Miscarriage and Messy Spirituality

Making Meaning and Connection through Loss

This is not a neat and clean piece of writing, not an “everything happens for a reason” story. This is also not a prescriptive story, not a story that I tell so that others can compare and contrast their experience to my own.

This is a vulnerability story, a bloody, messy, heartbreak story. (This being said, if you’ve experienced a pregnancy loss or other trauma, feel free to excuse yourself from reading on if you don’t feel strong enough to take in another vivid story of loss.) This is a story without an ending, one whose ending is still being lived out. One that doesn’t get told enough, and happens far too often.

This is a story about a loss that many would not even characterize a loss, one mostly invisible to the eye.

This is a story about my miscarriage.

I’ve thought long and hard in these four months since my early miscarriage in July about whether or not I wanted to share my story. Pregnancy loss is such a dark and secretive place, full of of unwarranted shame and isolation. We don’t talk about it, we don’t post about it on Facebook, some of us don’t even share it with those closest to us.

And on top of that, I hold my personal writing in a public sphere in great scrutiny as a therapist. No, I’m not one of those therapists who deflects all personal questions and thinks of myself as a blank slate, but I also guard my sharing so that my experience, I hope, can support and not burden my clients, whose growth and trust I cherish.

And yet. Like others who have written their way through loss, I found myself returning to writing. Writing the raw, real, physical experience of losing a wanted and tried-for baby early in the first trimester.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. And even though miscarriage is common, with statistics ranging from 10–25% of pregnancies ending in miscarriage to even higher, we don’t really talk about it. It’s still considered taboo to even mention that you are pregnant before the end of the first trimester, almost like you’ll jinx it. And in some ways, having gone through one healthy pregnancy and carrying my baby to term, it’s true that the first trimester is a strange time, one in which you feel extra tired and maybe nauseous but almost unsure if it’s really real yourself. Your baby starts out the size of a tomato seed. It’s hard to even visualize how much is happening in those early weeks and months.

Yet, for those of us trying to conceive, the moment a pregnancy test turns out positive, the moment we see a line, however faint, on the pee stick, life changes. We start to envision our future with this baby, with both excitement and anxiety. We start to plan how we will manage our life with this new reality, how our family will grow and adjust. We even see our bodies differently, taking extra care going down stairs, eating with a bit more awareness of the importance of what we are putting into our bodies. The regular exhaustion that comes with caring for a toddler with a 5:30 AM wakeup somehow seems a little more justifiable, and napping while she naps becomes expected.

For our family, we knew for less than a week that we were pregnant before I began to bleed. First, it was just spotting, and I kept hoping for the best, while a part of me already knew to plan for the worst. As the bleeding increased, it became clear that this baby was not going to join our family.

I can only imagine how this feels to women who have carried their babies for longer before the loss. How many more dreams they’ve dreamed about the future, how much more connected they feel to the tiny life growing inside.

I can only speak from my own experience. And it was still heartbreaking. I will never forget sitting around the dinner table with my family, conversation swirling around me, while I felt the blood leaving my body, literally felt my baby leaving me. How can life go on in such an ordinary fashion while I sit here, losing my baby?

My grief process, never linear, started as sadness, turned to anger: at myself for pushing myself too hard and not getting more rest, at my body for failing in this way. It progressed to false hope and denial, frantically googling discussion boards of others who had extensive bleeding but carried a healthy baby to term. Then numbness set in, fear that it would happen again, anxiety about if I can carry another healthy baby to term and if not, what that means for our little family.

Through the immensity of feelings, however, I found myself sharing about my miscarriage, not only with people closest to me, but also with my broader network of friends and colleagues. Sharing has become a part of my healing. Not to gain sympathy, not to make others uncomfortable. But to integrate my story and to connect.

