What You Should And Shouldn’t Say To A Friend Who Miscarried

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The first time I had a miscarriage, I remember my phone ringing off the hook. I was swamped with condolences and well-meaning messages.

I had never felt more alone.

I appreciated the thoughts and support from friends and family, but what I wanted was to vent. I wanted to be angry. I wanted someone—everyone—just to listen to me.

What I got was unsolicited advice and commiserations (with a few notable exceptions).

I learned something valuable during those days. When a friend is grieving the loss of an unborn child, there are things that you just shouldn’t say. Here are a few things that should never come out of your mouth towards a friend who miscarried, and some pretty good alternatives.

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DON’T SAY: “I’ve been there.” Well, hooray for the Miscarriage Club! Seriously? No, you haven’t been here. Maybe you had a miscarriage, too, but you’re not living my life. You have no idea how this will affect me.

SAY THIS: “I remember when I had my miscarriage…” It’s a gentle lead-in, and allows you to share your experiences without encroaching on mine.

DON’T SAY: “It’ll get better.” You can’t promise that. Maybe it got better for you. And maybe “better” is subjective.

SAY THIS: “It got easier for me.” I really do want to hear that it got easier. I want to know what you did to recover from this loss. I want hope that I’ll eventually find some semblance of normal. Just do it without making empty promises, because I can’t handle that.

DON’T SAY: “You’ll have another baby.” Gee, thanks! I had no idea that babies were so easily replaced. Had I but known that this baby shouldn’t mean so much to me, I’d have stopped crying immediately. WHAT THE HELL?

SAY THIS: “…” That’s right. Say nothing about having babies in the future. I’m still dealing with the one that just died inside my body. My future has collapsed around me. Focus on the problem at hand and stop borrowing trouble.

DON’T SAY: “You weren’t that far along, so it’s not like it was even a baby yet.” Hey, asshat, guess what? You don’t get to decide when I become emotionally attached to the child in my womb. The split second that I became pregnant, I became a mom.

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SAY THIS: “I’m sorry for your loss.” That’s what it is. I’m grieving the loss of a child that I never even got to hold. I’m grieving for the family that will never exist with that little person in it. I’m grieving, not just the pregnancy, but the birth and the birthdays, the life that will never be.

Women handle miscarriages in a variety of ways. The best way to help them is to listen, first and foremost. If, after that, you still feel the need to speak up, be empathetic and loving, and remember what not to say.

Related post: The Invisible Moms’ Club

The Unexpected Hatred

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hatred

What surprised me the most about myself when I had my second miscarriage was my capacity to hate.

I’d never really been a hateful person. Not particularly angry, jealous, or spiteful either. But when I lost that baby, that tiny, hopeful whisper of a new life was replaced with something horrible and raging. My hatred was powerful. It had teeth, claws, and narrow, angry eyes that at first could only focus on one specific group of people: pregnant women.

I didn’t want their babies to be fine.

I didn’t want them to be happy.

I wished them ill.

I hated watching their husbands escort them out of cars. I hated their round bellies and rosy cheeks. I hated their maxi dresses and decaf coffees and their stupid swollen feet. I wanted them to trip on those dresses and spill their coffees all over their dopey husbands.

I wanted someone else to be like me: a miserable, angry failure. I became an absolutely horrible person. I took the real me, the generally kind and optimistic person that I used to be, and pulled her deep into my dark depths. She was gone for a while and even though I was the one who put her away, I couldn’t remember how to find her.

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The new, hateful me emerged from those dark depths and blinked at the light. I was only capable of seeing the world through my own pain and loss and found it impossibly ordinary. There were all these people, going about their business as usual. They were astonishingly pleasant and normal. They smiled, joked, ate and shopped. They lived while my baby didn’t, so I hated them. Worst of all were the mothers – both the pregnant women and the women with children. They were shockingly happy. Disgustingly fortunate. They had successfully produced healthy children, seemingly effortlessly, while I had failed. Twice. It was almost unbearable.

This version of myself was completely unsure of how to function around others. Alone, I was okay. I could hold it together. For brief periods of time I could lose myself in a book or a movie and not think about the emptiness inside me, the anger in my heart. But when I had to be with other people, I was raw, a burn victim unbandaged, and I was scared of myself. I had never before felt emotions so strong that I couldn’t keep them from my surface. One look, word, or touch of kindness from another person and those emotions would erupt.

I had no control. And if there’s one thing that I’ve always, always hated, it was not being in control of my emotions. I always wanted everyone to think I was fine. Great. Keeping it together and looking good doing it. So in addition to hating other people, I really, really hated myself.  I hated my weakness, my vulnerability, and my frightening misanthropy.

