Justifiable Grief in the Wake of Early Pregnancy Loss
Four Mondays ago, I experienced a new kind of emotion. It was akin to grief, but it felt more like a supernova in a part of my brain I never knew existed.
I woke up that day with rhythmic cramps that seemed to wrap themselves like boa constrictors around my pelvis and back. I sped to my bathroom where I sat, chest-to-knees, as I watched blood and clots pour out of me. I had zero doubt about what was happening, but my instinct was to question the reality of my own experience. This can’t be what I think it is. So, I cleaned myself up, crammed an arsenal of tampons in my purse, and left for work.
A month prior, I found my IUD on the floor. Yes, on the floor. My boyfriend picked it up thinking it was an accessory to one of my son’s superhero action figures (kind of looks like a tiny crossbow, no?). First, we laughed hard at the absurd sitcom sketch that was our morning. But seconds later, we thought, “Oh no, how long has it been out?” At that moment, I joined the 2–8% of women who find themselves IUD-less, perplexed over how it could have happened. I phoned my doctor, who saw me right away. I handed her my IUD in a plastic bag like crime scene evidence. If her reaction was any sign, it was not an everyday sight for her. That day, I began the first of a series of urine pregnancy tests I would take over the next couple of weeks. First urine pregnancy test: negative.
I felt “pregnancy-like” symptoms for about a month following my IUD’s bold escape from uterus prison. But I chalked those up to the hormonal “crash” that’s sometimes felt after the removal of an IUD (or expulsion, in my case). I don’t know. My body felt different, but as a mother of an almost five-year-old boy, it was a familiar different. Second urine pregnancy test: negative. Third urine pregnancy test (at home, one week later): negative. Sanity: doubted.
I continued to experience “rushes” of blood and intermittent cramps on the Tuesday after that gore-filled Monday. Once again, I visited my doctor; this time I shared with her the details of what I went through the day before. The doctor tilted her head, and with an unsettling monotone, she said, “Huh. It sounds like you could be experiencing an early miscarriage, but it’s probably a very early miscarriage.” The first part of her statement roused within me this nondescript, yet cataclysmic flood of emotions. It felt as if the floor beneath me was splitting open, threatening to catapult me downwards into a fiery abyss. At first, it didn’t feel like trepidation, sadness, or any decipherable response. Instead, I felt almost electrified by the validation of my ordeal. Every emotion I was capable of feeling was firing on all cylinders — all at once. At the same time, I shunned the state in which I found myself. Laurel, this is a ‘very early miscarriage.’ We weren’t trying to have a baby anyway. It’s inconsequential, Laurel. Stop. It’s on par with getting a cold, gaining two pounds, or spilling an unmemorable cup of gas station coffee on the floor. Don’t be dramatic. You’re always dramatic.
My doctor ordered a quantitative Hcg test to measure the exact level of the pregnancy hormone in my blood. The phlebotomist confirmed my name and date of birth. She then glanced at the reason for the test and gushed, “Pregnancy test! How exciting!”
I pressed the nail of my index finger into the flesh of my thumb and replied, “No, not exciting. I’m confirming a miscarriage.”
She woefully handed me an extra juice box as a consolation for the awkwardness she caused. Despite my shaky emotional state, I headed to work. There, outside my office building, I found the steady arms of my boyfriend with whom I cried the first of my tears.
The cadence of the day went like this: I went to the bathroom, then back to my desk, then back to the bathroom, then back to my desk about every forty-five minutes. Each time, I wiped my tears, fixed my makeup, and hoped to God no one noticed my unhinged state. On the last of those many bathroom trips, I found myself trembling with fear as I passed what looked like tiny bits of gray, jelly-like tissue. After thirty minutes of bogarting the accessible stall, I needed to get out. I went back to my desk, fetched my computer, and hailed a cab. Omigod, please don’t bleed on this guy’s seat.
I made it home where I let myself fall like a broken marionette on the living room couch. I couldn’t stop chastising myself. I kept thinking; this is nothing, WHY are you acting this way? Your feelings are out of proportion! By nightfall, the bleeding ceased, but the cramps continued for another week. It took seven more days of introspection before I could parse out and identify what I was feeling during that time.
Hello, Mr. Guilt. The miscarriage was early, maybe five weeks. I acknowledged my miscarriage as a “loss,” but I also felt that I had no right to grieve or to miss even one day of work. It would be ridiculous. In fact, I felt guilty for feeling anything resembling grief. How dare I take up space with my grief when other women experience real pregnancy loss at 12 weeks, 18 weeks, 30 weeks? My pain felt misplaced and unjustified as if its very existence diminished the grief of others.
Walk in shame; live in the lonely. Shame and its confidant, loneliness, invaded my thoughts. Up to 25% of all women will experience a miscarriage at some point in their lives, yet talking about miscarriage out loud is akin to “airing one’s dirty laundry.” It’s an “uncomfortable” topic. It’s a “private” matter. Miscarriages are in the “unmentionables” category. Often, the very word, “miscarriage” elicits a sheepish, “I’m sorry” followed by a multi-layered look of concern, blame, and judgment. She must have done something to cause it; too many drinks; too many cigarettes; too many squats at the gym. Why is blame still a knee-jerk reaction to something as common as a miscarriage? It seems that our society still cannot accept that some pregnancies are simply lost, often without a clear explanation.
There’s no resisting Lady Loss and Lord Grief. My pregnancy was just a cluster of cells, a “primitive” mass. But that didn’t matter. My sense of loss was so deep that I felt it necessary to hollow out a place in my heart for it to dwell, indefinitely. I kept asking myself, “How could I grieve so much over something that barely was, and could never be?” It’s a question I will continue to ask myself even though I know I won’t find the answer.
Four Mondays later, I’ve made a conscious decision to relinquish the power I’d been giving to guilt, shame, and loneliness. I’ve accepted that emotions often run together in packs, sometimes creating new and often unnamable emotions out of their unity. Grief doesn’t need to be justifiable based on how others perceive and measure the severity of the loss. There’s no appropriate intensity or timetable for when grief will subside.
Grief just is, and however it is, it’s exactly how it should be.