I’m a big believer in signs.
I’ve sat down to write this approximately 10 or more times since June 2018, but I’ve never finished or never produced anything I thought was actually “reach the surface”-level worthy. But after work today, as I obligatorily read a chapter from the book I’m currently reading (because if I’m being truly honest, the last thing I feel like doing when I get home from work is more reading) I finally decided to stop putting off what I’ve been putting off for the past few months and get down to business.
The truth is, a few months ago, I suffered a miscarriage.
Ever since then, I’ve been wanting to write about it, and I have, but everything I have written so far hasn’t seemed like it was something I should share. Writing has always been therapeutic for me, so a lot of what I’ve written about this experience thus far was sheer, raw emotion pouring out of me and directly into a very angry, very devastating, very confusing collection of words. Even if I never read it again, it served its purpose in helping me get some of the negative emotion… well… OUT.
But I have been feeling the nudge to write something else – something different – about what happened to me, and after another nudge/SHOVE today after work while reading my Girl, Wash Your Face book by Rachel Hollis (I’m so basic, I know), I threw up my hands in surrender and decided to write. You know those moments when you receive a “message” – a sign – from somewhere up above so loudly that you’d have to literally burrow your head into the sand to prevent yourself from hearing it, and even then, you’d still know. Rachel wrote,
“Let me take a moment to tell those of you who are dealing with and fighting through something painful: it is a miracle that you’re sitting here. You are nobly doing your best to battle your way through it. You are a warrior because of the trials you are going through, but don’t you dare squander the strength you have earned just because the acquisition of it was painful. Those are the most important lessons to share. You can use the strength to pave a path for others to follow along behind.”
Rach punched me right in the gut with that one. She also goes on to tell women how not to be “small,” meaning to not be afraid to be who we are, to not let fear or self-doubt hold us back from being ourselves. And me? I write about my life. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
So, even though this might be “the ugly,” I slowly rose from my burrito-blanketed position on the couch, fired up my laptop, and I’m doing this. Would I maybe rather be napping, or watching Netflix? I’d be lying if I told you otherwise. I’d also rather still be pregnant, but I didn’t get my way there, either. So, I’m accepting the challenge, because if God put it on my heart (and as a believer, I strongly believe that’s the way it went down), then I’m going to respond. And I’m going to step up and show up, even if I don’t feel like it.
I want to make it very clear that I’m not writing this for myself. This isn’t to ask for pity, sympathy, or even prayer (though I would never turn that last one away). It would actually make me feel infinitely worse to know that anyone pitied me for one second because of this, and I’m positive that any other woman who has experienced a loss would echo that exact sentiment. Believe me when I say that I’d rather NEVER be the one writing this to you. I don’t want this to be my story, and frankly am repulsed at the thought of attention over it. But it IS my story now, like it or not. And I refuse to hide or feel small, as Rachel says, out of fear of sharing it. Besides, I have already lived through my worst fear – stared it straight in the face – and I’m still here.
I would have loved to have happily and healthily carried along in my pregnancy, posted my belly “progress pics” to social media, revealed a gender, or even shared a simple ultrasound photo with, well, anyone. It didn’t turn out that way for me, and it doesn’t turn out that way for so many of us… and the hard truth of it, at least for me, is I think that it’s time we start telling these stories.
To the women who have already had the courage to stand up and share, to reveal the hardest part of their lives in the hopes that others would find comfort – you are my heroes. You made me feel less alone. It feels daunting and terrifying to share this experience with others – even with the closest of people. I never thought that I would be able to do what you’ve done, and quite honestly, until I sat down to write this, I was still not totally convinced that I could share publicly what happened to me. Thank you for giving me the courage without even knowing that you did.
To the women who haven’t publicly (or even privately) shared your stories – you’re my heroes, too. This journey is painful and intensely personal, and whichever way we choose to respond, we are entitled to it – no questions asked. You’re brave and your decision is admirable, and I mean that from the depths of my heart.
