five lessons i've learned from miscarriage
It was a normal day.
I went to the office, worked out over lunch, spent the afternoon in busy meetings, came home to a whiney-yet-adorable toddler. In true mom style, I hadn't gone to the bathroom in like, five hours, so once I gathered the mail and put away the dishes and redirected my son to his sticker book, I went.
The blood surprised me. I didn't expect it, considering our positive pregnancy tests. We had just started telling people in that hushed, thrilled way that accompanies a secret you don't want to jinx. We were going to share the news with our families at Thanksgiving, put a "big brother" shirt on E and wait for them to notice with laughter and delight.
Of course, real life never quite aligns to the best laid plans.
I spent the next week waiting. Waiting to hear back from the nurse. Waiting to receive test results. Waiting for the doctor to call. Waiting to know if I could release my held breath in relief, or not. When the final conversation happened, I had that sort of hollow feeling in my chest when you know a little bubble of a wish is about to implode.
Miscarriage is so sad. Obviously. And its hard to talk about, even though so many people experience it. This, of course, is my personal story, the parts I'm choosing to share, and I'm aware it reflects only one portion of the wide-ranging emotional and physical pain that can accompany such a loss.
For me, it involved acute disappointment, a deep shade of gray on the grief gradient scale of black. The kind usually associated with heartbreak, when you desperately, desperately wanted a different outcome, but that's not what happened and it is the worst and at the same time, you know you'll survive it. Then, anger; I wanted to break a glass, like in the movies, or smack someone in the face, hard. (I didn't do either one, don't worry.) Finally, anxiety. What happened? Did I do something wrong? Why did I think it would be so easy a second time for us? Am I even allowed to be sad since I already have one amazing child? Am I sad enough? Should I have felt more prepared, since it is so common? How do I tell someone and then untell them in the exact same sentence?
I'll never forget sitting on the blue leather clinic chair, holding my arm out for a needle but looking away because I hate needles. The nurse did her job, put a gentle hand on my knee, then looked me in the eyes and calmly told me the story of her own losses and triumphs as a parent. She said, "If this is what we think, I want you to know it's not your fault, and I say that because I wish someone had said that to me." I started crying, then laughing to try to cover it up. I knew it wasn't my fault, duh, yet I needed her to say it a million more times. Then she handed me a tissue, walked me to the exit, and told me to call her anytime. I can still hear her: "You call me if you need anything, you hear me, Julia? Just call." She said my name and she honored my pain and she made me feel a little less alone - which, honestly, is all any of us can ask for, ever.
Since then, I've been tempted to find the silver linings of my miscarriage ("at least it happened early") or label it tragic ("we lost the baby"), and neither helps, because it is both. Not everything, in my opinion, happens for a reason. Terrible things happen to good people all the time. Lots of moments, big and small, make me wonder what the fuck I'm supposed to be learning. With this one, here are a few lessons, at least.
If you're sad, be sad. Lately, I've just been straight up sad, and the mere act of simply staying with my sadness has been eye-opening. Almost every time I feel sad, there's a part of me that bullies: "Come on, pull it together. Stop crying in Target. You're fine. You have a good life. Other people are worse off." And it takes nearly all my energy to shut that voice up and tell myself: "Hey, wait. You're allowed to be sad. IF YOU ARE SAD, BE SAD."
We rush sadness, you know? We hear it from others, and instead of cradling it with a respectful pause, we usually fill up that space as quickly as possible. We acknowledge pain with trite sentiment, then move on. We assume the hurting person will keep us posted, instead of realizing we actually need to show up for them, over and over. We usher out difficult feelings and awkward conversations instead of hanging out with discomfort and unsolvable problems. We cry, then we try to cheer ourselves up as quickly as possible. We feel fury bubble up, and we're told to calm down because it's not that big of a deal. We are afraid, but all the Hallmark cards say to keep the faith.
And to this, I say: no. Acknowledge uncomfortable emotions. Let them be so you can let them pass. I learned this from my yoga practice, and I keep learning it and learning it and learning it and just when I'm like, universe, chill, I heard you, I have to learn it one more time, again.
