This month we take time to bring awareness to all kinds of loss mother’s and families can experience. I think I can confidently say that everyone I know has been touched by this topic in some way, but it’s not something that we share about much. My intention for sharing my story is not to sing my sad tale. It is to voice the visceral feelings I experienced and to proclaim from the future (20 years later), that we survive and even thrive. My deepest sympathy to anyone who has dealt with their own loss.
When I was in tenth grade, my favorite teacher decided to start her family. She became pregnant easily, but then miscarried in the first trimester. Upon hearing her news my immediate, singular thought was that I could never survive such a thing. I had a close, adult friend who had infertility issues. I’d watched her pine for a baby, adopt, induce lactation, and then struggle immeasurably as they tried to adopt a second child. I’d celebrated and mourned with her, but I’d never known anyone to lose a pregnancy. Actually, I don’t think I knew this was possible. My teacher was rather pragmatic about it all (with us at least). The science lover in her reasoned that when cells don’t make a good union, the body expels them and you try again. All I could think was that a baby died and that had to be the worst thing a woman could ever live through. This was the one and only miscarriage I ever heard mentioned until I had my own. Most women just don’t talk about these things.
In 1999 Brett and I decided to add a third child to our little family. Brett was traveling a lot for work so this was tricky, but his Christmas trip home produced a tiny present in my belly. We were planning a trip for me to visit him in France and I was over the moon. I remember realizing I was pregnant in Off 5th at Ontario Mills because I got super emotional over choosing a travel bag with enough zipper compartments, because that is really something worth getting riled up about. Realizing that this was a completely insane reaction to the moment, I told Brett that the only explanation for my emotions was that I was pregnant. I was right.
I was so thrilled to be going to Europe, a long time goal, AND with this little bean growing in my tummy! How could life get any better? Our trip was dreamy. We stayed in beautiful, historic hotels, ate every regional delicacy, and saw as much of Europe as we could squeeze into our short ten days together. Two days before I was set to return home, we went to Paris. When I woke up that morning, I felt really off and was so frustrated that my mood was affecting this special day I had hoped and planned on for so long.
By midday, Brett and I got to the Eiffel Tower. We took the elevator up awash in the romance of it all. We marveled at the incredible landscape so far below! In the midst of all this beauty, I made a quick bathroom stop. Actually, I made quick bathroom stops about every 45 min this entire trip. I have an incredibly small bladder and pregnancy only makes it worse. The variety of toilets in Europe are their own entertainment. Everything from computerized, self-sanitizing robots, to literal holes in the ground. I visited them all.
This bathroom visit was different though. I rushed in, mind distracted with loveliness, until everything slowed to an urgent stop. There was blood in my underwear. Where was it coming from? Women bleed occasionally when they are pregnant. I tried to soothe myself with reason. Not me though. Two pregnancies and never a drop. I knew that very moment the baby was gone. I didn’t want to believe it, but my gut never lies. I felt my boobs and the soreness was gone.. I’d barley been able to touch them only the day before. I went into a sort of robotic shock. I went to tell Brett what had happened and found the glorious heights and landscape turned terrifying. I wanted DOWN! I wanted my feet on the ground. I wanted this to not be happening to me, to us. Brett tried to reassure me the way I’d reasoned to myself. Everything could be fine. I hung my hopes on that and tried to finish this day. This precious day in this beautiful place that I’d dreamed of my whole life. “This day when you started having a damned miscarriage in the Eiffel Tower” my inner voice screamed inside my head.
The next day I lay in my hotel room while Brett went to his office to work. The bleeding increased and I knew for sure I was losing the baby. Now to figure out how to make my way home on a long flight that I surely would not have been allowed to board had anyone known my state. I sent Brett to the drug store for the biggest pads he could buy. His French failed him on this particular subject, but someone had mercy on him and translated. At the airport, I had to leave him once I passed through security. I felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest as his image faded in the distance of the busy terminal and I went to go home and deal with what was happening alone.
Once I got on the plane, I realized an angel was sitting beside me… A gruff, bristly, Greek angel that asked me to share what was wrong as soon as we took off so he could help me since we would be “row mates” for the duration. He made sure I ate, distracted me with movies, and kept a supply of wine from first class coming because he found what they served in business class “totally undrinkable”. He walked with me back and forth to the bathroom and carried my bags off the plane. Then he disappeared before I could ever thank him adequately.