There were voices in my head, constantly at war. They clashed their swords and gnashed their teeth and wouldn’t leave me in peace. The battles went something like this:

Hateful Voice: I hate everyone who is happy. Why isn’t anyone else as miserable as I am?

Rational Voice: There are millions of people out there who are much more miserable than you, trust me.

Guilty Voice: Yeah. Some people have it way worse than you do. It would be so much more awful to lose a child that had already been born. A child that you already knew and loved. Can you even imagine how difficult that must be?  You seriously have nothing to complain about. You can always try again.

Hateful Voice: Fuck you. I don’t care about anyone else. I just know that I am miserable. So, so miserable.

For a while, the Hateful Voice was definitely winning most of the battles. It took a long time for the combination of the Rational and Guilty Voices to gain some ground. I would love to say that they took over and rescued my better self from the dark depths of despair. That I healed and moved on because of my own goodness and reason.

But I didn’t.

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That’s not to say that I’m not healed now, back to my better self. Because I am. But I didn’t do it on my own.  I didn’t even do it with the help of friends and family. Not completely.

The only reason I can say that I have really and truly come back from that awful, desperate place I was in is that I did eventually have a healthy pregnancy that resulted in the beautiful gift of my children.

I got lucky. Big time.

If I hadn’t, I really don’t know where I’d be now. I mean, I returned to my normal life after the miscarriages and before I got pregnant again, and I did okay, but only on the outside. Inside, I was still devastated. Broken. Utterly frustrated. I’m sure I would have made my way back to living a life of strength and confidence, but I think it would have taken quite a while.

So while I may be one of the disgustingly fortunate ones now, I wish I could let other women who are suffering like I was know that I really and truly get it. I’ve been there. It was awful and I’m so, so sorry that you’re there now. I hope it gets better for you, but please just know that it’s okay to hate everyone right now. What you’re going through is terrible, and I get it. Feel the way you need to feel. Anyone who tells you differently is full of shit. There is no silver lining. Sometimes life is just really, really hard. You’ll get through it because you have to. Because you are, believe me, stronger than you know.

Related post: The Invisible Moms’ Club

A Missed Pregnancy, Indeed

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Missed Pregnancy

One moment I was lying in bed, calmly reading a novel. Then the main character became pregnant and I snapped. Completely.

I got up and searched through my jewelry box for the pointiest pin I could find. I pulled out a large, vintage yellow daisy pin. I grabbed the condoms from the night table and started poking holes in them. Poke, poke, poke. Jab, jab, jab. The pin was two large and left big, gaping, noticeable holes. Just like the ones I felt inside of me.

Looking at those holes in the silver wrapper was a big wake up call for me. I hid the condoms under tissues in the bathroom garbage can, sat back on the bed and sobbed. I’d been hiding my feelings for so long; I hadn’t allowed myself time to mourn or grieve. The pain couldn’t be held back any longer and came out in a big ball of crazy condom poking.

I had experienced a miscarriage several months before. The pregnancy wasn’t planned. In fact, babies weren’t in the plan at all. My husband made it clear from the beginning that he didn’t want children. I told him that I was willing to sacrifice babies for him. I actually thought he’d change his mind. He didn’t and I struggled with letting go of my strong desire to have a child.

We were in a really stressful place about six years into our marriage. We were trying to sell a house in a market where no one was biting, after feeling forced to vacate it due to harassments and threats from the people across the street. We were living in an empty home owned by my mother-in-law until our house sold and provided us with the funds to buy again. We weren’t happy living there and the situation created all kinds of family drama. Finances were tight. My husband was a full time student. His father was extremely ill. We were stressed to the max. I forgot to take my birth control pill for three days.

I was sure the exhaustion, headaches and nausea were from the stress. I thought stress was also what was delaying my period and that my breasts were so incredibly sore because of PMS. I assumed I was having a bad reaction to my toothpaste when I threw up several mornings in a row. Being pregnant didn’t even cross my mind. Sex was scarce during that time, so I didn’t think much of it. Plus, I’d missed doses here and there in the past without problem.

Then I woke up in the night and a pool of blood hit the floor the moment I stood up. Pregnancy still didn’t enter my head. I thought my period must be extra strong because it was late. I called my gynecologist the next day when the heavy bleeding continued. The doctor called it a “missed pregnancy”.

I was numb and in shock. I stayed in bed crying and eating chocolate peanut butter ice cream for a few days, but I didn’t fully deal with my feelings. I shoved them down. I went back to work. I pretended I was okay. I told myself I was fine.

But I wasn’t fine. Women who are handling things “fine” don’t poke holes in condoms. I was a mess.

