Twenty two years ago today on 9/12/97, the third and final miscarriage we would endure occurred. This was also the most devastating for me as we were nearing the end of the road in resources and emotional energy to continue trying. In 1997, I had no idea that I could go to a church and ask for a ceremony to honor my longest pregnancy of 9 weeks. I was a very different person back then and did not ask such questions. I dare say it was hard then to even know if it was okay to acknowledge this as a real loss. It all felt so very surreal.
Most people said they were sorry or said nothing and distanced for a period of time as if we were infected with some horrible disease. Family members that called to check in during the first losses didn’t this time. I think they just didn’t know what to say. It felt as though our world fell silent. This was a way of life now. We were now in the world of multiple miscarriages. We were stuck in a stigma that would not relent. We were hanging on by a thread at this point and we had been doing this for more than 6 years. It was getting old and honestly I remember in the same way others distanced from us, I wanted that too. I wanted to be anyone but me and prayed everyday that either we have a child or it stopped mattering at all so that I could get unstuck from this hell that was created by something so seemingly simple as having a family.
When a loved one dies we bury them in a cemetery or have ashes in a special container that allows us to pay our respects and maybe even bring flowers. It’s a legitimate loss by societal standards. In an early miscarriage, there is often acknowledgement in the week that it occurs and then it’s no longer discussed, and people move on. I think in many ways there is just not an understanding when you do not have experience with miscarriages or child loss. It is a very complicated topic and beliefs vary as to when life begins making this even more difficult to navigate societal views. As with many difficult topics stigma and very often guilt and shame get in the way of offering or asking for support.
Here are some things I have discovered about the grief process over the last 22 years:
- Not having a tangible loss (body to bury) is still a loss and you have permission to feel it as such.
- Infertility alone is a loss in and of itself, it’s a loss of the imagined life that you created in your mind.
- You and your partner will most probably grieve differently and at different times.
- Grief changes; it ebbs and flows depending on anniversary dates and distance from the loss.
- Not acknowledging the feelings associated with grief and loss does not take away the weight of the grief nor does it make it “go away”
- Acknowledging grief, even when we don’t want to, can create a sense of power over the feelings associated with it and can give credence to the fact that we are grieving regardless of anyone else’s opinions.
- Finding a tribe of others that experience similar grief can help normalize and remove isolation whether it be a support group online or in person or a professional counselor, it can make all the difference.
- Grief is a teacher, my experience has taught me that I am stronger than I ever thought I could be, it has taught me to use caution with my words as a protection for myself and for others, it has taught me that I do in fact have faith that there is something out there bigger than us at play (for me that is God).
- Grief can rear it’s ugly head at any given moment and it’s often when we least expect it. Over the years, I have learned that it’s what connects me to the babies that I did not see or hold and reminds me that the long held fear that I would forget them is not even possible.
- Acceptance of the reality of loss is difficult, and the whole ‘letting go’ thing even more threatening. Especially when a couple continues to try to have a baby. I cannot speak for others, but my experience has been that time makes this more manageable. Be patient with yourself and remember that this is hard work.
- Grief can be a part of you that moves with you in life rather than a noose around your neck that keeps you down.
We can certainly add so much more to this list and perhaps we will over time.
About 6 or 7 years ago I learned that in our community there was a mass at a local cemetery known as the Rachel mass. (see the picture above). This mass was the breakthrough moment that I needed. Finally a place to go and pray with others that lost a child or children like myself. And many of them I recognized from church but never knew that they had this experience. I tell you this to illustrate that the person next to you may know the very same pain, perhaps with different details. That can help with the feelings of isolation, even if you never utter a word to the other people around you. There is a human connection that somehow can feel comforting in just a glance or handshake. The shame involved in not carrying a child to term or losing a child can certainly not survive when you are in a group of people that are there with you honoring their very own loss. It can be healing and very much was for me.
Having a place for you to honor and recognize an intangible loss can be a big part of the healing process. It can be a statue in a cemetery, it can be a garden in your yard, a community garden, or a candle that you light. Wherever this space is, take a few moments to connect with your loved one(s) as they are a part of you and your story.