I have suffered two miscarriages. The first occurred when my oldest living child was still a baby. The second occurred when my youngest child was two or three. I can't tell you the months or exact dates, and am fuzzy on how far into that first trimester I was, because for years I aggressively avoided processing these experiences. One hallmark of Codependency is the "avoidance of feelings," and I was Queen of sidestepping or denying any negative emotion. I thought doing so made me strong; in truth it nearly made me crazy.
To lie in a doctor's darkened exam room, excitedly look up at the monitor on which you expect to see a tiny growing baby with a heartbeat, and instead find there a lifeless form with no heartbeat, is to know how incongruous expectation and reality can be. The prior ultrasound had shown a little bud of a baby, with a blip of heartbeat; I'd looked forward to that second ultrasound to reveal the arms, legs, and human shape of the infant growing in me. Instead of looking as Anna had looked at ten weeks, this second baby was misshapen, without a beating heart. The doctor was quiet, so I spoke first: "That doesn't look right." My husband was with me in the exam room, and a college friend visiting from out of state waited outside to take us to dinner. Leaving the office I was more concerned about what to tell this friend than I was about what I had just found myself in the middle of... The awkwardness for everyone was more real to me than the sudden death of my baby. After all, I reasoned, a lot of women miscarry in the first trimester. I have not been pregnant that long; it is not that big of a deal.
The second time, my five-year-old daughter was with me in the exam room. You would have thought I'd know better than to bring a young child along after that first miscarriage, but I didn't want to leave my mother-in-law alone with three kids, and I'd thought lightening wouldn't strike twice. Anna settled into the exam room with her crayons and coloring book, expecting to look up and see the baby, small as a peanut, on the monitor. This time around it was little Anna who was the first to break the silence with the question we each grappled with: “Where’s the baby? I don’t see a baby.”
“Neither do I, Anna.”
The doctor: “I’m... not seeing one either.”
Here we were, eight weeks in, finding nothing but a flat and empty womb. I felt like someone kicked me in the chest. Walking back to the car, Anna asked, "Why did Jesus take our baby?"
I left each appointment wearing a brave face for the benefit of the people I was with. In the case of having my daughter with me, I needed to protect her from my mistake of bringing her to the appointment. She had so many questions, and I didn't want her to be emotionally scarred from seeing mommy have a break down. Even once that stream was forded, however, my mask remained. The Polish stoicism of my own grandmother, and the guarded privacy of my father, the ingrained idea that we should never show or admit how weak we are, rose up like protective battlements around me. Don’t show pain. Better yet, don’t feel it, either.
We had planned to attend a summer cocktail party the night I’d learned of the second miscairriage. My husband expected we’d cancel; I didn’t want to stay home with my shock or grief. Instead, I assuaged myself with the idea: “Hey! Now I can drink at this thing!” So we went. I had a lousy time; I felt painfully out of place, foolish, rejected. I kept telling myself what great things I could do now that I wasn't pregnant, like eat sushi and go on a diet. I slapped on a smile, made conversation that I immediately forgot, and told myself to get over it and enjoy the moment.
As that year continued, several of my friends became pregnant with their third, or their fourth children. I stood apart from them and stuffed what bubbled up in me. I was annoyed that I couldn’t muster the same inner excitement for these pregnancies as I’d once naturally felt. Instead, I was removed, numb, not wanting to get too close to these mothers or their children. Why was that, I wondered? Envy? Not exactly, although the temptation to that vice was there. Looking back, I was afraid. I was afraid to feel my loss. I also grappled with a sense of shame. I couldn’t relax around these friends or their babies, until I’d started therapy for myriad other issues and realized (duh!): people are often depressed and sad after miscarrying. That isn’t weird. That is normal. It is fact. It is healthy. Feelings, even the negative, unpleasant, and ugly ones, are normal.
When I got down to it, I saw that I harbored a crazy idea that these other women were equipped and worthy to mother larger families, where I was not. I might fool the world, I thought, but God saw me for who I really was; he had shaken His head, and said to my willingness to mother more souls: “No. Not you. Thanks for applying.” This Puritanical idea of mine was reinforced by well-meaning family who said things to comfort me like, “If its meant to be, its meant to be,” or “This must be God’s will.” My now estranged (for myriad other reasons) father-in-law, knowing we eschewed artificial contraception, went so far as saying, “Maybe God is trying to tell you something.” The still-sane part of me recognized that latter comment to be passive aggressive, but a growing part of me had lost touch with my self worth, and so I internalized those words, especially as later attempts to conceive remained fruitless.
(For the record, God does not will suffering for us; it is a result of the fall, and was never a part of His plan for us. He allows suffering to occur in the sense that he does not remove the natural consequences of mankind's Original Sin. He did not put the suffering there. He walks through it with us; He has suffered and continues to suffer with us. To believe that God wants a child to die, inside of the womb or outside of it, or to believe that God wants a woman to suffer for any reason in any way, is to believe in a pernicious and non-loving deity. Such a deity should not be confused with the Christian God, who is all-loving and self-sacrificing, to the point of dying on a cross Himself so that we can attain salvation.)
The truth was that even as I tried to don a secular-scientific, rationalized and detached view of each loss, at my core I ached for a soul that had briefly shared my body, only to be yanked away before I could get to know or embrace her. On one hand I felt crazy: How could I grieve a featureless someone I didn’t know? On the other hand, I felt numb. Barring a couple of private break-downs in the arms of my husband, I had shut off my emotional response. When colleagues and friends offered condolences, I worked my hardest to put them at ease that I was OK, that this was all normal and just one more thing women endured.
Allowing myself to think of these tiny souls as real, to remember the children I had wanted to hold and to rear with their sisters and brother, and so missed having in our family, has admittedly brought on an occasional private sob-fest in my post-therapy years. This is good; it points to my no longer living in denial of these experiences, or of their impact on me. It points to my trust that God does not "favor" or love me less than anyone else. It is a lifting of self-imposed shame. In embracing the suffering I had tried to outrun, I have paradoxically found peace.