It’s been a painful 10 days. Last Tuesday I woke at 2:30am and stared into the darkness for hours before pulling myself out of bed and into the shower. A routine that seemed so… well, routine… that morning was foreign and exhausting. When I crept back into my bedroom to grab a shirt from my dresser it was still dark. I reached into the drawer and pulled out the first piece of cotton my hand found. As I shrugged it on I noticed what it said. Woman Up. I could not think of a more appropriate message to receive on that terrible morning. Woman Up indeed.
You see last Monday, 10 days ago, I woke up pregnant. And by Tuesday nothing had changed, per se, except I knew I was no longer pregnant. Not really anyways. An 8-week scan on Monday showed a sac of cells that had grown to the size of a 6-week embryo, but no heartbeat; no sign of life. In an instant, the fictional life I’d fantasized for weeks – being of a family of 4 – vanished. Monday I was happy. Tuesday I was heartbroken.
It’s called a “missed miscarriage.” And it’s particularly cruel because I should have been 8 weeks along but the would-be baby threw in the towel weeks ago. The cosmic joke? My body has continued to do everything it should be doing to support life – a life that just wasn’t there.
Grief is a weird thing. It’s been 10 days since then and I’ve spent most of that in a strange state of ironic detachment. Suddenly every woman around me is pregnant. I watched them smile and I smiled with them. I watched them talk about the baby kicking inside, the nausea, the swollen ankles as I felt all of my symptoms fade away. But still, my body would not flush out this failed attempt at motherhood. For 10 days, I felt like a walking tomb. Full and yet empty.
Still over these 10 days, I was doing the work. I’ve hugged Brian. I’ve cried to my mom. I talk to my friends. I’m enjoying the precious gift that is my daughter. All of the things one needs to do to grieve. And look, I believe that my body knows best. Rationally speaking, something was wrong with that tiny sac of cells and this was nature correcting a problem. But it doesn’t make it any less emotional or painful.
Yesterday, I was admitted to BIDMC for a procedure called “Dilation & Curettage.” It was one of three options presented to us as my OB delivered the heartbreaking news. I could wait for my body to “get with the program” and go through the miscarriage on its own. I could opt for a medication that would speed the process along and in the privacy of my own home. Or I could undergo the D&C surgery. The natural option could take weeks (WEEKS!). The medication could be very painful. And neither of those could guarantee complete removal of the remaining tissue. Meaning I could end up having surgery regardless. After weighing my options, I decided the D&C was the right decision for me.
Today, I am still sad and still grieving. I feel empty but I feel lighter as well. I am back to zero; square one. And that fucking sucks. But it is also comforting. I feel like I can start to truly sort through my emotions and move forward. I told you grief is a weird thing.
So it’s been 10 days. I have spent almost every moment of those 10 days navigating the loss of a year that I had already planned out; a year that now will not become reality. This experience – while devastating on so many levels – has also left me with three realizations.
The pressure to be fine is real. The reality is that our culture cannot or will not tolerate pain, emotion or vulnerability. This is a problem for both women AND men. When we were first told the news, before Brian and I even had a chance to process and start grieving properly, our minds began to spiral…How could this happen? Did I cause this? How do we break this to family? What do we say to friends who already suspect it? Should I even tell my boss about this? Will that impact how I’m perceived at my job? How do we go about the rest of our days like nothing is wrong?
You know what’s wrong with all of that? It is entirely focused on how the world would accept this tragedy – not us. Not how much it hurts us. Not how we need to support each other. Not how we need to heal. But instead, how will everyone outside of us look at us once we tell them? I can only suppose how it feels for a man – having to put on a “brave” face to hide the pain. But I can say that for women it feels a lot like “you are meant to be seen and not heard.” Hide your joy and hide your pain. Something good happens; keep it secret and downplay its importance. Something bad happens; don’t get emotional, shove it down and move on. So you know what? I refuse to make myself small and quiet. I have done nothing wrong. I shouldn’t have to put on a brave face for anyone else’s comfort. When people ask me how I’m doing, I should be able to say – “it’s been a shit week.” Not because I need pity or want attention but because it’s the truth. I am in pain and I don’t need to be ashamed of it, I need to go through it. In my way. This is my way. Talking and writing.
Women are stronger together. Our culture still has a long way to go when it comes to understanding the true value of a woman. How many of us still see other women as competition for jobs, friends, lovers? Why is it that our society uses defining characteristics of being a woman – or in this instance a mother – to promote divisiveness? Think about it. Women with children vs. Women without children. Working moms vs. Stay at home moms. Young moms vs. Older moms. Pregnant women vs. Infertile women. PTA moms vs. “Bad” moms. Pitting women against women – for whatever reason – prevents us from supporting each other AS WOMEN.
I struggled on how and with whom to share this unthinkable information with (see my point above). Could anyone really understand how I feel? I pushed myself to reach out to my friends who’ve never experienced fertility problems, my stay at home moms, my pregnant friends and my friends who don’t have children at all. And do you know what? Each woman who heard my story was AMAZING. They offered nothing but compassion, empathy and support. These women have shared their own awful stories. They have picked me up from the hospital. They have sent food to my house. They have checked on me every single day. They have been the hands on my back for 10 days. The perception that other women are anything other than the support system you need to get you through the dark days is toxic. It keeps us small and separate rather than united and strong. That shit needs to stop.
Access to proper healthcare is not optional. I am fortunate that I had three available options to address my missed miscarriage. I am grateful that I could evaluate and weigh the pros and cons for each one. Being forced to go home only to sit and wait for weeks until my body naturally miscarried could have been damaging to my mental health. For someone who struggles with depression – those weeks would have been a walking nightmare. Depression never goes away completely, it’s always there lurking just beyond your conscious thoughts. And for me the pull of the darkness is strong. In times of emotional distress, like right now, giving in to it is a valid fear. It would be easy really. To slip back into your self doubt, perceived failure and general unworthiness. But I simply don’t have time for it. I have a daughter that needs me strong and needs me living in the present. So I opted for a procedure – not dissimilar from an abortion – because there was no baby, and because my body wasn’t cooperating, and because my family needs me.
It has occurred to me that, given the political atmosphere around women and their reproductive rights, the options I had for this awful situation may not be the options offered for much longer. I wished I had more time to research and write expertly about the laws that are being introduced across the country that would in essence limit access to these procedures. Because I start to ask myself, what happens under these bills when there is a heartbeat at 6 weeks but not at 8? Who is to blame? The mother? What happens when we start to add shame and legal consequences to the emotional trauma? I had the luxury of choice and it frightens me how close I feel we are to losing that choice. It is actually something that has inspired me and I plan to spend time on better understanding it – maybe even getting involved.
Meanwhile, I’m still here. Doing the work. I’m going through the pain. Each morning I’ve adopted a mantra to help me focus on what I need to do to mourn and to move forward.
It goes… I need help. I need strength. I need peace.
My shirt said Woman Up. And that is what I’m trying to do.