Miscarriage - A Strange, Silent Kind of Grief

I picked up the phone and called Tom, preparing myself to utter the dreaded words, the ones I had hoped that I would not have to say, "It's definitely happening. I'm losing the baby." And in that moment, with those words being spoken aloud to the person I love the most on this earth, it became real. We were losing our baby. We were losing our future as we had quickly come to envision it, the chaotic, imperfectly wonderful home with three kiddos in it. Sadness washed over me as I felt a million tiny hopes and expectations flow out of my being. I put on a t.v. show for the boys downstairs and I gave myself permission to sit in it, to feel it all. I crumpled into a ball, alone on my bathroom floor, and I cried. I cried hard and long and deep. I waited until the tears stopped falling, for the moment when my chest stopped heaving, and then I stood up, walked into the kitchen, and I made lunch. Because life with a 3 and a 4 year old keeps going and despite my overwhelming sadness, they still needed to eat. And probably, so did I. It wasn't the only time that I cried, not by a long shot, because grief comes in waves, totally unpredictable waves.

Miscarriage is a strange, silent kind of grief. It is, in my experience, less about grieving something known and tangible, and more about grieving the loss of your hopes for the next ten thousand tomorrows. It's an eraser that comes and wipes away the future as you had it laid out in your mind and heart, replacing it with the unknown and worst of all, fear. It makes you wonder, what was wrong with my baby? And what is wrong with my body? It leaves you feeling a little bit like a ghost emotionally in a shell of a body. It hurts. It hurts physically. It hurts emotionally. It really, really hurts.

Statistics say that 1 in 4 women have miscarriages. Knowing that doesn't leave me feeling any less sad but it does help me feel much less alone. Prior to my own, I knew countless friends who had experienced one or more miscarriages. It has been helpful for me to talk with those friends, because while every experience is different, they get it. They get the awful strangeness of it all. And yet, when I hear that statistic, 1 in 4 women, I continue to wonder why we as women don't talk about it more; why so many women walk through this painful journey in silence and secrecy.

For starters, I think it has to do with the fact that the majority of people don't make their pregnancy public until week 12 or later, and 80 percent of miscarriages happen before week 12. Back when I told a close friend that I was pregnant with my first child, she {after having gone through miscarriage herself} advised me to identify the people I would want to walk with me through a miscarriage, and to tell those people about the pregnancy early on. That is exactly what I did with all three of my pregnancies and as a result, I am so thankful for my community of friends who swooped in and loved on us with food, flowers, childcare, and empathy when I miscarried with our third child. But I am also thankful for the unexpected connections that have formed with people as a result of the miscarriage, people who could sense something was off with me or people who I simply had to tell because of a situation that needed explaining. As I shared with these people, they in turn shared with me - it had happened to them too, some early, some late, some multiple times, some stillborn (losing a baby after 20 weeks) - and a bond formed, the emotional connection that is forged from being together in the same trench of pain. These are the small graces that fell upon me following my miscarriage.

The sadness was still very real though, casting a dark shadow over my everyday life. For a solid month, I didn't feel like myself in any way, shape, or form. My body had been through a lot and so had my heart. I had no motivation to get up in the morning, much less exercise, which is my usual go-to for working out emotional pain. I wanted to hide in a hole somewhere by myself, where I didn't have to talk to anyone or do anything for anyone. I didn't want anyone to have to be around me. Honestly, feeling irritable and prickly, I didn't even want to be around me. I felt myself snapping at the boys more quickly and frequently than I would like to admit. As the laundry and the dishes piled up in my house, I felt the mess piling up in my heart. People are starting to talk more about Post-partum Depression and Anxiety {you can read more about it here and here and here}, usually in reference to the depression experienced after a baby is born. But I think the Depression and Anxiety that can take your life by storm following a miscarriage, is a real thing too, one which very few people recognize and talk about. 

My hope is to create space, whether it be one on one,  in a group, or on the good ole world wide web, for women to talk about their experiences, to listen to one another, to cry silent tears with one another, to validate feelings and experiences, and to build connections forged through pain. My miscarriage is one more reminder to me of how, in motherhood and in life, we need each other. We are not meant to walk through life alone, not in our joy and not in our pain.

Walking this road post-miscarriage has not been easy for me, but some things that have really helped me along the way are:

1. Talking about it. Not with everyone you meet, obviously. But talking about it with God, with Tom, with my friends, and even with people I don't know very well {in what has felt like a healthy context}, has helped me sort through my feelings. As a result, I feel less alone, and it puts some safeguards into place. Being honest about where you are at creates awareness for your people, helping them to recognize if and when you may be heading for a dangerous place. And talking about it with a professional counselor may also provide just the space, empathy, and empowerment you need.

2. Giving myself permission to be where I am at and feel what I feel. Yes, life goes on after a loss of any kind, but it doesn't mean that we can't carve out space to feel the very real emotions that we are experiencing. It also means that we just might need to be ok with not feeling or acting like ourselves for a period of time. Recognizing that this is a season and that we won't feel this way forever can open the door to allowing ourselves to be right where we are, right now.

3. Naming the baby. Losing a baby fairly early in your pregnancy may feel hard to grieve because it wasn't a person you have pictures of or memories with, rather it's a somewhat intangible loss. For me, naming our baby helped me to wrap my head and heart around all of the future hopes and expectations I was trying to grieve. Now when I think about my miscarriage, I refer to it mentally as the loss of Scout, our third baby, and it makes it feel like there is something more tangible to grieve.

4. Looking for the beauty - gratitude. I don't mean looking for the beauty in the miscarriage itself, but the beauty that still exists all around me even as I am in the vortex of grief. And I don't mean trying to think positive and slap on a smile at the expense of denying my grief {see #1 and #2}. I mean that at the very same time I'm holding all of the sadness and grief and irritability, I'm also looking hard for the beauty and the joy. I'm talking about things like looking at my son, who has taken off his shirt and painted his belly and his face and is giving me the biggest, most mischievous smile, and I'm allowing myself to delight in him in that moment. And I'm giving thanks for him, because he is a gift. I'm looking at the buds emerging on the trees and I'm giving thanks for the new life that follows death. I'm listening to the birds singing and I'm asking God to remind me of the song of my heart, a song whose tune feels a little bit distant and forgotten. I'm looking for the little things of beauty that surround me and I'm giving thanks for them, at the very same time I'm feeling all my sadness.

5. Doing things that I love. Even if I don't love them or have any motivation to do them right now. After giving my body plenty of time to heal, I made myself start exercising again. I normally love to trail run, but I had no motivation whatsoever to run after the miscarriage. But I made myself get out there and put one step in front of the other, first hiking, then eventually running. It did good things for my heart, mind, and body, as it always does. I also began to write again, just telling myself to write something, anything, no editing, no trying to be perfect, just write. When we do things that deep down we know we love, even when we have no desire to do them at the time, I believe it helps guide us to the place where we feel more like ourselves again. 

6. Creating new meaning. When you've experienced a loss, life doesn't go back to normal, because there is now a new normal. Life goes forward and you are different in some way as a result of your loss. This is the dance, allowing your loss to shape you in such a way that it doesn't define you, but creates new meaning for you in your life moving forward. I can't go back to the place or the person that I was before this loss, but I can continue to let it shape me, to inform my future decisions, to have greater empathy for other women, to see life in general in a slightly different way.

If you've experienced a miscarriage or similar loss and feel comfortable telling your story to me individually or for others to hear as well, I'd love to hear it. How have you navigated this loss? What has helped you walk through the grief?