Trigger warning: miscarriage
Everything happens for a reason. Oh, how many times I heard this phrase after my miscarriage. Oh, how many times I still hear it today. It’s an expression said with the best of intentions but wrought with the most complicated of emotions. In the wake of my loss, I bristled every time a well-meaning family member or friend uttered the words. The platitude, almost always said with a sad smile and kind eyes, filled me with a fiery rage that was grossly inappropriate to express in polite society. Instead of screaming, I’d smile back and nod graciously, thanking them for their sympathy even though I didn’t ask for it and certainly didn’t want it.
What I wanted was my baby back. I didn’t want offers of love and light. I burned with a thorny mixture of anger and shame and guilt with every overly-emojied text message that came through, each ensuring I had a shoulder to cry on, someone to talk to, something better coming.
In those early days of my loss, it was too much. The pain was too raw, my emotions too close to the surface, for me to conceive of something so terrible happening for a reason, even if that reason might be something wonderful someday. With every platitude and promise, I pulled further into myself, into a self-imposed prison of grief.
On the one hand, I knew these people only wanted to make me feel better. But, on the other hand, what did they expect me to say? Their words were meant to be a salve on my open wound, but I believe they served to only make the other person feel soothed. Many of these messages ended with you don’t have to answer, just know that I’m here. Honestly, I don’t think they wanted my answer. To express sympathy was one thing. To actively engross themselves in my pain and suffering was another.
Years have passed since my miscarriage in October 2017. Since my loss, I’ve been lucky enough to have not one, but two, beautiful daughters. My rainbow baby was born almost a year to the day after losing my son. Like with most things, time has given me a new perspective on everything happens for a reason. I still don’t like the phrase, but my relationship with the expression has changed.
Losing my first pregnancy was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. The repercussions of this loss rippled wide and are long lasting. It affected my subsequent pregnancies in varying ways, filling me with fear and hope and uncertainty. However, it ultimately led me to the birth of my daughter, who would not exist had I not miscarried. This is a truth I grapple with and have not fully wrapped my head around. I love my daughter with all my heart and cannot imagine my life without her… except there is a version in which she would not exist if things had been different. This fact is indisputable, but not proof that everything happens for a reason.
Some days I close my eyes and try to take comfort in the idea of there being some greater plan. But usually I only feel guilty, like I’ve diminished the brief life of my son to some cosmic force. Admitting it all happens for a reason seems like a cop-out and I refuse to not fully acknowledge my son’s ephemeral spark in my life. As a compromise — to myself, my son, the universe, I’m not sure — I remind myself that something terrible happened but something beautiful formed from the wreckage. I allow myself to feel joy and happiness, despite the loss. I allow myself to grieve for one child and love another. I allow myself to not count this love as a betrayal. These allowances took time. Some days I still stumble and that’s allowed, too. Patience is my virtue here.
10-20% of detected pregnancies end in miscarriage, but few people talk about it. Yet everyone loves a pregnant woman. Our society fawns over mothers to be, showering them in adoration and support. We dedicate books and blogs and Instagram accounts to pregnant women. Moms-to-be share bump photos and sonograms and carefully curated images of their growing family. But what about the pregnant woman who stops being pregnant? What happens when the joyous posts end and the belly stops growing?
I was this woman. Far enough along in my pregnancy to believe I was in the “safe zone,” I shared my bliss with everyone. By seventeen weeks, I knew the sex of my baby. I’d begun decorating the nursery. That nursery had a camping theme and my son’s name carved onto a custom sign, cutesy arrows and all. One day I was a healthy, glowing pregnant woman and the next I wasn’t.
I didn’t get to leave the hospital with my bundle of joy. Instead I was handed a few pairs of mesh underwear and jumbo maxi-pads to curb the bleeding and a bereavement package listing a few websites to help manage my loss. A few days later my milk came in and my breasts engorged and leaked. Even my boobs were crying. I was a mother without a baby. I didn’t know what to tell people, and no one had any idea what to say to me. There was no user manual for this type of pain.
So what do you say to your friend or sister or colleague who experiences a miscarriage or loses a child? Save her your reasons. Save the love and light and heart emojis and promises of things getting better. Tell her you love her and acknowledge her loss. If she wants to talk about it, listen. Ask her if she had a name picked out. Ask her if she wants you to send over DoorDash. Then listen some more. If she doesn’t want to talk yet, respect that. Maybe still send DoorDash (I guarantee she isn’t cooking anytime soon).
Remember, everyone experiences grief differently. Embrace the differences. You may truly believe everything happens for a reason, and maybe it does. But let your friend or sister or colleague get there in their own time, if ever. Until then, listen to what she has to say or be patient until she is ready to speak. And please, send food.