There are days you walk into work and you really wish you could turn right back around and drive away. Whether the craving is to go back home for another hour of sleep or to play hooky from life and just use your stolen hours to sit in a dark movie theater, your logic typically kicks in before you do either of the above-mentioned.
Then, there are times you are warranted leaving early, but you don’t. You stay because there is work to be done and having it pile on for an extra day is not appealing in the least. So you take your cough drops or you drink your coffee, and you push through until 5 pm.
For me, I wasn’t in a position to make myself feel better by grabbing a mug or taking some meds. When I walked down the hallway, past the receptionist, and felt all my hopes and dreams of a December baby disappear, I wanted to disappear. I went to the toilet and found the remains of my pregnancy in my underwear. It felt wrong to just flush it down the toilet, but what was the protocol for this situation? Should I take a picture? Yes, I’ll take a picture. Maybe my doctor would have to confirm that this miscarriage was actually a miscarriage. But who was I kidding? I knew what it was and I had to let it go, physically and emotionally. I cleaned myself, wrapped the depressing clot in toilet paper and walked back to my desk to see what was left on my to-do list. More emails to send — great, I’ll get going on that.
I felt tears aching to get out in the next few hours that passed, but I lectured myself internally and kept reminding myself that tears would equal questions and pity. My coworkers, all men, surrounded my cubicle and would be able to see that something was amiss. So I kept a straight face as I typed, smiled when someone walked by, and ignored the emptiness that was drowning my heart with it’s bitter presence — proud of myself for being so mature.
I tried to be grateful. At least I was wearing a pad and didn’t bleed through my clothes. At least I had Tylenol to pacify the pain temporarily. I was lucky that it wasn’t a real baby grown to full term only to result in a stillbirth. No name had been picked out yet. No nursery had been prepared for its arrival. At only 8 weeks, I should be grateful.
I embraced this mentality all day. There was no one to talk to about my experience. And really, what could anyone say to make me feel better? I had already cried that entire Monday before when the doctor had told me this was “not a normal pregnancy,” but was able to fool the guys into thinking I just had a severe cold (which I did) and had to keep blowing my nose. I was told I had surgical options but I was not going to endure a medically assisted abortion just to “get it over with.” Waiting is the hardest, but having it finally happen is not something I was ready for either.
With a toddler at home, I am constantly striving to be super mom for him. Mom hasn’t slept, no problem we can still go to your class tonight. Mom hasn’t eaten, but I’ll feed you first. Mom hasn’t had alone time, but it’s fine because you’re smiling at me as we play. And that’s the same attitude I took with my miscarriage. My coworkers need me so I won’t leave work. I can handle this. Women are supposed to be strong and undefeatable. We don’t make excuses; we roll with the punches in our heels and perfect makeup.
But just how healthy is that mentality?
Just because women have been enduring pain, abuse, heartache, childbirth, the pressures of work and the demands of home doesn’t mean that we deserve it, or that we are supposed to keep our wheels turning endlessly without stopping to pay attention to our emotional or physical wounds.
The fact that I felt obligated to sit at my desk and continue to work after having a miscarriage makes me sick. The biological material of a fetus that never showed up was flushed down the toilet in minutes at my place of work, without anyone knowing about it. You hear about the teens that go to prom pregnant and then give birth in the bathroom and go back to dancing and think how could she do that? So why is it different for me? I didn’t have a baby, but it could have been a baby and I didn’t even give it the respect of a tear because I was too worried that I would look weak. And because I was too embarrassed to tell anyone what had happened in order to ask for the rest of the day off. Yet, there are others out there who have no shame in leaving early if it means they can get a head start on their fishing trip or soothe their sore throat from the comfort of their living room.
That night as I was rocking my son to sleep. I held him tight and sang to him the usual: Somewhere Over The Rainbow and Tim McGraw. As I swayed my hips back and forth to lull him into sleep, I reluctantly let the tears fall down my face. The tears of pain from the cramps I had experienced all week before the miscarriage and the tears of gratitude that the son in my arms was alive. I gave myself permission to acknowledge my loss.
But I also cried because I felt alone. The last time I bled for weeks was due to my c-section and family and in laws were there to help me recover. This time there was no one to hold my hand or hug me after it happened, and no one waiting to take care of me. I had to take care of myself so I could continue to juggle my duties at home and at work. And it was okay. I could do it myself, right? Yes, but it’s depressing that because I’m a woman I have to do it myself. Not even my husband helped me get over the emotional scarring of what happened to me that day. He went to work as usual that weekend and never asked me how I felt or how I was doing. Yet, if he had been bleeding or in pain for any reason, it would be unwifely of me to not come to his rescue without question.
Well, I’ll tell you this. My miscarriage was kept a secret for months at work before someone in HR told my supervisor by accident, and even then I felt I had no right to complain that my privacy had been violated. I kept my mouth shut and did what was expected of me instead of taking a few days off to allow myself to accept the fact that my winter baby would not be born and that my body had failed to do its job properly. I ignored my needs because the world keeps spinning and I have many responsibilities. Isn’t that what we all do, and what we are expected to do as women?
The day I had my miscarriage at work is the day I realized what being a woman was about. It’s not about having babies, or cooking, or being a great wife. It’s about being everything you’re expected to be even when the strongest tornado strikes you, and staying silent even though you feel like you’re dying on the inside, because sometimes that’s what your child will need.
I’m a supporter of “me” time but when it’s not possible for whatever reason, like in my situation, I miraculously found the strength to stay brave and force myself to hold it together until I knew my pain wouldn’t be affecting anyone. My mom did the same when my father left us and it wasn’t until years later that I realized how much pain she was hiding. Other women do it everyday, too, and they’re my heroes.
I only hope that one day we won’t have to choose between being brave or being weak — that it will be okay to take time for ourselves and still be considered brave.