Over the summer, the July 4th holiday brought my extended family together in a joyful (and extremely hot) reunion on the lake. Two cousins came with their one year-old daughters. Both were smiley, happy, squirmy little bundles of heaven. The previous year one of them was only a couple weeks old. The other hadn’t been born yet. There would have been a third baby to-be if I hadn’t experienced a lost pregnancy.
Last year at that gathering, I had to choke down the formed knot in my throat every time I looked at the newborn or my other cousin’s pregnant wife’s blossoming belly, feeling my grief with every glance. Sometimes pregnant women miscarry and I am one of them.
This is my experience with my lost pregnancy, my lost second baby.
During the hours that my (then 1 ½ year old) son wasn’t napping, I followed him around, not just because he required me to do so, but because he was a shield. In focusing on his play at the water table, I didn’t have to think about what was missing. I didn’t have to think about the newly empty space in my womb. Or the upcoming absence in my arms when the summer drew to a close. I didn’t focus on my lost pregnancy.
With my son to protect me from scrutiny and adult conversation, I could avoid the dreaded and fearful question, “Do you think you’ll have more kids?” To which my reply might have been too urgent, too pained, too defensive, “I tried. I failed. I miscarried.”
Focusing on my son kept my hands full so I could avoid holding the newborn or engaging with the pregnant cousin-in-law. I worked hard to outsmart and outrun my tremendous feelings of loss, grief, and jealousy.
My lost pregnancy invisibly wound its way around my body, tightening, closing off my air.
In February of 2017, I miscarried at nine weeks. The loss was crushing. I was fairly open about my grief in those initial days, but it became more difficult to talk about as regular life and normal routines resumed. Which they quickly did. They had to. I had a job to get back to and a toddler to care for and love. Holding myself together during work and my son’s waking hours was pertinent to survival. After all of that, I was left with maybe an hour or so to face the emptiness and the longing, the wondering, and the sadness inside me.
The way that the practitioner spoke to me the day I found out the baby was gone, made me feel as though these things shouldn’t be felt at all. With significant emotional distance and lack of bedside manner, she reduced my experience to statistics. 15-20% of women experience a lost pregnancy to miscarriage, and 80% of those within the first trimester. She handed me literature and offered me the alternative exit so I wouldn’t have to walk through the waiting room where the pregnant ladies sat for their appointments. I still wonder if that was to shield them or me. I guess it could be both; we both needed protection.
Despite this OB-GYN’s minimization of my ‘aborted pregnancy’ and the normalizing statistics she shared, nothing prevented the emotional trauma I experienced.
Though the reality may be that my lost pregnancy was an experience several have, I did not want to be lost among those facts and figures. Nor did I feel it was as simple as that. I did not want to be minimized to a statistic. My lack of control over the entire physical experience was surreal. Rarely have I felt such powerlessness. Rarely have I felt like such an incredible failure.
When I got home from the hospital, I fell into my mother’s arms as the other three grandparents gripped their chests and stifled their own pain. The double-impact of watching their own children suffer the loss while they, too, felt the loss of their own weighed them down. Our broken hearts were felt. The sadness filled the kitchen as though it were a pool and the water was rising above our heads.
I knew peace and healing would take time. Like any loss, time is the only thing that eases the pain. No one can ever know how long it takes for grief to diminish. Having lost relatives, classmates, and friends, life and death, love and loss, were not unfamiliar pairs to me. But never had I considered grieving a baby through a lost pregnancy or miscarriage. What now?
I just kept going through the motions of my life each day: waking up, and thinking maybe today it will feel a little easier.
This July 4th, I noticed that my pain had abated enough that I was able to willingly snuggle the precious one year-olds without tears. Even so, every time someone commented on me, “Being in my element,” my heart strings were strummed. That tune played quietly inside for only me to hear: Lost Pregnancy, Lost Baby, Lost Love.
Most of my extended family didn’t know I miscarried. I didn’t share my trauma with my cousin or cousin-in-law when they were pregnant with their firsts, because I didn’t want to worry them or dampen their joy. There is already enough stress with pregnancy, especially the first time. I wanted to protect these newly pregnant innocents from the unfortunate possibility of miscarriage in their first trimesters. Especially from knowing the staggering statistics. Thank you, kind and sympathetic OB-GYN.
This July, I was able to hold and play with those little girls without completely falling apart. I was able to talk to their mamas without jealousy or envy. I enjoyed my time with my family and my son without purposefully avoiding or fearing conversations. Time has healed me in some ways, but truthfully it has not taken away my feeling of loss.
Despite my progress, I was still saddened by the absence of what would have been my own one year-old, teetering alongside the toddler pack in the grass or splashing in the lake. There are still times that I feel struck in a moment of pain when I see my nephews (siblings) playing together. My son might have been playing with his sibling. And one day, when my son picked up a large rock and brought it to me, telling me it was a baby crying and needing a bottle, I was half in love with his imagination and nurturing spirit and half crushed by reality.
A lot of the time I feel like I’m wearing really screwed up glasses. One moment everything is rosy and the next it’s grey scale.
The incredible beauty of each of these moments is not lost on me: the family generations gathering; the playfulness of children and siblings; the imagination of a small child. I am able to see through a lens of gratitude and joy, but one that is also tinged with sadness and loss. For every beautiful moment, every image of multiple generations, children, siblings, I am reminded of my lost pregnancy and the child that should have been.
If I go to church and see a family with two children, I see joy and sorrow. If I see a pregnant mom with a toddler attached to her hip, I see the same thing. I’m not sure if I ever won’t see life this way. For me, I lost a child. I’m not sure if I will ever not feel that.
Miscarriage may happen to so many of us, but do we ever regain that piece of our hearts that broke off? That died when our baby did?
It doesn’t matter that I was nine weeks and not twelve, twenty-six, or thirty-five. As soon as I saw the test strip, I was a mother for a second time. As soon as I saw the little bean-shaped body on the first ultrasound and heard the heartbeat, we were mother and child. Even without the lucid dreams of what life with two children would have looked like, the thoughts were there, circling around in my subconscious.
When moms lose their babies before they are born, those dreams and plans for them go, too. The new life you imagined with your new family is also lost. Just as dreams and plans aren’t tangible, neither was my lost child. I had nothing physical to kiss, or hold, or to say goodbye to. There was nothing to lay to rest. My child was there and then gone, like a whisper or a prayer.
And so you have to learn to grieve and live this monumental loss that can’t be seen or touched but that is deeply felt. A lost pregnancy, a lost child, and there isn’t anything anyone can say or do to really help.
I’ve carried my heartache for over a year silently. Not because people weren’t willing to listen, but because it’s been hard to find the right segue into, “I miss my baby that didn’t make it,” every time I feel the loss. For a long time, I thought my grief would eventually go away. Dissipate. That there would be a little bit of longing. A little bit of missing. A little bit of wondering. But ultimately, someday, I wouldn’t be so crushingly saddened by a loss from a year (or many years) ago. This no longer seems like a realistic expectation. Not for me anyway.
So, instead of continuing to bury the feeling of loss when it comes and goes as frequently as any other, I’m letting it out. I’m offering it up. I’m sharing it. I know I’m not alone; statistics say that I’m not. Moms miscarry and I’m one of them. And I stand here inviting other mothers who have experienced a lost pregnancy and children to feel whatever it is they need to feel. I’m granting you permission, if that is something that you need. Maybe we share this kind of experience and the feelings that come from it. You’ve got me. You don’t have to feel your loss alone.