Miscarriages are common, yet rarely talked about in our culture. But talking about them can bring tremendous relief to the women who face pregnancy loss.
I am the mother of two children, and I have been pregnant five times. All three of my losses happened early, in my first trimester, and with each one I became more skilled at coping with the onslaught of emotions I experienced. I had a chemical pregnancy, resulting in a miscarriage at 5 weeks, before each of my daughters’ conceptions. I also experienced an ectopic pregnancy, which was even more physically and emotionally destructive than the miscarriages. If there was one take-away message I gained from surviving these losses, it was this: Find an outlet for your feelings.
Pregnancy loss is a challenging subject, and one that many people are uncomfortable discussing. Most women are coached to keep their pregnancies a secret until they are out of their first trimester, as sharing the exciting news only to have to retract it should they miscarry can be agonizing. That being said, I’m not sure that the benefit of keeping news of a pregnancy a secret, even one that ends in miscarriage, is beneficial in the long run. During all five of my pregnancies, I needed to share the news with at least a small handful of close friends or family members. Should I end up losing the pregnancy, I wanted to know that there were people I could turn to for support.
On the other hand, I wholeheartedly agree that it is difficult to suffer a miscarriage in the public eye. When people who knew I had been trying to conceive, or knew of the pregnancy, found out that I had miscarried, I could feel the pity and sympathy rolling off of them in waves. Stop looking at me! I wanted to shout. Don’t you dare feel sorry for me! I knew these feelings of anger were irrational, but I couldn’t help but feel enraged by the removed sadness of well-intentioned friends and acquaintances. I wanted support, love, and understanding, but I also felt the conflicting urge to enclose myself in a bubble where nobody would look at me with their sad eyes, wondering whether or not I would ever be able to have a successful pregnancy. In addition to my fear and sadness, I felt a sense of embarrassment that I had been kicked out of the “pregnancy club.” I felt as though I were defective. The humiliation I experienced was just as debilitating as the aching void of loss.
These dichotomous feelings plagued me, and I felt that subjecting anyone who did not fully comprehend the spectrum of my emotional reaction to my hysteria was rude. So I withdrew for awhile.
When my first daughter was 4, I had a second miscarriage at 5 weeks. My obstetrician was not terribly concerned, and gave me the green light to start trying to conceive again. The week before I was to attend a friend’s baby shower, I took a pregnancy test. It came back positive, and I floated through the festivities the day of the party with a combination of smugness at my secret and the sensation that I was bursting with desire to share my news.
Elizabeth, a woman I knew just slightly through our mutual friend, was also at the party. When she shyly declined the offer of a mimosa, I exchanged a knowing glance with her. She confessed that she was 6 weeks pregnant, and unable to contain myself at this news, I blurted out that I was 5 weeks along. Maybe I will have a pregnancy friend, I thought excitedly, getting ahead of myself. I never had one when I was pregnant with Izzy! The two of us babbled excitedly with a mixture of neuroses and enthusiasm, promising to get in touch after the shower.
About a week later I received an email from Elizabeth. The subject line read simply “:(” and I knew immediately what had happened. She wrote, Hey, FYI: I had a miscarriage yesterday at 7 weeks. I hope things are going better for you!
I started bleeding the next day. The subsequent weeks were a frenzy of emails as we offered support, advice, and an opportunity to vent to one another. I found that I had little interest in interacting with anyone other than Elizabeth. Only she truly understood what I was going through. I knew my other friends cared for me and had the best of intentions, but even the ones who had previously experienced loss weren’t experiencing it right at that instant. Elizabeth and I could tell each other everything, from our feelings of bitterness and frustration to our intense desire to begin trying to conceive as soon as possible.
We shared meals, coffee, and wine as we wryly discussed our obsessive fertility charting and our half-hearted attempts to pretend we were approaching our next pregnancies with a laid-back, Zen attitude. It was safe to cry with her, but more likely than not we sat in the back booth of restaurants shaking the table with our raucous laughter. Waitresses walked by us smiling as we bellowed details of our personal lives that were not frequently shared in public.
Elizabeth and I both got pregnant again, and our daughters are about two months apart. We possess an emotional intimacy that I treasure, and our shared pregnancy loss was only the beginning of our connection. If one must find a silver lining in times of sadness, I claim my friendship with Elizabeth as one of the most beautiful things to come out of a time of grief. It was absolutely essential that I found a companion to share my feelings of grief, anxiety, and impatience as I navigated the murky waters of pregnancy loss.
The subject of pregnancy loss is often cloaked in darkness in our society, and it is time to bring it into the light. The subsequent guilt, shame, anxiety, or sense of stigma can be paralyzing enough without bottling it up inside of you. If you have suffered a miscarriage, no matter to whom you reach out, I think it is imperative to find someone who functions as a safe place for venting your anguish and fear.
Stephanie Sprenger is the mother of two young daughters, and is also a music therapist, teacher, writer, and blogger. She was recently published in an anthology and is a regular contributor to Mamapedia, Power of Moms, and Families in the Loop. She can be found spewing parental angst on her blog, Mommy, for real, at http://www.stephaniesprenger.