Like periods and poop, it happens. To a whole lot of women across the globe. It truly is a household issue no one wants to talk about. Child loss of any kind is horrific to deal with, painful to live through and impossible for anyone on the outside to understand. Women, mothers, don’t talk about it. We’re spoken to in hushed tones behind closed doors and expected to move on and leave it behind.
I think many women don’t talk about miscarriage because compared to other types of child death, it seems like the least of the evils. In fact, I have been told by someone who has never experienced a miscarriage, that it is the “kindest” kind of death there is. (If there is such a thing) Our feelings are often discounted and disrespected because we, ourselves might not even know how we feel.
We are taught by society at large, to believe that babies are not people until they are breathing, crying, pooping and eating. A growing child in a mother’s womb isn’t baby “enough” to be considered alive and it isn’t alive enough to warrant grief until they’re at the very least visible to other people. So basically, by society’s standards, once you are in your final trimester, you are allowed to grieve if the baby should die, but only for a while, because… well, it wasn’t even “here” yet, right? …how much sadness could you have, REALLY, when “it” wasn’t even born? I mean, it’s not like you got to hold it or bond with it, (because bonding only happens AFTER birth, right?) and its not as bad as the children fighting cancer, right? “Don’t be so dramatic” we are told or, “don’t try to compare yourself to women who have lost a REAL child… a miscarriage is NOT the same thing. In fact, it’s just a chemical pregnancy anyway, not a ‘real’ baby!”
With the sentiments above pressing against an almost-mother’s heart from every angle, coupled with whatever feelings she may be wrestling with regarding the pregnancy in general, women simply choose not to talk about it because they either don’t know how they feel themselves, or they just don’t want the judgement from others who may not understand.
Some may feel guilt because they were at odds with the pregnancy to begin with. They may feel a secret relief and feel evil for having that feeling, unsure of what to do with it and how to process the combination of that, alongside a feeling of pain and loss. They may feel deeply hurt, angry with God or themselves, feeling like they have failed their unborn baby or just plain in pain and feeling a little stupid for getting their hopes up.
All these emotions are normal. All of these emotions are valid and the feeling of isolation can be crippling, even terrifying. There are few people who understand and even fewer who are willing to talk about it without judgement, so most women swallow whatever pain, confusion or loss they are feeling and move forward until they forget about it because… well, that’s just what people do. No one understands, so they just pretend it never happened, telling no one, or telling only a choice few and never inviting conversation.
Here’s why it sucks tho- miscarriages happen a lot more often than you probably realize and every time we pretend it didn’t happen, we perpetuate the belief that it’s a ‘rare’ occurrence. I certainly didn’t know how common it was until I had one… And then another. And then another… and at that point, I began seeking support online in “angel baby” mom groups and grief support pages, I began seeking answers trying to figure out not only why it happened, but trying to learn how I could ensure it stopped happening. I spent hours on websites like “babycenter.com” reading post after post from women all over the world dealing with the same, or similar issues. I was also in a psych major program through an online university, so I had access to and read countless medical/psych journals and medical reports on as many aspects of this situation as I could get my hands on and had time to read. Through all my studying, I learned that not only is miscarriage common, but nearly every woman will experience one at some point in their lives, even if many won’t even realize it.
The statistics are staggering and honestly, the whole “one in four” thing is pretty misleading. Here’s why: Roughly 50% of all fertilized eggs will spontaneously die before the mother has a clue she is even pregnant. For those of us unfortunate enough to be aware of it pretty much from day one, the statistic is about 15-20%. That is, up to 20% on average of all fertilized eggs will end in miscarriage before week 10. And remember- the thing is, we’re not talking about women here, as the “one in four” thing suggests- we’re talking about pregnancies. So ONE woman could be pregnant a total of four times and only ONE of those children will make it to birth and mom only even knew about 2 to begin with. Pretty staggering, right? Now, if we did branch this out to women instead of pregnancies using this statistical information, we can gather that 1 out of every 4 women have miscarried and been aware of it AND 2 out of 4 women have likely had “silent miscarriages”, or “chemical pregnancies”, never even knowing they had been pregnant at all. So, you’re talking incredibly high numbers of women who have experienced this. Here’s the reality – it’s likely every woman alive has experienced a pregnancy loss, they just may not have known about it.
With these amazingly high percentages of risk stacked up against a hopeful mother, one would think the topic wouldn’t be so outrageously taboo and yet… here we are, hiding this giant secret, feeling guilty for grieving over a loss that according to society, is really not that big a deal.
