that this pregnancy must end in miscarriage. If you’d like, we can schedule the D&C in the afternoon, two days from now, after we will have received the second blood results. Or should I go over both options again?”

I stared at you, blinking away blurry tears. There seemed like so much to consider, why did you keep asking me to make a choice between the two options of miscarriage? And somewhere in the back of my mind, I felt like there was a third option. Don’t women frequently go through natural miscarriages all on their own? Why didn’t you mention that? At this point, when your initial words hadn’t sunk in even a little bit, it felt like you were asking me to choose between options for having an abortion. A very unwanted abortion on a baby that had been alive to me for almost two months, that might still be alive–you even admitted the 5% chance in your condescending way. I was not holding to this hope at all consciously; I do not like emotional rollercoasters. But my happy anticipation had turned to heartbreak not even ten minutes ago. This baby did not feel dead enough to talk about it’s forced evacuation.

“I…don’t…know.” I murmured. “I’m not really sure I can decide right now.” Finally, a chance to relieve some honest feelings. “I mean, it’s not like we just conceived the first month we tried. We’d been trying to get pregnant for a year. Who knows how long it will be before I’m back here with an actual good pregnancy. I just…don’t really know how to think about this clearly right now.”

You placed your hand on my shoulder and looked at me with kind eyes. That really meant a lot. “I’m sorry. That isn’t easy. You certainly don’t have to decide today.” You stood. “I’ll give you a chance to get dressed. I wish I’d had better news for you both.”

I dressed, and I cried. I sat back down as my son came to give me hugs, and I cried. My husband sighed heavily, mentioned how unexpected this was, and how he’d been unimpressed with you as soon as we met. How you were young, inexperienced, only been working as a doctor for a year–that’s why we never met you with our first pregnancy–and we should have waited to meet with our usual doctor; this visit might have gone much differently. And I cried.

We thought we were waiting for you to come back; you’d never actually said goodbye or given any real instructions. But finally the silent nurse re-entered, asked if there was something else we needed, and handed me a paper that I was to take to the hospital where I would have my blood drawn. I realized it was silly to have been waiting for you; you’d already spent over ten minutes with us. There were many more expectant mothers to be seen who would not be crying as they ducked their heads, avoiding watching eyes from round-bellied women, on their way out.

But it was still a shame we didn’t see you again; you had just barely started to become personable. You might have still convinced me to see you again someday. So in farewell, a word to the wise: try to get to that personable point sooner with your next patient. Of course I speak with your best interest, i.e. chance at highest career success, in mind.

I wrote about fertility struggles, and 2 days later I took a test…

Last month, I wrote this post about the struggles of unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant. I was gratified with many readers, kind and thoughtful comments, and several appreciative messages from friends, as they were–news to me–in similar situations themselves. That’s all I can really hope for when I write, so thank you.

But I quickly felt like a fraud, as I continued to receive loving and sympathetic messages, because I had actually just realized it was past that time of the month. I’d been paying less and less attention as the months went by, kept less detailed counts of days, because that becomes rather exhausting and stressful, and everyone will tell you not to stress when trying to conceive. So I took a pregnancy test with little hope, planning to quickly glance once at it after three minutes had passed and immediately throw it in the trash along with any emotions it might summon. But husband walked in almost as soon as I had set it on the counter to wait, because he always seems to sense when I’m trying to do something in private. He picked up the pregnancy test stick and stared at it until a very faint second line appeared, indicating a positive result.

“Wow! You’re pregnant!” he said.

“Let me see that,” said I, snatching the stick away. “Nope, I don’t believe it. That line is hardly visible.” I picked up the box it had come in and pointed to the directions on the back. “And it says specifically right here: ‘Place the test stick on a flat surface and wait 3-5 minutes for the results.’ You picked it up, so I don’t trust it anymore.” I threw the test in the trash and left the bathroom, feeling next to no excitement whatsoever. Perhaps I sound like a biotch, and perhaps I really am. But I am rather good at blocking out emotions and not getting my hopes up when it seems necessary for my own well-being.

