Miscarriage: On Silence and A Tiny Butterfly
A prior version of this essay was published in CUS! Zine: 2nd Edition in March 2016.
Disclaimer: This essay describes my experience with miscarriage. Be warned that it could be too graphic for some readers. I find the writing process to be a therapeutic way to process trauma, and realized that maybe by sharing this story I could help other people who experienced this kind of loss to realize they aren’t alone, and thus feel less alone myself. It worked, so I thought I’d republish it here as I want a more personal link to share.
There are a lot of ways in which being a woman in our society “requires” reverent ceremony, controlled secrecy, timely theater. Pregnancy, with all its visceral reality, carries it’s own deep ties to a cultural spider web of propriety and presumed conformity. However, unlike being swept up in the ceremonial throws of the industrial wedding complex to plan the “Best Day of Your Life™,” the experience of being pregnant is quite immediately a deep part of your very human existence.
The moment you realize you are pregnant, you immediately know that you must take action but also that you are powerless against the will of your body. You know that within your own body, you are no longer alone. When sharing this new experience with others, you are still coming to the realization of what this means to your mind, your body, your life. Others feel entitled and compelled to share their opinions and experiences with childbirth, whether personal or perceived. And so, if you are like me, you cling to whatever privacy you can. For me, this also meant miscarriage specifically goes largely unmentioned.
I knew that you should wait until the 2nd trimester before “announcing” your pregnancy. I knew not to tell the people at work until I was sure there was “something to tell.” I felt guilty for how my paranoia seemed to effect my husband’s ability to be excited. I worried about how motherhood would effect my career in the man’s world of tech and started reading every article I could find with tips on balancing the two. I struggled to perform at work while experiencing extreme exhaustion. We started talking about names; mostly joking at first but over the weeks these conversations slowly became more serious. Ruling out ones we didn’t agree upon, arguing for ones with which we felt attachment. We told a few more people as time progressed.
Welling with tears at the sight of the tiny beating butterfly of the heartbeat at our first ultrasound, I realized unequivocally I wanted to be a mother to THIS baby. There was life-changing clarity in that moment.
Still no one mentioned the process of miscarriage aside from looking for the warning signs.
When the bleeding started, I knew to call the midwives. They told me to head to the ER and the OB on call would take care of me. In fact I didn’t see the OB until the end of my 5-hour visit. At the hospital the bleeding picked up. At the end, they confirmed the miscarriage was underway, that the baby’s heartbeat was lost, gave me two Tylenol, and sent me on my way. I was told I would probably bleed for a few days and maybe see some tissue. The OB asked me if I had any questions. I said I didn’t know what questions to ask. I didn’t know the worst was yet to come.
My partner left me still in bed the next morning to run some errands. About 30 minutes after the truck’s wheels left the driveway, I experienced blinding pain. I had no idea what was happening to me. Unsure which bodily movement would come next, barely unable to pull my body into the dry tub, the contractions became nearly constant and my phone was across the room. I did my best to practice ujjayi breathing to keep from passing out (thank God for yoga.) As time passed, I shifted my weight as the balls of my feet started to ache. Finally, Chris crashed through the bathroom door and just as he got a midwife on the phone, I saw the soft golf-ball sized fairy egg of the amniotic sac slide out onto the tub floor. Within minutes the pain subsided.
Because of all the secrecy and delicacy around the topic of miscarriage, I had no idea what experiencing a miscarriage might be like. I did not know what to do and I was terrified. Quite honestly, I thought I was dying. In reality, my body knew exactly what to do. My body was on autopilot and my feeble brain was along for the ride. My body knew this pregnancy wasn’t meant to be, and did the best thing it knew how to deal with the situation.
People expect you to be the human embodiment of sunshine and rainbows during your pregnancy, glowing with anticipation and filled with dreams. So there really is no discussion about the experience of miscarriage, which statistically occurs to somewhere between 15–20% of all pregnancies. This is not an insignificant statistic. I’m sure the experience differs greatly from person to person, week to week, trimester to trimester. Doesn’t this variation make it that much more crucial of a conversation?