Lessons on Miscarriage

Last week I had a miscarriage.

Let me rephrase. Last week I found out I likely had a miscarriage two weeks prior–no notice, only my gut pulling me in the direction of doubt as the nausea I experienced differed from what I had experienced with my daughters.

“I bet it’s a boy!” everyone encouraged.

But the doubt gnawed then bit hard when the ultrasound tech looked up at me with a question I had never been asked before: “How certain are you on your dates?”

They told me to wait a week and then do another ultrasound, but the signs were pointing to miscarriage–no heartbeat at what should have been eight weeks.

Lesson One: There might not be any signs, at least not what you would expect, and all the while you are growing more attached to your forming child.

In true kick-you-when-you’re-down fashion, I learned a lot more in the following days.

Lesson Two: You’re not the only one this is happening to. I pray you have a partner there to hold your hand, but, let me tell you, looking over on the drive home and seeing the person you consider your rock and stability silently in tears, well, it’s like hearing the news all over again.

Lesson Three: Nausea remains. Soreness remains. Exhaustion remains. One may experience these symptoms anywhere from nine to thirty-five days after a miscarriage. Screw that, I thought. Screw that, I still think.

Worst of all, these symptoms planted the worst kind of seed during those excruciatingly long seven days: Hope.

I lay in bed on Mother’s Day (fun timing), crying over the anticipated pain. Then I cried with guilt, thinking of my beautifully scrappy and brilliant daughters being on the other side of the door, wondering where I was.

Any hope was crushed by the silent, bleak ultrasound screen staring back at us the following Thursday. Right on time–the blow I had mentally prepared for, but couldn’t prepare for emotionally.

Lesson Four: You have to decide what to do next. The baby is gone but may remain inside you. You have a decision to make: surgery, pill, or wait it out. No kind option. You have so much to consider. You have to act on your feet when all you really want to do is curl up in a ball in the corner of the exam room.

Why am I writing this down? WHY would I share this? Not because it’s fun or easy to share. I’m all about managing expectations. Miscarriage is ridiculously common, yet we don’t talk about it or inform the next person about what to expect. And no matter how much I realize it’s not my fault, I still feel like I messed up. I still feel guilt. Anger. Sadness. And just plain emptiness.

I read this beautiful essay on needing to talk openly about miscarriage that resonated with me so deeply, I cried in a cathartic and perfect way. This might not feel right for everyone, which I completely respect and understand.

For me, it has helped immensely to talk about it. As though each time I expose this wound to a new person, they might have just the right ointment for that moment–a proper hug, a new perspective, a story of their own to share–until it feels healed.

Deep down, I know it will never truly feel healed, because if it were, it would be like it never happened, which I couldn’t bear either. Because whether or not they were going to make it, they were still my baby–on path to be as special as my first two children, an exact, unique, one-time-only-opportunity child of ours. And they are gone forever. That might shatter my heart each time I stop to think about it–no matter how many years pass, let alone weeks.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much wisdom to impart on how to prepare another person for this. Except to say–spend your whole life making the type of friends I have. Yes, I am struggling, but my friends have knocked me over with their support. Their pastries dropped on our stoop. Their shared tears. Their flowers. Their texts. Their meals. Their offers of childcare. Their just plain love. Find these people. Love them in tangible ways. Because the love they showed up with was something I could touch and grasp at a time when I badly needed something to grasp onto.

Lesson Five: My loss was not preventable, but many miscarriages are–especially for women of color. In the midst of all this, I attended a presentation by the (amazing) Sister’s Keeper Collective. I was reminded of my privilege as a white woman and the systemic racism which makes pregnancy and birth so much more dangerous for Black women in this country. Black infants have double the mortality rates of their white counterparts. Not only that–maternal mortality is worse that it was twenty-five years ago. I thought about how crushed I felt at eight weeks. How could so many go through this loss when it was preventable and predictable? Which leads me to…

Lesson Six: We women are strong. We are fierce and we are capable. We grow and sustain life while growing and sustaining ourselves, and glorious moments arise from that privilege. But there is also pain. There is also risk. There is also darkness. Physical and otherwise. We are asked to overcome it–quickly and with a smile on our faces. And we do. I might cry at my office every day around eleven, and then again at three, but I sure as hell better turn that around by pickup at five.

I am blown away by the fact that women experience this darkness so regularly–in their struggles to get pregnant, in their loss during and after pregnancy, in the loss of their own lives or loved ones. I see you more fully now. And that is a gift. One I will never take for granted. I am staring at your strength and it is strengthening me, telling me to pick up the pieces and try again one day. Which–in all honesty–I would not have the strength to consider otherwise.

–Emily, Mother of Three

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