Just over a week ago I miscarried my first pregnancy. Being the staunch advocate of story medicine (and serial oversharer) that I am, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to harness this unique and powerful experience by writing a little bit about it, and hopefully spreading some awareness to others.
One in every four known pregnancies will end in miscarriage – once I began speaking about it, I quickly became aware of a plethora of women in my life who I didn’t realise were also members of this ‘secret society’ - and yet my personal experience of pregnancy loss has revealed the stigma that often surrounds this topic. Miscarriage is the natural end of a non-viable pregnancy. It’s just as natural as full term pregnancies, still births, and live births. Yet in our culture there is only one way to feel about a miscarriage: sad, and mostly silent, with an emphasis on immediately looking to the future (where hopefully a happier and healthier pregnancy awaits). Likewise, I find it counter-intuitive that there is only one socially acceptable way to feel about a continued pregnancy: delighted, blissful, and grateful, with no room for any feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, resentment, or sadness. Like aspects of mothering, miscarriage is a complex rollercoaster of physical and emotional loss, denial, anger, sadness, and ultimately acceptance and healing. I have allowed myself to lean into these feelings and let my intuition guide my experience of pregnancy loss, and these have been my insights:
It Will Take Longer Than You Think
There is an all-too-common belief that when miscarriage (singular) occurs, a woman suddenly ceases to be pregnant and therefore goes back to the way she was before. We are expected to move on very quickly, both physically and emotionally. This is incredibly unrealistic. First of all, from a purely physical perspective, miscarriage is not a linear process. It doesn’t just all come out and then you’re done. The physical symptoms can last for weeks and a woman will most likely need to go to work, attend social events, and generally function as though everything is fine and dandy during this time. Emotionally there is an expectation that we will start off sad and gradually become less sad until we are happy again. This simply isn’t how it works. When you lose the baby that is literally growing inside of you, you feel every feeling in the world simultaneously until you collapse in bed crying your eyes out, sleep like the dead, and wake up to do it all again the next day. These early days feel like forever. There was nothing that anyone could say to me during this time that could help me more than what I kept repeating to myself: “This too shall pass”.
Everything Feels Like A Trigger, For Ages
There is a series of unpleasant ‘firsts’ following a miscarriage. The first shower, looking down at your body and knowing it has changed. The first time you cook a meal at home, spy the prenatal vitamins on the kitchen bench, feel your throat tighten and then move them to the back of the cupboard where they’ll be out of sight for the foreseeable future. The first trip to the grocery store where somehow all of your fellow shoppers have multiple kids in tow, or are nursing infants, or pregnant bellies. I went from listening to ‘birth stories’ podcasts one day, to ‘life after miscarriage’ podcasts the next. I scrolled through the pregnancy app on my phone in which I had enthusiastically tracked the first days of my baby’s life, found the ‘pregnancy loss’ button, and clicked on it to be met with a notification that read: ‘We are sorry for your loss. Resetting all data….’
There is no way to predict what will trigger feelings of anger or immense grief. As a result it can feel quite dangerous to go out into the world and participate in some semblance of a normal life.
The Universe Has Your Back
A few days before my miscarriage I was fretting about what I perceived as a lack of close friendships in my adopted home town of Melbourne. I could not have been wrong. People came through for me in the most incredible way after the loss of this pregnancy. Far from feeling alone, I have felt overwhelming support from people from every corner of my life. I can unequivocally say that miscarriage has not only deepened my existing friendships, but forged new ones.
You Can Love Your Body Through Miscarriage
A common sentiment expressed by women after a miscarriage is one of feeling betrayed by, and disappointed in, their bodies. This can lead to a feeling of disassociation from the physical body, and feelings of shame and negativity in the physical relationship with self. I feel fortunate to have emerged with a newfound respect for my body after miscarriage. Not only did it grow something beautiful, but it managed to recognize that something wasn’t right, and that it was best to let go. In doing this, my body has taught me an incredibly powerful lesson: there is no life without loss, and loss is a natural part of life.
Now that my journey into motherhood has begun (because let’s acknowledge and understand that all pregnant women are mothers immediately and forever, regardless of the outcome), I am committed to walking down the next part of this path with more trust than I had the first time around. Trust in myself, in my own strength, and in the people around me. Trust that the fear of loss is so much worse than the actual loss. There are no guarantees in life. Statistically speaking, I have the same chance of miscarrying again in a future pregnancy as I did the first time around. For all our human brilliance, ultrasound machines, medical research and statistics, there’s a lot that we don’t understand about fertility and the human body. It frightens me to think that I could miscarry again in the future. But in the words of psychologist Susan David, discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life. My first significant experience of loss has encouraged me to live boldly and face each day with a faithful and open heart. If you or somebody you know is on this journey too, I send you strength, love, humility, and I hope you find peace.
In the spirit of paying it forwards, below are some resources that I have found really helpful during this time.
Even just by following some of these as accounts on social media, I have felt very connected to others moving through a similar experience and I’ve found that really healing.