My husband was sad when he learned of the miscarriage, but it was only because he knew I was hurting. He was relieved there would be no baby and terrified pregnancy would occur again. I finally realized that he wasn’t going to change his mind. No matter how much he adored me, he did not want a baby.

Would I have actually gone through with using the condoms if the holes weren’t so big and noticeable? I like to think I wouldn’t, but I don’t know for sure. I’m glad the holes were so glaring. It forced me to stop what I was doing and to acknowledge my grief and pain.

I opened up to my husband about all the feelings swirling around inside of me. I wasn’t just mourning the loss of my pregnancy, but the hope of any future pregnancies. I felt so ripped off, like the universe was playing a cruel joke on me by allowing me to get pregnant, but then miscarry before even getting the chance to be happy or excited about the prospect of motherhood.

We talked and talked. The conversation kept coming up again and again for months. I had a lot to process. Through these talks two big points became clear. My husband wasn’t totally opposed to being a father, he just didn’t want a baby. I just wanted to be a mother and how it happened actually wasn’t important to me.

We’d thrown around the possibility of older child adoption for years, but never seriously talked about it prior to this. We started to really consider it. We made it a tentative “some day” plan. I dove into research. I was shocked when I told my husband about upcoming classes to get licensed to adopt from the foster care system and he said, “Let’s sign up.”

A year after we officially started the process, our daughter moved in with us. She was nine years old and had been in foster care for five years. She had suffered abuse, neglect, poverty, homelessness, abandonment, instability and many other things children should not have to face. We finalized the adoption six months later.

Parenting a traumatized child is challenging, but it is also so very rewarding. Our daughter has made huge progress since coming home to us. She’s learning to control her anger, work through her feelings and trust us. I felt a pull to her from the moment I saw a photo of her sweet face. She is my daughter. My baby. I was made to be her mother. My husband is an amazing father. Nothing brings me more joy than watching the two of them laugh together. She has healed me. She has completed me.

The holes in my heart were waiting for her to fill them. And she has.

Miscarriage, Times Two

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Lauren&DeclanLOGO

I love this photo. I love this photo because it captures a moment between my son and myself, a good moment, that completely betrays how I really felt at that time.

Taken just weeks after suffering my second miscarriage in seven months, I was in a horrible state of depression and well on my way towards feeling suicidal. My first miscarriage was devastating, and I was traumatized by the succession of medical mishaps that followed; but sadness turned to optimism when I found myself pregnant again three months later.

Pregnancy is never the same for a woman who has suffered a miscarriage; there is always doubt and fear lurking when a woman, who’s suffered a loss, discovers she is pregnant again. I remember the mix of emotions I experienced, after the pregnancy test confirmed what I had already known: happiness (I could, indeed, get pregnant again!), anticipation (we were going to be expecting another baby!), and apprehension (would this pregnancy stick?).

I remember telling my husband that I wasn’t going to allow myself to get excited, or fully accept this pregnancy, until I hit the 14-week mark. If I have to be completely honest, the depression I was suffering, combined with the apprehension I felt, did not allow me to accept this pregnancy as a truth. Sure, I felt pregnant, but I had felt pregnant before (and had lost the baby).

Sometime during my ninth week I began to bleed; days later, I stocked-up on prenatal vitamins during a buy one, get one free sale, and I lost the baby at home the following day. Oh, the irony. I was alone when it happened, holding my baby in my hand and wondering what the hell I was supposed to do now.

Devastation doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. I was in shock, and quickly spiraled to depths so dark it rocked me to the core of my being; the only way to describe how I felt was that my mind was constantly sabotaging and betraying me. I had no energy and spent each day counting down the minutes until my son’s naptimes. Those times, between naps and bedtime, I spent on the couch, alternating between staring into space and crying uncontrollably; those were the most difficult months of my life.

I had spiraled so far down that I was a miserable person to be around; I made life a living hell for my family. My husband worked long hours with a four-hour commute, and he bore the brunt of my abuse. My son; oh, my poor son. Not yet a year-and-a-half old, and definitely not understanding why mommy was crying all of the time, my son was a typical toddler. My throat was often hoarse from yelling, as my toddler wouldn’t follow any directions (as toddlers are wont to do), and I found myself having to fight the urge to slap my son when he didn’t listen. At some point, maybe after the first time I spanked him, while tussling during a diaper change, I realized that things were not okay. I was not okay.

In my grief over my two lost babies, I had forgotten to cherish my son. I dreamed of going to sleep and never waking up; I asked my husband for a divorce, and told him that I understood why women abandoned their families. A constant struggle was taking place in my mind, knowing that it was wrong for me to lash out so quickly, but still wanting to walk away from it all. I questioned my right to be a mother.