I learned that miscarriage, (which to me, was the loss of a child) was simply the passing of cells that were deformed anyway and didn’t qualify for bereavement at work. You couldn’t take grieving time unless the child was alive, I was told. I argued, “but it was alive… it was alive for several weeks weeks, making me sick, making me feel strange, it had a heartbeat and it was changing the taste of food and smells in my brain”, but no, the child was not alive… enough. In fact, the rules stated the child had to be BORN and THEN die to qualify for bereavement. You are expected to push forward and pretend it was just a really painful, late period because ultimately, that’s all it is… to them. (Except for that whole “it has its own heartbeat” issue…)
I asked for time off after each of my miscarriages but was only offered medical leave for 3 days with a doctor’s note. It might hurt, I was told, but it shouldn’t cause any need for bereavement, “if you’re in pain, won’t Mydol or Advil help? If you need to take an extra break you can, if the phones aren’t backed up you’re welcome to relax” and I was told, “you know most people feel comfort getting back to work and back into the swing of normal life. The sooner you forget about it and can get back to your day-to-day tasks, the better you will feel.” In fact, the third time it happened I was almost to the end of my first trimester. It hit me very hard, so I took all my sick time and another week of vacation, only to return and find myself being written up for taking time off during “peak season” to cope with the loss. It ended up a scathing footnote in my final review for the year: “Used all available time off and then some. Janelle needs to come into work consistently to be seen as a leader.”
I don’t blame work or anyone at my job, I loved my boss and my company. The fact is, miscarriage simply isn’t something that is dealt with compassionately in the workplace because it’s not fully understood. Most people who have never experienced it can know how deeply it can impact a woman – or an entire family. But why is that?
Because we never talk about it.
Because it’s not discussed, it’s not understood. The grief you experience is not understood, nor is it respected. After giving so many years of my life to a company I adored, I felt a little betrayed when they couldn’t give me a week to suffer over the loss of a child that would never be, a whole life as a mother suddenly taken away. Like I had won a lottery only to find I didn’t qualify because I wasn’t tall enough… it something that was completely out of my control. Not only was the experience painful physically, but emotionally it knocked me off my feet and triggered a pretty horrible downward spiral in my life. I know the downward spiral was given momentum by the fact that I felt somehow wrong for being so upset about it. I see now the only reason I felt this way was because I felt such little support from those around me.
Now, many sent condolences and I received a thousand “I’m so sorry” posts on Facebook and in my email, but beyond that, no one really knew what to do or say and every attempt at making me feel better only made me feel more empty. My friends and bosses at work did their best. They tried as respectfully as they could to tell me it was time to get up and get back to work and get things done, but for some reason I just couldn’t do it. My heart wasn’t in the game anymore. I couldn’t move forward.
There was no question for me that a spirit that was not my own, had once been within me. I felt it from the start each time and waited the 17 days it took for the test to turn pink. I KNEW it every time, literally from the start because I felt this tiny fire, a consciousness growing within me and then, just like that, it was gone. I can’t explain it and most people think I’m nuts when I say it, but I knew each time, before it was even confirmed as a loss, that those pregnancies were already over.
I FELT them stop. I felt the spirits leave, a sudden “lightness”, an empty feeling of chill where there had, just moments before, been a radiant warmth.
I felt like a failure. A failure in making life, failing to keeping it alive and being just like everyone else. I failed. I thought, I should have known better. I can’t even keep a houseplant living for more than a month, how was I going to keep a human alive? I secretly called my body a toxic wasteland, good for nothing but destroying things. I hated myself for every terrible thing I’d ever done, feeling it was some sort of karmic reaction to my bad actions in the past. I didn’t deserve a child. I shouldn’t have expected to be allowed to have one. It was just not my destiny to be a mom. The moment of fear and hesitation, regret even as I realized I was pregnant… THAT is why my baby was taken away. All of those thoughts, all that regret, all that pain and guilt… it was nothing compared to the feeling that I was Mother… for a moment. Then, just… nothing.
From the moment the stick turned pink, I was Mother and my whole world changed. It was something I’d never expected for myself, something I’d never considered I would want or be good at and then it was real.. it was happening… I accepted it and realized I had never wanted anything so much in my entire life. My future and my purpose changed and then suddenly… it was all just wiped out.
Gone. An entire future and all it provided was clearing away as though it were just mist in the early morning, evaporating before my eyes.
