Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Gift of Loss: Talking About My Miscarriage On Mother's Day

By Mimi Hecht 

I've had sonograms before and know what you're supposed to see. And it is not the 
black, empty space that me and my husband suddenly found ourselves peering into.

The Gift of Loss
Talking About My Miscarriage on Mother's Day

Even though statistics show that many women reading this right now have experienced the loss of a pregnancy, most of these women have not and likely never will publicly address or even mention in private the fact of their miscarriage.

Being that this kind of death is a fact of many women's lives, and that silence and shame only exaggerate the pain, I am opening up about my own miscarriage, which occurred a little over two months ago. 

I was almost three months pregnant and excitedly looking forward to telling more loved ones the news when I saw a trace of spotting. While it isn't entirely uncommon in early pregnancy, thinking you're growing a healthy baby and then seeing blood is very alarming. With my husband at my side, I called my midwives. They asked me questions, said it sounded usual and gave me two things to look out for that would signal something more serious: More blood. Cramping.

A day later, there was more blood. Then cramping. We knew what was happening. I became sad and worried and very anxious about what my body was about to go through. Getting pregnant and miscarrying is not something I ever prepared myself for. Even though experts estimate that one in every four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, I still thought it was something that only happened to, well, other people.

Although I was now showing all the signs of miscarrying, I wasn't cramping or bleeding enough to be rushed in to the emergency room. I was advised to schedule a sonogram.

A day before my scheduled sonogram, I had a very busy and demanding day representing an organization I direct at the anual Chabad Kinnus HaShluchos. I was supposed to be on my feet for hours, dealing with people and, of course, smiling. (When I asked my midwife if this would be okay, she responded, "As long as you feel okay and there's no cramping." I wish she would have forbade it, because I truly felt like I just wanted to rest and protect my pregnancy. But she made sure to add, "Mimi, if this is a miscarriage, it's already happened. You need to know that nothing you do or don't do now is going to hurt your baby." This was exactly what I needed to hear: that there is no reason to have guilt—now or later.)

Now let me tell you, greetings friends and customers and focusing on work is quite a feat when you're bleeding and emotionally coming to terms with what you might see—or rather, not see—on a sonogram the next day. This made me think a lot about all the demands on women these days: how we fulfill so many roles and rise to every occasion regardless of the myriad of female-specific issues we may be going through. And how the demands of life within and without the home are not as flexible and understanding as often our minds and bodies need them to be.

Twenty hours hours later, I was in a gown being jellied up—me and my husband readied ourselves for the sonogram results. I took huge sighs, thinking "Is this really happening to me?" I cried for the first time since the spotting five days earlier. Before she placed the sensor on my belly, I silently begged G-d that we see a healthy baby, with a vibrant, beating heart—that the bleeding and cramping be some unexplainable fluke. But alas, I've had sonograms before and know what you're supposed to see.

And it is not the black, empty space that me and my husband suddenly found ourselves peering into.

The woman taking the sonogram was not my doctor and was not allowed to tell me anything conclusive. Even though I was pretty confident with the image we saw, I was holding on to the possibility that I just wasn't reading it right. I pleaded with her to tell me, but she just replied, "I'm just here to measure and take images." I then endured an internal sonogram as well, feeling this cold stranger poke around and photograph what I thought was sacred inside me, but more than likely something dead. I cried more, my legs shaking, taking comfort in my husbands equally pained face. It was like we knew, but couldn't really know.

What seemed like hours later, my doctor gently told me the results of the sonogram. She was sensitive and explained what they saw—a six or seven week fetus (when it was "meant" to be 12). It was officially what's called a "Missed Miscarriage," meaning that the fetus stopped living a while ago, but the pregnancy went on. Thankfully, my husband and I had prepared for this news, so the emotional reaction was not so traumatic, but more of a relief at finally knowing.  On the ride home, we decided to stop somewhere, so we could sit face to face and process our feelings about what we just went through and were going to go through.

My most ever present reaction was feeling like a fool. I had told my parents and sister about my pregnancy when there was nothing alive inside me! Of course, I had no way of knowing...but it still stung. Something so within me had...tricked me. Even that very day, I was still having pregnancy symptoms. My body had misled me. I went from experiencing the maternal instincts inherent in pregnancy to feeling robbed, empty and out of touch. Adding to this feeling of shattered maternal instincts was the knowledge that something had died within me. My womb, what had been a safe, nurturing haven for my two beautiful, healthy boys (thank God!) had told me I was growing a life and  then completely rejected it. It had just started beating it's tiny little heart (or did it?) when it became not a thing of life and growth but death and loss.

Consciously aware that it was futile, irrelevant and even wrong, I couldn't help but blame myself for losing the pregnancy. I should have been more strict about taking my prenatal vitamins! I shouldn't have had coffee! Maybe had I not felt so overwhelmed about this pregnancy in the first place, G-d wouldn't have taken it away! The latter tormented me the most.

I was told to expect my body to expel whatever was left of the pregnancy (placental matter, tissue, significant loss of blood). And if it didn't, I'd have to schedule a D&C to have it done manually. I am grateful that a few days after the sonogram, I was at home and experienced intense labor-like cramps that was the beginning of the end of my miscarriage. (I will spare the details here, but anyone who is curious or going through the same thing and wants to know, don't hesitate to e-mail me.) This episode lasted a few hours. It was painful and intense and semi-traumatic and I would not have gone through it unscathed had it not been for my mother, sister and amazing midwife Jesse.