This is just simply one way to respond, and I hope that in some small (there’s that word again – should I use “big” instead?) way, I can bring a little bit of beauty to someone, somewhere, out of my ashes. I’m writing this in hopes that one person will find comfort, inspiration, or maybe even just feel a little bit less alone in reading this. I see you, and my heart aches with you. Thank you for inspiring me to stay brave.
You’re encouraged to keep pregnancy a secret until you’re “in the safe zone.” I get it, and I was following that myself, until I realized WHY we are all secretive about it. We are encouraged to not tell anyone for fear of pregnancy loss. It’s a legitimate fear; as high as 20-25% of recognized pregnancies will end in early pregnancy loss. Nearly 1 in 4. Those are just the reported losses – the number would be much higher if it included unknown losses. The more I talk to other women and share my experience with them, the more stories I hear that echo my own. Devastatingly enough, this happens all the time.
But we don’t often see those stories. It’s the same reason people don’t post pictures of themselves when they just wake up in the morning, or of their failed attempt at homemade gluten-free pizza that they burn to smithereens. Because unless they’re an “over-sharer,” or an “open-book,” they only share the highlight reel. We are all guilty of it, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. It’s a beautiful thing to share your life with your friends and family. But think about the sort of vacuum that creates for those who experience moments so very opposite of the highlight reel.
I realize I’m not immune to this; I’m sure there are people who look at my photos and posts and think, “I wish I could travel!” or, “I wish I could get married!”, or “I wish I had those two annoying, needy dogs who never stop barking and never stop moving” (okay, that last one is a stretch). Sometimes you’re behind, sometimes you’re ahead, and the truth is that we all wish for what we don’t have sometimes. Right now, for me, my social media feed is full of babies. And until I wanted to purposely HAVE a baby, it was simply just the highlight reel.
I am thrilled for those in my network who have had healthy, happy pregnancies. They deserve it – everyone does – and it fills my heart with joy for my friends who have gone on to be moms. If that’s your desire, I want it for every single last one of you. But sometimes, the road to get there isn’t just the highlight reel. If you’ve ever suffered a miscarriage, you’ll know just how utterly gutting it is. And if you haven’t experienced it (and I pray that you never will), it’s hard to know how to respond to your friends, family, acquaintances who are suffering. I have some thoughts on this.
First, miscarriage should be treated the same as every other type of loss. You’d never think that after someone has lost a family member, a friend, even a PET, to not at least give them your condolences, text them to check in, or give them a hug. Tell them how sorry you are. Let them know that you’re thinking of them, or – if you’re spiritual – that you’re praying for their recovery or their grieving process. Send them a card. Meet them for coffee (coffee is soothing and healing in nearly all situations, let’s be honest). I will tell you openly that though I never much cared whatsoever about receiving flowers for any occasion prior to my miscarriage, when I was suffering this summer, what I previously thought was just a little thing like flower arrangements absolutely saved me when they arrived at my door. They brightened up my dark, grief-clouded home and made me remember that beauty and vibrant life still existed. Don’t underestimate your power to help somebody out of a dark place with a simple gesture. Sometimes, it makes all the difference.
Miscarriage is so shrouded in mystery that we often think it’s taboo to mention it or talk about it because it might upset the person. I’m no therapist, but wouldn’t anyone who’s suffered any type of loss obviously become upset by the mention of it? Does that mean we ignore it when we see them? Of course not – it would be considered rude, or, at the very least, careless. I can’t speak for every woman who has ever lost a baby, but I can tell you that it means more to have support be spoken and shown and risk some tears or some reminders of bad memories than it does to ignore it like it didn’t happen.
I don’t say this to scold (even though I sometimes secretly enjoy the act of scolding because I’m a teacher) because before this happened to me, I’m afraid to tell you that I might not have known how to appropriately respond to someone, either. How upsetting it is to think back on the opportunities I may have missed to reach out to someone to show support – and WHY? Because of my own fear, or worse, the risk of feeling awkward? That’s just not a good excuse, and I feel obligated now to tell you that, in hindsight, I’m sure I’ve missed some cues to help others along the way. I know better now, and I promise to do better.
