It was 5:30 on a Monday evening. At 4:00, while sitting in the waiting room for our routine check-up, we decided that we would publicly share our pregnancy in the following days.
Based on a previous ultrasound, we thought our baby’s gestational age was approximately 11 weeks, close enough to the culturally accepted time to make a public announcement. Besides, we were moving across the country in fewer than three weeks. We wanted time to celebrate our pregnancy with our friends in Texas before we headed north.
But it was 5:30, not 4:00. And now we knew. We knew that our first child’s heart had stopped beating sometime in the last month. We knew I was experiencing missed miscarriage.
We were sent home to decide if we wanted to wait for the fetus to be expelled naturally or if I wanted to undergo surgery in the coming days. We sat in our car stunned. We felt alone, confused, and broken. I felt like a walking tomb.
Later that night, after calling close friends and family, I had to tell my boss why I would be missing work the rest of the week. As the words came out of my mouth, I felt the heaviness of his heart. Then he asked, “What do you want me to tell the volunteers?” I had at least 50 volunteers awaiting me the next day as we made the final preparations for our largest fundraiser of the year.
“Tell them I am sick,” I said.
“They won’t believe me,” my boss said.
“I know,” I said. Then we hung up.
The Rules about Miscarriage Have Changed
This was May of 2014. I knew the rules. You didn’t talk about pregnancy until you were 12 weeks along. And you certainly didn’t tell people you miscarried. You see, that is the whole reason pregnancies are supposed to be hush during the first trimester—just in case something goes wrong. Then you don’t have to tell people.
While I understand this logic to some extent, it certainly didn’t work for me. Suddenly my husband and I found ourselves in the depths of despair, grieving the loss of our child, and nobody knew. The next morning we called our pastor.
“My wife has miscarried,” my husband said.
“I am so sorry,” he said, “I didn’t even know she was pregnant.”
We couldn’t just not tell people. My volunteers at work figured it out—why else would I miss the most important week of the year? Our friends, family, and church needed to know. We were grieving like we had never grieved before. We needed our community.
At our weakest, we had no social script to lean on and no ritual to follow, because the rules for pregnancy loss have been different than all other types of death. The death of a human being is usually an incredibly public event. There is often an announcement in the paper, public receiving lines, a funeral service, a trip to the grave site, all followed by a shared meal between friends and family. When my husband’s grandparents each passed away, we did not think of not telling people. We simply explained why we would be out of town for a few days.
But our first miscarriage was different. We were not supposed to want to be public. We were supposed to simply disappear for a week while we figured out how to expel the products of conception, then grieve quietly and in isolation. I didn’t need to shout it from the rooftops, I just needed to tell the same people I had told about the grandparents, and I needed a pre-scripted process for dealing with my grief.
We’re Not the Only Ones Who Have Felt This
As we navigated the physical, emotional, and spiritual burden of miscarriage we felt so alone, like pioneers, the first people to ever go through this. We knew that wasn’t true, but we didn’t know how untrue it really was. Nearly 20 percent of pregnancies end in loss. Many women we know had experienced this loss, so why did we feel so alone? Why was there no public script? What was I supposed to say when people asked if I had any children?
We are not the only ones who have felt this way. In her recent article titled “I Don’t Want to Try Again. I Wanted That Baby,” Rachel Lewis beautifully lays out the heart of so many loss parents. Repeatedly she dwells on the isolation that comes with early pregnancy loss: “I was mostly alone,” “I had very few resources,” “I felt society’s expectation to get over it quickly,” “I felt I should be silent.”
Since my first miscarriage more than three years ago, much has changed in the public conversation thanks to people like Lewis. Facebook and Twitter have given platforms for women to share their losses. As I outlined a year ago, we have come a long way in raising awareness. As awareness grows, so does the voice of loss parents. So now that we have your attention, what is it that we want to say?
We Are Grieving
“Because we hadn’t known we were pregnant, it took a couple of days for it to sink in that we had had a baby but she was gone. I had to sit down and pray and journal before I could move on from disbelief to grief. I felt like I was dragging around a heavy blanket that I couldn’t shake off, and I hated having to go out and be a normal human being, talking to people as if I was fine. It was about two months before I began to feel like myself again.”—Madeline Gill
“We had never experienced this level of brokenness, we were about to go through something really dark. I wish I understood it was going to be a season.”—Kathryn Wales
We Miss Our Babies
“I’ll never forget them. Ever.”—Taylor Terlaak
“We are expecting another baby now… I love this baby, but he or she doesn’t replace the one we lost 18 months ago. I’ll always miss her. I’ll always know how old she would be. I’ll always see her in the children who would have shared her age.”—Madeline Gill
We’re Affected Mentally, Emotionally, and Physically
“We lost our baby very early on. The doctor estimates about 5-6 weeks. It was a rather odd thing. At our 8 week appointment, no heartbeat was detected. They said it was normal and could be a dating error, and had us come back one week later. Still no heartbeat, but there was fetal growth. Repeat this for two more weeks. It was a lot of us hoping they were wrong, and that our baby was okay. Later when reading my chart more thoroughly, I discovered that there was another baby. The first twin had never developed a fetal pole properly, and baby 2 passed away 3 weeks later. It never really ‘hit’ me until the ‘natural processes’ began.
“…I don’t know if I actually grieved. I had a very rough few days following the passing of baby. With being on heavy pain killers, my head was everywhere.”—Taylor Terlaak
“It’s an unholy cocktail of pregnancy and postpartum hormones.”—Katheryn Wales
Thank You for Your Love
“I found a lot of comfort in my husband. He was my rock, kept me sane, and had me smiling again. It was a hard season to walk through, but it made both our friendship and our marriage stronger.
“Also, many friends and family were wonderfully kind, offering to talk and pray, sending flowers and cards on Mother’s Day, and just mourning with us.
“Finally, I’ve loved the beautiful friendships that came out of the loss. I remember sitting and hugging one friend as we both wept hard for the children that we’d lost. It helped so much to know that I’m not alone.”—Madeline Gill
“I found great comfort in a friend that had experienced several losses. I also found comfort in helping another grieving friend that lost her baby about a month after we did.”—Taylor Terlaak
Together We Can Get Through This
“I never knew how many friends had experienced a loss like we did. Knowing that now, it makes talking about it easier and not so taboo.”—Taylor Terlaak
“I was the first of my friend group to talk openly about miscarriage, partly because mine was so public….and partly because it is just my personality to share such things. This empowered many of those close to me to speak up and begin sharing the loss, the pain, the guilt, the shame, and everything else that miscarriage brings in its wake.
“People began reaching out to me as soon as it happened to them, asking about burial, prayers, whether or not we refer to our daughter when people ask about our kids and suchlike. The stigma was lifted, and the wounds were given air–a chance to heal. Now there are half a dozen children of my friends buried right beside Theodora in a plot at Notre Dame. Whenever one of us visits, we pray for each and every baby there. It does out hearts such good to know that.—Katheryn Wales