On Having a Miscarriage
Content Warning: This essay deals with pregnancy loss and grief.
This isn’t the essay I thought I would be writing today. I thought perhaps I’d write my first essay of the New Year about my goals for 2022, or the art projects I want to make, or what insightful nuggets I could glean from the mess of 2021.
But instead, I’m here to write about something quite different.
Over the holidays, I had a miscarriage at 12 weeks pregnant.
I was at a routine OB appointment when we discovered the baby had no heartbeat. It was 3 days before Christmas eve.
It’s now been 2 weeks and I’m on the fence about how much to share about my experience. On the one hand, I want to share everything, every detail, because I have felt so lost and confused during this time, and perhaps sharing my story could help someone else in a similar experience. I also know that writing and drawing are important steps in processing my own emotions and moving forward from dark spaces.
But having a miscarriage is also intensely personal, scary, and to be honest, grotesque. We’ve all been told that miscarriages are common and that “you probably know someone who has had one”. But it’s still not openly talked about. And now I know why. It’s incredibly difficult to decide what to say about it.
Do I share the complex emotions—the feelings of grief and anger? Do I share the gross physical process—the blood and pain? Do I share the uneven aftermath—the moments when I forget and the moments when I remember?
When you tell someone you’ve had a miscarriage, they don’t ask questions. They don’t want to know. Yes, I’m sure part of their motivation is a desire to be considerate and respect your privacy. But I think the bigger hidden motivation is that the miscarriage process is unpalatable. It’s repulsive and disgusting and nauseating and scary and not something people actually want to hear about or imagine happening to them. A miscarriage is something private that happens to someone else.
That is, until it happens to you.
My understanding of a miscarriage was that it was like a heavy period, with some extra complicated emotions on the side. After crying on my midwife’s and husband’s shoulders, I planned to lay in bed for the 12-ish hours it would take to complete the physical process, while my family watched over our 2-year-old daughter. I thought I would watch a couple movies, read a book, wear some pads, sleep, and deal with the emotional recovery afterward.
In reality, it was much, much more intense than that.
Within 4 hours, I was unable to leave the bathroom there was so much blood. Within 5 hours, I passed the placenta and stared at it on the bathroom floor, unsure if this was normal. Within 6 hours, I was still losing mass amounts of blood. I was delirious, pale, sweating, and throwing up. Within 7 hours, I was in the waiting room to the ER, seizing in a wheelchair. Within 10 hours, I was getting 2 units of blood in a blood transfusion. Within 12 hours, I was in the operating room having D&C surgery to remove everything from my uterus. Within 20 hours, I was back home.
And now, 2 weeks later, I am still weepy and fragile. Seeing a picture of a baby makes me want to cry. Seeing a pregnant woman makes me want to cry. Thinking of trying to become pregnant again in the future makes me want to cry.
Any attempt to describe the experience of a miscarriage in one succinct sentence or one concluding paragraph is inadequate. No matter how many words I use or how much detail I include, it’s still an understatement. It’s impossible to convey this complexity in words. It’s impossible to wrap this all up into a tidy little package.
But I’m writing this because I know I need to. I need to process this event to move forward. And I feel driven to write it now, while I am still in the midst of this experience, rather than on the other side of it, because those are two very different essays with two different purposes.
In my darkest moments, I have read the words of others’ suffering and felt the healing balm of knowing I am not alone. When you’re at the bottom of the well, it can be frustrating to read uplifting success stories of others who have gotten through a similar experience. When you’re sitting in the dark, the bright shining light of someone on the other side can feel intrusive and offensive and impossible. It can make you think you should be healing faster or should have already healed or never should have broken in the first place.
Before we can move forward into hope and healing from a traumatic experience, I think we first have to allow ourselves to feel the sadness and anger. And to know that those feelings are normal and that we are not alone in feeling them. To hear the experiences of others who are currently struggling just as we are. To read stories of others that don’t gloss over the hard bits to make it more palatable and positive and tie it all up in a neat little bow. To know that the recovery process is messy and not linear and to see someone else who has been down in the mess too. To know that we don’t have to rush from broken to fully healed.
If I ended this essay today with an uplifting statement about how this experience has led me to discover some brilliant insight about the meaning of life, or deeper gratitude for what I have, or a realization of my inner strength and resilience, it would be a lie.
Because right now, I do not feel grateful or resilient or wise.
I feel weak and sad and angry.
I’m mad that this happened to me. I’m grieving the baby I lost, and also the future I had planned for myself and my family. I’m sad that my body, once plump and taut with the promise of new life is now deflated and sagging, a reminder of what is no longer inside. I’m anxious to run into the few friends we had told I was pregnant and have to say something to them. I’m angry that my plans for the next 6 months have all been upended. I’m shocked by the sudden change in daily purpose and meaning as I am now no longer growing a human inside me.
Those are the truths I have to share. I have no realizations or insights. The only wisdom I am able to hear and heed at this moment is coming through the creative process. The process of taking something awful and getting it out of my head and onto the page.
What is the purpose of being an artist and making art if not to attempt to share and interpret what it is like to live as a human? Having a miscarriage is perhaps the most human thing I have ever experienced.
And so, I will write about it.