*Warning - Triggers, difficult topic, graphic imagery*
Author Note: As I publish more frequently, I’ll be weaving in posts drafted when I first considered taking Pensive Impulse live; only took four years having acquired it in 2012! This is the very first post I wrote in April 2016, but not the first one I published.
When you hear the word miscarriage, what is the first word you think of?
Rare? Taboo? Misunderstood? Guilt? Isolation? Shame? Anger? Perhaps you exhale a closed-eyed, groan-filled sigh of knowingness. Or maybe all that registers is, "yeah, I got nothing."
The word I think of is common.
The American Pregnancy Association, the first site that pops up when you google miscarriage, report that studies show 10-25% of clinically recognized pregnancies are ended in miscarriage. A 2015 Time article, Most Americans Don't Know the First Thing About Miscarriages, puts the number closer to 30%. Depending on your search query - how many occur annually, how many before the doctor-confirmed test, how many in the first trimester, how many are West Wing fans (raising my hand) - stats are all over the place, some outdated.
The U.S. national pregnancy rate is 102.1 per 1000 woman aged 15-44. Miscarriage is common. So common that 1 in 3 pregnancies end in miscarriage. Think worldwide? What a tremendous amount of statistically immeasurable pain. Emotional pain. Perhaps physical pain.
Miscarriage is so common, chances are you know someone who has experienced a miscarriage. Chances are high you know several someones without even realizing it.
In the case of miscarriage, common does not equal routine. Miscarriage is painful, confusing, frightening, lonely. As women, we wonder what we did wrong? Long is the list of what to do, what to avoid if we are able to become pregnant. We feel guilty about our eating, our habits, finding that nth-degree thing that surely did it - I knew I shouldn't have eaten a hamburger with anchovies every morning. It wasn't the hamburger but we blame ourselves. We fear getting pregnant again. We fear not getting pregnant again. Geez, we were stressed getting pregnant in the first place. Wait--was it stress?
We go round and round and round with the whys. Of course the answer is complicated.
The medical terms regarding miscarriage are as antiseptic as they sound: A miscarriage shortly after conception is known as a chemical pregnancy. A miscarriage is also called a spontaneous abortion. After 20 weeks, it is known as a stillbirth.
The causes and reasons are often never fully known. What is so important but incredibly hard to do if not downright impossible, is not to blame ourselves. Countless factors may contribute: chromosomal or genetic abnormality of the embryo can make it impossible to sustain life (known as inviable), maternal age, lifestyle, underlying medical issues, physical trauma, etc. Misconceptions abound as to why women miscarry. Apart of self-blame, we might genuinely wonder if we are being punished? Why couldn't our longing, our desire just stop it from happening?
The overwhelming sense of powerlessness, helplessness, the complete loss of control over our bodies can be arresting. We can't control others or events, we know that, but surely we can control, we can protect what's deep within our charge, our womb. The truth that we never had the control is a pointless truth. The stark cognizance of that now-lack-of-control knocks us completely out of orbit.
How do we recover? How do we move on? How do we heal? How do we address this common, upsetting experience? Those are tough questions. All answered individually. What helped me in my healing journey was realizing just how common it actually is. That Time article explains how misconceptions persist 'because people don't talk about them.'
So, let's talk.
Guess what folks? We are. What I have found in researching is that for something so 'uncommonly common,' it is talked about and blogged and blogged and talked about. Celebrities share their experiences. Facebook statues are updated. Tweets of #miscarriage.
The talking about it is happening as women boldly brave sloughing off the stigma. What our mothers and aunts didn't talk about, our sisters and cousins do. What our doctors failed to mention, what we might not know to ask, our sister-hood in social media, and well beyond, will.
