Dear Big Sister,
Today you found out the worst news.
You went to your ultrasound appointment hoping you would see a tiny heart beating and instead they told you that the pregnancy that we were all so excited about isn’t viable. And it hasn’t been viable for a long time.
This exact same thing has happened to me twice—once four years ago and then again last year.
Being in that quiet, dark room, with a sheet over your legs, watching the television screen on the wall.
Hoping and praying for everything to be OK and it’s not. It’s just not.
It’s only now, when it’s happening to you too, that I feel like I can talk and write about it. Even in my journals, my miscarriages are mostly marked by large blank spaces.
There’s something about miscarriage that makes it almost impossible to be open.
It’s like without that pregnancy you don’t really want to exist anymore. Or maybe it’s that by talking about it some subconscious superstitious out-of-control feeling makes you scared that even saying certain words is inviting more trouble.
I’m not sure of the answer, but today the thing I wished would never happen to you is happening to you, and suddenly, I’m not scared anymore of talking and writing and openness. I hope that what I have to say can help you even the tiniest bit.
For eight weeks, you’ve been pregnant.
Your body has been playing a cruel trick on you. It’s been telling you to eat sugary cereal, making your boobs sore, and causing your emotions to go haywire, all while doing absolutely nothing productive. It was all a ruse and there was no way for you to know.
They call it a missed miscarriage.
They say these things happen all the time. They tell you that you can try again soon. But having had two of these stupid things happen to myself, I call it the Bullshit. I call it treachery of the worst kind. And I wish like hell that I could do something to change this, that you wouldn’t have to go through this, because I’m not going to sugarcoat it: It’s going to be goddamn terrible.
You are 38 and I’m 31 years old. Technically, we’ve both been adults for a long time, but you are still my big sister. I still think of you as the high-achiever, the one in the spotlight, the strong one. Throughout my entire life, you’ve always gone first, forging the path ahead, making it easier for me to tramp along behind you. So it feels strange to have our roles reversed. All I want is to say the right words and make the right gesture, but when it comes to taking care of you, my skills are puny and untested. Still, my only wish is to protect you from all that you might go through in these coming months.
I wish I could protect you from the Sadness.
The way it crushes you at the beginning, weighing you down so you can barely stand up. The Sadness that makes buttoning your coat or making coffee take all of your patience and strength. The way you move through the day and your body just feels so incredibly useless and empty so why even try? Your life used to have a point, even if you only knew it for a few weeks, everything seemed so clear and now it’s gone. And the only thing inside of you now is emptiness. And what do you do with yourself and that emptiness? I wish I could protect you from that crushing sadness and all that emptiness.
And even more, I wish I could protect you from the insidiousness of the Creeping Sadness.
The way it takes root in your bones and makes its home in your body and mind in the most subtle ways so that you forget it’s there. But months later, you find yourself calculating how far along you would have been or you find a tiny sock that you bought on a whim when things looked hopeful. And you fall apart. You try not to fall apart at work or in the grocery store or even in front of your partner. You hide in the bathroom wiping mascara onto toilet paper and wondering how it is that you’re still not over this thing. I want to protect you from that.
I want to protect you from the way the Creeping Sadness manifests itself in your personal life, so that you don’t even notice how you’ve started fighting with your partner, your best friend, your sister. You think you’re back to normal now and everything is OK. You are so sure. But it’s not. First your body played a trick on you. Now your mind is taking its turn with trying to ruin your life. I wish I could stop this from happening. But the only thing I can promise is that when you pick a fight with me, even six months from now, I will try to think back on today and I will try with everything I have not to hold it against you because it’s not you who will be acting so terrible. It’s this thing that I call the Bullshit, not you.
And I wish I could protect you from the Hateful Rage.
The Hateful Rage will concentrate its strongest efforts on how you view your own body. Perhaps your body was once a friend, but now it is only an enemy, something to never be trusted again. And because we are so alike, I know it is rage you will feel against random strangers you see holding hands with their beautiful children. How come they are so happy? Do they even appreciate what they have? And you really are a good person, so I know you will hate yourself for thinking terrible thoughts against happy Facebook statuses and beautiful holiday cards. You love these people. Some of them are family or best friends, so how can you hate them? Well, you never knew this, but you can. You can hate them for their happiness and it will make you feel awful.
Oh sister, be careful of the Hateful Rage. You think you’ve got it under control, but it is evil and it will chew you up more than you are chewing up everything you despise. Four years have passed since my first experience with the Bullshit and I find myself still feeling the rage toward certain people with whom I once shared a due date. It’s terrible.
My biggest wish for you is that if you try again, I wish I could protect you from the Fear.
If you are brave enough and lucky enough to get pregnant again (and I hope you are!), the Fear causes you to analyze every symptom in every waking moment. Are my boobs sore enough? Am I sick enough? Is any of this real? Is that cramping? What’s going on in there? What’s going on in there? What’s going on in there? You think the Fear will last just until you see that little heart beating, but it’s not going to give up so easily. No, the Fear never lets you go. It’s always chugging along in the back of your brain, a tiresome monotonous chant refusing to let you enjoy something that could possibly, just maybe, be awesome.
I wish I could protect you from this onslaught. I wish I could take it all away. Reverse the inevitable damage that it will do to your relationship with your coworkers, you family, your friends, your partner, yourself. I wish I could send you an inspirational quote or tell you it’s all going to be all right. I wish I could tell you how fortunate we are, how it’s been worse for so many others. But I can’t.
The only thing I can tell you is that I love you.
The only thing I can hope for is that you are stronger than I am. Perhaps this won’t damage you the way it did me. My biggest wish is that the Bullshit will let you go, so that soon you will come through the other side.