Going through this myself, I have to tell you that the support I’ve received has been overwhelming. It’s what kept me afloat. I have been so lucky. Even in the darkest hour of my life, I knew just how blessed I was by the outpouring of love I got by those with whom I shared my story, and that is truly the silver-lining in all of this mess. All the more reason, though, for me to say that it’s important to not sweep miscarriage under the rug. Women need hugs. We need prayers. We need to be asked how we’re doing, even if it’s as simple as a text or a pat on the back. We’ve lost something we can never get back – and, more than that, we’ve lost something we’ll never actually get to have. It’s a heartbreak that I can’t begin to put into words. So when I tell you that women need you to breach your own personal comfort zone and extend love, grace, and support to them, even at the risk of water-works or worse, you should do it. Don’t miss the opportunity.
The way in which we choose to show up to support people who have dealt with miscarriage doesn’t matter – it just matters that we show up.
Shutting Down Silence
There are so many women out there who suffer this alone and in total isolation. It breaks my heart to picture even ONE woman who experienced this who might have ever felt one moment of shame, secrecy, or avoidance just to simply keep others comfortable. The fact that we’re all encouraged to “keep pregnancy a secret” for fear of a loss says a lot, doesn’t it? I never thought about it for a single second until my own loss, but why are we so heavily cautioned not to tell anyone about our pregnancies? Because if we miscarry, then we’d have to un-tell? If we do lose the pregnancy, isn’t that part of our story now? Doesn’t it feel better to treat it as any other type of loss and share it with those you love so they can walk alongside you through it?
I’m not here to speak on behalf of all women, I’m just here to speak on behalf of myself in saying that I believe society encouraging women to keep their pregnancies “secret” is part of what fuels the feelings of shame, embarrassment, and guilt when they end unexpectedly. My point is that it’s up to each of us to determine who we share with and when, but we certainly shouldn’t feel forced into secrecy – it should be a choice. Women should get to make that choice free from judgment or pressure no matter how their pregnancy turns out.
The sheer magnitude of misery after a miscarriage is nearly impossible enough to get through without making it seem more isolated and lonely than it already is. The more we stop hiding and start illuminating this topic, the more women will know that though it doesn’t ever stop hurting, they are surrounded by SO. MANY. PEOPLE. who have their backs, and that they shouldn’t ever have to suffer in silence.
Miscarriage is a random, unexplainable event, which is part of what makes it so sickening. Personally, I had what is called a “missed miscarriage” – I was 11 weeks and 5 days pregnant when I had to have a D&C surgery because my baby had stopped growing at 6 ½ weeks. My body had not recognized that the miscarriage happened, so I had no signs whatsoever that anything was wrong. I assumed that everything was moving along perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, that I downloaded all the pregnancy apps (and I mean ALL of them – even the ones that barely function. Just in case). My husband and I created lists of names and poured over them so many times that we were actually starting to hate ALL the names (“why did we even write that one DOWN?!” – after the hundredth time seeing it). My mom and I texted every single day about the size of the baby (“today, baby is the size of a GRAPE!”) or how excited she was to be a first-time grandma. I was planning to announce our news on our third wedding anniversary. You have it all planned out in your head – the way it’s “supposed” to go. For most of you, it goes that way, and for those stories, I am eternally thankful. I never had to think much about it until I joined the ranks of those who now, like me, didn’t have things go the way they are supposed to go.
When I went for my first ultrasound appointment at what we believed was 10 weeks and 5 days into my pregnancy, our world stopped. Instead of walking out with a photo to share with our families, we walked out with me wailing and my husband having to literally support me to hold me up. He hasn’t stopped holding me up since, and I doubt he ever will, because he’s the biggest blessing in my life – he literally embodies the statement, “in good times and in bad.”
