Trigger warning: miscarriage, stillbirth, pregnancy loss
I’ve had six miscarriages. The hardest part about miscarriage, for me, is the invisibility of the pain. If you break your arm, when you go through your day, people can see that you are clearly injured. The checker at the store will be able to see you need a little help, your co-workers will automatically jump in with difficult tasks, people at your kids school will ask what happened and if you need help. No one expects you to act normal like nothing happened.
With miscarriage, you suffer immense pain and grief, but are forced to go about your day as if nothing happened because no one can see any injury. No one sees at the grocery store that you are in so much pain, it takes everything to pay and get out of the store without crying. Friends and family ask normal, everyday questions like “what are you wearing for brunch” when brunch is the last thing you want to do. You pick up your kids at school and chit chat about the sandbox and great weather, all while desperately trying to get back to your car without starting to cry. Women go through the everyday tasks without so much as skipping a beat, all while hiding this invisible trauma that no one can see. It’s a super human task to expect of us.
My most recent miscarriage was a “missed miscarriage.” We went for my nine-week ultrasound, but the baby had stopped growing a week and a half earlier and the heartbeat had stopped. My body refused to let go, meaning I was not miscarrying on my own. It was a Monday. I had a D&C scheduled or Friday. So for five days, I went through my life, carrying my dead baby in my belly, and no one in the outside world was any wiser. I rode public transportation and wrangled for room in the packed trains, I had meetings at work, I defended clients in the courtroom, I dropped off and picked up my son, and collected extra newspapers to drop off for a school project. Every person I interacted with had no idea of the invisible pain I was carrying. It is maddening to project in life that everything is great and a normal day when you are carrying a hidden cloak of pain.
My second loss was not a miscarriage. We found out at 18 weeks that our much prayed for baby had chromosomal issues that were incompatible with life. We faced the difficult decision of terminating the pregnancy quickly, or carrying the baby to term and risk delivering a stillborn baby or having our cherished baby die hours after birth. We chose to terminate the pregnancy. On December 23, the doctor stopped the baby’s heart and scheduled my D&E for December 27. My family insisted we still have Christmas, that it would be good for me and take my mind of things. There is nothing that can take your mind off the loss of your baby, especially when it is still inside your body. We stayed with extended family, did normal Christmas Eve traditions, opened presents Christmas morning, all as if nothing was wrong.
My pain was invisible, cloaked because even though everyone knew what was going on, there was no visible injury to remind them. I had no bleeding wound, no scar, no cast or crutches. The pain was all internal, holding my dead baby in my still swollen belly through Christmas. It felt like torture.
My third miscarriage felt like an out of body experience. I started spotting at 11 weeks and rushed to the doctor. They could not find a heartbeat and told me to that I would start miscarrying the baby within the next day. I had no idea what that meant. I was not prepared. The next day, I started having severe contractions. I delivered my perfect two inch long baby in my bathroom. 15 minutes later, I had a conference call which I did not feel I could cancel. I had the call, no one knowing the pure shock I was in at what had just happened to me. I wrapped up my baby and went to the doctor. They ran tests and were able to determine that there were chromosomal issues.
That experience to this day, two years later, still feels like it happened to someone else. It was a movie I watched of my own life that I was not in. The post-traumatic stress is invisible to everyone else, because no one talks about what miscarriage means. When my doctor told me I would miscarry, never in a thousand years did I imagine that meant what would happen over the next hours.
It is not just the pain that is invisible. The anxiety is invisible too. Each new pregnancy bring soul-crushing anxiety that something will be wrong again. Every day is a walk on egg shells and a dance to just make it one more day. Each trip to the bathroom is terrifying. Making it so 13 weeks is all consuming on your mind, but again, no one, not a soul in the outside world knows what is happening.
So, what have I learned? The pain is only invisible if we hold it in. You have to walk through it, package it up, and let it out. Tell your friends why you are canceling a party or backing out on mom’s night. Take time off work. Tell family you are having a hard day and cannot do the thing today. If you feel like crap, tell your husband you feel like crap. Superheroes wear capes (thinking of you, Wonder Woman) or suits (what’s up, Spiderman) or carry tools (I have a few things I’d like to break with Thor’s hammer). That’s how people know they have super powers.
Unless I wanted to walk around with a name tag that read “Hello, I had a miscarriage this week,” the only way I could get some support, was to ask for it. Share your grief, your support system will be there to hold you up.