Husband followed me. “Then I’ll go buy another test, and you can take it again.”

“No, not today. They say they’re most effective with morning’s first pee…. So if you really want to get one, I’ll take it tomorrow. But don’t get too excited about it, okay?”

The next morning, I took the test, placed it on the counter to wait and backed away in a nonchalant manner while husband hovered over it intently. A second pink line appeared once again, slightly darker than before, causing my heart to beat just a little faster and a few flutters of excitement to form in my stomach.

“Well okay then. I guess I’m pregnant.” We exchanged hugs and smiles and happy words, but only 50% of me really believed this news. And it was only that large of a percentage because I knew positive pregnancy tests are rarely wrong. Besides that fact, I didn’t really believe I was pregnant, because after a year of trying with many false hopes and sudden letdowns, it takes some time for this news to sink in. For skepticism to take a back seat. For real and true emotions to become unblocked and allowed once again.

Over the next few weeks, nausea set in. Not nearly as bad as with my son, with whom I threw up almost daily for months, throwing up at work, in between college classes, in restaurant parking lots so suddenly and vehemently that I couldn’t even manage to miss my shoes (it is truly a wonder that we women could ever possibly long to be pregnant again when we handle it with such dignity and grace). But this time, the queasiness was rather subtle–I just had to make my son’s oatmeal that he begs for first thing almost every morning with my eyes closed, clean up his poop with a scarf tied around my nose and mouth, quickly race through twenty foods in my mind every time I was hungry, careful not to give any of them more than half a second’s thought, before finally landing on one that didn’t sound completely barf-worthy.

I was also feeling very tired. Of course my son had begun waking up every morning almost two hours earlier than usual, and so we began a new bad-mom routine that I had no problem justifying where I quickly got him breakfast and set him down in front of a show and went back to bed as long as he would let me. Bless his little heart, he was often times very merciful and allowed me to sleep until I felt quite rested indeed. Even still, later in the day when we went around town with dad, I could hardly keep my eyes open while sitting in the passenger seat and would inevitably fall asleep once we’d been driving more than five minutes.

These symptoms made me feel rather unlike my norm, so it didn’t take long for me to 75% believe I was really pregnant. Once or twice I had the thought, “Wow, it would really suck if I had a miscarriage, after trying for a year to get pregnant.” But time went by, I hadn’t had any pain or bleeding, so that never became a real concern, and I 85% believed I was pregnant.

The only thing that would make me 100% believe I was pregnant would be my first prenatal checkup, once I’d seen the small form of the developing baby inside me and heard its heartbeat.

I called to schedule an appointment, not thinking beforehand that it would be almost two weeks before I could be seen. But that was okay; it was still pretty early. I could wait.

I believed I was ten weeks along when I went to my appointment. I went with my husband and son, prepping him beforehand about what we were going to be doing. “Mommy has a little teeny baby in my belly, just like you were once a little teeny baby in my belly. We’re going to the doctor so we can see the baby and hear its heartbeat, bum-bum, bum-bum, bum-bum. After a long time, mommy’s belly will get really big, we’ll go to the hospital, the baby will come out, and Desmond will be a big brother! Just like Daniel Tiger!”

“Yay! Dessy’s going to be a big brother!”

We drove to the doctor’s, a happy anticipation filling me all the way as I remembered the same scenario almost four years ago, on my way to 100% believing I was pregnant with Desmond. Talking with the doctor all excited and jittery and nervous. Lying on a chair to feel that cool gel slathered over my belly, the transducer moving across it until an image appeared on a screen, and although it wasn’t clear and certainly didn’t look like a baby, I knew it was, because then a fast and steady bum-bum, bum-bum, bum-bum filled my ears. All jitters and nerves vanished, my eyes immediately welled up with happy tears, because there was, without a doubt, a baby inside of me, and he was alive and healthy and developing just as he should be, because he had a safe place to grow in me, his mom.