Earlier today, this nondescript day of April, I sat down to watch Fantastic Mr. Fox. Partly to silence my husband's "have you watched it, have you watched it yet?" Mostly because I needed a break. If you knew me, which most likely you don't, you would know chronic pain is a major, imposing part of my life. An SI-Joint fusion, at a date still TBD--this year? Next year?--could possibly alleviate or lessen my pain. I heap prayers upon prayers this is the case. In the meantime, my lunatic levels of nonstop-go-ness have faced staunch adjustment. I quit my job in 2014. I belly breathe. I have come a long way. In learning to truly listen to my body, I have become familiar with the delicate dance, the art and science of living with chronic pain. And if you suffer from anything that causes chronic pain, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
With a pleasant notification chime, the blue bubble popping up, I glanced at my phone. A full-on punch hurled me back in time, slamming me against the wall of Autumn 2011. Peeling my mind off the ground, I come back to the present. It wasn't so long ago that I had to strain to remember; of course I remembered, but enough time had passed where the sting of it had subsided, I could finally remember without wincing, without feeling like I would throw up.
I reread the text. My dear friend had experienced a miscarriage.
I faded back to September 2011. Almost ten weeks pregnant. Close to the end of the risky first trimester. We had formulated an email to family, friends and church and were waiting those last few weeks before hitting send. At this point in time, I worked as a designer and manager of Robotics Softgoods onsite NASA. I was busy, life was good.
Except that morning, shortly after I arrived at work, there had been blood in the bathroom.
I kicked past the surface of my thoughts, back to my friend. I wished to God that I could snap my fingers and, boom, skip the thousands of miles between us to give her the longest, tightest hug. My hug would convey all my support and love for her, empathy in understanding of the grief and pain and sorrow. Oh my friend! Oh her heart!
My heart had landed with a thud onto that sterile, tiled floor. Words hung in the room with thick humidity, sticking all over me. "I want you to know there is no longer a heartbeat." She was nice, gentle even, the technician. Apart of her job, giving such news, but she acted like it wasn't just business. That meant something. Well, I think it did. Later when I tried to remember if it did, I couldn't actually remember. My own screaming inside made hearing audible phrases uttered from anyone after that impossible to decipher.
The first moment when you realize .. the utter alone-ness of that exact moment. Just seconds before I had been two. I was creating. I was apart of the circle of Life. I was more than myself. Swollen, not just with bloat and hormone and, yes, pride, but also with the thickening of layers of love in my heart. It started expanding the moment I found out I was pregnant.
Except now I wasn't.
My friend and I continued texting a few more minutes, then ended our conversation. She didn't want to talk-talk yet, her fingers could do the only talking she could manage. We'd talk again soon. I tried to go back to watching the movie. Kristofferson Silverfox just completed an amazing first swing at Whack-Bat. I hit pause.
The hours leading up to my, I say my but it was OUR, my husband's and mine, miscarriage fast-forwarded as if a VHS tape (as an 80's child, I can make this reference), complete with color-bending, high-pitch "mphmehehr" suddenly showed up on my T.V. mind. Getting ready for work, driving to work, rushing around putting final touches to a project the entire morning, not feeling so great, blood in the bathroom, calling Joe, calling my doctor, calling Trish on the way to my doctor. Reassurance. It wasn't that much blood. Spotting happens she's heard. Her older sister, a doctor, says so. Oh yes, that's true. But that never happened with my first pregnancy, not even once. Finally feeling like it was nothing, actually starting to feel silly that I had overreacted by calling Joe, calling my doctor, calling Trish on the way to my doctor. Pressing the button for the third floor. Waiting for my name to be called. Googling 'miscarriage' in the waiting room. Hearing my name called. Changing into nothing but a sheet for the ultrasound examination. Explaining to the technician my silliness of the day and really this is probably just another overreacting pregnant woman dealing with hormones...
"Honey," then she grabbed my hand.
I may have said something out loud before it was just blubber and saliva. I can pause my T.V. mind, walk in and around those minutes. Changed back into my jeans. Sobs rotating with sniffles as I wait for the doctor to come into the room. The waiting felt like hours. Wanting to bolt out of there faster than Road Runner taunting Wile E Coyote, Meep Meep. The doctor giving me instructions of what to expect next. Oh dear God, of course there is a next - Fuck!
My husband had never missed a doctor's appointment of mine. A blood-clotting disorder, Factor V Leiden, caused me to be considered a high-risk pregnancy. However, I had a previous pregnancy and a healthy baby boy with no complications. He even needed coaxing, coming at 41 weeks via Induction. Joe had been to every appointment. Except this one. He couldn't get away and we were both sure I was ultimately overreacting. He felt awful.
