Making loss visible
I have been avoiding my Timehop app for the last month or so. I know what I was doing a year ago. I have been reliving the weeks over and over again all year. I try to relive how I felt before we knew: the light, carefree experience of bringing new life into the world. The fun of secretly unbuttoned pants hidden under an elastic band. Pinning different crib photos to my secret boards. Having two separate lists of names: one for the real ones and one for the ridiculous ones. A trust in nature, trust in my body. Trust in being on the right side of statistics. A sense that, with the right knowledge and medical care, I could lead us through this process unscathed.
I am lucky to remember the way I felt before, an artifact of a time trapped in resin. Not only have I mourned the loss of my unborn children this year, I mourn that joyful, trusting enthusiasm. My second pregnancy was not full of light and fun, it was a daily battle to hope for the best and trust in nature. I kept it more of a secret than I expected to, not sure I could manage other peoples’ thoughts and emotions on top of my own. When it ended, I stopped fighting to hope for the best. I see nature in a different way now, I have to work to accept the path it takes me down. There is no fairness or grace, just the simple facts of existence: yes or no. I can choose to move forward, backward or stay still. On this path I am not in control, I can’t outsmart it, I don’t get to choose where it takes me.
Every day I have a moment of imagining the sliding door world of spit up and sleeplessness. Five little onesies with numbered months on them, grandparent and great-grandparent visits and first Christmas memories. That world is full of choices I made, a sense of agency in chaos. That world is far from reality, but I often feel like I could just reach out and brush it with my finger tips.
Whether or not string theory is real, this is an non-visible world I visit habitually, subconsciously and daily.
The real universe I exist in is where I miscarried a child as I neared the end of the first trimester a year ago this week. After seeing a heart beat. After talking to it in my belly and feeling super awkward about it when I realized what I was doing. After reading the statistics that told me at that week it was mostly “safe”. The reality I live in includes the words “stillbirthday” and “angel baby”* and uncertainty of what my experience of motherhood will be beyond these pregnancies.
I have moments of insecurity about my grief, where I compare this to other types of losses, looking for validation and finding my own judgement. Sometimes I worry that people think this kind of loss doesn’t merit what I’m experiencing. Sometimes I worry that people think it is contagious, that if I talk about my loss they will catch it and blame me.
Sometimes I worry people think something is wrong with me or I have made a mistake.
This haunts me the most, because I am not the only one that thinks this way. It is so tempting when something inexplicably bad happens to point a finger somewhere. In this reality, people try to blame me for it. Whether or not they intend to blame me, they are looking for a reason out of fear for themselves. I recognize it because I have done it to others. Questions about my health, my habits, my medications, advice on things to try. We are hunting for a reason beyond the facts of not being in control, that this was somehow a choice that was made or a defect that could be addressed. That they could make a different choice or identify and address defects and be “safe”. Reality check: after lots of tests, there is no evidence of any labels or obvious defects at this time. I am of “advanced maternal age” but whenever I bring that up as a possible explanation I hear about an aunt or sister or wife that was 40+ when they had their oldest. There are still a couple of unlikely things to check out, but in the end it may be unsolved. This reality is full of questions that really can’t be answered by any doctor, therapist, religious leader, well meaning friend or relative.
It also is full of deeply caring, empathetic friends and family, doctors and therapists, and an unexpected clarity of what to give a fuck about and who to listen to.
There is so much invisibility in an early pregnancy loss. A year ago, most people had no idea that something — someone — had died inside me, that I was carrying that tiny body in me like a living coffin. My body was so good at holding on. A year ago I felt like my reality was non-visible, an alternate universe that I was trapped in. A world that if other people could notice, they would reach out and brush with their fingers. I wished for that, but it took me months to find ways I could share it publicly.
I needed a ritual, a rite. A silent, automatic signal to others to send love, to tread lightly and respectfully around this very specific grief. We don’t have that for invisible loss. No memorials or obituaries or services for a loss that society doesn’t witness. Grieving mothers of pregnancy loss have to make up our own from scratch, there is no comforting cultural structure to turn to for those that want it. If we seek comfort from the community at large, we first must assert our identity as mothers, explain our right to grieve as we need to, and build our own language* and tradition around the experience.
My Timehop app won’t show me commemorative photos, facebook doesn’t remember what I was doing last year because I didn’t know how I could share this a year ago. They won’t show me anything that honors the heartache, because it remains invisible until I talk about it. I am the witness.
To honor the upcoming one year anniversary of my loss, the first stillbirthday of my first pregnancy, I make it visible in this small way.
*I prefer “ghost baby”.