When I suffered my first miscarriage, in a lot of ways, I was all alone. For starters, I was the first of my college friends to have kids. My closest female relatives hadn't lost a pregnancy before. It felt like I was the only person in the world who was feeling what I felt: a deep and profound sadness and anger and disappointment that my body had let me down in such a personal way. Yet I was totally shocked by the comments people made, and even now, years later, I'll never forget what people said after I lost my baby.
I'm an open person. I tend to share (and overshare) most things about my life with my friends (and the Internet, apparently). At that time in my life, my "oversharing" meant that I told people I'd had a miscarriage even if they didn't know I was pregnant. I wanted to talk about it. The general wisdom about not sharing pregnancy news until after the first trimester was sort of moot for me, because that suggestion is based on the assumption that if you miscarried, you wouldn't want anyone to know.
But I did.
I shared the news of my miscarriage with people who had never lost a pregnancy and who had never been pregnant or even given much thought to whether or not they'd want to become parents one day. And because this was uncharted waters for a lot of them, I heard a lot of insensitive comments. When I say the comments were insensitive, I don't mean that they were callous, or mean, or snarky. People I love and who love me were only trying their best to be there for me during a difficult time. But the fact of the matter is, people who were trying to be reassuring made me feel worse on multiple occasions, mostly by minimizing my experience. I get that urge to make things better by looking at the sunny side. But I didn't want to look at the sunny side. I wanted to feel less alone.
When I began spotting at six weeks, I was understandably freaked. I called my mother the moment I saw pink on the toilet paper. "I'm sure it's fine," she told me, "I had spotting for a few months when I was pregnant with your brother." It was reassuring. This was normal. The pregnancy wasn't doomed.
Except it was. Not that either of us had any way to know that. And I've learned that in my case, spotting is normal. I've had four pregnancies and two of those pregnancies went to term. I've spotted in all of them. If anything came near my cervix, I'd spot for a couple of days. I'm pretty sure I spotted if anyone even thought the word "cervix" in my presence.
I know that my mother meant that spotting didn't mean anything conclusive. But when the spotting turned to bleeding, and my miscarriage was confirmed with my midwives, I felt angry that she and other family members had been so quick to dismiss my concerns. I had been right to be worried. And the fact that the only women I talked to in those few days of anxiety had the experience of spotting and everything turning out fine made me feel so alone. I worried I had done something wrong, like taking Ibuprofen for a headache before I knew I was pregnant. I felt like the only person on the planet who was going through what I was going through. Why couldn't my spotting have been benign? Why couldn't my body have handled that pregnancy? Why was that little fertilized egg not worthy of growing like so many others?
I wish that no one told me,
I'm sure it will be fine.
How could they be sure? They couldn't. I wish they had said, "That sounds really scary. I'm sorry you're so anxious about it. What do you need?" I wanted someone in the foxhole with me. I wanted acknowledgement that my feelings of panic were valid. It's possible if my mother had asked me that, I would've pushed and asked her about her experiences, because I was looking for reassurance. I wanted someone to tell me it was fine. When no one did, the blow was that much worse.
After my miscarriage was confirmed, I began reaching out to my friends, even though none of my close friends had been through something like this. My college friends were like family. I had been through so much with them: death of parents, illnesses, breakups. I wanted my inner circle drawn closely around me. But for them, conceiving a baby was still something they avoided, and it might've been difficult for them to realize just how much this baby was wanted. They definitely didn't realize that as soon as I had a test come back positive, I began to think of that baby as a person. There was so much hope and possibility, and miscarrying was an abrupt end to that.
The comment that stung the most from my friends circle was:
It wasn't meant to be.
I know what my friend meant when she said that. Likely something had gone wrong in the fertilization, or the implantation, or some other tiny delicate process a zygote goes through. And while I understand that likely the miscarriage had been inevitable since the moment of conception, what it felt like she was saying was "You didn't need to love that baby, something was wrong with it."
It made me feel naive for loving that little being so quickly, for loving something that likely had never developed a heartbeat. It made me feel defective in that my body and my egg hadn't done what they had to to give this thing a chance.
It's different with other losses, like breakups or deaths. There's something tangible for people to understand. When a family member dies, there are memories to hold on to and specific things to miss. In a lot of ways, a miscarriage is invisible. And I so wished it was visible. I needed ways to make it real, to give myself permission to grieve. I wanted my friends and loved ones to help me make it real.
It's OK. You'll have another.
Yes, conceiving had been easy for us. We were lucky that we got pregnant the first month we tried. After healing from my miscarriage, I got pregnant with my son within a few weeks. But conceiving him didn't erase the pain of losing a baby. My son is wonderful. I wouldn't trade him for anything in the world. And even though there is a lot of peace and happiness in that, it still does not take away the question of what that first baby might have been. My partner's and my DNA would have combined in a totally different way. That child might have looked more like me, or been serious like my partner.
Saying "you'll have another," is a really difficult thing. It assumes that the grieving mother didn't have trouble conceiving. It assumes the mother wants to try again right away. It also implies that when a new baby is conceived, the grieving for the lost pregnancy will stop. But it won't. Every woman is different, of course. But if I, six years later, am still wondering about that first little soul I conceived, then it's clear that that pregnancy is forever etched somewhere in my heart. The "what could have beens" still hurt. Remembering how hard it was to see a pregnant woman or a baby on the street is still vivid.
There is a reason no one knew what to say: most of these people hadn't ever really talked about miscarriage before. Since one in every four women will experience a pregnancy or infant loss (and there is research out there that says pregnancy loss may be much more common than that), most likely, every single person knows someone who has miscarried.
I realize not every woman wants to talk and share about such a deeply personal thing. I'm not saying that everyone should. What I am saying is that we all need to listen to women who are sharing their experiences, because there is still so much shame that goes along with it. It's a difficult enough experience without feeling embarrassed and ashamed.
Images: Courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh (3), Pexels (2)