From the bad came the even worse, as we were told we had to wait another week for yet another ultrasound to “make sure” the pregnancy was no longer “viable” – and thus began the worst week of my entire life just waiting for the end. For a week, I sat in bed staring blankly at the ceiling, with Netflix playing mindlessly in the background, while my dogs and my family took turns laying beside me for comfort. I googled “missed miscarriage” so many times I think I read every single post and thread that had ever existed on the topic. I knew in my heart that it was already over, but that small shred of hope that they’d tell me something different was what really ripped my heart into pieces when one week later we were told what we already knew to be true.
We were never the couple that wanted to get pregnant right after marriage, but as so many of you who have tried to start a family know to be true, when you’re finally ready, you’re ready, and when that day comes, nothing else seems quite so valuable or so important. It’s a cosmic-level shift that takes place in your brain, and there’s no real turning back. The day I took my pregnancy test, I already knew in my heart that it would be positive. I could sense it. I could barely stand the excitement and jubilation and flat-out JOY I felt nearly every moment of every day while I was pregnant. That is the feeling that those of us who have suffered a miscarriage have to hold on to: those moments in which we were moms, our baby was there, and everything felt right with the world.
The morning my pregnancy officially ended, I sat in front of my doctor in total silence as giant, wet, crocodile tears streamed down my face. I stared into his eyes, desperately searching for answers. WHAT could I have DONE? HOW could this have HAPPENED? WHOSE fault is this?! I blamed myself, the doctor, God – my anger and frustration was real and it was raw. I cycled between desperate sobs, pure rage, and numb apathy for a long time afterward. The truth of it all is that you just have to feel those things and cycle through those emotions because there is often no answer, there is no real “why?” and there is no one to blame, even though you’d almost like there to be just to have SOMEWHERE to direct your spiraling emotions.
The last thing any woman wants to feel is any type of responsibility for something that is utterly OUT of her control. Miscarriage is nobody’s fault, but women often feel inadequate, embarrassed, scared, and out of control after experiencing one. After all – isn’t having babies the ONE biological thing our bodies were designed to do? To not be able to carry that out can make you feel like you failed. We have to change the dialogue and remind ourselves that miscarriage is as random as the weather and, at the risk of making weak comparisons, it’s simply the luck of the draw when your pregnancy ends in a healthy baby. It’s not always a given that the positive pregnancy test ends in a baby like they show in the movies. And there’s not a single thing we could have done about it when it doesn’t.
No amount of action or inaction, no amount of change, no amount of effort – expensive vitamins, cheap vitamins, more exercise, less exercise, more relaxing, less relaxing, more sleep, less sleep, no coffee, more water, more vegetables, less sugar – it’s nice that we want to believe we have some say in what happens to our pregnancy, but if we really did, none of us would be experiencing these losses. Ever. The truth is, some pregnancies are not going to make it no matter what vitamins we take or how much sleep we do or don’t get, and we have to stop thinking that way. As a dear friend told me and whose words rang true when I experienced my loss: if it was meant to move forward, not much could stop it, and when it’s not meant to make it, nothing can save it. That’s the thing that makes this the hardest. No matter how much you want it to work or how much you already love your baby, it simply just… happens.
As much as we all wish there were “easy fixes” for things in this life, there aren’t. Miscarriage is no exception. Getting pregnant again, or the possibility of it, does not erase the pain of the previous loss, and no matter what point you were at when you lost your pregnancy, it aches. Whether 9 months or 9 weeks, it stings, and anybody who has ever been through it would tell you that there is no “better” scenario – it’s all garbage. It is only by sheer force of will that we survive it physically and emotionally, no matter how or when it ends. It doesn’t need to be quantified, compared, or bandaged. We love every single person who tries to understand and offers well-intentioned advice or platitudes, but please know that all that is really necessary to say to someone who is suffering (as goes with any other type of loss) is simply that you’re sorry.
My hope is that others won’t feel caught up in attempting to “help” our way through it. Whether you’ve suffered a miscarriage yourself or not, none of us has the power to push another through grief, but we can partner alongside one another while we push through ourselves.
