I have only recently been made aware of this, but it is an especially important subject to me as someone who experienced a very traumatic miscarriage several years ago when I was 16 weeks along with my second son.
Miscarriage is such a difficult topic to speak about. If you have ever had one you know. And if you are in the early stages of your grief it is especially made difficult to be open about your grief because so often you find yourself knowing someone who is pregnant and NOBODY who is pregnant want to hear about miscarriages. Naturally, no one can fault a pregnant woman for feeling this way. I know that a month before my miscarriage I came across an article of a woman sharing her own story of loss and I was terrified reading it. It made me weak in the knees and I wanted to look away, because after all, nobody ever wants it to be them. But there is also this silence around miscarriages that I feel needs to stop. These are very real losses and the grief is profoundly deep.
I pray that we can find a way to give women and families who have experienced these losses a voice and the room that they need to mourn as we would over any other loss.
Below is my experience. It isn’t pretty or inspiring. It is raw and ugly, full of pain and sorrow.
It has taken me a long time to be able to share this piece with people. I did, however, finish writing it while I was pregnant with my now three year old daughter. There came a point in my pregnancy with her that I felt so strongly that I needed to deal with my emotions over the loss of my son because this child deserved a mother who was joyful about carrying them just as I had been with in my first two pregnancies.
It has been three years since I originally finished the piece and I really considered changing the ending in order to post it here, but after careful consideration I feel that it needs to be left untouched from then because that is where my grief was three years ago.
The passing of time does not, however, make it any easier to open myself up like this, but I feel that it is time and I pray that my voice will give another grieving mother the voice to speak her grief as well … whether it be a whisper or a bellowing from the heights.
My womb is a mess. It is not as dark as I would have expected it to be, but it is a mess. Cluttered with old toys, a broken carriage wheel lies abandoned in one corner, old yarn and string lay tangled, some things I don’t recognize. Then I see it; a broken doll. A broken baby. And I know that it is my baby. But this isn’t possible, my baby is fine. My baby is not in here, not in this chaotic dirty place. My baby is safely tucked away in my real womb, where it is warm and clean and beautiful. I try to reach for the broken doll. I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!
Gasping for air, I force my eyes open. Wake up! Wake up! It’s not real. It was only a dream. I reach for my belly. The firmness is starting to become more noticeable. A wave of morning sickness washes over me. See! See! Everything is normal, everything is fine.
Laughter, I remember hearing laughter. It seemed odd and out of place. I was sitting in a small examination room in the ER and I had not expected to hear laughter from other rooms. It was not my laughter.
I am terrified. I sit alone in that room for two hours. They won’t let my husband or my son sit with me.
“No babies or children in the exam room.” And I am so scared that I don’t put up a fight. Looking back I should have, maybe I wouldn’t have been so alone.
But I am alone. And the cramping is getting stronger. I haven’t worn a maxi pad because I have convinced myself that it isn’t that serious. That I will get an ultrasound done and they will tell that I am fine. That I should just rest and go home and that everything will be fine.
I sit politely on a chair waiting and waiting. I get blood on the chair. So I fumble with some paper towel to clean it off. It happens again. Still no sign of a doctor anywhere, how long will this take?
The longer I wait the more anxious I become and the worse the pain gets. Sharp stabbing in my abdomen, I have never been so scared in my life.
On the saddest day that I can remember in my life I sat alone in a room listening to people laughing, praying for the doctor to come in and tell me that I was not losing my baby.
Finally a doctor walks through the door. I am crying and in pain.
“Why are you crying?” he asked my abruptly. “Are you in pain or just scared?”
“Both” I stammered.
“Okay so what’s going on here?”
“I think that I am having a miscarriage”
He asks me more questions. I feel numb. Finally he says that they will take me for an ultrasound. More waiting. At last I am walked to the ultrasound room and instructed to get undressed and into a gown. The pain is getting worse. Even more waiting. I am alone again. A receptionist brings me in a phone to say that my husband is trying to reach me. Our 20 month old is tired and needs a nap. He is in the car with him now and can I call him as soon as I hear something. I hear fear in his voice and frustration as to what is taking so long.
