If I hadn’t miscarried, my due date would have been November 24, 2015. I didn’t want that date, which is now so ingrained into my memory, to come and go as every other day does. I wanted to acknowledge it in some way.
The only thing that I felt would be appropriate was to talk about it openly. There’s plenty of information available about the physical effects of miscarriage, but little about the emotional side. It’s important for people to know what it’s like—not only those who are going through it, but also people who know someone going through it. So, here are eight things I learned about the emotional side effects of miscarriage since having my own.
1. It’s a lonely, personal tragedy.
Having a miscarriage has been the most significant event in my life to date. It’s been life-changing, earth-shattering and heart-breaking—the biggest test of strength I’ve ever had to face. And so many people have no idea. Colleagues have no idea how strong I am, facing the world, the deadlines and the relative triviality of my day-to-day job. Friends have no idea that I hyperventilated in the bathroom upon my first few meetings with them before I had the courage to tell them. Acquaintances who mindlessly say things like, “oh, you’ll be next” or “suits you well” when I hold a baby have no idea how much their comments hurt, and how deep I need to dig to summon the strength not to scream, “I’ve already had my turn and I lost it!” It’s a lonely and at times paralyzing grief that you feel pressure to keep entirely to yourself
2. The importance of ‘How are you doing?’
This simple question meant the world to me. It acknowledged the significance of what I had been through and made me feel less alone. It let me know that even if people couldn’t relate to it, they could understand how important it had been to me. Opening this channel for me to talk if I wanted to was essential for me to get through the hardest times. Being asked felt like validation that something happened. I certainly noticed when it wasn’t asked.
3. My sadness isn’t about you.
When I told the small group of people I confided in, they reacted in unexpected ways. Some with children behaved as though their happy situation made me uncomfortable. Pregnant people looked apologetic. Family members explained how much I had to be thankful for. But my sadness had nothing to do with these things, and frankly, I found it a little insulting. I am not sad because of you or in spite of my good life, I’m sad because something sad happened to me. Let me have my sadness and please don’t make me feel guilty about it—it’s not about you.
4. Forgive people who don’t understand.
I found this hard. At first, I was angry immediately when someone said something ignorant, which happened a lot. But I realized, eventually, that being angry was my choice. Keeping a mental tally of the hurtful things people had mistakenly said wasn’t healthy for me. I could be angry and upset, or I could inform and correct, and I chose the latter. I’ve tried to encourage questions and be open with information, and people have been receptive. The ignorant statements often come from a place of awkwardness or misunderstanding, and it’s OK as long as people are open to learning more.
5. Tell people if you want to.
I suffered from anxiety right after the miscarriage happened, and I came to realize that it stemmed from an overwhelming desire for people to know what had happened to me. I didn’t understand why I shouldn’t talk about it. People kept telling me that talking helps, so why the secrecy? I understand that it’s mainly for self-preservation; it lessens the expectation and pressure of “trying for a baby” and reduces the pitying looks from others. But the tightness I felt in my chest when the panicked feeling swelled wasn’t worth it for me. If I wanted to, I decided I would tell. And it helped. I’ve still been selective with whom I’ve told, but I’ve felt an element of control in telling people. It helped make me feel empowered instead of stifled.
6. It doesn’t matter how ‘far along’ you were.
I can assure you, when you get that positive pregnancy test, you are a mother-to-be—whether it’s 5, 10 or 26 weeks, you are changed. Your mind is filled with thoughts of motherhood and what it means for you. You become aware of every change in your body, and you start to pay attention. You cut out foods and drinks that might harm your child, you register with doctors or midwives, and put dates in your calendar. You talk and dream about your future child. This is something that everyone who has ever been pregnant should be able to relate to, but very easily forgets. When that is taken from you, you are losing that future and the dreams of your child. You’re paying attention to your body in a different way after it loses that little life inside you. You reintroduce the things you tried to protect it from, each one a reminder of what you’ve lost. You delete dates from your calendar and doctor’s appointments and fight the urge to make new appointments to try to have a doctor explain why it happened. I lost my baby at 10 weeks, and I can assure anyone that I felt all of this strongly.
7. I’m lucky.
I had so much support from my husband, my family and my friends. They’ve listened, they’ve hugged, they’ve never pushed me to do things I didn’t want to, and they didn’t judge me. So many people don’t have that, and I don’t know how they cope. You need support to get through a miscarriage, and most importantly, someone to whom you can voice every concern, question, confusion, emotion, frustration, pain, fear, and irrational jealous thought—because you certainly feel every single one, and more, and it can be crippling if you don’t have an outlet. There aren’t any words of comfort. Just having someone to be there is all that’s needed.
8. I’m proud of myself.
I really am. I’ve faced so many battles in my own mind, and I’ve won them. And I’ll continue to win them, because I don’t want this to define who I am. Yes, I want to have a family. Yes, I want another baby, and it’s on my mind every day. Yes, I’m scared I will face more heartbreak. But it’s not everything I am. To survive, I have to remember that. If I don’t define myself as someone who is struggling to get pregnant and have a baby, then others won’t see me that way. Yes, it is a part of my life, and it’s sad. But I still have a sense of humor. I’m happy for others. I still want to travel. I’m good at my job. I create in my spare time. Overall, I’m happy. And I’m so proud that I’m getting myself back.
You can lose sight of who you were before your life became all about being pregnant. Pushing myself to live my life and face daunting situations has helped remind me of who I am. And I am strong.