These were the memories paralleling my present-day reality as we arrived at the doctor’s office, filled out paperwork, were checked by a nurse, spoke with the doctor, and I laid down for my sonogram. But almost as soon as I looked at the screen once the doctor began searching across my belly for the baby, I had a jolting feeling that something was wrong. In just a moment, my reality was not going to coincide with the happy memory I’d been replaying in my head. My eyes were already welling up with tears, the tears already streaming down my face once he said it.

“Stacey, I’m afraid this doesn’t look like a good pregnancy.”

It takes 2 seconds and $0 to help make the world a better place

Remember when I wrote a blog post about the crappy state of our world and it was a bit depressing so I tried to add a little cheerfulness at the very end? Well this here is an optimistic follow-up to that post with an actual solution for making our world better.

But first, a story.

When I was a freshman and sophomore in college, I worked in the campus food court at Taco Bell. It was a glamorous job. I wore a black Taco Bell emblemed hat with a long black food-stained apron over a large black food-stained polo shirt tucked into black food-stained mom-pants, i.e. the bad kind of high rise where the bottom of your back pockets land on mid rear while the top of your back pockets approach much closer to waist-vicinity than bum-vicinity. I worked mornings/afternoons, so I spent the majority of each day having hat hair and smelling like tacos.

There were many good things about the job, like how I was hired on the spot two days after arriving at college, and it was close to my apartment and classes, making things very convenient since I had no car. I made great friends there, had fun working, and received 50% off at all food court restaurants. But every now and then, working made me feel like a greasy, stinky, unattractive mess and I wondered why I couldn’t have found a nice receptionist job instead.

On one such day, I was working the cash register during lunch hour, with a jumbled mass of twenty people waiting to order at a time. I had slept seven hours in the past fifty due to major tests and assignments, found out I had done terribly on a test I had felt pretty confident about, was being blown off by a guy I liked, and my manager behind me kept urging me to “Upsale, upsale, upsale!,” which made me uncomfortable because I am anything but a salesperson, but he was listening to my every word, so discomfort won out.

While taking a gorgeous girl’s order, the kind I usually looked at feeling jealous of with her perfect hair and flawless makeup and super-cute flattering outfit that looked amazing on her rockin’ bod (she must have been a junior or senior, because she’d had time to lose the inevitable “freshman 15″ and “sophomore 20”), she finished by saying to me, “…And I just have to tell you, you are really beautiful. Your smile is so radiant and like, sincere or something. It just really made my day, thanks for that.” And she walked away to wait for her food.

I was stunned. She had just said that to me? I had occasionally received compliments from strange guys while working and even a couple phone numbers hastily written on receipts and given back to me, and those instances were incredibly flattering. But this was different. This girl wasn’t hitting on me, she had complimented me just for the sake of being kind and bringing happiness to me, a stranger, for just a moment, but of course she had no idea how her words changed my whole day, effected the rest of my week, are a memory I still think of as I vow to be more like her.

But complimenting strangers or people you hardly ever talk to is not always that easy. Sometimes your comfort zone just wants to talk you out of it. “No, don’t say anything! She’ll think you’re pathetic because she’s probably actually a total snot who is so full of herself and has no need for more compliments, and she’ll pity you for thinking that a compliment coming from lowly you could possibly mean anything to her. Or she’ll think you’re some kind of stalker who’s like, totally obsessed. She’ll give an uncomfortable smile before walking away hastily to have a restraining order placed… no no, say nothing. It would do way more harm than good.” Comfort Zone is incredibly logical and knows all the good, albeit ridiculous reasons for not doing something. “Just stick to complimenting the people you know,” it says. And while I think that is very nice and incredibly appreciated, there’s just something really special and meaningful about a compliment from a stranger. A compliment from a person who has absolutely zero obligation to give you one.

Oh wait, here I am talking about compliments and you’re thinking, “What the heck does this have to do with the title and first paragraph of this post?!” Or perhaps you’ve made the connection that I’m intending but are holding out hope that you’re missing something, because oh puh-lease, I can’t possibly be that naive or foolish or vain or superficial to honestly think that compliments have the power to change our world for the better.