Something inside my body went wrong and I couldn’t control it, I couldn’t hold on to my baby. It fell away, disappeared into the Nothing of lost expectations. I failed. My toxic womb failed and destroyed my attempt at creation, but I couldn’t tell ANYone how I felt. I wasn’t allowed to be sad, or to feel pain… I hadn’t been pregnant long enough for it to matter. I needed to suck it up and put on my game face, go back to work and deal with the fact that I was weeks behind in reports smack in the middle of holiday season.
After a few weeks of feeling horrible and needing some sort of outlet, I thought, I can’t be the only person to feel this way. I started my online searches for others like me. That’s when I learned about my emotional rights, as I like to call them. It was my right to feel pain. I was ALLOWED to grieve and I was even allowed to call myself a mother, even though my baby didn’t live very long or breathe air in this world. That allowance was what gave me the ability to move forward.
Many women don’t talk about miscarriage because they feel stupid for feeling anything at all. Well, once I was given the allowance to call myself “the mother of a child who didn’t live past the 1st trimester” instead of a whiny girl who was overly emotional about something she should have been able to just get over and move on from, I felt empowered, entitled and I began to talk about it.
Now, I do what I can to help other women know they are allowed to feel and talk about it, too.
The magic of my miscarriages was that at first I wasn’t sure if I was entirely happy I was pregnant. I was anxious, unsure – but once that baby left my body, I realized how ready I really had been and I knew it was time to move forward, taking an active role in the process of becoming a mother.
When I finally became pregnant after several problems, multiple miscarriages and completely giving up, I joined a “rainbow baby” group where moms who had suffered previous miscarriages, infant death and stillbirth experiences rejoiced the lives they were trying to create. With those women championing me on, I became even more comfortable talking about what happened to me and expressing how I felt. Their commitment to finding joy on the other side of pain, strength in the face of failure and loving one another along the way, I found myself not just being supported, but suddenly, being the supporter!
Now, I contemplate the “what if” had I never taken the time to seek out those resources. Would I even have children today? … I honestly don’t know. My ability to talk about my experiences with loss, my anxiety with trying again and every moment and milestone along the way through pregnancy gave me strength to continue and to embrace motherhood with joy and not with fear. Being able to work through those issues is what allowed me to WANT to try again and without them, I would be minus one amazing three year old and a brilliant, adorable one year old.
I want everyone to have the opportunity to talk about their pain, should they feel they need to.
You just don’t know how it can change your life to be given that allowance to speak, to lift these nightmares and unspoken thoughts off your heart and let them go in love to others who understand.
If you’re struggling with a loss, please know first, that all your feelings, no matter how hard they may be to admit; guilt, relief, reservations, anxiety, pain, depression, fear and rage are all okay. It’s all okay. You will be okay.
And second, there ARE resources to help you work through those feelings. I’ve pasted a few links below to some great support systems online, but please feel free to reply here, private message me, email direct at firstname.lastname@example.org or find and ask to join the Cautious Mom Facebook page if you ever have anything you want to talk about in a private, secret group of supportive mothers who understand. Everyone deserves to feel supported and empowered to try again.
I wanted to mention a few things about this post. It’s been almost four years now since my last miscarriage. The first, I believe I was actually in my late teens and I also believe I had a few false starts throughout my 20’s and simply wasn’t aware of what was going on. Therefore, I can say with some certainty that there were at least 4 cases prior to the 3 I discussed in the blog above and one after, right before I became pregnant with my son but it was very, very early and if it wasn’t for a few tell-tale signs, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed.
I don’t really think about these issues anymore. I don’t grieve and talking about it no longer brings me pain or heartache, as the children I have been able to bring into this world have changed my life, filled my heart and given me a purpose I never even knew I wanted.
I am posting this now for just a couple reasons; 1, A friend on our Cautious Mom page asked me several months ago now to tell the stories for her, and 2, because people go through this every day and have no one to talk to, no one to relate to their issues and they deserve to know they are not alone.
I hope it helps anyone who reads it to feel validated for feeling.
If you take ANYthing from this entry, take this: It doesn’t matter how old your baby was – you are allowed to grieve your CHILD. It wasn’t a “chemical”, it was a baby. It wasn’t a “missing embryo”, it was a miscarriage and you are allowed to be sad. You are allowed to grieve.
You are now, and forever will be, a mother of an angel baby and you are allowed to be proud of that, you are allowed to honor that and you have a right to say it out loud.