He never wanted the baby. He said so. It hurt me, though I tried my best to mask the hurt, to fold it into my grief over the loss itself. I wanted him to want this baby. I wanted this baby. I desperately wanted this baby. Though I can’t really tell you why. Because, more than a year after giving birth to death in the toilet, I don’t long for her. I now feel a sinister relief that I did miscarry. He, at 51 and I, at 47, have long past the age of nighttime feedings, diaper changes, teething and slobbering and the terrible twos. At our age, having a baby seems like a ridiculous pipe dream.
Still, miscarrying remains the single deepest and most intense loss of my life. But why? Unlike other losses I’ve endured, this one did not centre on a personality, a voice, a face, a smile, a smell, a particular way of walking, of laughing. No, this loss felt more visceral. Emotionally visceral. I lost the only being that knew the sound of my heartbeat from inside my body. That I didn’t know her as an individual doesn’t seem to matter. Why? I don’t know. It all seems to point to grief as an outpost of self-centredness. Do we grieve because of the impact the loss has upon us? Or does grief have a metaphysical dynamic to it? I mean metaphysical in the sense that the sudden and permanent absence marks us indelibly.
This whiplashing from 10 weeks pregnant to not pregnant injected so much chaos into my body and mind. I found the emotional, intrauterine and metabolic changes dizzying: from hot to cold, sad to enraged, elated to despairing, from no vaginal bleeding to profuse, prolonged vaginal bleeding. I felt hollow, shelled out. I endured labour and delivery and did not get the prize at the end of that painful journey. Before my miscarriage I discounted the devastation of the miscarriage experience. I had no idea how primal and visceral it would feel — had never given it any thought. In a journal entry, written three days after the miscarriage, I wrote,
“… part of the devastation of miscarriage lies purely in the actual physiologic, biologic experience of it — the profuse hemorrhaging, the pain unlike any other, the knowledge of giving birth to a dead and unrecognizable thing that, somehow, disturbingly, you can recognize.”
I hadn’t counted on how I’d feel eviscerated, having irrevocably lost something, something I could never ever get back or have again. I suddenly understood the sentiment behind the French way of saying I miss you — tu me manques, you are missing from me. In those days immediately following the carnage of my miscarriage, I had no idea what to do with my grief; it possessed me. It felt so intense and immense. I could not contain it, nor could it contain itself. It spread all around and through me, like oil — a giant oil slick in coastal waters. I felt like one of those terns or seagull stuck and suffocating in a slick of oil, pulled deep under, to where light cannot penetrate.
My baby belonged to me. She belonged to me first. Before him, before the world. We conceived her inside me. She was a part of my body. And I carried her for her entire life. I love this baby, without her having done anything to deserve it, because a mother’s love transcends all notions of deserving. I loved her even before she arrived. I love her now, long after she departed from me. The beauty of pregnancy lies in the fact that it makes the mother a participant in creation, as she nurtures the life the universe knits within her uterus.
The horror of miscarriage lies in the fact that, within minutes and through some esoteric physiologic machinations, the universe stops knitting this life, which then gets violently flushed from the uterus. The horror of miscarriage also lies in the contemporary society’s failure to recognize the unborn as a meaningful life. If the unborn child has no meaning, then surely any grief felt for her has no meaning? How can I juxtapose feeling such soul-shredding grief for a life that supposedly never even existed? Feminism has ribbons and hashtag campaigns for sexual assault, for reproductive rights, for body image. It has marches for Take Back The Night and Slutwalk. It offers nothing for women who’ve experienced pregnancy loss.
Silence, that’s what society offers women like me. How can I mend my broken self and heal the grief while the world bombards me with messages that my baby was not a baby at all, only a clump of cells, a parasitic entity? How can I move through grief deemed meaningless? How do I swallow messages like it was meant to be, or you can have another, messages told to me as an offer of comfort, messages that have quite the opposite effect? Would you tell parents who lost their child to a terminal illness or trauma these so-called words of comfort? Should we consider our children like we consider our toothbrushes, disposable, entirely replaceable, and generally intrinsically meaningless?