Thankfully, my husband wasn’t too afraid to suggest that I get help. After almost three months of medication and talk therapy, I’m feeling better than I can remember; I’m patient, loving, and grateful for my son, and am able to see pregnant women and babies without crying.

Little by little, I’m beginning to believe in my right to be a mother, and am starting to feel as though maybe, just maybe, I might actually be good at it.

Related post: How to Cope With A Miscarriage

The Invisible Moms’ Club

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sad-mom

My children, Jesse and Sam, are definitely less stressful (in a day-to-day sense) than any children in your house. I can absolutely guarantee it.

They don’t wake me up at nights with endless requests for the toilet or a drink or a cuddle or to banish monsters.

They don’t mess up my stuff, break things, fight with one another or incessantly demand my attention.

They leave me with plenty of time to pursue my own interests, have a shower unmolested and get the shopping done without interruption.

You see, neither of them made it to full term. Neither even made it close.

And yet…they were my children. Are my children.

It’s a confusing issue.

Contentious moral or religious beliefs aside; science tells us that upon conception, what’s present is a human being in its earliest form. Begotten of my husband and I, ergo our children. Initially I really did think it was that simple.

But not having them present leaves more challenges (grief aside) than I could have expected.

How do I respond when someone asks if I have children?

I usually tell them no, cut the conversation short and wonder if I just utterly trashed the importance and the presence of those two tiny people who lived inside me for far too short a time.

When I tell them yes, and explain the circumstances, the conversation grinds to a screeching halt, which may or may not be accompanied by the Pity Face.

Either way is tough.

Yet invisible motherhood happens more frequently than you’d ever imagine…until you suddenly end up the mother of an invisible child. Until you’re able to hold back the tears long enough to talk about it. Then women with similar experiences seem to pour out of the woodwork, heartbreaking stories and empathy shared in equal measures. And I want to ask them “Where were you until now?”

I’d always understood ‘miscarriage’ to be a bit of a dirty word. One of those distasteful things which happens in life; like ingrown toenails or root canals. Unpleasant and Not a Topic For The Dinner Table. As such, I knew very little about it. I knew a few women in the family had had one. I knew of a family friend who’d had a stillbirth.

Not one conversation broached the topic of emotion or motherhood.

It was as though those babies somehow didn’t count.

I think that’s why it took me so staggeringly by surprise. I’d even anticipated that I might miscarry my first, given the family history, but nothing ever prepared me for the sheer weight of emotion that crashed down on me and proceeded, over the coming months, to suffocate me under a dark cloud of anguish.

Nothing prepared me for the waves of anger at pregnant women in the street.

At no point was I told about the blind rage which would leave me shaking when I saw misbehaving tots being screamed at by their end-of-the-tether parents. Or being smoked near. Or being ignored when in need of attention.

I was utterly unprepared for the isolation from my husband, who (at first) just didn’t *get* why I was so upset.

I was defenseless against the accusing voice in my mind, telling me that I was clearly undeserving of a baby/hadn’t been careful enough while pregnant/had done it wrong in the first place.

I was ill-informed about how to respond to throw-away comments from the unintentionally insensitive, which left me feeling as though I’d been emotionally assaulted.

So I dug deep, reached out, and slowly, painfully, began making the connections for myself.

Since then, though, I’ve been keen to do my bit – to give back – to share with those newly invisible mothers some of the things which have helped me.

I began by blogging bits and pieces of my story. The feedback was positive – people began to exhibit signs of understanding. I was thanked for generating conversations and enabling others to support their friends who were in the same position as me.

I created a couple of guest posts where bloggers were seeking to promote understanding of miscarriage and childlessness, with an aim of spreading understanding, empathy and compassion. I’ve entered writing challenges with my story as the subject, all in an effort to reach as wide an audience as possible.

I’m gradually becoming adept at talking about it in Real Life, too.

It’s still difficult and it still hurts, but I want to go further from here and take my online presence (and passion for breaking those barriers and trashing the taboos) into the everyday.

I want to be active in working towards a world where miscarriage isn’t swept under the rug; where women can openly acknowledge (and grieve) their losses without feeling uncertain as to the validity of their feelings. I want to be a person who others can come to for information and advice. I want to be at the forefront of a movement which purposefully demystifies miscarriage and aims to establish helpful dialogue on the subject.

I will strive to support the generation of a mindset where each of these little, lost lives is important, and their heartbroken mothers (and fathers) are surrounded by empathy and care, stemming from genuine understanding on the part of those around them.

My children count.

They have changed me, and I am their legacy.