As of a couple of weeks ago, I knew 15 other women who were pregnant. FIFTEEN! It’s a regular baby bonanza! I’m so excited for my friends and I can’t wait to pinch those new baby cheeks and marvel over the tiny hands and feet. Immediately after my daughter was born, while my husband and I were holding her, I couldn’t stop exclaiming, “I can’t believe we made her.” I was in total awe.
Pregnancy is a time filled with anticipation and hope. But nine months is a long time. And inevitably, there’s plenty of worry and anxiety that goes along with the excitement. In the last several weeks, a couple of my friends had their babies. And then someone I’m very close to experienced a miscarriage.
It’s so common — 15-20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. That seems so high! And this number represents normal women with a healthy reproductive system. The reasons for miscarriage are varied and usually can’t be identified. The most common cause is a chromosomal abnormality, meaning there was a problem with the egg or sperm cell, or the cells didn’t divide properly.
But knowing that miscarriage is common, and that there wasn’t anything you could have done to prevent it, doesn’t make it any easier. It’s a topic that I wish I wasn’t so familiar with.
I suffered two miscarriages before Monkey and one after her. After the first one I remember feeling so naive thinking that I could just be on the birth control pill for seven or eight years and then just because I decided I was ready, I would go off and get pregnant right away and everything would be hunky dory. I felt foolish, because as much as we like to think we’re in control of the timelines of our lives, we are not in control. A lot of what I feel like I’ve learned from my miscarriages, or at least what they were meant to teach me, was about how I am really not in control of my life.
I’ve also felt somewhat labeled by miscarriage. During one of my pregnancies I remember having to complete a form asking if I’d ever had any miscarriages. It dawned on me that I’d always have to mark that box. I would always be “someone who’s had a miscarriage.” And with my current pregnancy, it’s still somewhat shocking to me when a health professional asks me “How many pregnancies have you had,” and I answer, “This is my fifth pregnancy.” FIFTH. Holy sh*t!
Unfortunately, miscarriage is not something that people talk a lot about. Even if you know someone who’s had one, it can still be an isolating experience; especially if a lot of your friends are expecting babies and having normal pregnancies. So what do you say to someone who has experienced a miscarriage? And if you haven’t had one, how do you know how that person is feeling?
After each miscarriage I felt such a crushing disappointment. All of the fantasies and hopes and plans that I had dreamed up for this tiny being in just 4-6 weeks were suddenly, gone. I also had such a gigantic sense of failure. My body had failed me. Even though my doctor reassured me that miscarriage is nature’s way of eliminating babies that won’t survive, and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it and nothing I did to cause it, I still felt like I had failed. It was my job to grow this baby and I had failed. Keep in mind that hormones are still raging at this point, so feelings may not always be completely rational. But feelings are feelings; they’re not right or wrong. It’s totally normal to wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” The answer is “probably nothing.”
I also felt jealous of other pregnant women. As happy as I was for my friends who were pregnant, I also had a slight pang of jealousy that they had something that had been taken from me. I also resented women who took their pregnancies for granted. Didn’t they know what a gift it was!? Didn’t they know it could be taken from them?
Obviously I also was angry. Angry that it happened to me.
The loss itself is emotionally painful and messy. And then on top of it, you have the physical aspects of ridding your body of the poor lost baby, and that is equally painful and messy. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say, it is a very — trying — time.
And then the waiting begins. Waiting until you’ve had at least 2-3 periods since the miscarriage, waiting until you can try again, if you’re ready to try again. I always felt like, “This is such a waste of time. Why couldn’t I have just not gotten pregnant at all if it wasn’t going to work out? Because now I’m wasting time, waiting for my period, when this is time that I could be trying again.”
The whole experience is emotionally, and physically, EXHAUSTING.
My point in explaining my gamut of emotions is to hopefully help someone who’s had a miscarriage, or to help you commiserate with a friend who’s had one. Because honestly, even after having three, it was hard for me to know what to say to my very close friend last week. I really had to think about what was comforting to me, and what wasn’t.
What was most helpful, was the most simple — “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that you have to go through this. Is there anything I can do?” It was also somewhat comforting to hear people say “It’s nothing that you caused, and there’s nothing that you could have done.”
Secondly, I appreciated it most when people simply listened and validated my feelings. I was sad, and mad, and depressed, and jealous. I wanted those feelings to be acknowledged as okay, rather than having someone try to distract me by changing the subject or coming up with a “On the bright side …” Losing a baby is just like losing another person in your life, and you will go through the stages of grieving. And that’s okay.
If you know your friend’s spouse, be sure to ask how they’re doing. Honestly, it was hard for me to remember that my husband was going through the miscarriage too. As the woman, you think, “This is happening to me, it’s my body.” But really, they’re grieving the loss too, even if it’s not as profoundly as you.
It wasn’t always helpful when people said “Everything happens for a reason,” or “God works in mysterious ways.” Because that just made me think “Why?” What’s the reason? Believe me, I spent a long time angry with God after my second miscarriage. While I may believe that everything does happen for a reason, it’s not always helpful to hear that right away. That kind of realization comes on your own. With time, and introspection. Instead, if you’re a faithful person, offer to pray for your friend and her family, including the lost baby.
Another thing that comforted me was when a friend (who also had a miscarriage) shared, “I knew when I got pregnant with (next child), that I was supposed to have her, which I couldn’t have if my last pregnancy went to term.” This only made sense to me after I’d already had one child though. Because it was only then that I knew what she meant when she said, “I knew she was meant for me.” I do believe Monkey was meant for me. I can’t imagine my life without her. And she wouldn’t be here if my prior two pregnancies came to term. And I know in my heart that this next baby is meant for me too — yet she wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t had that last miscarriage. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think about my “angel” babies though. I do. I think about them frequently. I think about meeting them some day in heaven. I think about the fact that they “belong” to me too, even if they never belonged to me on earth.
One thing that I didn’t think of, but one of my friends who’s had a miscarriage pointed out — don’t avoid the topic of the person’s miscarriage altogether. In a way, it’s easier to deal with someone trying to say something comforting, and screw it up, than not saying anything at all. According to my friend, “It’s not an unmentionable, embarrassing don’t-talk-about-it thing. It’s real. It matters. Grieving is hard when it’s an elephant in the room no one wants to mention, out of fear for saying the wrong thing.”
Lastly, don’t forget about your friend. The first week after a miscarriage is really tough. But as so often happens when a loved one dies, friends forget to check on you after the first week or so. Follow up with your friend in two weeks or two months to see how they’re doing. At times I remember thinking, “I’m still sad!” while feeling like the rest of the world had moved on.
I am grateful that I’ve never had trouble conceiving. After every miscarriage I was able to get pregnant again within a couple of months. I have several friends who have tried for years to conceive and I can’t even begin to imagine how painful infertility is, physically and emotionally. Pregnancy doesn’t seem like it should be so hard.
Hopefully, you’ve never experienced a loss. But if you have, or know someone who has, I hope this provides a little bit of comfort.