Grief is a strange thing. For awhile, I couldn’t imagine a time where I would ever feel like myself again. I’m not sure if you ever really return to “yourself” once you experience a loss like that. When I still occasionally lose my breath midday in revelatory shock as my brain decides to randomly zero-in on what I’ve been through, it takes me a solid minute to regain the strength to carry on with my day. Those of you experiencing grief know exactly what I mean. It happens out of no where and doesn’t discriminate: any where, any place, any time. Waking up in the morning, in the middle of your work day, driving in your car, mid-conversation with a stranger. It slams into you like a tidal wave of torture, and in the moment it feels like there’s just no way you’ll be able to continue on with whatever it is you’re supposed to do that day. I never know how I can, I just know that I do. Just like all the women before me, and all the women after me – we do, we will. We get back up, we carry on.
The day after our miscarriage – the day after we go from having a progressing pregnancy to wondering if it ever even happened – we got up that day, and every day after that, too. We may not smile as hard, or laugh as loud, but we get up. We show up. We pick up the pieces, we push forward, and we remember just how tough we are. We have to be.
There are millions of women and men whose babies they’ll never meet. We’ll never know the gender of our baby, or what color eyes they had. We won’t ever get to see them ride a bike, throw a ball, draw a picture, or graduate from kindergarten. We’ll never see them excel at a sport or activity or subject, and we’ll never get to teach them anything or share any memories together. We won’t see their birth, watch them grow up, spend thousands of dollars for them to get braces because they inherited our teeth, or send them off to college (Penn State, God-willing). We won’t dance with them at their weddings, or help them move into their first homes. They won’t terrify us the first time they’d drive away in a car by themselves, or make us question our very sanity the first time they’d introduce us to a significant other. We mourn all the things we won’t see, and all the things we’ll never know about our kid. What their personality would have been like, what dreams they would have dreamed, and what things they could have accomplished. They’ll never see a sunset, or play a game, or choose a favorite food. We miss all of that and so much more, and I KNOW how bad it hurts. Whether you were newly pregnant, lost your baby at birth, or somewhere in the middle, the loss is extreme, gut-wrenching, and hurts for a lifetime. There is no getting around it.
I think, most of all, we want people to remember that we’re still moms and dads. We still conceived and carried children, and we still knew what it felt like to love a child. Our story didn’t end with a baby wrapped in a fuzzy warm blanket, wearing a cute flower headband with a slight smile on their face (from, let’s face it, probably gas) in their newborn photo shoot. We love to see the babies on our social media feeds, but we also ache for the baby that we’ll never get to share a picture of or take a picture with. We are hurting but we are still thrilled for our friends, our family, and everyone who experiences being a mom outside the womb. We know that if you could change our experience for us, you would. If we could prevent tragedy from ever striking you this way, know that we would, too. Your baby is precious, and ours was, too. We appreciate your patience when it’s hard for us to click “like” on a photo or when our eyes involuntary go downcast when we see your pregnant belly. We are still rooting for you- always. We are all in this together, and let’s face it – we all need each other through the good, the bad, and the ugly. We’d never survive it otherwise.
I don’t know why this happened to me. I don’t know why it happened to any of you who are reading this and feeling what I’m feeling. Sometimes, things in life just happen, and they rip your heart out. There’s no rhyme or reason, there is no changing it, and there is no going back. I do know now that I can use it, I can grow from it, I can grit my teeth and bear it. At the very least, I can get up off my couch to type this up in an effort to remotely comfort even just one other person who unfortunately is hurting just like me. If that’s all I can do, that’s more than enough.
I believe in signs, and because of that, I truly mean it when I say that there are better days ahead for those of us who have cried tears of a pain few things can ever match, and carried on with a strength few things could ever produce.
Whatever our own personal method of healing might be, it’s in our strength that we will discover it. This just happens to be mine. That strength we discover is the legacy that will ensure our babies’ memories will be honored forever. And day by day, all in our own time and in our own unique ways, I’m confident that we’ll all get up off our own couches, start typing, and make sure that legacy happens.
All signs point to it.
In memory of Baby Lowry
April 5th 2018 – June 25th 2018