Mourning Sickness: Dealing with Miscarriage
A few years back I read a book on grief that had the nerve to rank the severity of losses one might experience. Death of a spouse ranked higher than death of a parent, but lower than death of a child. Loss of limb was worse than loss of job. Miscarriage was sandwiched somewhere between a bad haircut and chronic nosebleeds. Obviously I’m exaggerating, but having only four of my eight pregnancies produce a live baby, I bristle at the flippant attitude towards miscarriage. (And while I’m on one, can we stop attempting to rank suffering? As if because something worse might befall us, we have no right to the pain we currently experience.) I’m not saying it’s the worst thing in the world. But don’t tell me it doesn’t suck to carry a life, make physical and emotional plans for that life, and then have it basically disappear, with nothing tangible to hang on to. No memories. No photos. Nothing.
Here is from my journal during pregnancy # 6:
18 February 2004
We lost the baby. Yesterday I had an ultrasound. No heartbeat. No growth. I was so in denial. Since waiting to pass the baby and then bleeding for days might put me over the edge, I’m getting the D&E (dilation and evacuation-sounds so awful). So today Dave and I spent the morning in a labor and delivery room. I could hear babies crying down the hall. They put me under then suctioned out the contents of my uterus. No pain. No memory. I’m doing pretty well and I’m determined not to fall apart. But I am so so sad.
20 February 2004
I’ve done a lot of sleeping the past couple days. I’m surprised at how tired I am. Because I don’t remember the surgery, it seems as if it didn’t happen. Sleep is a great escape from the pain. I can’t figure out what to do with the maternity clothes I bought. Every time I think about them I start to cry for the lost baby. I think I could go to the Old Navy counter and hand over my pleated and paneled stuff, but what if they say, “Reason for return?” Better just keep them.
21 February 2004
Perks of this miscarriage:
House full of flowers
Fridge full of food
Free “sorry your have a dead baby in you” valet parking at the hospital
Husband cancels business trip and does everything at home
Napping from 2-3pm, and then from 3:30-5
Easing of morning sickness
Extra hugs from my 7 year-old who gets that I am “more sad than sick”
No longer giving birth on or around the Exponent II Retreat.
24 February 2004
The hormones have kicked in. NPR did a piece on heroin use among teenagers. I sobbed. I watched Finding Nemo with Millie and bawled through it. At Target, a pregnant woman couldn’t decide between juice and soda, I cried. Not safe to be out in public.
For me, losing those babies filled me with many—often conflicting—emotions: confusion as to what happened; guilt—what could I have done differently; heartbreak that I will never know that child; anger at God, the universe, and anyone who says “you were ONLY X weeks along” or “you’re young—you can try again” as if children are interchangeable; amazed at how REAL that baby was for me already; gratitude that I have 3 miraculously healthy and beautiful children; greedy that I want more of the same; shame that I was falling apart; empty empty empty. I wish I could have worn a t-shirt that said “Caution: Lost Baby–May Come Unglued.” At least if someone dies you get a socially acceptable mourning period. With a miscarriage, you are mourning someone you never saw, and often people didn’t even know you were pregnant.
In the Fall 2002 issue of Exponent II Kylie Nielson Turley wrote the following poem that beautifully captures the longing for an unknown child:
Miscarried late one night when I was groggy
Perhaps a skinny, laughing girl,
With soft blond hair and green eyes
As I dreamed the night before.
My almost-baby was gone before I understood
The cramping pains that buckled my knees
And sent me whimpering to the bathroom.
I would have called out for help or comfort
If I weren’t embarrassed,
Unsure about this intimacy. So physical
This process. My body shared, then not.
In my mind, I call her Eden, a name
Without a mother or a child.
Still, I miss
Her head tucked into my neck, breathing softly,
Her warm-sleep body gathered in my arms–
Even after holding other children of my creation.
Like Eve, I suppose.
On a brisk December birthday
I would have swaddled
Her in a blanket or two to take her home.
Instead, an early birth-death: May,
So bright and shiny. Two days later
I sat in the sun by the pool–
Swimming suit taut over my empty stomach.
Every year now, there’s that circling;
The May, the December, the May.
She’s a thought–brief–
I find myself thinking another without realizing
But the return
Is a comfort, a marking, a naming
Mother of my mothering.
Throughout life’s suffering, the comfort I find is that I am never alone. After I miscarried, so many women, young and old, quietly came forward and shared with me their stories of pain and loss. One even gave me a book that brought me a lot of comfort, Our Stories of Miscarriage: Healing With Words by Rachel Faldet. It brought me solace to know I was not alone in my “mourning sickness” as I have come to call it. And over the past few years I have been able to provide a shoulder for other women mourning children they will never hold. It’s not a club anyone wants to join, but it does have some amazingly loving members.