I found out I was pregnant in July. I was ecstatic, we had been trying and I was using all the DIY science I could to make it happen. It was fun, taking temperatures and looking for lines on pee sticks. And even more fun when it turned out it worked.
In September I learned it was over. We had just seen the heartbeat the week before, and we were starting to narrow down names and get our lives ready for major upheaval. And I was devastated. It was a missed miscarriage, meaning the fetus had died but my body hadn’t noticed. I chose to wait for my body to catch up to what the authoritative science had learned, to miscarry with no medical interventions. I spent 9 days knowing what was inside me wasn’t alive anymore, waiting for my body to know as well. It was important to me that my body figured it out if possible, so I could trust it again in the future. I was so grateful to the women that were open about their own experiences with miscarriage, online and in person. I was so grateful to people in grief that were honest and vulnerable and set an amazing example of how to experience loss by looking it in the face.
I have realized, as I quietly grieved and that grief has turned into depression, I don’t feel like I own my own story and I need to do that in order to carry this forward. I have tried for the last three months to articulate this in a way that people will hear it best: witty, brief, full of data. I have decided to stop caring, for the moment, about what is best for other people and just say what I need the world to know.
I need people to know that this is a big deal for me. Most of the women that have experienced this that I have spoken with think it is a big deal. My world view totally changed in the span of minutes. Research says not everyone reacts this way, and I can imagine circumstances or world views that might make that true. I haven’t met anyone who thought their miscarriage wasn’t a big deal, yet I have felt that people don’t expect that I am still actively grieving this. People don’t hear about pregnancy loss grief, therefore pregnancy loss grief isn’t a thing. I conclude that many of us are not talking about our pregnancy loss grief because either we are ashamed of whatever part we we think we might have taken in it or it makes others uncomfortable, but not because we aren’t grieving.
This was my child. Not one that I changed diapers or listened to its breath while it slept, but one I imagined those things with. I looked at pictures of baby Jose and baby Nina and looked forward to seeing pieces of us come together in a way that has never happened before. I have a very vivid imagination, one that is honed with decades of training and practice in not one imagination based art form, but two. This little bean was inside me for almost 12 weeks. It was my first pregnancy, nothing can ever be that again. Pregnancy, motherhood and miscarriage aren’t abstract notions like they once were for me. I know what it looks like, smells like, feels like and I can never forget it.
Doctors couldn’t do anything about this. We talked about it. I asked them to stop it, if I could do something about it. I asked them what to expect now, and even that answer was too vague to be helpful. My body didn’t do this, my behavior didn’t do this. There isn’t anything I can change to make sure it never happens again. Making life is difficult and complex, and 1 in 5 times it doesn’t work out. Implying there might be something I could do next time inadvertently blames me for what happened this time. Part of this grief is the loss of an innocence, the idea that doctors can always help and I have agency over this process.
There are no triggers, just every day life. This is on my mind. It is part of my reality. Everyone was a baby. There is nothing that isn’t potentially a trigger, so therefore there are no triggers. Christmas, my birthday, funerals, weddings, trips to Target, happy friends sharing good news. Everything in the world has babies, pregnancy, children and joy tied to it. Babies sell us things ALL THE TIME. This is a pervasive grief. A different kind of trauma than what I have experienced. It happened in my body, to my body, I shared it with someone I love very much. It took away something I wanted very much, that I had worked for and dreamed about. It was terrifying and I couldn’t control it.
Grief and trauma isn’t a contest or a race. It is binary, you have it or you don’t. Comparing stories to try to place trauma or grief on a value scale to decide whether or not some quantity of sadness is deserved is not doing anyone any favors. I spent 15 years ignoring my sexual trauma because it “wasn’t so bad” and I “don’t think it counts” compared to stories I knew from others. And I spent those 15 years frozen in amber, not healing. Grief and trauma are unique and complex to each individual and the relationships that surround them. “It could be worse” and “get over it” are the flip side to “your loss is more valuable than mine, so I won’t acknowledge my own.”
I would have had no idea what to say to me either. When I was desperately looking for information about what I was about to go through, I realized I had previously viewed this kind of thing as a minor setback prior to experiencing it rather than a profound loss. I heard about miscarriages after the parents had given birth to a healthy child or were far enough along in a subsequent pregnancy to feel it was “safe” so I just assumed they were fine now they had reached their goal. I feel guilty about being so emotionally blind. I have been described as excessively empathetic, and if I thought that way, I guessed most other people thought that way as well. I was too uncomfortable to try to understand. Knowing this about myself has prevented me from talking about it. It was hard to put myself out there in a world that didn’t seem likely to understand.
Stop before you comfort me with anything that starts with “At least…” Don’t try to solve this, it isn’t solvable. Well meaning folks look on the positive side of things, but diminish the real emotion around loss. I spent weeks saying “at least I can get pregnant” and that didn’t make my grief less, it just made me feel like I was weak and ungrateful for still feeling lost. It isn’t hopeful to look on the bright side, it is a method of numbing out pain and prevents us from doing he things that help us carry around this every day. It is a way to make everyone else comfortable again when an uncomfortable topic comes up. I am not comforted, and I don’t have the bandwidth to manage your discomfort at the moment.
I have spent the last decade dealing with things that would make being a mother difficult: ADHD, depression, addictions. I waited as long as I felt comfortable before we started trying, hoping that I would have my shit together a little bit more. I don’t take this miscarriage as a sign from above I am not ready or shouldn’t have waited. I am so glad I waited because this would have fucked me up had I tried this at any other point in my life and lost. I would have given up or taken it as a judgement on my own value as a person. Even now I still have moments of superstition and doubt.
When you casually ask if a person is going to have kids, be ready for answers that might make you uncomfortable. If you insinuate that someone should have kids, get ready for emotional responses that will make you uncomfortable. If you hand me a baby without asking me if I want to hold it, get ready for me to be uncomfortable and possibly lash out to make you feel some discomfort as well. Loss is part of parenting, part of loving. It isn’t like I am not sitting here hurting before this stuff happens. But I have to choose if I have the energy to make you realize that the question is more complex and personal than well-meaning people think.
Men experience this loss as well. It isn’t my story to tell, but I can say how much of a difference it made when Jose has shared his experience. Our experience is different, our grief is different, but it helps me to know that I am not alone.
This was invisible to most people. We had told a handful of people early on we were pregnant, and we had to untell them. This was so NOT the worst part of this for me, contrary to what the culture around fertility and pregnancy might have you think. Waiting 12 weeks to share if you are pregnant, or when it is “safe,” feels totally arbitrary now that I am well versed in the miscarriage and infant loss literature. Yes, loss is more likely in the first trimester. But the loss doesn’t have a different outcome at any point in the pregnancy. Especially now that we can know we are pregnant so soon, we have more time to prepare and imagine a future with this child. Is this about not wanting to look too hopeful or excited? I can think of a lot worse things to be than too hopeful or excited. Everyone should choose their own best time to bring other people into this process, but hopefully that choice isn’t about a fear of looking silly. It was not the worst part, having to tell people that knew I was pregnant that I my fetus’ heart stopped. The worst part, for me, was feeling invisible in my grief.