The woman who handed me the phone and stood breathing down my neck to get it back has now disappeared. I wrap myself up and try to stand to return it to someone. Finally I give it back to a passing nurse.
At last someone comes into the room and I think that this is finally going to be it, the ultrasound. No. Someone else needs the room first.
I am asked to wrap myself and wait in triage. I am juggling my purse, my clothes, a sheet wrapped around my gown. The pain has gotten considerably worse. I can see my knuckles turn white as I grip the sheet because I am trying not to lose it in this waiting area with these other people. One lady is trying to close her eyes and is covering herself with some kind of a blanket. Next to me a woman is playing cards with her daughter. They are joking around. They smell of cigarette smoke.
I feel a gush of blood and watch as a part of my crisp white sheet turns bright red. Horror. I am filled with horror. How do I hide this? How do I not let anyone see? I struggle with the sheet, trying to wrap it as tightly as possible around me, squeezing my legs together. But none of it is working, I am bleeding more. My attempts at hiding the bloody sheet are becoming more desperate. Somewhere deep inside I know that I am losing this fight but still I can’t bring myself to believe it.
They are ready for me now. Awkwardly I try to fumble with my things. I don’t want to stand up. I am afraid that there is blood all down the back of my sheet and probably on the chair too. I start making apologies to the nurse. There doesn’t seem to be enough air to breath.
“It’s fine,” she says, “I’ll clean it up.”
Back on the table and the doctor finally walks into the room. He started asking more questions. When did this start? Is there cramping? And then he starts looking for the heart beat. It is too quiet.
“Well, I’m sorry but there is no heartbeat here. It looks like this baby has been deceased for at least 48 hours”
Tears are streaming down my face now and I begin to sob.
“Are you sure?” Please, please don’t let it be true. But he is sure. He breaks my water. My whole body shudders with the sudden shock of it. It is not physically painful but I can feel my heart breaking. The gush of water and blood in that moment is the point of reality. There is no hope left now. I am losing this baby. I have lost this baby. Four months along and I have lost this baby.
The bleeding is so intense now that I hardly know what to do with myself. I find myself apologizing incessantly. There is blood all over the table, on the floor. I have soaked yet another gown. I have no idea what I am supposed to be doing. I am a doer. When things need to be done I do. I clean up after myself; I clean up after other people. I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing right now. The tears won’t stop either.
I calm myself enough to get into a wheelchair to be taken to another room. I suppose my case is finally serious enough. Nearly three hours later and finally I am important enough.
I am in the bed. They have left me by myself again but with the door wide open. The bleeding is gushing still. And in my mind I am trying to come to terms with the fact that this baby is no more.
Suddenly I feel a strong gush of blood, but there is more. Something far more solid has brushed up against me. For an instant my whole body freezes and I really cannot breathe. I pull the sheet back and I see a little body lying in between my legs. That is my baby. I reach to touch it. I see what looks like a small penis, it is a boy. I was going to have two boys, the one napping in the car and this precious little one here. But now, I will not have this one. I pick him up in my hands, but then in some cursed moment of fear or reality or I have no idea what I put him back down. It is too much. I start sobbing in a way that I did not think was humanly possible. This is not me. This is someone else. It has to be because I don’t know this person; she is hoarse with sobs, gasping for air and completely out of control. She just put her precious baby back down in fear.
A nurse comes into the room, fairly nonchalantly. I feel as though she cannot understand what all the fuss is about.
“What’s the matter?” she asks.
I pull back the sheet. My baby is lying there. Her posture changes instantly. I cover back up again and have really lost it now. She hugs me. We are both apologizing now.
She puts on gloves.
“I am going to take it away now” she says.
No. No. I’m not ready yet.
“Okay,” I stammer through sobs.
And as she scoops up my little boy I am overwhelmed with fear.
“WAIT! You’re not going to just throw him away are you?”
