When I Had My Miscarriage
I had completely forgotten that I wrote this piece until a month ago.
I was with a dear friend who is getting married and we were visiting with her mom. We were talking about birth and her mom asked me, “You had a miscarriage, didn’t you?”
The question kind of caught me off guard. Funny how even though it had been 18 months, the pain was still faintly there. During that time, I had my sweet VBAC baby, but when I think of that miscarriage… it still makes me sad.
My friend’s mom, a psychologist, knowing that I have this blog, encouraged me so share something I wrote after the miscarriage and a recent post on the ICAN email list reminded me again tonight. My friend’s mom said, correctly, that people don’t talk about miscarriage much and that many women, in trying to find a way to cope, are left feeling alone.
I shared with her how months after my miscarriage, I was out with my in-laws and just broke down crying in the middle of lunch. It’s hard because unless someone has experienced a miscarriage, they just don’t understand. And this makes perfect sense. While you may look ‘normal’ and ‘all better’ from the outside, you’re not. Grief takes a long time to work through you. It’s weird how this little bundle of cells, this little baby in the making, who I just became aware of two weeks prior, become so utterly important to me so quickly.
Other people want you to move on because they care about you and, I’m sure partly, because they don’t know how to make you feel better, or feel awkward in the presence of your grief. So not only are you dealing with your extreme sadness, but you are uniquely aware of how uncomfortable other people are with your miscarriage, so you are simultaneously downplaying your feelings and/or trying helping them cope so they will feel comfortable around you.
My miscarriage was on September 13, 2006. I will always remember that date because of 9/11 then my husband’s birthday is 9/12. This is bittersweet.
I wrote this on December 20, 2006 while working on our annual Christmas letter. After I was done, and looked at my pain as it spilled out all over the page, I thought it probably wouldn’t make for good Christmas letter material. On one hand, I wanted to be ‘real’ rather than the ‘Our life is just great here are the hundred reasons why’ material that usually makes up Christmas letters, but I didn’t know how to temper my pain. Just saying, ‘I had a miscarriage’ seemed to short, to fleeting, but at the same time… I wasn’t ready to deal with everyone’s’ response. My friends and a few family members knew, but most people didn’t. Frankly I feel really uncomfortable when people feel sorry for me. I want to say, “It’s ok,” but it’s not… where do you go from there? Obviously, I didn’t include my ‘manifesto of pain’ in our Christmas letter. I included the typical happy stuff and left it at that.
In September 2006, after many months of hoping, I was pregnant. And for two weeks, I smiled with each wave of nausea and dreamed of my daughter being a sister and eagerly awaited May 3, 2007 when our next baby would be born. But it was not to be. On the second day of our big Washington trip, my miscarriage began.
I never really understood how painful an early miscarriage could be. I only knew for two weeks that I was pregnant. How attached could I be? It was amazing how painful this experience has been. I sit here three months later, and I still cry. I don’t cry every day. I try not to cry in front of my daughter. It is because of her that I have been able to go on without completely breaking down. Her presence requires me to move forward with each popsicle on a towel in the living room and each pair of pee soaked Tinkerbell underwear.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had no idea what I was in for. I was working – conflicted on whether I would/should/could quit once she was born. I was selfish. I really thought I lived a busy life. I really thought I had a full schedule. I thought I understood stress, exhaustion, and hard work. I was all the things people are before they become parents. And while I was excited to have a baby, I could not possibly comprehend how she would impact my life and how much I would love her – desperately, deeply, completely. How I would do anything for this little girl.
So when I was pregnant this time, I knew all this. I knew how much work it would be, how hard it would be, and how much I would love this child. And I was so excited for my daughter to have a sibling. I’m also more settled in my life now than I was when I was pregnant the first time. We were so excited about this baby. (My daughter has told us that she wants a baby brother. It now breaks my heart to hear this request.)
So when I started spotting five days before that day in Seattle, I was at my parents’ house. After several years of charting my cycle (daily cervical fluid, cervical position, and when I’m really motivated, waking temperature), I learned how my cervix feels before I start my period… and that is how it felt that day. Even my lay knowledge told me that something was wrong. My uterus preparing to empty doesn’t seem compatible with a pregnancy.
I went to urgent care and the MD there told me everything was fine. He told me to stop feeling my cervix, that I would get an infection. He sent me home with a condescending pat on the back, completely dismissing what I was saying about the state of my cervix.
I continued with our plans for that day – meeting friends at Disneyland – but did so with a heavy heart. I certainly hoped that the MD was right, but my instinct told me differently. And for the next five days, I tried to curb my enthusiasm, which was hard. We went out to dinner that weekend, as planned, with my in-laws and told them that we were pregnant. I really tried to tell myself that the doctor was the expert, not me. I should listen to the experts. Everything will be fine.
So when I woke up that morning in Seattle, a thousand miles from home, and saw bright red blood, I tried to justify it every way I could. “I spotted last time and everything was fine.” “It’s not that much blood.” But this was more than just spotting. Even though I had to put on a maxi-pad to cope with the bleeding, I was still trying to justify and deny what was happening. My husband and I were at breakfast, a couple hours or so after we woke up, and the bleeding was intensifying, not decreasing. It was surreal. We decided to go to the emergency room. I got up from our table and walked into the lobby. I asked the front desk clerk where the closest hospital was and requested that she call a taxi. I asked if the hospital was a good one. I really thought, “I’m going to feel so dumb when we get there and they tell us that it’s fine.” When the cab driver asked if I was ok, I meekly said, “I think I’m having a miscarriage.”