We're all struggling. Especially around the holidays. The magazines and blogs and social media posts tell me if I focus on serving the perfect meal on a platter and get the most beautiful tree and prioritize smiles and snowflakes and sing-a-longs until the end of the year, then life will be grand and easy. But it's not. You know that.
Very few people knew about my miscarriage when it was happening. I felt broken in half while writing detailed emails; I grinned at the other daycare moms while wanting to cry. It's not that I attempted to fake anything; I just needed to try to get through my day without falling apart, and this is true for literally all of us. I think of my friends and family members, coworkers and acquaintances. Sometimes I know of their sorrows - the scary surgery, the staggering cost of saving for fertility or adoption, the agony of losing a foster child, the missed promotion, the lack of a sense of direction in life, the mental illness, the PTSD, the loss of a mother or father or beloved friend, the financial pressure, the disconnect in a marriage - and sometimes I don't. Hell, I usually don't, which is what this miscarriage has taught me. There were some days I wanted to scream, "I'm having a miscarriage, leave me alone!" Everybody has something they're struggling with, and most of the time, we don't know about it. So be kind. Always.
Try to be your best self with those who have the thing you want. For the first time in my entire life, I went shopping on Thanksgiving night. (It. Was. NUTS.) My mom wanted to go, and I wanted to distract myself from feeling sorry for myself. You guys - I've never seen so many pregnant women and little kids. It felt so pointed and unfair. In addition to that, over the past month, it's like I can't not see babies and bellies everywhere. I never thought of this before, because I was never in the shoes of someone *trying* to get pregnant, and now I can empathize. When you're angling for a baby, it feels like a personal affront to see a rounded stomach or squishy newborn cheeks or someone's cute Instagram announcement.
My strategies for coping? Wallowing, and then rising up to be my best self. I'll say to myself, "Oof, that stings. Ow, ow, ow. Okay, breathe. Maybe you need a snack or a book or that T. Swift song that makes you wanna dance." And then I'll ask myself, "How do you want to show up with radical love?" I might be jealous of my pregnant coworker's maternity clothes, but it's not her fault; besides, I'm truly happy for her. So that means I'm gonna be happy for her, no strings attached. I might feel majorly bummed out that a friend will have a new baby in the spring, but also, what a joy! How can I help their family celebrate? My mother, who had two miscarriages, went to baby shower after baby shower during that dark period of her life. What an example of generosity, one I strive to emulate. I'm not perfect by any stretch, but I think there's a quiet room between lashing out and falling apart that involves honesty and grace. That being said, if you're struggling, I also think it's okay to remove yourself from people and situations where you know you cannot rise up. Some days are easier than others on that front.
Truth will make you feel exposed and protected. I can't take credit for this one; it comes from one of my yoga mentors, whose recent classes have been themed all around this topic. When you tell the truth, you will feel vulnerable - but you'll also discover a net of support within yourself and your primary circles.
I'm often asked, "How do you share such personal stories? Does it ever make you feel nervous?" Well, yeah. Absolutely. Author Brené Brown says, "People have to earn the right to hear your story." I talk about this on the First + Foremost podcast a little bit, but essentially, there's a big difference between telling a story when it's a gaping wound versus sharing after it has healed to a bruise. Miscarriage is a truth for me right now. If I had written or talked about it immediately, then the story would only be about my sadness and pain. Waiting allows me to gather some perspective. It gives me a chance to fashion a little bit of a barrier between my heart and the facts of the matter, before reflecting on why and how it could be of use to other people who may have gone through the same thing.
The little things are the big things. When you experience a loss, the people who rally around you matter more than anything in the world. Sometimes when bad things happen, it's easy to not know what to do. You say, "I'm so sorry" or "let me know if you need anything" and then kinda wait on the sidelines. I've done it before, too. But I am incredibly grateful for the friends and family members who took the initiative to make an extra effort to be there for me, even though there was nothing to "do" about the situation. My sister and her husband came over and hung out with me that first awful night. A bouquet of cheerful flowers, a funny card that made me laugh, kind text messages later on just to say, "how are you," giant glasses of red wine with a cheers to surviving shitty things. Even the doctor who canceled my next appointment, so I didn't have to. The small choices to consistently show up for people or lighten their load go a long way.
So: this is where I am, balancing between guilt over what I'm blessed to have, grief at what we lost, and gratitude for what may come, come what may.