Once I got some sleep, I saw both my midwife and doctor. They were equally helpful and I was given drugs to increase contractions and hasten the completion of the miscarriage. This caused intense pain and it still took two days for me to pass the baby. It was the middle of the night when I finally felt it start to happen. I was alone except for my sleeping babies when the fetus slipped out into the toilet. Without even thinking, I plunged my hand in after it and fished out a tiny, perfectly formed being.
The next morning I called the doctor to update her. The nurse on the line asked me what I had done with the “contents of my uterus”. When I said I had saved it to bury the baby, she said I wasn’t allowed to have it because it was biohazard and I needed to bring it to them at the office that minute. I’d kept my cool until this point except for a few gentle tears. I NEVER lose my temper in public and the phone counts as “public”. But this was the end of my ability to stay calm and conscious. I told the nurse that it would take an army to compel me to hand over my baby and that would be from my cold, dead hands. I told her she was insensitive for using technical terms about my loss and that she must have never had a baby herself! When I stopped yelling there was silence. The long, uncomfortable silence was followed by some whispering. She returned to the phone and said she was having a Christian nurse call me back that could better understand my attachment to this “tissue”. My blood boiled all over again.
When the next nurse called, she told me that I must say I flushed the baby down the toilet so that she could write that in the chart. I did, but it wounded me. I was an active doula at this time in my life so even in my grief, I was always analyzing what happened to me and my body as much like a women’s studies student as I did like a human being… I wondered how many other women, who were in the midst of a loss, had been told the same thing, but hadn’t insisted on a different answer. With this small war behind me, I asked my mom to buy me a rose bush to bury my baby under. A few days later we carefully placed the baby into fresh soil, covered her with the meticulously selected plant, and said some prayers.
Now to recover. With my husband still abroad, I went about trying to physically recover and spend time with my kids. I’d never been separated from them for as long as I was during my trip with Brett and then was in bed when I returned. I craved their silliness and snuggles. My feelings were so raw with grief that everything brought me to tears. Everything was either too beautiful or too sad for me to contain. I felt so empty to have lost something so dear and so full to have children and a husband I loved so much. The contrast was just huge. This contrast is what gives meaning to its opposite. Without deep pain, you never know elation. Or more simply, without tasting something awful, how do you know delicious? This sadness was helping me define something so important. What I could see is that ALL of this emotion came from the same core of love. Without my love for Brett and my desire to continue to grow our family, the grief would never have existed. The grief WAS love in the form of sadness.
This felt sacred to me. It felt like I needed to hibernate to be close to these feelings until they started to ease. I’d noticed that the way most adults showed compassion to each other was to minimize their friend’s feelings. They would either compare a friend’s situation to someone else’s… “At least this is only your first loss. I have this friend that has had three miscarriages!” Or, they might reason why the hurting individual might look on the bright side… “You have two beautiful children! You’ll get pregnant again.” I could predict these conversations coming my way and knew every damned reason I had to be thankful and keep my chin up. It’s just that being able to get pregnant again or kissing the sweet faces of my littles didn’t erase the loss of this baby, this soul. I needed time to gain my strength before I could face people’s reactions.
One evening I decided to brave the public for a meeting. I told my mom why I was hesitant to go, but I’d been inside the protective veil of my little casa for several weeks and it seemed like time. I literally was not inside the conference room for ten minutes before a well meaning friend came to offer her condolences. I put my amour up a little right before the words rolled off her tongue, “At least you weren’t that far along! You can get pregnant again because you got pregnant so easily with Andrew and Alexis. Lots of women have to try for years.” Why couldn’t people see that getting pregnant again was not the point? I would never know THIS person. I was glad I’d waited so long to go out.
Time did heal, just like I knew it would, and my husband returned from his travels. My loss was one of the first ways that I learned to how to BE with other’s pain. I learned that there is no way to help people feel better when they are grieving except listening and sitting. No explanation, no looking on the bright side, no hope for the future can erase grief. It has to move at its own pace. But bringing a meal, offering an embrace, or helping with a ceremony, that’s support. Women CAN support each other. We can cook. We can sit. We can listen. We know how, deep inside.
After some months passed, I DID get pregnant again easily. This baby stuck and was born to a mother who had much more compassion and strength than she’d ever had before. On one optimistic morning I rose early to pee on a stick. I wish I’d had stock in those sticks! The magical double line showed up and I went to tell my mom the happy news. When I got to her house, I visited my rose tree in her yard. That very morning, the little plant had it’s very first, perfectly formed, delicate, white rose BLOOM.