I thought for a long time before posting this, almost convinced several times that I shouldn’t share it. When I stepped back and thought about the reasons I could come up with for not posting, I realised they were the reasons that keep some people silent and others feeling isolated.
According to the plan we had set out, and the early progress, I should be four months pregnant and telling the world as I begin to show. Instead, I am sharing my experience of miscarriage. This is my overriding experience of 2013.
I thought that I ‘shouldn’t’ because it would be too in your face for a craft blog (those uppity women again telling each other the truth, spreadin’ ideas), or that I was crossing some line by talking about private feelings in a public sphere (well, how is it any different to people blogging about pregnancy, love or the loss of a family member? And don’t get me started on the sexualisation on tv and all over the Internet). I also thought I might embarrass those who know me in the real world whom I haven’t told (again with the programming that we’re supposed to find women’s bodies and miscarriage shameful).
Ultimately, I am sharing this because I scoured the internet for stories at the beginning of my miscarriage. Considering the chorus of voices talking about ‘just getting pregnant and becoming a parent’ or quiet allusions to miscarriage, and the fact that miscarriage is so common, there are surprisingly few available writings on the subject outside of clinical descriptions or postings on discussion boards about infertility. This keeps the stories separate, secret and Other. I looked for signs that this was as actually as common as we are told and to see whether my grief was normal considering the silence in public conversation. Early miscarriage is invisible, but it should not be silent. If anything I have written makes a reader recognise the emotions or feel less alone, then posting this has been worth it.
What I Learned This Year
Miscarriage is described as awful or horrible. That is only because there are no words to describe how much worse it actually is.
It is okay if what I feel changes hour to hour. Or that I don’t even know what I think or feel.
The way you tell people is important for healing. Listen to what you feel, not what you think you ‘should’ do.
There are so many people who have had miscarriages and it does change your outlook on life. Change is okay.
My miscarriage was a very early one. We found out at 7 ½ weeks. I knew the week before the miscarriage that something was wrong because all of my symptoms suddenly disappeared and I called the doctors but they told me not to worry. So I spent the time convincing myself that they were the experts and had dealt with pregnancy before. At our appointment, we learned that I had been right. I thought at the time how I would have traded months of puking just to know that the baby was alright and alive. Telling myself that the doctors knew better than my instincts knocked my confidence for ages. I’m only just getting it back.
In the first few days, I felt the need to try and figure it all out. To figure out what I had done or not done to have caused it. People told me that ‘nothing’ was the answer, but I needed to rule out any potential blame if I were to deal with it. Knowing in my heart that it just happened, my brain needed to make sense of things so I would suddenly think (maybe I drank too much water- perhaps I didn’t eat enough green beans- it must be because I drank juice from that plastic bottle- maybe I was too angry that time) unhelpful thoughts. It took a long time for the lingering doubts to fade.
I felt like I was going to die from the grief; from a loss of breath while crying, from my head exploding with the pain or from my heart stopping as it raced along.
Everything felt chaotic and f@#^&*%$-ed up. I felt panicky all of the time. I found the things that helped me find moments of calm. These were physical contact with (okay, draped over or clinging to) Honey, cats purring in my arms and in yoga class. I cried freely in all situations, but they were all healing. Intimacy of any kind was hard: talking to the people I needed to (doctors, my line manager and HR) and saying the M word; letting Honey hold me in a loving way; even hugging people without holding my breath or switching off through the fear that I would spill my grief all over them. These things got easier in the order written.
At first, although I thought the whole world could see that I had a miscarriage (I had been convinced that people could tell I was pregnant because things were tighter or my ribs were wider, but now understand that this wasn’t the case) and I didn’t want anyone to see. I didn’t talk about it with many people because it is meant to be an unspoken grief. As if anyone can ever successfully grieve alone. There’s this expectation that until others validate your pregnancy (i.e. they can see your huge belly), then it is inappropriate to bring up, or that you shouldn’t grieve this. Well, we had begun to dream and adjust our lives and make real plans, so that baby was real to us.
I thought my body, not having changed a lot physically, would have snapped back into place. I paid attention to monitor my various internal and external indicators. A friend told me that although my body will return to normal, it won’t be the same normal as before. That was something that hadn’t occurred to me and really helped me begin to learn that this was about learning the new me. What temperatures I’ll get cold at, what shape clothes fit me, etcetera. That helped me stop looking and waiting for the signs of normalcy.
Throughout this process, different things that had been pleasant before were no longer bearable. The foods I ate freely or struggled to eat (it took me weeks to face my prenatal vitamins again), the clothing that didn’t fit quite right (although I did not mind all my tops being too short or tight when pregnant, they only reminded me of my loss after the miscarriage), and the different shape of my body (imperceptible to outsiders, but I hated it for a while for the same reasons that I hated my clothes), were all very tangible and frustrating things I faced each day. I hid this all as well as I could, while being kind to myself because I knew they were all natural reactions to loss. Not only was my body, heart and life different, my priorities were too. I grew past some things, but the important ones have begun to return in time.