I felt awful that he felt awful.
I also just felt awful.
The baby came out the next day with no needed D&C (dilation and curettage). At home, in the bathroom, I held the physical body of a vessel so recently occupied by life, by beating of heart, by a tiny soul. The size of a large strawberry, with head, features, hands and feet...it was one of the most sweetest, cherished moments I have been apart of. Utterly heart-gut-wrenching beautiful.
Though I designed for a living, I never had time - let's be real - I never made time to make anything at home. A large binder full of projects and promises. An apron for Joe's mom. Pajamas for my nieces and nephew. I got home that day and went into my studio slash storage room slash guest room slash busting out of the seams room (not sure if pun intended), put on Peter Gabriel's I Grieve, on repeat, and just----sewed. For three days I didn't come out, talk to anyone. I took no calls, no visitors, checked no email. I just measured, cut, sewed, measured, cut, sewed. The third day I started to sing along. Then a shower. A meal. Ok, I'm going to get through this.
Emotional pain, physical grief in motion. And all to show for it--curtains.
In the days and weeks following, I opened up more to those around me. First to Joe, he had experienced this loss as well. It was important we stayed close, processed this together. And not just once, we'd talk about it many, many times. Then to closest friends. Then folks from church, work, other family. Most folks hadn't known we were pregnant, we shared to explain our sudden, and continued, absence for awhile. Cards and emails came in. A friend shared journal entries to her baby. She had referred to it, the miscarriage, as being 'born to heaven.' It struck me so utterly precious. Sometimes you throw cards away. These I would keep in a manila folder. I wrote a letter to my sweet baby, put that in the folder as well.
That was me. That was my experience. I'm private with a wide-bubble-need for personal space. I am not a talker. I didn't want to see anybody. I even made my mother wait a week to see me in person. So many folks, sweet, well-intentioned wonderful folks reached out. "Apart of God's plan." "Everything happens for a reason, for the good." "Must not have been the right time." It felt like the same telemarketing script had been given out for what to say in the event of, fill-in-the-blank. Those repeated few lines of attempted care and concern felt to diminish and whitewash the rawness of my real-time pain. At least for me, in those early moments. With distance, those words can hold different meaning, do hold different meaning. But as I stood there watching the room burn down, it perhaps wasn't the best time to mention it was happening for a good reason. #TooSoon I wanted to scream "why me," and "why now," and "fuck this shit." No words, no more words. Share a silent cry. Say, "I don't know what to say." That is beyond acceptable. Maybe try "I'm hugging you in my heart, I'll check on you later." A physical hug? K, but super quick.
That isn't you. That wasn't you. Or maybe it was. We are all different and our difference in reaction with what happens to our bodies, in our bodies, is exactly okay! Whatever your reaction was or is now or heaven forbid might be someday - was, is, and will be exactly okay.
I holed up. I couldn't stand to see a pregnant woman for the longest time afterwards. I unsubscribed to every baby-related anything I received in my Inbox. I didn't go to baby showers I was invited to. I withdrew from pregnant friends, pregnant acquaintances and pregnant co-workers. (Did everyone just suddenly get pregnant, gawd you people are everywhere.) They hadn't done anything to me. I wasn't really mad that them. But they were growing a live baby, visible reminders of a pain, of the void, of our loss. My tummy that ached to be heavy with life. The wound was slow to heal.
Those loving folks were still there when I was ready to come around again. Giving me that space was how they showed their love for me. The way I NEEDED them to show their love for me. It meant the entire world to me they could do that. The doctor said we could try again after three months. I couldn't even fathom it. I had to wait. Wait until her due-date had come and gone. For me that was her space to occupy. That was something I needed to do in my healing journey. When I became pregnant again, I was a fretful wreck on the inside. You try to go about things normally, but let's face it, every second of every moment of every day you are thinking about one thing. Will she make it another day?
Thankfully, gratefully, joyously our daughter made it. Entering this world on her terms. Active labor at 34 weeks, bed rest to give her more time. My Lovebug came at 37 weeks, hyper and healthy.
