Small impromptu family shrine featuring Jizo Bodhisattva, guardian of children & travellers.
(Warning: This post contains swearing. It’s also depressing. And maybe there’s some inappropriate humor. Or irreverent dealing with grief. Oh, and you might be grossed out. Did I mention it’s sad & depressing? Ok, you’ve been warned.)
I’ve been trying to figure out a way to write about the challenges we’ve faced in the last year & I just can’t figure out the perfect “angle”… But it’s pretty much occupied my mind & I need to write about it… So I’ll just out with it…
As of this this May, I have been pregnant three times in the past 365 days. As of this May, I have miscarried just as many times.
When I started writing this post, I was newly pregnant again… But now I’m not.
So… MFA Dad & I appear to be on some maddening, never-ending quest… or in a horror movie where the
idiot poor victims-to-be get themselves cornered in a house they could have fled from earlier but now can’t escape.
Unlike the never-ending quest, I know that one day this chapter in our lives will end. Unlike the bad horror movie, I don’t know how it will end. I can, however, narrow the possibilities. Our story will most likely end in one of three ways: (1) with another child (yippee!), (2) without another child we decide to quit this game of heartache roulette (gee, I really hope not!), or (3) I hit menopause (kind of joking…).
Which is to say that this is not a post where I wax poetic about my difficult path with one hand while cradling my miracle baby in the other. Of course, there is reason to be (guardedly) hopeful: At least one study has shown that around 70% of women who have had between 3 & 13 miscarriages eventually carry to term, even with no interventions. (Taken from page 48 of the amazing book, Coming to Term: Uncovering the Truth About Miscarriage, by Jon Cohen.)
But for now, percentages are meaningless the more I seem to defy the majority & I don’t know into which camp I will ultimately fall (the 30% or the 70%). So, just as the first signs of a possible miscarriage (a bit of blood, an absence of those annoying yet reassuring symptoms of pregnancy) ushered in a time of uncertainty (will I miscarry or won’t I?), the actual miscarriages have simply ushered in a new set of questions (will I get pregnant again or is this my new fate?). That second uncertainty typically isn’t so quickly resolved as the first.
And so in some sense the only logical response: What the fuck?!
Seriously! Why is this shit happening to me?! Why does it happen to anyone?!
Honestly, it feels weird to be writing this… But I feel miscarriage is an important topic still shrouded in taboo. Plus, this is a blog about parenting & the honest truth is that despite our best efforts & our deepest (if irrational) desires, not every positive pregnancy test means that we will be parenting a new little person nine months later.
Having been through the pain of miscarriage thrice now, I feel I have some perspective on the experience of pregnancy loss (though through my own journey I have encountered women who have endured many more losses or losses at times during pregnancy that are much more heartbreaking or losses that are life threatening… I’m weirdly lucky that my losses were all in the first trimester & none of them needed medical intervention).
And yet, despite the Groundhog Day-like disappointments I’ve been living this past year, I don’t have any answers or advice. Miscarriage is, at its core, a deeply unsettling & confusing experience. So many women experience it. And we endure it quietly. Oftentimes, we endure it alone.
The funny thing is that we are not alone. There are so many of us. We can connect if we are only willing to be a little bit brave. Brave enough to tell the truth. Every time I go to one of my appointments at a recurrent loss clinic (yes, these places exist!), the waiting room is busy. When I’m there, I want to hug every woman in the waiting room… I don’t know what prevents me from doing it. We are all there for the same thing: answers to an intractable problem that is as old as humankind & that typically does not give up answers easily.
And when I’m brave enough to tell mere acquaintances & perfect strangers that I’ve suffered through multiple miscarriages (often times in response to an inappropriately personal question) I feel as if I have performed a public service. If we don’t talk about it, no one will.
And, mostly, my bravery has been rewarded. Friends bring me soup & chocolate. A good friend texts me randomly to remind me of my strength. Loved ones stop by to fill my house with love & tears. Stories, long buried, rise up in empathetic echoes of past pain. My sister-in-law & I commiserate over our sick & twisted race to see who can have the most miscarriages.
And having had plenty of time to sit with my sadness in the past year, I’ve also realized what so many realize at times of grief or distress–the world keeps going. It doesn’t stop for my loss. The work keeps coming in. The deadlines draw closer. The laundry piles up. My child’s birthday approaches. Everyone seems to move on; everyone seems to forget… except me.
Yet, even I move on in my own way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still damned confused as to why this is happening & how I can process it all.
But I’ve also put on my big girl pants & learned a ton of shit about myself, some of which I didn’t want to know. Like how patient I can be after finding out a fetus has died but refuses to eject itself. Like how I can still smile (though not often) during the weeks of waiting with that stubborn dead fetus before miscarrying. Like how even my partner can seem to forget what my body won’t let me forget: “Hello! Still walking around with a dead baby, remember?!” Like how miscarrying after that long wait can bring a fleeting but meaningful peace to my mind & body.
Like my need for physical closure. Like how long I can live with a dead fetus in my freezer until I figure out the whole physical closure thing (burials are meaningful for a reason!). Like how I never imagined in moving to our new house (with space for that child that wouldn’t be) that we’d be picking a spot for our miniature family plot in the yard.
Like how calmly I can calculate & gauge my own blood loss. Like how satisfying it is to catch & touch that minute life form whose heart beat, even if only fleetingly, in my uterus. Like how my son’s soft, downy cheeks are something I can never take for granted.
Like how I can ask my partner for support, even when words are impossible. Like how reassuring my partner’s arms are, when they’re wrapped around my sobbing & heaving body. Like how his hands mingled with mine can be so calming.
Like how grief somehow has taught me that presence in this moment can make the rest tolerable. Like how laughing reminds me of joy, even when I’m deeply sad. Like how love & all the good stuff goes on & I just have to be open to it.
Which isn’t to say I’m happy or present in every moment. I was so disengaged from my last pregnancy it seemed hardly a blip on my radar. And yet the grief is there. Grief that biology & time may no longer be on my side. Grief that I didn’t enjoy that pregnancy at all.
Yet, right along side that grief, I feel lucky. Lucky to have gotten pregnant at all. Lucky that my body is actually (in its own painful & inconvenient way) working. Lucky that I was able to experience unbridled & naïve happiness of expectant new life at least once, during my pregnancy with my son.
I now know that that sweet, pregnant happiness is something that, though not rare, is far from universal. And while I don’t wish miscarriage on anyone, I have to admit that I am a more compassionate person because of my own losses. I like to think that I’m generally a kind person, but perspective is everything. And, boy, has my perspective shifted in the past year.
Right now I’m still fucking confused & want the miscarriages to end. It’s damned hard to write about this (not to mention press the “publish” button, which I’ve been avoiding for days now…). But I feel it’s important work, too (personally & publicly). I’ve come to a new appreciation for the fact that life is unfair & even our own bodies treat us unfairly. And with that appreciation comes a new smallness & a new sort of peace.
Life is delicate. We are all miracles.