Living through the grief of a miscarriage
I recently read Suleika Jaouad’s moving memoir, ‘Between Two Kingdoms’, for the second time, after knowing that she has a cancer relapse and that she wedded the love of her life whom she wrote about in the book.
I thought about the first time I read the book and how different life circumstance has been at the present moment.
Her memoir arrived in the mail last year when I was navigating through a miscarriage, unexpectedly became a loyal companion I sought comfort from in a turbulent period.
It was quite something to go to the gynaecologist armed with two positive pregnancy tests and anticipation for a new child, only to be told that yes, there was a pregnancy, but there was no sign of life in my womb.
Instead of declaring a nonviable pregnancy straight away, the standard practice was to allow room for doubt, maybe I got the date wrong. The next appointment was scheduled two weeks later.
At (supposedly) 8 weeks pregnant, I was 100% certain of the date of my last period. And yet, I couldn’t help hoping that somehow, this time, my body was functioning at its own pace. Maybe, maybe, maybe… The foetus was just developing slower.
It humbled me that while this pregnancy was happening in my body, I had no control at all and was utterly powerless about the intricate mechanisms and systems that keep me alive — a realisation that this body is mine but I don’t own it.
In those two weeks, I constantly grappled with a fragile sense of hope and the vulnerability of being hopeful. Having hope means opening myself up to profound disappointment — but I can’t not have hope. Even though I knew the hard facts weren’t in my favour, my maternal instinct didn’t allow me to see my pregnancy as a failure, I just couldn’t.
The D-day came, there was no miracle.
The doctor advised us to let the miscarriage happen naturally, inducting us into an endless waiting game. It was torturing to live a life disrupted by pregnancy hormones, knowing that all those unpleasant symptoms I felt served no purpose. What for? I felt wronged but there was nowhere I could direct my blame.
Two more biweekly appointments later, there was still no miscarriage. The doctor told me that my low energy should have nothing to do with the pregnancy. On the next appointment, I requested a D&C surgery which was arranged swiftly to happen two days later.
Strangely, I looked forward to having the surgery. By the time I left the hospital, I was already feeling more like my usual self, buoyed by a sense of relief that I could finally move on.
3 months of my life had passed from the first doctor visit to the surgery, where I often found myself in a slump of low energy and disinterest in life. I found parallels between my situation and Suleika’s cancer when I read her memoir. The wait to find out the presence of a foetus was like Suleika’s anxious wait in receiving the results of a biopsy or blood test. There could only be two possible outcomes on the opposite continuum that we had no control of, and yet, we couldn’t help but HOPE.
I knew that everyone is on a unique path living our own lives, but I subconsciously compared my circumstance to Suleika’s 4 years of hard battle against cancer, thinking, ‘oh, this is nothing compared to that, I should be grateful’.
I soldiered through the miscarriage stoically, denying heartbreak, and downplaying my emotions.
“There wasn’t a life to begin with, so I don’t feel like I lose something.”
This was my response when people close to me inquired gently, and I know now I needed that facade to keep myself from falling apart.
“Trauma is not what happened to you, it is what happened inside you.” — Dr. Gabor Mate
The clarity about everything I’d gone through surfaced half a year later when I found out that I was pregnant again.
This time, armed with two positive home pregnancy tests, there was no joy, no anticipation, only a heavily guarded heart filled with fear that it might get broken again.
It was at this time I realised that the miscarriage carried a heart-breaking kind of pain.
After the first appointment with the gynaecologist was made, it was given the code ‘D-day’ in my diary.
I was too scared to allow the slightest hint of joy to enter my being, telling my husband I am pregnant only after I see the proof of life, the blurry image of an ultrasound scan.
In the doctor’s room, when he mentioned that I had a pregnancy in 2021 and this was my third pregnancy, I felt a slight pang of hurt.
Lying on the sterilised white bed with some icy liquid spread on my belly, I saw it on the screen — the tiny blurry mass that I feared was not there. Does it have a heartbeat? My heart started racing wildly.
The doctor told me to hold my breath for a second and only I knew the reason why.
“Everything looks normal, congratulation.”
Little did the doctor know that his monotonous, standard congratulatory note meant a huge victory to me.
Even after the checkup, insecurity overshadowed joy throughout the first trimester. I could not shake off the worry that something unexpected might happen.
When I told a friend how my miscarriage inspired the idea of a community event based on Suleika’s TED talk and how I felt about my pregnancy, he told me what I carried with me was ‘grief’.
GRIEF, such a simple word. Hearing it was a silent moment that created a quantum shift in my being.
All those feelings I swept under the rug still lurked deep in my psyche — hurt, heartbreak, pain, loneliness.
I have no idea how healing works, but being able to label the emotion ‘grief’ somehow loosens its grasp on my being.
I know now that I carry pain in me and I am capable of living with it, that being able to feel the full spectrum of emotions from great joy to excruciating pain makes me whole as a person, and I have the capacity to carry these with me.
In her TED talk, Suleika said, ”when you’ve suffered a loss or a trauma, the impulse can be to guard your heart. But Howard urged me to open myself up to uncertainty, to the possibilities of new love, new loss.“
Yes, yes, and yes — I allow my heart to go all out in loving, longing, and celebrating the miraculous being who is already a part of me, allowing his presence to present its gift in my life.
Hi, I am Isabelle, author of ‘The Art of Owning Your Story’ and ‘Heart’, I write about my life experiences and exploration, building a community ‘Own Your Story’ to create a safe space that nurtures conversation and self-knowledge. You can hop on to www.isabellethye.com to read more articles.
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