Miscarriage and the Culture of Silent Suffering

Honest talk on the stinging pain of pregnancy loss

We live in a country where approximately one in five known pregnancies end in miscarriage, a staggeringly high number given how infrequently women share this experience or seek support. Every one of these miscarriages is a loss, no matter how we frame it, no matter how much we wanted or didn’t want the pregnancy, no matter how far along we were. It is heartbreaking and you are worthy of your grief and the support you need to move through both the physical and emotional trauma you are experiencing. You are NOT alone.

One of my very good friends and WOMB team members recently experienced the sting of loss and we decided that sharing her vulnerable, honest, and tumultuous story with our readers might just touch that delicate place in the heart of women, allowing them to feel solace in their grief or the grief of their friends and loved ones and to know that you are not alone: we are here for you at The WOMB. Her heart-felt story is below. — Dr.Pam

This is blog 1 of a 2 part series on the honesty of miscarriage. Check out Part 2 whose topic includes resources. If in the meantime you need help or someone to talk to please call us or email.

If you asked me (and people often do) if my husband and I would have another child, I would probably say something like… no… I don’t think so, we aren’t getting any younger and we are just getting (some) sleep and routine back in our lives, I don’t know if we could handle anymore stress, and we have two beautiful healthy children already.  We’re good.  But every week, as I watch the prenatal yoga mama’s parade into class, I have a deep sense of envy of the precious moment they are living in.  Prenatal yoga was my absolute favourite thing to do while pregnant, and being pregnant; the fullness and life in your body, the anticipation of who this little person will be, and then holding your own baby in your arms for the first time, there is nothing like it.

Two weeks ago, I pulled my best friend aside and confessed that I thought I might be pregnant.  That morning I had been feeling nauseous, my period was 5 days late and the week before I had been standing in the middle of our backyard while dinner was being made and was overwhelmed by the smell of garlic from there. She listened to all of my thoughts, from worries of not being able to handle it, to wonder at the idea of the beautiful chaos a new baby would bring.  She assured me I could handle it, and had a nervous excitement for me that was contagious.

The next morning, I watched slowly as the second pink line showed up on a home pregnancy test.  I felt quiet and very calm.  I picked up my two year old daughter and together we walked into our kitchen and looked out the back window where there were 2 bunnies munching on the grass.  These little messenger bunnies arrived when I was pregnant with her as well.  We stood together and watched them, my daughter whispered “hi bunnies.”

My husband was surprised and instantly worried about the logistics; we’d need a bigger car, a bigger house, more help, more savings.  My fears crept up too…  What if it was too much for us?  Could we afford it?  Would our marriage survive?  Would we ever sleep again?  What if he really didn’t want me to have the baby?  How would our son feel with a sibling 6 years younger?  Would we ever get back to him?  Would our daughter be jealous?  She wouldn’t be my forever baby anymore, was I ok with that?  Could I manage another baby and work that I am just getting back to?  What would people think?  How would our parents react?  How do 2 people put 3 children to bed?  Even amidst his own concern, he promised everything would be ok.

By noon though, my heart was filling with joy, slowly and steadily rising.  The baby would arrive before I turned another year older, I couldn’t wait to call the midwives again, I was going to do everything at The WOMB, and really take care of my body this pregnancy and get back into my meditation practice- I would surely need it with 3 children!  I wondered what our family would look like with another baby girl or another baby boy.  I pictured all of the fullness that would forever fill our house.  It was going to be full, and messy, and beautiful and worth it.

That same night, I had some quick but fiery cramps.  The next morning I woke up and felt great…  too good.  The nausea was gone, the breast tenderness was gone, the smell, gone.  Symptoms can come and go though, so I would give it a day before testing again.  But the joy that filled my heart the day before was starting to slip away, it slipped into sadness, worry, confusion, and anger… I had been through previous miscarriages and knew what was likely to come.  What would be the point of me learning I was pregnant the day before only to begin to miscarry less than 24 hours later?

The next morning, I called my doctor’s office and explained that I had had a positive test but was questioning whether I was pregnant as the symptoms had subsided.  I have been with the same doctor my whole life, and for some reason that day they couldn’t find my name in the system.  They would have to call me back and I would have to wait before I could get the blood req.

I took another test and the line seemed faint compared to before.  In a desperate attempt to get information without sharing too much, I reached out to a close friend who also happens to be a Dr., and told her the story of “my friend” who thought she was miscarrying.  She forgot to press send on her reply, she never does that.  Again, I would have to sit with it for a bit longer. The universe did not appear to be on my side.

When my family dr. called back in the morning, I pressed the answer button on my phone but it would not work.  When I went in to get the blood req as I was leaving the nurse said you know what, you should actually wait to do that blood until next Monday.  It was Tuesday.  I had to wait.  Besides running into a wall every time I looked for answers, the nurses were so sweet in the office, they were giddy and happy for me, I tried to remain realistic but felt hopeful.