Weeks have passed, May flowers in bloom. Another blue bubble and cheerful chime, my friend sent me another text. "It's as though my body was robbed and a new precious life was stolen from us..." I responded, "Babe I know it hurts."
I was incredibly fortunate to have an employer who was compassionate. He said, "take the time you need." But I needed to go back to work. I welcomed the distractions to engage my mind. My two-year old needed his Momma, my husband needed his wife. I wrote my firefly a poem. So many fireflies. Souls dancing in the ethereal air. They gave us such an experience. A fucking difficult experience. A heart-gut-wrenching experience.
A common experience.
Women came out of every corner to tell me about their miscarriages. Letters and cards, phone calls and, eventually, stop-bys. For weeks, I couldn't pick up my son from daycare without his lovely, grandmotherly caregiver reliving the stillbirth her own daughter had endured at 38 weeks. It was terrible. Horrifically tragic. It was also, strangely, healing. So many stories. "I had two miscarriages in between Katie and John." "I've miscarried twins." "We tried for 5 years, had in-vitro, only to miscarry." So many stories. "Forty years ago, we had a stillborn son. Didn't talk about these things then." Every story was a brave undertaking of risk from these women. They risked vulnerability. They risked reliving pain and tragedy. Therapeutic for me, cathartic for them. Cousins, friends, ladies at church, acquaintances at work, all women apart of the changing of seasons in the garden of my life, SO MANY WOMEN, who I'd had absolutely no clue they had experienced miscarriages. I was glad I had risked too. I was glad I had shared.
Our reactions will be as varied and as individual as the uniqueness of the amazing, strong women who grace our lives. Who grace our global journey. My hope is our collective response to each other, to woman of every faith and culture can be of grace and support. Miscarriage is common. We are all affected, whether through personal experience or knowing someone who has.
For billions, our lives are online. Our support systems are scattered among the places we work, worship, live, play and also--often more so--miles and miles of cyberspace. We post happy, interesting, awesome selfies our friends can't get enough of. #AmIRight We use our online lives to comment on politics and bathrooms. #EveryonePoops And we connect about we can't wait to watch episodes of West Wing again and again and again. #NotJustMe
Publicly, purposefully, we share the gauntlet of our lives. Through quirky, weird and distinctive ways. And that is great. That is connection, support and sometimes intense irritation. Sometimes I'll hear to the effect, "Lord, that was too much information." I don't know - what's the gauge, cause #NotSureINeededToKnowAboutYourUTI. It's hard to know what that line is. What's okay for only private, what's okay for partial public, what's okay for opening the entire lid? I remember back to when Facebook had us listing our top friends and pinning buttons onto our walls. Over the past 14 years, I've seen the bar move and move and move and move. We've come a long way in what is considered honest to goodness #TMI. I think that is part of the phenomenon of social media as a whole. We are trying to find line, test the line. Tipping our toes over edges, realizing there is more room. Sometimes for the worse, there are ways we could #ElevateTheDiscourse, but sometimes for the the better, for real change in the dialogue and posture. Pushing boundaries and discovering new uses for the platforms, there is a permission being given. Permission to dissolve the taboo, in plain sight. And if you can't or don't want to read or engage or go there, that is okay. That is your call, a healthy self-care call. For some folks, going there can bring tremendous healing.
There is no predetermined time to 'get over it.' Healing takes it's own course of time. Posting about it four weeks later, four months later, #TBT fours years later, that's okay. Social media time doesn't add up like dog years. Even though trending content churns at warp speeds does not mean your stop-you-in-your-life experience that happened five days or perhaps five years ago was 'so last week.' Everyone deals with the aftermath differently. A friend recently mentioned it still feels taboo to share. The space exists for what's painful, isolating and uncomfortable in our feeds along side hilarious viral videos. May we be ambassadors for compassion without judgment. The more we engage, the more we converse, the more we live our miscarriage experiences out-loud through the mediums we occupy; the more our perception, our ability to empathize and our responses change as well. With acknowledgment of this shocking yet common occurrence, with awareness of our varied responses, we can sustain sensitive mindsets. We can acknowledge it's a #Common thread that connects us to each other as we journey.