So why in the world is this piece titled Miscarriage and Messy Spirituality? In the most essential way, my miscarriage has been a spiritual experience. When we define spirituality as that which gives us meaning, comfort, purpose and connection, that which moves us beyond ourselves, almost any experience has the capacity to be sacred. Especially hard ones. And our bodies are inextricably tied to our spirits. The spirituality of mindfulness is this, the practice of being in the present and in our bodies through all our experiences, including difficult ones, and noticing what it’s like to be human, finding in this practice self-compassion and connection and meaning.

So as I sat bleeding on the back porch of my parents’ house, fourth of July fireworks booming around us, my toddler asleep upstairs, I just felt it. Oh, it felt awful. Crampy and moist and icky, helpless and devastated and lonely. But still, in the midst of all that awfulness, I took each inhale, released each exhale. I tasted each bite of berry crisp and vanilla ice cream, one at a time, one moment at a time. Instead of shutting down and running away, which is impossible when the loss is so tied to my body, I set an intention to continue to stay, to stay open.

And I made a choice, to believe that while Love was not responsible for this loss or any others in my life, Love is ever so close, especially in times suffering. And that Love can hold me and us through anything, helping us find the strength we need to persevere and maybe even grow.

And when I did this, when I practiced openness and vulnerability, I found that I was actually not alone. My physician called multiple times on her day off to check on me and share her own story of loss. My parents held a supportive, loving space. My husband held me and cried with me. My friends sent me love in texts and cartons of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.

The miracle, the sacredness in the midst of my miscarriage is not in the event itself. There was and is no meaning and purpose in that from where I stand. No force of Love, no God, causes loss and suffering. There are hard things in life. We suffer, we experience pain. And yes, we can grow and learn in and through our pain, sometimes learning our most important life lessons. But that doesn’t mean that the pain was given to us for that purpose, that we were made to suffer this sad thing.

But the meaning, purpose and connection comes from integrating my miscarriage into the story of my life. It comes from my own deeper sense of connection to my body and to the fragility and miraculous nature of our lives. It comes from the preciousness of my daughter, seen with new eyes and deeper gratitude. It comes from deeper compassion and connection with the millions of other women who have experienced pregnancy loss themselves. It comes from an intentional practice of self-compassion, choosing not to add to my suffering by harsh words but practicing kindness and gentleness in my inner voice, releasing shame and guilt. It comes through releasing the fear around my lack of control with each breath to choose to trust in Love to hold me and those close to me. And most unexpectedly for me, the meaning, purpose and connection that I’ve sought and opened to through my miscarriage journey is the deepened connections with those already close to me, the increased intimacy in relationships that only happens when you walk through something hard together.

This is all done, of course, messily and imperfectly. Humanly, that is.

We often think about sacred meaning in life as something we find, something we live into or stumble across, something we grow and develop into. And sometimes this is how we experience spiritual growth, a new insight or awareness that seems to find us or open in us. This finding often takes time and perspective. Yet, I don’t think we think often enough about making meaning in and through our lives. Making versus finding implies action, agency, participation in the sacred transformations that connect us to Love beyond ourselves. It requires courage and vulnerability, trust in our resilience and in our groundedness in Something or Someone bigger than ourselves to hold us together when all we can feel is our falling apart.

And when we make meaning and connection through our experiences, we make them sacred, and they become a part of our healing. Healing is a process, just as grief is a process, and most days feel lighter than those preceding. Our capacity to feel joy grows again, just as we are still reminded with twinges of grief each time we see a pregnant woman walk past. We become more open to the possibility of trying again, holding all the while that if we are able to conceive again, this will never erase the pain of an earlier loss. That both joy and sorrow can co-exist. We are vast enough to hold them together.

For me, I have experienced great healing through this practice of opening to my body, to self-compassion, and to others in the midst of pain and loss.

When I, when we bring hard things out of the darkness of isolation and into the light of community, the hard things lose their armor of shame and it becomes more possible to feel what is true, and to heal.

My intention, hope, prayer, is that this piece is just another extension of this healing through integration and connection, another sacred act.

May we each find ways to make meaning and connection in and through the sacred mess that is being human.

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