“No, no, of course not.” She looks horrified too.
In that moment I realize that I will never see my baby again. That was it. I had had my chance in those moments before the fear set in. Before I started sobbing and screaming. This memory haunts me terribly. What kind of a mother does that? How could I have been scared of my own child? How? How could I have just let him go like that? I will never properly remember what he looked like. I know he didn’t completely look like a baby but he did some. And he had arms and legs and that forming penis. And he was mine. Even if only for that short time he was mine.
Does he know that I let him go like that? Did he feel pain when I did it? Has he forgiven me? I have begged for forgiveness so many times.
The nurse comes back to take away more of the soiled sheets. She asks me if I need anything. Yes. I need my husband and my son. Can they please come back now? Even despite the rules? She says that I can call him and goes off to find a phone. I call Chris. It is the most excruciating call I have ever made.
The same woman from before comes in to get it back. She seems annoyed to see me. I am still sobbing.
“What exactly is the problem here?” she demands impatiently at the sight of my sobbing.
“I just had a miscarriage.” I am choking on my words. Sadly, these seem to be magic words to her. She softens her stern features and says she’s sorry. A negotiation begins between her and the nurse about letting Chris come back to the room.
“Well, generally we don’t allow that” says the phone lady to the nurse.
“I think that this is different” the nurse responds sternly. And she has won.
Watching my husband and my son walk through the door breaks my heart. I want nothing more than to see them but it pains me to know that I have failed them. I have managed to suppress the sobbing before they come in. I don’t want to scare Yuri, he is too little to understand what it going on. And yet, as I look into his eyes I can see that he knows that something is wrong indeed. His eyes are filled with concern and some kind of deep understanding that I cannot explain in words, I just know how it felt. Like an embrace, like he didn’t just see his mommy but a person in pain that needed compassion.
Chris is crying too. I don’t know how to all of a sudden tell him everything that has happened in the past four hours. How do you do that when you are still in the middle of it? But I don’t want to shut him out either. We hug and we cry and he holds my hand. And I am just as sorry for him as I am for myself. I wanted him to have this baby too. He doesn’t know that it was a boy. I am scared to tell him, just in case I am wrong. But I am not wrong.
And now in the aftermath of spending so many hours alone, the room is abuzz with people. Two different doctors and the nurse keep shuffling through. My mother-in-law arrives; she throws herself around my neck. I wish my own mother was here too, she is miles and miles away in Canada.
In the middle of it all, a social worker is sent in. I can see that she is uncomfortable and doesn’t know how to deal with my sobbing. I can’t blame her really, what do you do with a sobbing woman that you don’t know. Unfortunately, her job is also to find out now, not half an hour after my baby has been lost whether or not we want the hospital to bury the baby or if we want to do it ourselves. The hospital is willing to do it for free. Free, however, as I am able to somehow keep a clear head and ask these questions, means that our baby will be in a mass grave somewhere.
I cannot believe that I need to have an answer to these kinds of questions right now but apparently there is no way around it. An answer is required.
We decide to take the baby ourselves. I do not want him buried in a mass grave. And because I don’t know if I want to live here for the rest of my life, I don’t want to risk leaving anyone behind. He will not be left behind. Even though we only had such a brief moment with him I will not leave him behind.
On a September morning in Texas we lost Luca, Luca Olivier. We lost a son, a brother, a grandson, a nephew and a friend. It has been three years and I have seen many babies born since then, probably a dozen or so just in a very close personal circle. None of them have been my own. I have envied every one of these women, though I have breathed a sigh of relief with every happy birth, glad that these women do not have to feel that loss. I cannot pretend that it has been easy for me to see so many friends and family be granted to joy of a healthy and living child. I cannot tell you how my heart ached and how hard it was to choke back the tears the day that Yuri, so taken with a friend’s newborn baby boy asked, “Mommy, where is my brother?” I could not bring myself to answer him in that moment, but he knows now. As well as a three and half year old could know or comprehend something like death. But still he knows. And perhaps he knows more that than I give him credit for. Some time ago he asked if I wanted to send Luca a ticket so that he could come back from heaven and live with us and also could we write him a letter. What wouldn’t I give if that were possible, if all you needed was a ticket. But Yuri keeps Luca in our conversation as though he was always a part of us. Sometimes he gets a little choked up and says that he is sad that Luca isn’t here with us, some days he wants to sit down in the middle of a shopping trip to think about it. What I treasure the most is that he completely accepts the notion that he had a brother.
