My second pregnancy took me completely by surprise. I took a home test after feeling just a little bit "off" a day or so before my period was expected, surprised that it was positive. And I was taken for a second emotional jolt when, days later, I realized I was having a miscarriage. I had no idea what a "sunshine baby," a child born before a loss, was at the time, but I understand why someone would put a name to a child born before a loss. There were things I thought I had to do because I had a "sunshine baby" during my miscarriage, too, and while I realize now that I didn't, I understand why having a child as you deal with subsequent loss is a unique and complicated experience.
Of course there's no one way, let alone one "right way" to feel about or work through a miscarriage, regardless of whether or not one has or doesn't have children. My experience is not everyone's experience, and it certainly cannot encapsulate the multitude of experiences that exist. But I will say that how I felt about my miscarriage was inseparable from my perceptions of my own motherhood. The fact that I was already a mom, already had my "sunshine baby," made some aspects of the grieving process easier to handle and other aspects so, so much worse (or at least more complicated).
I think it's safe to say that every single mom knows what it's like to have a slew of expectations hanging over her head, and experiencing a pregnancy loss is no different. From how you grieve to when you move on, people place arbitrary timelines and assumptions on your already heavy shoulders. So with that in mind, here's what I thought I had to do because I had a sunshine baby. In the end, I was wrong. I didn't have to act a certain way, and neither do you.
Downplay My Loss
Because I had a child, I genuinely felt like I wasn't allowed to experience any real amount of sorrow, especially since my loss had occurred so early (within six weeks). So even when people offered sympathy, I would sort of brush it away a bit. "Oh, thank you, that's sweet. But, really, it's not a big deal."
This was a massive lie, but I felt like it was weak or frivolous to say otherwise.
Act Like Nothing Happened
I felt I just had to keep on keeping on. I had a kid to take care of, after all, and there was plenty to keep busy with. I felt like I couldn't let anything disrupt that routine, and I didn't feel I had the luxury or permission to "rock the boat." I felt like I needed permission to feel things, and I didn't want anyone to feel like they needed to talk to me or help me.
I certainly didn't want it to appear as though I was wallowing.
Be Super-Extra Perky Around My Child
BECAUSE IF WE'RE SMILING NOTHING IS WRONG, RIGHT?!
I knew how I felt, and I didn't think it was fair to bring that kind of sadness around a child, so I went extra-extra. It was quite a feat, because I'm naturally an irrepressibly extra person. So I was basically at the level of the cheeriest puppet on a kids' show for a while there.
"Just Be Grateful" I Had A Child
"You know, some people can't even get pregnant."
"Well at least you already have a child. You should be thankful for them."
Yeah, I know that. And I am. That doesn't make the pain go away, though.
But you hear this enough and, amid all your own emotional weirdness, and you begin to believe it.
It's not helpful.
Skip Over Taking Time For Myself
Because, again, there was a kid to take care of and he shouldn't have to know that anything was wrong. There'd be plenty of time to take care of myself when I was... sleeping? Cooking dinner? Reading stories?
"You know what, self-care is indulgent and unnecessary anyway," I told myself. "I'm fine."
Spoilers: It isn't and I wasn't.
Keep Loss Quiet
This went above and beyond acting like nothing had happened. I acted like nothing was amiss even with people who knew I'd had a miscarriage, but I also felt pressure not to tell anyone who didn't know. I mean, why draw attention to myself? How would I even bring that up? And was I going to say something in front of my child? No, best to keep it to myself.
I felt as though I'd failed, as a mother and woman, for having a miscarriage... as though that was something I could control and, moreover, that it was tied to either my womanhood or motherhood. Yet I felt like I should be ashamed, because the toxic ideas our culture has about "the purpose" of women's bodies runs really, really deep, even if we know they're complete and total bullsh*t.
Feel Guilty For Not Giving My Child A Sibling
Here I was so selfishly and stupidly feeling bad for myself about not having another baby that I wasn't thinking about the fact that my body was incapable of giving my son a sibling, and he deserved one.
(It wasn't selfish and it wasn't stupid, FYI.)
Resign Myself To One Child When I Wanted More
Because I already had a child (I wouldn't want to seem ungrateful), and because the idea that I could possibly have another miscarriage was horrifying. I thought I just had to be OK with being "one and done" in spite of myself. The thought of putting myself out there again was more than I could even begin to think about for a while, and so I instead resolved (temporarily) that I was "only meant" to have one kid.
Feel Guilty That People Might Thing One Child Wasn't "Enough"
At the same time, why was I feeling bad when, really, my son never asked for a brother or sister. I just wanted to give him one. Why? Wasn't my sweet little boy enough to love? Could I ever ask for a more wonderful child? So what was I feeling bad about? I had everything I needed, didn't I? And if he wasn't enough for me did I even deserve him in the first place?
(I'm telling you guys: miscarriage messes with your head and the level of mess is uniquely awful when it's a miscarriage that happens after a live birth.)
Be Physically Up To Playtime Right Away
I had an early and medically uncomplicated loss, so basically my miscarriage was on par with a really heavy, really awful period. As a result I thought I didn't really have anything to "recover" from, and I should be just fine carrying on as usual.
Except, no, definitely not. I mean, physically your body changes even in the earliest stages of pregnancy. And emotionally, well, that can certainly take a toll on a person physically. I needed to rest, but instead I pushed myself too hard.
Feel Guilty For Taking Comfort In My Child
I did, though. Snuggling him, playing with him, and just generally loving him and basking in his 20-month-old toddler cuteness was a huge source of comfort... and I felt awful about that. On the one hand, I felt like I shouldn't have to rely on my child for emotional support. It should only ever go the other way around. But, deep down, I think the main reason was that I didn't feel as though I deserved to take comfort in anything.
Believe I Was A Bad Mom
Because what kind of mom is so bad at taking care of her baby that it doesn't get to be born?
Of course, this is not how mothering, pregnancy, embryos, fetuses, babies, or morality works. Not even a little bit. But when you know what it is to be a mom and what it means to grow a child from conception to birth, a subsequent loss can be profound and devastating and fill you with self-doubt.