“Gosh, it’s been so long! How are you?” I said to a friend I accidentally butt-dialed while trying to call someone else.
“Good…Well…OK… We were really excited because we were pregnant with twins, but then I had a miscarriage.”
And I paused. Honestly, I was kind of shocked that she just led with that. I mean, it had been over a year since we last spoke, and we aren’t even close friends. That’s a pretty personal statement to just put out there.
Why though? Why isn’t it OK to just tell the truth about how you’re feeling. If you just lost a baby why should you have to pretend like everything is fine? It’s not. And what a brave thing to do. We often hear the phrase “putting on a brave face” which means covering up your true feelings and going on with your life. But in reality, what takes courage is to acknowledge those feelings, to let people in. That is really scary. Because when you let people in to how you are really feeling, to the struggles in your life, it makes you vulnerable. It opens you up to people saying stupid, hurtful things, or getting super awkward, or just ignoring your comment and pretending like you didn’t say anything- which can be even more painful.
And miscarriage… well, we really don’t talk about that. I remember years ago a friend of mine was pregnant and I hadn’t seen her in a while. When I asked her how she was she said, “Well it’s been a rough summer… I was pregnant, then I wasn’t, and now I am pregnant again.” I remember freezing, thinking, “Oh wow, she just told me she had a miscarriage.” But I was too scared to acknowledge it- ’cause what do you say? So I just kind of pretended I didn’t really notice the comment and we skipped over it. Yeah, I’m not very proud of that.
About 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, that’s huge. And yet, nobody talks about it, it is kind of a taboo subject in polite conversation. If your mom or even your dog just died and someone asks how you are, it is perfectly acceptable to say you are feeling pretty lousy because of that loss and people will comfort you accordingly. But announce that you just lost a baby and eerrk (my impression of a needle scratching across a record,) sometimes conversation just stops. And if it is acknowledged, the platitudes come out. “Oh, well at least you know you can get pregnant!” “You’re young, you’ll have another one!” or my personal favorite, “Well, it probably meant that there was something wrong with the baby anyway.” Right. Because I would rather have my baby die than be born with a disability, is that what you are saying?
In case you haven’t guessed by now, I had a miscarriage myself. I was only about 9 weeks along but I was devastated. I have been through a lot (see A Brief Timeline of Crazy if you don’t believe me,) but losing the baby was one of the absolute worst things I have dealt with in my life. Everyone’s experience is different, but I loved that baby fiercely from the moment I knew he/she exsisted. My husband and I called it the Hufflepuff since we didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl and we talked about our plans for the baby all the time. When I started spotting, I knew in my gut that the baby was gone, but I still made my husband leave on a business trip because some crazy part of me believed that if I asked him to stay home to go to the doctors appointment with me, my fears would prove to be true. But sending him away didn’t help, I still got the horrible news at the ultrasound that the heartbeat was gone. And then I had to make decisions about what to do, and suffer through a lot of pain and weeks of bleeding. I won’t go into that now, but I remember how hard it was. And most of all, how lonely I felt.
We have decided as a culture not to tell people we are pregnant until 12 weeks, since miscarriage is so common before that. But that means that if you lose a baby, most people didn’t even know you were pregnant so how can they be invested in that little life? My husband was wonderful to me at that time, but even he could not understand why it affected me so deeply and why I became so profoundly depressed afterwards. We have funerals in part so that we do not have to mourn alone, because that is a huge weight to bear. But most people don’t have funerals for miscarried babies, so that burden is not shared.
Friends and family turned out in droves to help me and send flowers or cards or lend a word of comfort after each of my surgeries, which was wonderful. But my miscarriage was when I really needed the most support, and I have never felt more alone. A huge part of that is because no one knew, and I “put on a brave face” for those who did. I went back to work and just said I had been sick for a few days, but inside I wanted to scream, “How can you people not see that a part of me just died with the baby that was inside me?!” I went around pretending I was fine, but I was far from it. Eventually, Sebastian sat me down and said that he thought I needed to see someone and I found an amazing counselor to help me work through my depression. A few months later, I got pregnant with the twins and was so happy and so very scared at the same time!
I have been talking a lot about #BraveOctober and being brave, whatever that means to you. To me, today, it means finally speaking up about my loss. Telling people that if you are hurting, the courageous thing to do is to let someone know. Not to bottle it up inside and think that you are being “brave” by hiding yourself from the world. Maybe being honest about your struggles might just let someone know that they are not quite as alone as they feel in whatever pain they are going through.
So I paused. And then I said to her what I wish people would have said to me. “I am so sorry for your loss. Do you want to talk about it? I’m here for you.”