But wait! Hear me out. Because that’s exactly what I think.

If that one Taco Bell-loving beauty’s compliment to me has stayed in my mind these past eight years, urging me to give compliments more freely in public restrooms (“Hey, you have beautiful hair. And your outfit is super duper cute.”), on Facebook (Wow, she looks so pretty in this picture. *Scroll, scroll, scroll.* Wait, if I think she looks pretty, I should tell her that. *Scroll up, scroll up, scroll up.* “You are so pretty, and your flawless complexion is radiant!” ENTER.), and in toy stores, leaning against a display while my child plays, watching another mom do the same thing four feet away with her toddler, but also shushing a double stroller of newborn twins (“Your babies are adorable. I’m amazed at how good you look, way to go mom! I can only imagine how difficult it must be to get all of you dressed, presentable, and out of the house together on the same day. Seriously, good job.”), then I can only hope I’ve had a similar impact on at least a few people as well. And if each of them had a positive impact on a few more people… well, you know how the snowball effect works.

But really, how much good can a simple compliment do? For as little effort as it takes to give one, I believe its influence is truly powerful.

To continue with my college theme today, there was a guy in one of my classes who shared a very personal story during a particularly moving lecture. In high school, he had been a loner. He preferred it that way, because in middle school he’d been bullied, and so being under the radar felt much better than being on it. But he had no friends, his family life was severely lacking, nothing brought him joy. Drawing and painting were his main hobbies, and he took an art class in school. He said all his works were dark, created with anger and sadness, so constantly expressing those emotions only sunk him deeper into his despair. He began to plan his suicide. He’d made a few cutting attempts, but on one particular day he was thinking of the bottle of pills he was going to swallow in the bathroom that night. Art was the last hour of the school day, and he was finishing a self-portrait. A classmate walked behind him and stopped to say, “You know, you’re really talented. I’ve been admiring your work all semester, there’s so much feeling behind each one. Are you going to pursue an art career?”

The guy was speechless. He didn’t talk much anyway, so it took some effort to mumble, “Thanks. I’m not really sure. Haven’t thought much about it.”

The response: “Well you should. I think you’re good enough.”

The guy made no more suicide attempts. His life didn’t change drastically all of a sudden, but someone had noticed him. Someone had made him feel important, like he really could have a future. Someone had seen something in him he’d never seen himself, and gradually, over time, he discovered joy.

Because of a compliment, this guy’s life was saved. I can’t help but imagine a scenario where more than one life might be saved. A similarly depressed individual with nothing to live for, bullied with an abusive upbringing, but this person is planning to not only kill himself but some others first as well–a scenario we see way too much of these days. Perhaps this individual is so far gone a compliment would do nothing, but if it had been given sooner, maybe, just maybe it could have made a difference. Changed the individual’s entire perspective like it had on my classmate.

You never know what personal, mental, emotional state people are actually in, especially a stranger. And that’s why I believe we need to make the effort to compliment anyone and everyone. When it’s someone you don’t know, it’s easiest to compliment on outward appearances. But if you have an opportunity to know a little more about the individual, always try to dig deeper. Look for anything good at all, and let them know you admire them for it. You may never know the impact you leave on them, but I’m confident it won’t be a negative one.

Because I know for me, a compliment instantly makes my day better. It makes me feel better about myself. It makes me feel connected with the person who took the time to say something nice to me, and that has a way of making me feel more connected with people in general. It makes me feel better about the world around me, because it’s an indisputable reminder that yes, there certainly are still good and kind people out there just trying to spread happiness. And once we feel good about the world, we are more likely to make a positive impact because all hope is not lost, a difference can still be made, and it can even start with you and me. It doesn’t take much–as little as 2 seconds and $0 (and maybe just a little bit of courage the first few times)–to start spreading happiness and giving others a reason to do the same. And as a bonus, joy will fill our own lives, because we are a source of it.