What no one tells you about miscarriage
Updated: Jan 6, 2020
Well, here I am. Home from a long Thanksgiving weekend. We booked a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere – no Wifi, no cell signals, no cable – so we could mourn, cry, reconnect and start to heal. And as part of my healing process, I want to talk about it.
Because we, as a society, don't talk about miscarriage. We just don't. And as a result, there are a lot of things I went through that – while there is absolutely nothing would have made them “easy” to endure – would have been infinitely less excruciating had I just had more information.
So without further ado, here are the things, both physical and mental, that no one tells you about having a miscarriage.
(Brief pause for a trigger warning: pregnancy loss)
1. You will see things you never wanted to see.
While depictions of miscarriages in popular culture are few and far between, most of the time it’s presented like you just get your period again. You look down, and oh, you’re bleeding! Better go get a tampon!
I watched my daughter exit my body. I held the little sac in which she was developing in my hand. It’s an image I will never get out of my head for the rest of my life. Portraying a miscarriage as if it’s just another month’s period doesn’t feel merely wrong; it’s damaging. As I said earlier, there’s nothing that would have made that moment easier, but I feel like a frank discussion of what would happen would have steeled my nerves.
2. The pain and bleeding is intense.
Again, every cultural reference I have for miscarriages misled me. I had a vision of being surprised, of waking up one morning to find the baby was gone. But there would have been no way for me to miss the fact that I was miscarrying.
It was cramps times a thousand, like an earthquake splitting open the ground. In fact, it hurt so badly and for so long after the initial miscarriage that I thought there was something additional wrong with me. I went back to the doctor, sure that my ovaries were inflamed with an infection and I was going to lose them both. But my doctor was unconcerned – said what I felt in my back was “referred pain” and was totally normal. She wrote me a prescription for Percocet and sent me on my way.
(Side note: They write opioid prescriptions for this. That should tell you something about the pain.)
And regarding the bleeding, all I’ll say about that is it’s now nearly two weeks after my body expelled my daughter and I’m still passing clots. I wasn’t even that far along… I can’t imagine what it would be like to miscarry later than this.
3. Nobody gives a shit about your husband.
While in a very real way, this miscarriage is only happening to me – I’m the one in pain, I’m the one cleaning up all the blood – my husband is also dealing with a major loss. However, everyone he’s shared this with has only asked about how I’m doing, as if he isn’t grieving too.
R has now gotten excited to be a father two times, and two times he’s had to replace that excitement with sorrow. My husband, a man I’ve seen countless times crease his brow and solve intricate problems, had to sit in total helplessness next to me as I bled out. He’s struggling too, and given how frequently I’m falling apart lately I’m not exactly a great support system. Someone, anyone, ask this man how HE is coping, not just in relation to me.
4. When they learn you’ve miscarried, people will say the absolute dumbest things to you.
I’m going to make an entirely separate blog post about this, and wrap it together with things people say to you about struggles with infertility, because they’re both fucking terrible. But there's one I DO want to address immediately: "When are you planning to try again?"
As if this is just some minor setback, like not getting picked for captain on your high school soccer team. I want to say, “We’ll try again when it doesn’t feel like the grief over losing my daughter is choking me,” but I usually just mumble something about waiting a few months.
I also need to point out that this is particularly inconsiderate/borderline cruel to say to me since for us, “trying again” isn’t an evening of smooth jazz, satin sheets and getting drunk on chardonnay*; it’s another goddamn round of IVF, with needles upon needles upon needles in my haunches, my belly and the inside of my elbow. It’s doctor appointments that make me late for work, constantly embarrassed and apologizing to co-workers. It’s knowing that our insurance covers three rounds of IVF and we’ve completed two that both ended in miscarriages. A lot is riding on “trying again.”
We have two embryos frozen in storage, and both of them are boys. While I know that if the third time’s a charm and we finally have a baby, I will absolutely love my son… but man, I am really mourning my daughter. There is no “trying again” that will enable her to have a life, and me to have a life with her.
But more than that, the bottom line is people don’t understand how to be supportive, and I believe it’s because of the point I made when I started writing this post: We don’t talk about miscarriage. In fact, we're actively told to keep it a secret – how many of you have heard that you're not supposed to tell people you're pregnant until you hit 12 weeks, when the risk of miscarriage goes way down? I've been thinking about that so much, because, like, then what? Then no one has to know you're sad? Everyone just gets to guess why you're crying at your desk? Or is it that if you're less than 12 weeks along, you're not supposed to be attached to your baby yet?
I say that's all bullshit. My baby was in my body from Oct. 29 to Nov. 19, and I loved her every minute. I still do. I'm devastated by this!
So, we're coached to be silent about miscarriages, and all that means is that we don’t have the emotional literacy to help when they happen. When a girlfriend goes through a breakup, there’s a script to follow – we prop her up, we take her out, we buy her drinks, we tell her she’s a prize and he didn’t deserve her anyway. We don’t have any motions we go through when our friends miscarry, and so what comes out of people's mouths just demonstrates their total inability to comprehend the depth of your grief.
For purposes of the record, you need to know this is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I would imagine for other women who've miscarried, especially those struggling with infertility, they'd say the same thing. Let that inform how you proceed with someone in your life who goes through this.
5. It's hard to know where you go from here.
This last point I can't quite fully articulate. But it's just that now in my life, there is a Before and there is an After, and things will never quite be the same.
So if I can implore you, be kind. Be gentle. If your instinct is to sneer and say, "I can't believe she's putting all that out there" when a Facebook friend opens up about her pregnancy loss, take the time to listen and grieve with her instead. This is hard, and we need all the help we can get to find our way to the other side.
*We don't have sex like that, I don't know why I wrote that