“A miscarriage is a natural and common event. All told, probably more women have lost a child from this world than haven’t. Most don’t mention it, and they go on from day to day as if it hadn’t happened, so people imagine a woman in this situation never really knew or loved what she had. But ask her sometime: how old would your child be now? And she’ll know.”
– Barbara Kingsolver
Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, and this is my story of loss. My hope is that if you’ve had a miscarriage, it reminds you that you’re not alone, and that if you haven’t, it reminds you that whether or not you’re aware of it, there are women in your life who have, and who carry that loss with them every day.
On February 3rd, forty-three days before I found out I was pregnant with Baby Pihl, I got a positive test for what would have been our first baby. I was thrilled, exhilarated, and filled with huge, uncontainable dreams for my sesame seed-sized fetus. Five short days later, I watched all of my dreams crumble and fall away in the emergency room when a doctor confirmed that the bleeding was, indeed, coming from my uterus and that my pregnancy had come to an end.
I remember three things very clearly from that night. I remember the doctor laying his hand on my knee, looking me in the eye, and saying “I am so, so sorry this is happening to you;” I remember the way Jordan and I sat in silence under the bright fluorescent lights, without words strong enough to fill the space within us; and I remember the nurse who sat beside me on my tissue-paper covered cot and shared the story of her three consecutive losses, followed by the birth of her healthy son.
Once the miscarriage was established, it wasn’t long before I was sent home with a shot to aid my body in clearing out all foreign substances, and details on what was going to happen, physically, over the next few days. What no one could prepare me for was the barrage of emotions that would crash over me, like the breaking of a dam.
First, there was the guilt that my body had betrayed me and rejected the very thing it had created, that I had made something less than perfect, and that my body was forced to flush it out. Then, helplessness that there was nothing I could do to turn back the clock, to remedy the loss, no way to make everything okay again. Finally, there was a debilitating sense of grief.
Here is the difference between sadness and grief: Sadness is a heaviness in your heart, a great weight on your shoulders, and tears that flow like rivers. Grief is an explosion wherein every shard slices through your heart and brings you to your knees, tears exchanged for physical pain that leaves you lying in bed, broken.
I hoped that sharing my loss with family would help ease my pain, that it would lighten the load I was carrying, and at times it did. Laying out all of my hurt for someone to see was cathartic; it was soothing to call my mom multiple days in a row with nothing new to say, to cry on someone’s shoulder, to mourn with a friend, but sharing was two-sided. As much as it helped to explain how I felt, the minute someone told me they “understood,” I wanted to shout “No, you don’t!” I wanted to scream and cry and stomp my feet that this was my loss, my grief. This was not something we went through together; in fact, no one, not even Jordan, felt what I felt because no one, not even Jordan, carried that fetus for 6 weeks before it was gone. I was tired of hearing that “everything happens for a reason,” that this was “God’s plan,” and that I “could always try again.” None of that was comforting. In fact, most of it was incredibly hurtful. Soon, I began to feel like sharing my grief cheapened it, like it minimized the value of what I lost.
So I stayed inside, I cancelled plans, I made excuses, I forgot to get out of bed. And within a few days, a few weeks, it felt like people forgot what I lost. They invited me out, and I said no, and they shrugged and went on. I couldn’t tell them that I was still crying in bed, because a few weeks had passed and my loss was no longer on their minds. Their lives went on, and I was left behind, lying in bed, remembering.
There is no way to win. Either you grieve and grieve and people whisper that “shouldn’t she be over it by now,” or you draw yourself up and laugh and smile and pretend you are as you always were and they never know that you are still breaking, still falling apart, still waking up with tears dried on your face. Whatever you do, there is no winning in grief. There is only surviving, maintaining, existing.
Eventually, I became pregnant again, and that makes me one of the lucky ones. I’m now 34 weeks into a viable pregnancy that came only a month after my loss. I’ve heard a strong heartbeat, I’ve watched my baby suck his fist in ultrasounds. I know that I am lucky. Unfortunately, joy doesn’t erase pain; they aren’t two sides of the same coin. Rather, they lay side-by-side in our hearts: the joy smoothing out pain’s jagged edges and the pain casting shadows on the joy. The shadow this loss cast will hover over the remainder of my pregnancy: with every flutter, twitch, and cramp, there’s a tangible fear that wasn’t there before. I know what it is to lose a pregnancy, and I can’t unknow it. All I can do is keep moving forward.
Ten weeks into my current pregnancy, when my grandfather died, my mom reminded me that this is all part of the circle of life; that lives begin and end in their own time, whether or not we’re ready for them. Some circles are the size of a sesame seed, and some grow bigger every day. Some are joyful, and some are tempered with grief before they ever begin. But in the end, all we can do is hope that our circles mean something to somebody, that we live our lives with kindness, compassion, and love.
And, Baby Pihl, we’ve got love for you in spades.