Scheduled events drive our lives. Weddings, baby showers, and funerals mark major transitions, while soccer practice, choir rehearsal, and book club meetings fill the hours, knitting themselves into the backdrop of our day-to-day routine. But what do you do when something terrible happens that completely alters your universe, but there’s no tradition or template for how to recognize your loss, grieve, and receive support from others? Here are six reasons why I think of miscarriage as the lonely goodbye. At the end of this post is a poem to help observe this loss.
- There’s no formal ceremony. When someone dies, there’s usually a funeral, memorial, wake, or graveside service. In many cases, these ceremonies are infused with traditions, religious observances, and reflections on the person’s life. But when a woman has a miscarriage, there’s no widely practiced ceremony to name and grieve this loss. The fact that my miscarriage didn’t warrant any observance hurt my heart, though I was too sad to think of any way to put together my own private observance.
- Few people know when it happens. When only a select group of friends and family know about a pregnancy loss, the potential support network is small. For a variety of reasons, women may choose to tell only a very few people about her loss. This means she carries much of the burden of her grief by herself.
- Friends and family often don’t know what to say. “You can just try again” and “At least you know you can get pregnant” are not comforting words to a woman who has experienced a miscarriage.
- Medical staff may not know how to respond to you with sensitivity. I’ll never forget getting a form letter from the clinic that did my in vitro fertilization cycle. It arrived a couple of weeks after my miscarriage. It basically said, “We’re sorry. But if you just try again, we feel confident it will work out better the second time.” I threw away the letter. My regular OB/GYN was much better in his response: he said he’d support whatever we wanted to do as our next step, assuring us we still had options for achieving a successful pregnancy, if that’s what we wanted to pursue. But he never pressured me to keep trying or to rush to a decision after the miscarriage.
- Your own emotions betray you. This is an issue I explore a bit in INCONCEIVABLE. My miscarriage came after our one and only IVF cycle, which was the culmination of five years of trying to conceive. After I found out I was pregnant, I barely let myself believe it was finally happening, though I savored the joy and hope quietly building in my heart. When the miscarriage happened, I cried gut-wrenching tears and felt such intense anger and sadness for a couple of days. Then, I went numb. I spoke with a therapist because I was worried that I wasn’t crying more. With gentle and kind words, she assured me my feelings were a normal part of the grieving process. She encouraged me to give myself time and space to experience healing, and not to judge my heart for how it mended itself.
- Life goes on. This is both a blessing and a curse. Because not many people know what you’ve experienced, it’s easy to pick up again with the rhythms of your routine. But I found myself wanting to say randomly, “Hey. I’ve experienced a major tragedy that likely means the end of our journey to getting pregnant. Mind if we stop a minute and just think about the seriousness of that? Because I’m thinking about it a lot.” Yeah, it would’ve been completely awkward to do that, but I had the weird urge to say it, to rage against the fact that no one noticed my loss and my pain.
I’m interested in hearing from anyone who has found ways to mark and observe their pregnancy loss. I look forward to reading your comments. In closing, here’s a poem I wrote, the kinds of words I wanted and needed to hear after my miscarriage.
The Lonely Goodbye
We tried again to love you into being,
But away you went, leaving me sitting quietly
In an emergency room where doctors mumbled,
“There’s nothing we can do.”
You left behind a box of “somedays.”
(I keep it in my closet on a high shelf.)
Someday, you’ll sit beside me on the piano bench.
We’ll scoop up shells together on the beach.
I’ll laugh when you play dress up in my clothes…
But they will keep. High on that shelf. They must.
For now, it’s time to steel and heal my heart,
And say goodbye to you, my almost-child.
Top image via Flickr by seyed mostafa zamani
Image of sad woman via Flickr by Mitya Ku