They sent me home from the hospital this morning with a small book entitled, “Miscarriage: A Shattered Dream”*. In fact, when I tried telling the midwife I perhaps didn’t need one because I am a chaplain and hence oh, so familiar with grief, she sent me home with two just in case one of my clients could use one. Truly, I cannot think of a more perfect description of what miscarriage is and feels like: a dream, a hope, a vision, shattered.
As I sit here, I am aware of an outside voice admonishing: do not write about this. We live in a culture where it has become common to wait to tell others that we’re pregnant until we’re 10 or 12 weeks along, until we are in the “safe” zone. The underlying message here is that if you don't make it that far, no one else needs to know. It's an unspoken pressure to keep your pain to yourself because "we don't talk about such things". And, I totally get that for some people, people more private and with different boundaries than myself, this makes complete sense. For some people, this may be what is most honoring of them and their journey.
My voice and my truth, however, is that while I know how to hide my pain and keep it to only my privileged few, that is not always what is most helpful or honoring to me. For me, keeping this sort of pain and grief secret only deepens a pattern of expecting to be there for others but navigating my own losses on my own. I’ve given myself today to do what is most honoring of and compassionate towards myself, and the truth is that writing helps. Writing has always helped.
So does drinking Mint Conditions in my pajamas while watching Grey’s Anatomy, which is what I did before coming to the keyboard. Self-care, self-compassion requires knowing what you need, what you like, what brings you comfort. Unfortunately, many of us have never given ourselves the benefit of truly asking ourselves what is nurturing for us so at times like this, we’re at a loss. We just push on through. Thankfully, I am fairly well acquainted with what soothes my body, psyche, and spirit. So, here I am.
I wish I could say I were new to this miscarriage experience, but unfortunately, like so many women, I am not. For the past three Mother’s Days, my husband and I have purchased flowers to plant for April and November, the indiscreet names we use to lovingly refer to our first two losses. Next year, I suppose we will add May to the list. A shattered dream, upon a shattered dream, upon a shattered dream.
They say not to get too ahead of yourself for this very reason. Miscarriage is so common, they don’t want you to get your “hopes up”. But, how do you not? And even if you could, why? Does living without hope or with less hope really help anything? If I have learned anything from Brene Brown it is that living disappointed, doesn’t protect you from feeling disappointed. Expecting and preparing for the worst, doesn’t make the worst any easier when it happens. Pain is pain and we simply can’t escape it. Nor are we meant to. Grief is a part of the human experience. So too, hopefully, is love.
It is with love that earlier this week I ordered Lydia, our 18-month-old, an absolutely adorable “Big Sister” outfit. It of course arrived in the mail from Amazon yesterday, after the spotting had already started. It will be returned, if I can bring myself to do it, as although I trust she will be a big sister some day, she’s growing so crazy fast that she’ll probably be in a new size by then. On the same day, I purchased my parents a card congratulating them on being grandparents (again), so I could mail it to them in Arizona. Via the phone this morning my mom told me to keep it until next time. She too is holding faith and trust for me and for us.
The thing is, I do trust. Although I grieve and mourn over the losses of April and November, it is not lost on me that perhaps without them, we would not have Lydia. Lydia is the spirit that chose to stay with us and let us be her parents, and I wouldn’t give her up for anything. In the same, I have to believe that if May wasn’t meant to be ours, than that’s because whomever is, wasn’t quite ready yet and will be equally as miraculous as Lydia when the time comes.
Unfortunately, trust doesn’t make the grief any less painful. I envisioned children two years apart in age and schooling. I was relieved to imagine giving birth when I was still 36 years old, something that somehow feels more comforting than 37. We envisioned having an entire summer at home while my parents were back in Minnesota. It’s amazing how many dreams one can envision for a life in just two short weeks.
The poem at the beginning of the miscarriage book starts, “But it hurts… differently”. Yes, it does. It hurts in a way that is difficult to describe. Perhaps that is why so many women are reticent to talk about it… fear of not being understood, of not being validated or held in ways that feel supportive. For some of us, it might have more to do with our own dismissive natures: “It shouldn’t be that big of a deal” or “I wasn’t that far along”. The thing is, I am no longer in the business of comparing. We hear comparison is the thief of joy; it’s also the thief of legitimately earned pain. No, my pain is not at all the same as the pain my sister-in-law experienced when she had a stillbirth at full-term. I cannot even imagine. Her pain, however, does not negate my own. Pain is pain. Grief is grief. I can feel for her and I can feel for me simultaneously.
I can do grief. In fact, this past year has left me intimately acquainted with it. The loss of my soul-dog, the loss of my childhood home, the loss of May. I can sit with the loss and feel it and practice self-compassion amidst it. I know how to do that. What I am not sure I know how to do is to continue to step into the vulnerability of opening myself up to the possibility of it happening again.
“It’s estimated that close to 800,000 families in the United States experience a miscarriage each year. This is approximately 20-30% of all documented conceptions,” the book continues. So much loss. It hurts to think of allowing myself to love another little bean and risk losing him or her or them again.
And yet, I know I will.
I know I will because what those statistics remind me is that this is what brave mamas have been doing throughout the ages. Brave mamas and daddies have risked having their hearts broken time and time again because ultimately, it’s worth it. Because ultimately there’s a chance to have a Lydia. And given the chance to have a Lydia, I’d go through that pain a hundred times over.
The joy, the livelihood, the purpose that she has gifted me, far outweighs all of this grief. Her love, my love, our love, is so much more powerful.
That is the truth I will keep holding onto in between waves of sadness. And tonight, I will likely hold her a little tighter and rock her a little more than she needs. Perhaps, in that way, we’ll soothe one another.
For all of you out there, mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, who have had your dreams shattered similarly, my heart goes out to you. My heart goes out to you if you don’t want to tell a soul in the world and choose to keep your pain tight to your chest and my heart goes out to you if you choose to tell the whole world. Your path to healing is your path; I hope you can be kind and gentle with yourself along the way.
Grateful, as always, to be within the waves with you.
* References from Miscarriage: A Shattered Dream by Sherokee Ilse and Linda Hammer Burns