It is hard to move past the pain and the fear. It is even harder to know that I will never be able to take back the innocent joy of being pregnant and blissful. It seems that in truth there are no safe dates, no real guarantee that any pregnancy will make it all the way. And then no promise that your child will even be born okay. This reality is sad and depressing. And yet, perhaps true of any experience.
Grieving a miscarriage can be a truly lonely journey. I have grieved but it has been so often in quiet and alone. It has been extremely painful to feel that people don’t want you to talk about it, it makes them uncomfortable. Imagine for a moment that nobody wanted to talk to you if you lost your mother, father, husband or a living child. It is almost unthinkable and yet this is precisely how I have felt in the aftermath of my miscarriage. I have felt the impatience and discomfort of those around me, frustration as to why I am still talking about it, why haven’t I moved on already? I may heal, I am move forward but I will never be done. I don’t want to be done, Luca will forever be a part of me, of our family, and to be done trivializes his existence.
So I am talking and the one thing that I am finally over or done with is being quiet. I won’t pretend that I didn’t have another son. I am not defined by my miscarriage but it will forever be a part of me. As I have finally started talking I am surprised to find so many other women who have had miscarriages. Why hadn’t I ever known that so many women lose babies? And so many women who felt equally abandoned in their own miscarriages. I have been shocked and saddened to hear almost identical stories of being left in exam rooms for hours or worse yet in the waiting room with nothing more than the equivalent of a doggy pad to absorb the blood.
I am baffled by the care we give women who are about to deliver babies and the way in which we push the ones losing them into a corner as though they were a nuisance. Are both not equally deserving of being nurtured and guided along the way? To sit in a room and know that you have another human being dying inside of you is indescribable and it is precisely in that moment that to be left alone feels like the most unimaginable cruelty. So I am talking because I hope that in talking about it that one day when a woman walks into a hospital filled with fear and pain and her heart is breaking because she is losing a baby that she will not find herself alone in a room for hours but that there will be support for her and guidance and comfort. And so that afterwords, she will be allowed to grieve openly and for as long as she needs to.
I hope that if I talk that you will too, or someone you know and we don’t have to hide in dark corners with our pain anymore.
For a long time I struggled with my grief alone and I wish that I had known, that I had looked for groups like October15th, though I am happy to now be able to share them with others.
Today, I know that my grief looks very different from the way it did three years ago, and certainly a lot different from six years ago when I thought that I would never be able to come to terms with my loss.
I am so grateful to my husband for his unwavering support. This loss was as much his as mine and grieving together was such an important part of our journey.
A book that we found especially helpful for our son, who was not quite two at the time but had questions for a long time, was called “We Were Gonna Have a Baby, But We Had an Angel Instead” by Pat Schwiebert. I found it simple but really honest and profound.
And for my personal journey, though not specifically on the topic of miscarriages, my life could never be the same upon finding or rather being found by Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts: A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are. It helped my heart to heal and played a significant role in my spiritual journey. I will be forever grateful.
It has been a long, hard road. I still think of my sweet angel often. And over the years I have grown in courage to speak of him when I want to. I have stopped being afraid of offending someone or freaking them out. Some days I still have a good cry. Luca was and is a part of my journey through this life and I know that one day I will wrap my arms around my sweet boy again, in a place where there is no pain or fear, only love and joy.
Today as we remember our babies,I hope you will join me in lighting a candle for your own angel, or for the angel of a loved one. Believe me when I say, that your compassion, love and support are much needed by those who grieve. And if you are grieving, know that we grieve with you.
With Much Love,