The things we think about a lot, and need to talk about more…
I make a large effort to take great care of my self, my mind, and I am very in tune with my body. I eat real foods, drink a ton of water, don’t drink much caffeine, take multiple vitamins and supplements, and I try to spend more time doing the things that really matter and make me happy…So when I realized that getting pregnant would be more difficult than I thought, despite all of what I do for myself, I was very surprised.
Ben and I started dating in 2012, and we were married in 2016 right before moving to Norway in July. While we both knew we wanted a family of our own, we also knew that we wanted at least a year to settle in to life abroad and travel. I had one more year left with my IUD but opted to have it removed prior to our move abroad simply because I knew, after much research, that the wait for a general practitioner took months and to get a OBGYN even longer. I knew it would take some time for my body to re-acclimate and adjust to it’s natural state and it honestly felt really good to get back to that. Since I was now on no form of birth control I started tracking my cycles and ovulation in order to understand it and my body more. I downloaded the Natural Cycles app onto my phone, purchased a basal thermometer to measure my temperature each morning I woke up, and I calendared and journal-ed everything. It felt really good to be this in tune with my body and it’s capabilities. So when we decided to start trying for a baby, I felt like it would be a piece of cake.
No-one ever told me the reality of things – and now I realize it is just not talked about. When you are trying to get pregnant, it often feels like things are not happening quick enough. You make the decision to have a baby, and you forge ahead assuming that you will be pregnant in a matter of weeks. In the reality of trying to conceive, you only have a window of 12-24 hours every month. And within that very small slot of time you have to be diligent…but not too diligent. And even then there are SO many obstacles stacked against you. Conception and a healthy pregnancy are not something that is easy to achieve – it is really hard work! If you understood the millions of chemical reactions and hormonal balances that must occur within a month, in order for you to get pregnant, you would be impressed with the intricacy of your body. In order for your body to hang on to the pregnancy, another group of hormonal reactions must occur in synchronization that would make the Rockettes jealous. So not only was I blissfully unaware, at 32 years of age, that conceiving would be difficult, I was also very unaware that miscarriage was a probability. We had our first miscarriage in August when I was nearly 12 weeks pregnant.
I knew miscarriages happened in the abstract to abstract people, but it just had not occurred to me to be prepared for. In all honesty, I had never even known any woman who had been through this loss or heard it talked about openly. According to the March of Dimes, an organization devoted to neonatal welfare, around 10-15 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, with pregnancy loss before 20 weeks gestation. The real number may be much higher, as some pregnancies quietly end before women are even aware they’re pregnant. Miscarriages are emotionally intense and very unique forms of grief and trauma, ones that unfortunately occur in privacy and silence. For parents eagerly anticipating the arrival of a new family member, fetal death — whether it occurs early or late in pregnancy — can be devastating. The shroud of secrecy that hangs over these topics seems to make it challenging to talk about, but it’s critical to bring these conversations into the light.
I was in a state of mourning I had never experienced. And maybe it was psychological, but for the next week or so I still “felt” pregnant. Then suddenly, my hormones crashed and I was a total mess mentally. I felt such sadness and shame, but there were also a plethora of other emotions at play that I wasn’t prepared for at all. For one thing, I was irrationally angry at my husband for not being “sad enough”. And every joyful, expectant baby announcement I came across on social media felt like a tiny stab in the heart. I felt like my emotional and mental equilibrium was completely all over the place – which it was. The traditional wisdom of not announcing a pregnancy until after the first trimester — when the risk of miscarriage drops dramatically — can have unintended consequences. Meaning that if couples do experience a miscarriage in this time, they don’t tell people. And this unfortunately results in the profound psychological effects of early pregnancy loss being brushed under the carpet. I wish I had educated myself more on miscarriage and the mental and emotional effects of such loss, especially how to cope after. But I now realize that because miscarriage isn’t talked about a lot, women’s expectations are that everything’s going to be fine. It took many months for my hormones to adjust back to their normal levels and for me to feel ready to talk about the loss openly. Once I started talking about my miscarriage and loss, it became more common for friends and family to come out of the woodwork with stories of their own. Finding community organizations and support groups online helped immensely as well. Hearing that others had gone through the experience helped me open myself to work through the grief and find commonality. I realized it wasn’t my fault, that it was okay to be sad, it was okay to be angry, and it was okay to take as much time as I needed to heal. In being open with one of my coworkers they responded by saying, THAT SUCKS. And I loved it. It did suck. It absolutely sucked. That was the truest thing to say. It felt so honest and empathetic. They weren’t trying to sugarcoat it. And though they didn’t know exactly what I was going through, it didn’t sound pitying.
Word of advice: WHAT NOT TO SAY to a woman grieving a fetal loss – “everything happens for a reason”, “it just wasn’t meant to be”, ‘well at least you can get pregnant”, or “if you want a baby badly enough it will happen for you”. While those comments are well meaning, they minimize the loss. That lack of validation can make parents hesitant to reach out and be frank about their experience. Every person responds to trauma in their own way and at their own pace. For friends and family members, respecting and validating that grief is very important. Acknowledging the grief and treating miscarriage and stillbirth as real losses create a safe space for people to talk about their experience.Just be present for them and let them know you are available to listen or talk when they are ready.
Fast forward to today… I am currently in the second Trimester of my second pregnancy and due in November of 2018 – of which the gender will be a welcomed surprise!
But to be honest, when I thought about having to share the news about expecting this baby, all I could think about was dread and another woman mourning over her loss as I did, worried she would never get pregnant again, and reading about my little one on the way. It felt a bit disingenuous to not also share the struggle it took for me to get here. Once I felt comfortable enough and did decide to share our news, I used my social media platform to express what I experienced in the hopes that it could- in some small way – help someone going through a similar pain. Though the first loss happened last summer, these days, I feel like I have enough emotional distance from the miscarriage to appreciate that without it, I wouldn’t have the healthy pregnancy I have now — I might have another child, but I wouldn’t have the profound appreciation and humbleness that I carry with in myself and for this new life growing in my womb. In the first trimester, I felt fragile, incredibly vulnerable, and like my body was performing an impossible task, one that I honestly wasn’t sure it was up for. I made sure I got outside often, I stretched when I woke up, read more, I pampered myself with some new skin care products, I cooked my self delicious meals, I took vitamins, upped my supplements, threw in a probiotic for good measure, and I booked a week long trip to Prague for some much needed girl time with sushi and pedicures. I was like a very well-cared for animal, trying to use all that self-care to assuage my fears.
It’s funny what being pregnant and having a baby does.
Now that I am nearing the end of this pregnancy, I feel like a tank. I know both that my body can handle the task at hand, and also that anything can happen at any time. The loss that I felt when I miscarried is a part of how we got to where we are now, and it has brought more awareness and appreciation into my life. Miscarriage doesn’t have to be the subject of silent stigma and shame, but that’s a process that begins one person at a time. Being frank about pregnancy loss can reduce the sense of feeling alone, while affirming the validity of grief can help parents feel more comfortable grieving with their community, rather than doing so in isolation.
May the odds be ever in your favor.