The people working that day at Virginia Mason ER were amazing. I was wondering how we would be received based on my experience just a few days before. They saw us almost immediately. The nurses were so nice, gentle, respectful and the MD was very candid when he told us that he and his wife had experienced this as well.
No medical speak. Just three human beings connected through pain.
I thought I saw a heartbeat on the ultrasound monitor and for 30 minutes I really had hope. Long story short – there was no baby. I will never forget my husband’s face. The doctor came in the room to tell me and my husband was just outside the door watching our daughter as she ran around in the hall. The doctor said development had stopped “some time ago.” My husband heard what the doctor said and we made eye contact. Thankfully, I didn’t need a D&C as my uterus was already almost completely empty.
We left the hospital a few hours later and I will never forget how physically weak I felt. How emotionally numb I was. I sensed the profound sadness deep inside my heart, but it felt far away. It was as if I looked through frosted glass and could see my fuzzy, deformed, vaguely familiar pain. That was the part of me that didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t want to deal with what this all meant and ruining our much anticipated family vacation where we would attend a family wedding that weekend. (Thankfully no one but my parents knew I was pregnant. I don’t think I could have gone if I was receiving continual condolences and sad sideways glances.)
We walked down the beautiful hill towards our hotel and contemplated, “What next?” I certainly didn’t want to go back to the hotel. And do what? Cry? Lay in bed and look at the ceiling as our 2 1/2 year old lost her mind trapped in a hotel room? Wow, sounds like a great time. No, I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to walk. So, we did.
Slowly, gently planting one foot firmly before picking up the other, holding my husband’s hand as he pushed our sweet girl all bundled up in her stroller. We walked by beautiful window displays. We walked to Pike’s Place. We spent several hours there. Slowly walking. It was a crisp day. It was nice to wear a jacket.
After we got back to the hotel, my husband took our daughter to the pool at the hotel. I laid in bed and looked at the ceiling. Looked out the window. Looked at the TV. And I cried. I cried loudly. It was the first time I could really let loose and let it out. I didn’t want to upset our daughter, so I had tried to keep everything ‘under control.’
So with each wail, I tried to push the pain out up and out of my mouth. Hoping that if I just got all the pain out, I could feel better. I wasn’t going to let this ruin our vacation. We had plans to go to the zoo, the Children’s Museum, the Space Needle… and damn it, I was going to have a good time. And I would smile. Even though my sadness, I would enjoy my family. So after that cry, I put it in the back of my mind – to deal with later. Later, after I stopped thinking I’d get pregnant again as soon as possible, after we got home and I saw my friends with their sad faces. Later when I could face my pain. And, when we got back, I did cry a lot.
Even now, there are times that I cry. It’s hard how the pain doesn’t miraculously disappear. It just goes beneath the surface. I hate the phrase, ‘Move on.’ Only people who have never experienced a great loss would have such a cavalier attitude towards grief. As if once all your pain goes away, once you ‘move on,’ then you are ‘all better.’ What does that mean?
You don’t think about it? You don’t cry? You are never sad again? Please. The pain never goes away – it just isn’t so raw anymore. The jagged edges of my pain are worn away and I don’t think about it all the time. But just because I’m still sad sometimes, doesn’t mean I’m not still doing laundry, potty-training, and enjoying my life. It just means I’m still sad. It means I wish I was writing you 5-months pregnant, but I’m not. And that sucks. And it’s quite all right, thank you very much, if I’m ‘still’ sad about it.
A friend of mine who has experienced miscarriage twice told me that it was totally weird – no one will mention it to you. People will act like it never happened. And being on the other side of it, I know what it feels like to not want to upset someone. To not know how to bring it up or what to say. To simply be uncomfortable in the presence of someone else’s massive loss. But now being the one ‘it’ happened to – it’s weird. I’d talk about it if someone asked me. But no one does.
I share this personal pain because I hope that someone else will find comfort, knowledge or understanding. I don’t pretend to presume that I could have this power. I just know how much strength I have gained from my brave friends who have shared their pain with me. If it wasn’t for these friends, this could have been a very lonely, isolating event but instead I learned to share a quiet, communal understanding with women who have walked this painful well-worn road before me.
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Jen Kamel is the founder of VBAC Facts, an educational, training and consulting firm. As a nationally recognized VBAC strategist and consumer advocate, she has been invited to present Grand Rounds at a hospital, served as an expert witness in a legal proceeding, and has traveled the country educating hundreds of professionals and highly motivated parents. Even more have accessed her trainings online. She speaks at national conferences and has worked as a legislative consultant in various states focusing on midwifery legislation and regulations. She has testified multiple times in front of the California Medical Board and legislative committees on the importance of VBAC access and is the Secretary for the California Association of Midwives and the California Association of Licensed Midwives. Her favorite flavor of ice cream is peanut butter chocolate. And mint chip. And coffee.