Six days after the miscarriage I wrote in my journal,
“I am angry. And that is an understatement. It’s not just anger though. It’s disbelief, mistrust. Suspicion. Thinking the worst, instantly, mercilessly. And then reveling in it. Resentment rooted in anger certainly takes on the rich and sinister shade of jealously. And something more — a sort of bitter bouquet. Bitter like cloves. Bitter like that wretched marmite or vegemite. Bitter like still hating on the past. Bitter like not having the capacity to forgive the one who wounded you so deeply, and having that incapacity squeeze your joy out. Like a corset too tight or a carapace that did not grow to accommodate the expanding soft tissue it’s meant to protect. Like having this incapacity seep into the depths of your relationships: a fast spreading gangrene or decay or fire. Bitter like fire, fire that no one can see, fire that, on good days, you question it’s presence.”
Society has names for other women: bride, wife, widow, divorcée. Society has no names for parents who lose their children. Society has no names for mothers who suffer pregnancy loss. Why? Why this selective compartmentalization? We cannot speak of something if we have no language to describe it. That we have no language to describe the pregnancy loss experience seems, to me, deliberate. In the wake of my pregnancy loss, I sought out the stories of others, stories appearing in print in the bookstore. I found none. I found all sorts of books describing women’s birthing stories, detailing at length the pregnancy experience. I found no books for those who’ve endured pregnancy loss by those who’ve endured pregnancy loss. How telling, I whispered quietly to myself.
Pregnancy loss has become that secret, silent and dirty thing that we mustn’t talk or write about for fear of polluting the masses. It’s a kind of contamination that society must contain at all costs. Pregnancy loss, unfortunately, has become the kind of carnage no one wants to see. We seem okay watching humans stab zombified humans in the head for entertainment purposes. We seem utterly offended when faced with devastating carnage that touches the lives of 1 in 4 women. This seems baffling to me. And, frankly, I’ve grown tired and bored of worrying that I’ll offend people when I speak of my miscarriage. When we silence women who’ve experienced pregnancy loss, we tell them their loss doesn’t matter.
In the vernacular, we call it miscarriage — a word laden with so much veiled blame. Dictionary definitions of the word miscarry bear this out: to fail to attain the right or desired end; to be unsuccessful; to go astray or be lost in transit. Similarly the word abort (the term “natural abortion” is sometimes used in the place of the word “miscarriage”) has disturbing connotations: to fail or stop at an early or premature stage; to cause to cease or end at an early or premature stage; to cause to be abandoned. Wow. That sounds harsh. Miscarry, abort, terminate — these words sound so militaristic. It’s society’s attempt to neatly package the carnage and deep suffering of pregnancy loss.
When we use words like miscarry, abort, terminate to describe pregnancy loss we reinforce the guilt and shame felt by women who’ve endured pregnancy loss. Carl Jung said that shame is a soul eating emotion. I agree, and believe that shame, when folded into grief, deepens, widens and intensifies the grief. In my case, it rendered my passion catatonic. It also doused the flames of my feminine fire — I craved no intimacy in the aftermath of the miscarriage and still don’t. I feel as though I might never again. How can something so tiny carry so much with her into the afterlife?
KINTSUGI AND THE BLUE OF BEYOND
My online search for support turned out equally as fruitless as had my library and bookstore search. I found forum upon forum thread containing mawkish entries about angel babies that really look more like bloody prawns partially covered in clot membranes. I did not find this at all comforting, this contingent of women who deep-sea dived into their pregnancy loss experience and could not find their way toward healing and continuation of life.
I don’t mean to sound flippant or cold. I don’t want to live my life in the experience of my pregnancy loss. I don’t want it to define me. I want it to strengthen me, I want my pregnancy loss experience to serve as my very own kintsugi. Kintsugi, the art of repairing broken pottery, does not seek to hide or disguise the breakage, rather it endeavours to incorporate the breakage into the object, to see the broken bits as beautiful, and the breakage point as strengthened. The object does not remain broken, kintsugi rebuilds it, and we get to see the beauty of a broken thing. I moved through the pregnancy loss grieving process, with this objective, with this destination, in mind.
Have I gotten there? How can we ever really know if we achieved healing from grief? I’m not convinced we can heal from grief in an absolute way. Because loss endures forever, grief becomes permanent, we can only adapt to the presence of absence. I’m inclined to think of healing in this context as a horizon, a sort of blue contour we strive toward, though never really definitively reach. Because, as long as I live I will wake up without that tiny life that slid out of me, on a gushing stream of crimson, dead and clotted and bloody, one cold November midnight in 2014.