How to balance new traditions with old ones.
We spend so much of our waking lives avoiding death—in more ways than one. When it comes to talking about the inevitable, it isn’t always easy. So the Orange Dot is aiming to shine a light on these stories, in hopes that it may help others. The After Series features essays from people around the world who’ve experienced loss and want to share what comes after.
We tried for so long. Years after we began trying, I was finally pregnant, and the entire family was ecstatic. This would be our last baby, and our three older children were looking forward to a little one in the house, as they were all much older—16, 14 and 8 years older.
My mom took us to a celebratory dinner. Weeks went by and the family had many conversations about this new baby, what he or she would be like, and how sick I was: I could not stop throwing up. I’d never been so ill during a pregnancy. The three-month mark passed, and I sighed with relief. At 35, I was old enough to be more at risk for miscarriage, and we were all glad when the high-risk months were over. Until one night, I woke in blood. I made it to the toilet, dizzy, scared and in shock. Blood ran down my legs and pooled on the ground behind me as I made my way to the bathroom.
I remember moments out of the next hours that spring forward out of a muddy overall memory, clear and formed, horrible and desperate: myself, bleeding out in the ER, the doctor urgently whispering to attendants as our baby slid out, my husband, white-faced and leaning over me as I sobbed and begged the doctor to tell me if he could save my baby. He could not, but he could not bring himself to say so.
After surgery, two blood transfusions, and another day in the hospital, I went home with my husband. The world was very quiet.
The next few days were built from and infused with the most intense grief I’d ever experienced. I had been lucky in death before; my losses had been expected deaths, of old age. Not a baby whose tiny heart had just formed and jumped in an ultrasound image, awaiting the entire world, a whole life before him or her, a whole family waiting for those tiny fingers, opening eyes.
Our family huddled on the couch that first day, strangely still. We are a boisterous family full of opinions and moods and wrestling and shouts, but that day was full of silence. What to say? How to address the enormous hole left behind that felt almost unseemly, as if it were inappropriate to grieve so deeply and profoundly for a partly formed baby only flickering in this life for 13 short weeks.
Finally, my oldest son knelt in front of me. He wrapped his long teenage arms around me and openly wept. “I’m so sorry, Mom, I’m so sorry this happened,” he said. He hugged my husband, and then we were all crying, and hugging, and talking about how much we missed the baby we’d never know.
This was an incredible moment, one I’m unlikely to ever forget. The incredible bond of shared human experience—shared pain and shared love—was lifted from its normal shimmering, vague place in life and held in plain sight, for all to see and grab on to. I was astonished to find that this moment, and the day with my family following it, did more for my resilience and healing than a thousand prayers, a hundred hugs, tens of condolences—although those mattered, too.
I’ve heard many women recount how alone they felt after a miscarriage, how isolated from the kindness that often comes after a death. I was very lucky in that my work sent flowers and a beautiful note, my neighbors brought over baked goods, my mother and family visited, and my husband shared my sense of deep loss, openly expressed.
Nothing can stop death, but being open with my grief and feeling the love and support from my community made that grief more bearable. What felt unbearable to me was the idea that I would have to move back into normal life with a pleasant expression on my face, platitudes on my lips and the attitude that an unborn child didn’t warrant whatever grief followed.
The support of my family, not to mention the cards and calls and texts from friends and co-workers, eased the persistent feeling that perhaps my grief was unseemly, too much. I had known that I was going to allow for what I felt, but I was unsure if anyone else would. I also had the strong feeling that in order to begin healing, I had to be allowed to make as much room as I needed for the memory of this baby. To say, “This child existed, and was deeply loved, and is deeply missed.” He or she would be seven years old, now. I know this because my teenage daughter mentioned it this morning, after which we both hugged.
Miscarriage often brings not only grief but the suffocating feeling for both the father and the mother—perhaps even for the siblings—that there isn’t a place for their grief. The loss that newly pregnant women may feel has not been as openly discussed in our society as other loss; I have heard many stories from other women who were treated very differently than I was after their miscarriage. Sometimes their losses were completely ignored as if it never happened. This is the worst possibility, because when we lose anyone, we deeply desire to have the impact of their life and death acknowledged. I was allowed to grieve, and so, I was able to heal.