The Grief and Loss of Miscarriage
I remember the day I was told that I was pregnant. I was in shock for a few days. It was my first pregnancy and I had no idea what to expect. I felt a little scared about how my whole life would change. I remember going out to dinner with my husband to celebrate and ordering a vegetable plate. For the first time I was eating for two. I smiled at the thought of it and gently patted my belly.
It wasn't long before I was bonding with this baby to be. I felt a joy and a love I had never experienced before. I was seeing a therapist at the time and I told him that I was pregnant and happy. He asked me a question I will never forget. He asked, "Do you now believe that good things can happen to you?" I warily nodded my head yes.
I went through the next weeks looking forward to a future which included a baby.
But it was not to be.
I believe it was about nine weeks into my pregnancy when I went for an ultrasound. I was hoping to see my baby on the monitor and to hear a heartbeat. I didn't know what to look for but was having trouble seeing anything. The technician looked very somber and I knew something was wrong. She then asked us to wait as she went to bring in the doctor. As my husband and I waited in the room I think we both knew what was coming next. In those next moments my life would change forever. We were told that I had lost the baby and that a D&C was scheduled where they would scrape out my uterus. The thought of this made me sick. I went from happy and elated to full of despair within the time span of a single morning.
When I got home I felt numb. I couldn't believe this was happening to me. I didn't want to move. I didn't want to eat. All I did want to do was to sleep. And after my D&C procedure things became even worse. All those pregnancy hormones dipped and my mood plummeted. I had no idea how emotionally difficult this experience would be. Nobody really talks about it. As I began to tell some close friends and family what happened, I soon discovered that I was not alone in this experience. A couple of my friends, several of my co-workers, and even my sister began to tell me their stories of miscarriage. And it became clear to me that whether the miscarriage happened early or later in the pregnancy, the pain and grief was still felt acutely.
I found that miscarriage is a far more common experience for women than we realize. The American Pregnancy Association cites this statistic: " Miscarriage is the most common type of pregnancy loss, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Studies reveal that anywhere from 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage." I wondered why I didn't hear about this more. Miscarriage seems to be a hushed topic where many women simply don't talk about it despite the fact that it can be such an emotionally devastating experience.
I didn't quite know how to talk about my loss either. And I also didn't know how to grieve. I didn't know I had the right to grieve. It was fortunate for me that I was already seeing a therapist. He got me to open up and share my feelings. I was desperate to avoid the pain but it came spilling out all over the place and even at work. One day one of my co-workers brought her baby to work and I burst into tears at the sight of her baby. I had to go into an empty room and cry. I found myself crying unexpectedly and frequently during that time.
The challenge of grieving when you have a miscarriage is that many do not recognize this as a loss and you do not have the support from others that you would have as for a death in the family. I was given many platitudes during that time which were more distressing than comforting. I was told such things as the baby probably would have had something wrong with it, that it was meant to be and also the flippant, "Oh well you can just have another." As though babies were interchangeable and that it was just like picking up a cabbage at the store. This last platitude was the most emotionally injurious as I suffered from infertility for years after my miscarriage. It was not guaranteed that I could ever have another baby.
I think what I most wanted to hear was a simple, "I am really sorry that this happened to you." But it was like I had entered this secret realm where my loss was invisible. I felt very alone.
Strangely enough, I gained the most compassion and understanding from a male co-worker whose wife had also just lost a baby due to miscarriage. He and his wife had been trying to conceive for several years so this loss was especially devastating. When this man broke down in front of me I understood that this type of loss crosses all barriers. Men grieve too. It is an aching sort of loss for the child you will never see and never get to know.
The other challenge of coping with having a miscarriage is that there is usually nothing tangible to say goodbye to. When you have a miscarriage you will never get to see the baby that you lost. There are no memories of life with this person. There is no recollection of touch. But yet you do feel this loss physically. Your belly may still be swollen and your breasts may start to lactate. But there is no baby. And you are left with this unbearable feeling of emptiness and nothing to hold.
What helped me to grieve was a special dresser drawer I had in our spare bedroom. This room was to be the baby's room and in one of the dresser drawers I had been storing baby things. I had the first brochures about pregnancy. I had bought one rattle and one stuffed lamb. I would spend time there with the open drawer touching these items and letting the tears flow. It helped so much to have this special place to go to connect to my baby. Those times spent in that room helped me to come to terms with my grief.
I also began to take a great interest in gardening. It was very symbolic but I wanted to grow something. As the first tiny shoots sprung out of the soil I marveled at how delicate a balance life truly is. Some seeds never took root and some plants never grew past being a seedling, withered, and were absorbed back into the ground. The cycle of life and death was being played out before my eyes. As I knelt upon the soil of my garden, my witness to these things produced a healing and an acceptance. I thought about my doctor's question for me before I lost the baby, "Do you believe that good things can happen to you?" And despite the loss I could honestly answer that question as "yes." A good thing did happen. I fell in love with a child. That child would never come into the world but this fact would never take away the love I would always feel. It was a love that I would eventually give to my other children.
I grew many things that spring I never thought possible within the confines of my postage stamp garden. I grew corn (several stalks), sunflowers, and even small watermelons. And on moonlit nights I would sit and watch my garden grow.