When I got home from work that day I began spotting.  I don’t know how many ways there are to ask google about implantation bleeding vs miscarriage but I asked, every way I could think of.  I told my husband that I was likely miscarrying so we wouldn’t have to worry about all of the worries.  He seemed relieved but also concerned about me.

The next day I sat with my 2 most trusted friends and we went over all of the scenarios.  It was still only 2 days of spotting, no cramps since Saturday.  Could that be normal?  I was willing to hold on to the sparkle of possibility.  In the coming days every time I felt impatient with my kids, I reminded myself this was probably for the best.  In every beautiful moment, I hoped for another baby.  When I laid my 2 year old into her crib and felt how big she was, I hoped that I would hold another tiny baby again.  Three more pregnancy tests went very dark positive, very quickly.

Both scenarios felt impossible.  It seemed unimaginable that we would actually have another baby and inconceivable that we would go through another loss.  But for whatever reason, I was not allowed to know.  I had to sit with it.  I tried to be grateful for the unknowing.  Knowing would bring a certain joy and pain either way.  I wondered if I had done this or that differently if it would change the outcome.  I tried to find comfort in the fact that whatever was to come was already decided.  It was set out on my path to have another loss or have another child and someday, sooner or later depending on what happened, meaning would be found in both.

Each day, the bleeding got a tiny bit heavier but not heavy enough to confirm anything, and every day I sunk deeper into a hole of googling madness.  I’d put my phone away and then be like oh, I should see how many days people have bled for and gone on to have a healthy pregnancy…  and I’d be back on my phone.  How unhealthy and easy it is to fall into this cycle when we are not at our best.  How hard it is to sit with the discomfort of the unknown.

It had been 6 days of light bleeding and then it became heavy bleeding.  I had run out of google searches and just went to be alone and sobbed.  How foolish of me to feel this amount of disappointment over something I’d only known for such a short time…  when I knew that there would be some relief in remaining a family of 4.  How silly to get excited and think this would be the perfect timing if we were going to have another baby and imagine telling our friends and family…  I should have known.

The next day at the lab, I couldn’t hold back the tears as I handed my bloody urine sample over to the woman who had taken my blood.  She told me to take care of myself and quietly said that she understood what I was going through.  As I wandered around in the world that day, I wondered how often I am in conversation with a woman who was miscarrying at that very moment.  It’s so common.  Common but hard, no matter what.  I have experienced pregnancy loss when I had never had a baby before and didn’t think I ever wanted one, after having a baby and desperately wanting one, and now after having all the babies I thought I needed and not knowing I wanted another one.

When the results came back, my doctor’s office was on vacation, more waiting, but my friend was able to look at the numbers for me and confirm…  “That is very low, too low.”  I already knew.  I had felt the changes in my body, I had watched the blood loss increase and I had seen the number too.  But this confirmation was heavy on my heart.  I don’t know why it’s so hard but it is.  I was prepared for it, I have been through it before, it wasn’t even what I wanted at first.  A friend compared it to the loss of a loved one when they are sick, you know that it’s coming and go through so many emotions while they are sick and alive but the loss when they actually pass is so painful.  It seems unfair to compare it to that kind of loss, saying goodbye to someone with a full life and many years of memories is different than this…  And to be honest only significant to the woman whose body it exists in.  It is almost impossible for others and for our partners to understand, as much as we want them to.  It is only something they have been told, and while I hope that every woman who experiences this, has someone by their side with compassion and empathy, it starts and ends so much quicker for them.

When a woman learns she is pregnant, no matter the circumstances, she instantly feels the connection to, responsibility and a world of possibility for that baby.  Her body and mind will never be quite the same, certainly if she births a child, but also if she never gets to meet them.  When a pregnancy is lost so early, too many women feel it is not worthy of the grief that they feel.  It is true that you will heal, and it will get easier but there will be a time when it is not easy, and it probably won’t end for you on the day that you begin to spot or learn that your hcg levels are too low.

I am now approaching 3 weeks since my first confession to my friend.  The bleeding subsided a few days ago, although I still have to wear a pad; a daily reminder that something happened, even though at times it feels like nothing happened.  This is also a weird feeling, this numbness.  My first loss shifted my priorities in a way that changed my life, the next one opened my eyes to how low the bar is for care in these scenarios and shifted my career path to one that fulfills my sense of purpose.  I can’t see what the point of this was right now, but I know that one day I will get to see the gift that this little soul brought to me by making its presence known.  And now I will wait for that.

Dr. Pamela Thornton is a Naturopathic Doctor at The WOMB Woodstock. Pamela is an integrative practitioner and passionate leader in the field of women’s hormonal health issues and fertility.

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