Why Don’t People Talk About Miscarriage?

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My first baby came so easily to me, like I assumed most babies came for most women. When I was losing it, the word miscarriage loomed over my head like a dirty curse. That couldn’t be happening to me — I was healthy and young. No one in my family had ever had a miscarriage.

When the baby was good and lost, the doctors kept saying the word over and over again. Miscarriage. Miscarriage. Is this your first miscarriage? Have you ever had a miscarriage? Don’t worry, it’s just an early miscarriage. Each time they hurled that word at me, it felt like an accusation, a life sentence. The needles they were sticking in me hurt much less than that word that punctured me over and over again.

After my D&C, I didn’t hear that word anymore. No one wanted to say that dirty word to me. I got many looks of sympathy, quickly administered hugs and flowers from my mother-in-law. No one said it outright, but the message was clear: it was time to suck it up and put “this business” behind us.

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The problem, if we want to call it that, is that I’m not a shut-up-and-suffer kind of person. When someone asked me why I wasn’t feeling well, I told them I’d lost our first child. When an old friend asked me about the pregnancy that I’d announced so early, I told her it ended in miscarriage. And the most amazing thing happened — the world didn’t end.

No one exploded into apoplectic shock and melted at my feet. Some people looked away and assumed an awkward look. Not everyone was ready to deal with such a difficult topic. The conversations with those people were over quickly and politely.

What did happen was a bit of a shock to me at first, and it didn’t take long for it to become the norm.

When I would share my story of loss, other people would start to share theirs. They’d give me a shy look, like they were giving away this big secret, and tell me that they, too, had lost their first baby. Or maybe their mother had lost one of their siblings. Sometimes it was a friend who was suffering from a miscarriage right now, and they didn’t know how they should act. Almost everyone had their own story of losing a baby, and they looked over their shoulder to make sure no one was listening before they told it.

What’s the common tie among these people? Almost all of them seemed relieved to talk about it. They gave the impression of lifting a burden, and we usually related to each other in an honest and understanding way. The woman whose friend had miscarried asked for advice on how to comfort her. She wanted to be there for her friend, but didn’t know how, and talking to me helped her figure out what to say.

The man whose sister had lost a baby didn’t realize how common miscarriage was. He’d wondered if she’d done something to cause it, and after our conversation he realized that likely wasn’t the case.

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These people were so afraid of broaching this terrifying monster of miscarriage that they were ignoring it completely. It was only by being brave enough to talk about it openly that they broadened their understanding and took that monster down a size.

So now I talk about my miscarriage. It doesn’t always have to be a big downer in a conversation, but I’m honest and frank about my experiences. My friends and family know that I’m someone they can talk to if they lose a baby or know someone who does. Through my willingness to start these conversations, pregnancy loss is no longer a taboo in my circle.

Imagine what it would be like if that circle widened. If other people started their own circles of sharing and understanding. If women knew that they didn’t have to feel ashamed when they had a miscarriage. Imagine if those circles converged, and we started building a society where a woman can openly grieve for her lost child instead of hide in embarrassment.

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

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