Like the 1 in 4 women who have been pregnant, I have had a miscarriage. And, like many of those women, I really didn't know what to do with the experience as it was happening or after it had happened. There were a lot of things I thought I had to do during my miscarriage but, as it turns out, I was (mostly) ridiculously wrong about all of them.
My miscarriage, like most, occurred early on, at about 6 weeks in gestational age. My son was 18 months old and, while my husband and I had wanted another child, the pregnancy was unplanned and very much unexpected. My feelings about being pregnant, while mostly positive, were complicated. So, when I began to miscarry days after I had found out I was pregnant, my feelings about the miscarriage were even more complicated. Because everything happened early on, I did not have to have a D&C procedure to empty my uterus. At the time, a part of me wished for some sort of appointment to make everything seem "official." Finding out I was going to have a baby only to find out that, no, I wasn't, in the span of a few days was hard to wrap my head around, so something "concrete" to give me a definitive and steadfast "end" to something I had just realized was potentially beginning would have, for me (I thought), been helpful. A part of me felt that even believing I had been pregnant and had a miscarriage in the first place was crazy; that maybe what I was feeling wasn't real.
Now that I have the ability to look back, I can see that second guessing my feelings and emotions, was the primary belief motivating a lot of my feelings and behaviors during and after my miscarriage. I wasn't sure how to feel or if what I was feeling was real, so I held myself to a predetermined standard and thought I "had to feel" a specific way. Of course, that isn't true, and a woman going through or recovering form a miscarriage can feel anyway she wants, and react anyway that she wants. So, if you're like me and the 1 in 4 women who will experience a miscarriage, please know that your feelings are valid and, please, now that you don't have to do the following things, if you don't want to.
Keep It (Mostly) A Secret
There were a lot of factors that contributed to my belief that I had to keep my miscarriage a secret, but one of those factors was the culture of silence that's been built up around pregnancy loss. Even knowing this "taboo" exists, and even knowing it's completely absurd and harmful, I still felt beholden to uphold what had clearly been established as the standard, "What women do when they miscarry," which is to say, not discuss it at all.
The embarrassment was threefold. On the one hand I was (ridiculously) embarrassed that my body hadn't, "done what a woman's body is supposed to" by miscarrying. On the other hand, I was embarrassed that I would allow myself to have internalized such a reductionist view of womanhood or motherhood. I was also embarrassed by the fact that I felt as though any emotion I was feeling was the wrong one to feel.
Have A Straight-Forward Emotional Trajectory
Like everyone else who'd ever taken an "Introduction to Psychology class," I was familiar with Kübler-Ross's brilliant work on the 5 Stages of Grief. Here's the thing, though: while the Kübler-Ross model is a great framework at which to look at overall trends, it doesn't always work exactly the way you think it will, and that includes after a miscarriage. I was fine, then I was devastated, then I was fine, then I was angry, then I was sad again, then I was numb, then I was fine, then I was angry but also sad but also fine. My emotional state in regard to my loss was all over the place for a few months.
This was very much related to my embarrassment. Because I was "only" about 6 weeks along, and because I had only found out I was pregnant a few days before I miscarried, I was somehow convinced that I had no right to be as upset as some of the women who had lost a pregnancy later along, and especially not as upset as the women who had a stillbirth or lost a child. I somehow viewed my own sadness as disrespectful, so I attempted to shrug it off among the few people I did tell.
Be Okay With Callous Comments
I don't know if this was due to my natural aversion to conflict, or the self-punishing instinct I had, but when someone made a thoughtless comment, I didn't try to counter it or defend myself. Instead, I just swallowed my feelings and laughed, smiled, or shrugged placidly. (Fortunately, the hurtful comments were few and far between.)
Be Emotionally OK Right Away
I did not expect that a pregnancy I only enjoyed for a few weeks, and only knowingly for a few days, would cause months of emotionally draining introspection and struggle. I knew many women have miscarriages, so I felt I shouldn't have been terribly caught of guard and should have, instead, just said, "Well, life goes on and mine should, too." Life does go on, but when doesn't it? Just because life goes on doesn't mean it has to go on in the same exact way, especially when you're wading in the aftermath of a loss.
Be Physically OK Right Away
Even a weeks-old pregnancy creates major changes in a body (hormones are all over the place, organs are growing and changing) and, as a result, a quick end to a pregnancy can be difficult, physically. Couple that with the physical effects of the emotional fatigue most women experience during and after a miscarriage, and you have a potential recipe for some pretty difficult physical changes and recovery. The physical recovery after a miscarriage is often overlooked, even among those of us who wish to talk more frequently and openly about pregnancy loss.
Always Feel Sad
For a while, any time I didn't feel sad, there was a twinge of guilt. Like, "How dare you be laughing right now, you heartless bitch." That twinge could often become a throb, and the throb would become an ache, and then I felt sadness and guilt. But, the truth of the matter is and as highlighted before, the emotional journey after pregnancy loss is often complicated, and I really should have just enjoyed the not-distressed moments whenever I could.
"Just Be Grateful" For The Child I Already Had
This is something people try to say in an attempt to help you through your difficult time, but it's the opposite of helpful. Yes, I already had a beautiful little boy when I miscarried. Yes, I loved him more than anything and was thankful for him every day. But my son's existence didn't erase the ache of miscarrying my second pregnancy, and the suggestion that I should simply be grateful for him not only diminished my right to my pain, but indicated that I didn't have my maternal priorities straight. With all the internalized shame and doubt I already had going on, I took this suggestion too much to heart for a while. (Fortunately, not too longer afterward, it turned out, I realized that, shock of shocks, a person can feel two things at the same time, including gratitude for one child's health and heartache for the loss of a second.)
Hate My Body
It felt completely natural, even called for, to hate my body after my miscarriage. I mean, it had failed me, right? Still, hating my body for what I perceived it had done, made me hate other aspects of it to: its size, its shape, its clumsiness, its weakness. Any insecurity I'd ever felt about myself in the 30 years I have been alive, came bubbling to the surface in the matter of minutes.
Deny Myself Comfort
It wasn't until a dear, sweet friend sent me a bunch of chocolate bars that I realized that many of the things I'd expected of myself and denied myself were unreasonable. I expected myself to know how to feel, to feel the "right" way (which I had perceived, basically, to be the opposite of whatever I was feeling at any given time) and I expected to do all of this without being even the slightest bit gentle on myself or indulgent of my feelings. In short, I had constructed a scenario I could never, ever win.
But those three fancy chocolate bars were an external signifier to me: what I felt mattered. Someone else saw my experience and recognized it as something that warranted compassion. When I couldn't trust my own perceptions, having someone else react to my reality with objects of comfort, enabled me to see that what I was feeling mattered, and because my feelings mattered, I mattered, and I deserved to help myself feel better.