I held back from talking about it with anyone but the chosen few because I was hesitant of breaking that unwritten code and I told myself that I was protecting people and trying to follow the rules after the most precious rule for me was broken: I lost that pregnancy. I was really protecting myself because I didn’t yet have the strength, heart, energy, empathy, etcetera, to deal with anyone else’s reaction. I couldn’t let anyone look straight into my eyes without throwing up protections because all I could think about is that they could see all of my pain. My headaches finally subsided.
Right now, it remains hard to leave myself open and readable when I am feeling vulnerable and it is still hard to truly relax when I hug people. I know it is silly, but I still feel that I will cross that line between acceptable and unacceptable levels of grief-sharing. This is strange for me because I used to be a very open and huggy person.
As I clung to the moments that gave me calm, the time between needing them slowly stretched. Not as quickly as I wanted them to, but I did notice small changes from week to week. Speaking about these things in counselling actually helped me notice the small markers of progress. The day I made it through a yoga class without crying, for instance, or the week that my laughter returned.
Laughter and celebration were actually clear markers for me. I recognised progress when I could first do certain things with Honey, and then when they happened in wider situations. For a long time, I could only laugh earnestly when with her. The laughter I shared with others was only in situations where I was being a ‘smart-alec’. Finally, one day, a friend coaxed true, ringing mirth from my heart. That was wonderful. Another week, I found myself breaking into a song (it was melancholy instead of my usually joyful, but hey, it was progress!) while walking in the street. I began to be able to dance in the living room with Honey again. I know this means that at some point, I will again be inspired to hustle my bottom to some internal song.
My yoga teacher always tells us two things that really helped me here: be kind to yourself and acknowledge and accept what you are feeling in your mind, heart and body; and, notice the subtle changes that occur.
I kept doing (and paying attention to) the things that helped my healing, knowing they were stitches for my soul and heart. I began to decide that it was unhealthy and stifling to hide this loss from people and I started to tell friends who were checking in on me. I told the parents in our world and the ones trying to become parents. This was not to seek advice, but because they asked what we’ve been up to and it was what still occupied my mind. Talking about it helped and I got better at faking it in situations that I needed to, like work. At the same time, I found that my moments of calm throughout the day were longer and this was a relief.
I finally got my period and expected it to bring the hope that my body was regulating itself. Instead, it was physically intense and emotionally draining and triggered all sorts of emotions of inadequacy, loss, and fear for the future. I was still exhausted by this stage because I was using all of my energy to stay focused in my day. Days were long and weeks were deceptively warped to several times their actual length. If I thought the early days of pregnancy were long as I waited for that elusive (and false) ‘safe’ line to be crossed, it had nothing on how endless days felt in comparison once I learned that the being I thought I was growing and protecting was no more.
Learning a New Normal
One day, after a few weeks successfully faking it, I looked at myself in the mirror at work and was startled to see that I looked better than I felt. I looked normal on the outside. This was freeing because my face had given me away until then. By not looking like I was grieving, I felt like I could begin to reinvent myself. The week after this, I found that I could actually concentrate again without spending half my energy on concentrating. I also realised that week that I was enjoying my work again.
I have never felt more rooted here than I have come to realise this year. Through the various stages of this grieving, I have been well supported by my American and Scottish family and friends, and my by workplace. I am now finding it healing to talk to a wider group of family; talking about our fears for the future with those who knew about the miscarriage and our larger hopes with those who did not know we had been trying.
I am working to grow and heal, nourishing my soul so the scars do not become the lines of dead things past but instead become like tree roots ready to give water and direction to the things that can still blossom. Sure, the ground is harder now, but some plants thrive like that.
At this point, my heart still aches several times each day but it no longer defines me. I cry disproportionately at happy or beautiful things (tears streaming and almost sobbing at the opening number of the Lion King, for instance) and recognise that I may stay that way. Considering the fact that at one point I didn’t think I would care about much ever again, being moved by emotions or beauty in the world is a positive thing. Sometimes, crying happy tears makes my heart ache and then I cry sad tears a while later, but I would rather feel my emotions than stunt myself by repressing them. I also think that each tear shed brings me closer to healing.
I know that certain dates in the future will hurt, but I know that we can move on. I know this because I have been privileged to hear stories from many women about their losses. People whose children are teenagers still feel a sadness when thinking about their miscarriages. I didn’t expect this and yet it reassures me that I am still grieving in a healthy way. Ultimately, when you ask a spirit to join you on earth and have begun to nourish and protect it, you will miss it.
In terms of trying for a successful pregnancy and birth, my body and brain are ready and I am sitting patiently with my heart as it processes its fears because I know that I will be strong enough to face it again. Our desire to become parents and share this amazing world with children is too strong to be kept back by fear.