You can never fully understand what another has been through. Even when you experience a strikingly similar situation as another, the whole context of your lives is incomprehensibly different, so the saying “I know what you’re going through” is never truly accurate.
When we’re going through something that is challenging our mental and physical beings to “hold it together”, it can be immensely helpful to know that you’re not alone in your experience. Many of us want to sit at the same table of thought, sharing our trials, errors, and successes as we blindly stumble along the path of life that we’ve taken a turn on.
Sometimes it can be refreshing to walk down a road by yourself. But when you’re lost in the woods of frustration, or your leg has suddenly gone lame and you just can’t go anymore, it helps to have someone to lean on. Even if that someone is merely balancing their weight against you as you hobble on together.
I’ve noticed lately the emerging discussion of miscarriage. For a long time, it seems to have been shut away, with only a whisper heard here and there when someone in our circle of friends and acquaintances quietly slips from expecting to hollow. Miscarriage has lived a long and busy life as a dirty word.
What happens when you play the “Shh! Don’t say anything.” game of hide and don’t seek with a concept that is life-altering, and all too familiar for a majority of women? And men. Let’s be inclusive here – losing a child is no walk in the park for a father, even if he wasn’t the one committing to growing and ejecting the life he helped form, many fathers are deeply affected by miscarriage. But if it’s something women don’t talk about, I can’t imagine this discussion has come up at many Guys Nights and hockey drafts.
When a child is curious about something, but their queries or questioning eyes are met with distraction or blatant “Shh! We don’t talk about that”, children catch on. Whatever it is (difference, disability, and death are often where I see this), this keeping quiet of concept isn’t helping. Children are clever. They learn a lot from what is left unsaid, and they form their own concepts from this. When we shut down conversations on difference, the logical assumption for a child is that the difference is wrong. Bad. Something to be feared.
Does this sound like a healthy way to know the world? I don’t think so. Open honesty (in an developmentally-appropriate way) is always the best policy when it comes to sharing what we know. For children, as well as adults. We may look bigger, seem more capable, and appear much tougher, but our souls and minds can be just as fragile. That’s why talking honestly and openly about our experiences is something I feel adults need to do more.
Especially when that experience is as monumental as losing a child.
When I was wrapping my head around my first, unexpected pregnancy, miscarriage wasn’t really something I considered fully. Sure, I knew it happened. But to other people. Not to me. When I heard the statistic that 1 in 3 pregnancies ends in miscarriage, I figured that had to be a mistake. I surely never heard of anyone I know going through something like that. Still, we would wait the recommended 12 weeks to share the news of our growing baby. We agreed with the suggestion that we wouldn’t want anyone to know if the worst were to happen.
Once I left my 12 week appointment with my doctor, we started surprising our friends, family, and anyone who would listen with the news. We picked out names and continued reading every book I could find on pregnancy and child-rearing. We lay in bed in the mornings and imagined what life was going to be like with our sweet little love in our arms.
Then it all changed. After 15 weeks of carrying the small soul I had nurtured, talked to, and was already growing a strong bond with, my world came crashing down. I sat in the ER in a blur as the doctor explained what the ultrasound confirmed. This baby was gone.
This was hard.
I remember bits and pieces of what happened in the week or two after the waiting, the pain, the morphine, and the D&C. Sitting in the truck going home, in alternating states of numb shock and bursting with raw emotion that hurts your whole body as it erupts from your face. Sadness projectile vomited out of my heart. I clung to my bed and didn’t leave but to fill my lungs with the cigarette smoke I had given up, in a sad attempt at feeling full again where I now felt incredibly hollow.
I dropped off everyone’s radar. I shut myself up. I missed classes and exams without bothering to send an excuse. I shut off my phone, not wanting to call or answer anyone who would undoubtedly ask what was going on, and how the baby was. Was it possible to never talk to anyone again?
One day, after it must have been obvious to my now-husband that this was something I was going to need some help to drag myself out of bed and the sweet, sweet world of nothingness I had settled into, he coaxed me out of the house to go walk through the peaceful woods out of town. Before we left, we stopped at the bank to take out money to be pooled with the 4 of us who were living as roommates during our university careers. It was at this point when I realized I was still in a serious state of shock. I went into the bank, entered in enough information to withdraw the funds, then bumbled back to the car where I sat down and burst into sobbing because I hadn’t even had the sense to remove the money from the machine and left it sitting there for whoever had their wits about them.
I was a wreck. I was in shock. Losing a child has got to be one of the hardest things a person could ever do, and experiencing that loss before you’ve had the chance to meet them doesn’t make that loss any less real.
How long did this last? Well, within a couple weeks I went back to classes (fortunately I was a very good student with a great track record and top grades up to this point, so my professors helped me work through retaking exams and catching up on my work). I started working at my job as a pub server again. Over the next months I celebrated the birth of my niece. I went to parties. I moved into our own apartment with my man in the new-to-me city of Vancouver. I switched educational streams and completed studies in Early Childhood Education. I worked for 3 lovely years at a preschool that filled me with happiness. And I couldn’t honestly say there was a point in that whole time that the hole inside me healed up.
Over time it got easier. Never “all better”, but the sadness was manageable – most of the time. It would all come crashing back whenever I bumped into someone in my life who was announcing their pregnancy, or holding their full-of-life belly. Every time I was asked “Do you have kids?”
I never talked about it. Even with my partner, who had experienced this loss with me, it wasn’t something we dredged out to discuss. No one ever asked me “Have you ever had a miscarriage?” There weren’t conversations being had at drop-offs and fitness classes and social gatherings about other’s experiences with this kind of a loss that I could weasel my way into being a part of. You don’t just walk up to another woman and say “Hi, I’m Hannah. Would you like to hear all about this incredibly horrific thing I had happen to me that makes me feel incomplete and damaged?” Even if it’s something that, statistically, there was a good chance that she would have experienced as well.
Having formed a small group of women from our prenatal class, who would talk about all sorts of intimate experiences of life, love and childbearing, it was really drilled into me that “Hey! It’s actually more normal to know a miscarriage than to not!” Talking with these ladies and feeling heard, as well as hearing the other experiences on every topic, was an invaluable source of support and healing for myself in all of the many challenges of adjusting to new parenthood.
I cannot stress enough the importance for expecting parents of building yourself a community of real-life support. I fully regard the many different forms of support I received from the other mamas in my tribe as the reason I have not turned into a crazy person after my far-from-planned delivery, frustratingly slow and problematic post-delivery healing (or non-healing… I’m still dealing with some big issues that need to be figured out), and all the “usual” challenges that parents are faced with.
I can’t help but think that having talked about my miscarriage with someone, having shared what I was experiencing and listened to another person ultimately say “You’re not alone. I know your pain”, that it would have helped me deal with what I was going through in a much healthier, easier and more effective way.
So talk about it. Whatever it is. If you’re going through it, someone else is, too. The world would do much better with more sharing and supporting of each other.
And if you’re a mama on Salt Spring Island, and you feel the support of more women who are dealing with the challenges and rewards of raising a child here could benefit you, join our Facebook group. No drama, no opinion-pushing, just straight up support from other people who might have something in common with what you’re going through.
Please feel free to follow The Big To Do List Facebook page, too, so you don’t miss future posts of inspiration and information on a happy, healthy, balanced life (or the search for one, anyways!).
Have you experienced a miscarriage, either personally or second hand? Do you feel comfortable talking about it?