When I updated Jesse (who had delivered my second child and whom my husband and I adore), she let me know that my body was doing the right thing, and what to expect. She spent time patiently with me on the phone and said the most compassionate and remarkable words: "You know, this is your body and the universe's kindness. I know it doesn't feel like it, but it's a good thing." Obviously, one doesn't naturally view miscarriage as any sort of kindness—especially for those women who experience them repeatedly and/or have yet to have healthy children. But what I took from what she was saying was something I needed to hear: The fetus was unhealthy. And instead of G-d willing it into the world to experience pain or even death and inflict me with an even greater physical and emotional agony, he retracted its existence—effectually gifting me with its loss.

When Jesse said this, I remember feeling the "power of women." It sounds like a cliche, but really we are an invincible, powerful species. Just think how the same midwife that encouraged me through a labor and birth was now comforting me through a loss—with the same sensitivity, strength and faith that, only a year before guided my contractions to birth a healthy child.

Though I wish I never had a miscarriage, I am thankful to G-d for the way it happened, for my good health and for surrounding me with a sound medical system, a loving family and a supportive husband. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes quite a few sensitive yet strong and totally massive hearts to support a woman who is losing a pregnancy.

I chose to write about my miscarriage because I believe strongly that there should be no shame or guilt about the choices our bodies and G-d make for us. There is nothing wrong with you or your "womanliness" if you have a miscarriage. Perhaps if we spoke about these realities more, so many women wouldn't feel insecure, silenced, afraid and broken.

I live in a community where most women seem to always be either pregnant or with a newborn. Those suffering from infertility or who have experienced a miscarriage get lost in the shuffle, forced to deal with their pain in a silent way—whether they want to or not.

Should we not be able to band together in reasonable and healthy ways not only in our joys and triumphs, but in the reality of our pains and losses? We all have them. A woman who experiences a loss should feel allowed to discuss her miscarriage with equal freedom as her friend with a burgeoning belly.

She shouldn't fear being viewed as weak. We cannot allow her to fear being pitied.

Strong, healthy and fertile women all over the world have miscarriages. Some happily choose to keep their experiences to themselves. There is virtue in that, too. But a woman who feels she would find healing in discussing her experience openly should never feel the burden of potential shame that may come with "exposing" herself. Especially if the good that candor brings and the conversation it creates can only enlighten other women to be more sensitive, prepared and empowered.

This Mother's Day, may we all find the strength to love 
ourselves and each other wholeheartedly, without 
reservation, simply for being G-d's beautiful 
female creatures, endowed with the gift not 
only to birth but to give and grow in all 
the powerful ways only we know how. 

14 LadyMama voices:

Chanie said... [Reply to comment]

I really admire your courage in writing this post. Happy Mother's Day.

MenuchahLeah said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks, Mimi. A few years ago you wrote another really sensitive Mother's Day post as well, and I have never forgotten it. Big props.
I'm really, really sorry you had to go through this.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Wow mimi. I cried reading this. You are such an incredibly talanted writer, and im sure this post will give comfort to all those who have experienced this too. thank you for sharing such an incredibly painful experience so eloquently.

Rivki said... [Reply to comment]

Mimi, on a day like today, feelings and memories of past miscarriages never fail to make themselves present. Thank g-d, I have a healthy child and another one on the way (iyh) but I always stop to think about what would have been had those pregnancies gone to full term. I would be celebrating my child's 3 year birthday or due at the end of the next month, all these thoughts of "what if." Thank you for being so brave, open and honest, writing about this personal and emotional experience. It is most definitely not an easy time but I hope things get better for you and when the time is right, you will get pregnant again with a healthy child. Happy Mothers Day and enjoy those two beautiful boys of yours.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

While reading this, I felt like I was reading my story. I too had a miscarriage- mine was a week before Pesach. It was as hard and as painful as you described. I strive to be so grateful for what I do have (my adorable little boy.)
Your writing was outstanding.
May you only experience joy in your life w/ many healthy pregnancies & children :)
Happy Mother's Day!

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you for sharing your story, Mimi. Your words eloquently help others understand what so many of us experience - and fail to find words for. I know It's hard. May G-d give you strength and bless you.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Wow - so well written! Only simchos!

Sara said... [Reply to comment]

Dear Mimi, thank you for this post. I dont have enough words in english to explane how much that mean to me. I got a miscariage last year.. And it feeled like hell. It was excactly how you wrote it down.. Reading your post gave me a new view for the "gift of loss".. Im feeling much better now seeing all the pregnant and happy women.. Thank you so much .. Sara

sarahd said... [Reply to comment]

that was really beautiful mimi.
I have had two losses in my past and for some reason even though my babies were very ill my body didnt seem to want to let go of them. It was hard as by the time my body finally gave up i was so far along that I had to go into labour one time and the other time I miscarried but very very late.
I have always been so open about my losses as I feel it is as much a part of me as my healthy pregnancies. so why not? Im very against all this hush hush tabboo-ness when it comes to fertility and losses.
Im sorry you had to go through this, and i agree that in a way it is a kindness as the baby was unhealthy but i have felt all those emotions that you wrote about and they are so real and raw.
love you mimi may you only ever have healthy pregnancies from here on in.

Shira said... [Reply to comment]

Wonderful post, Mimi. I had a very similar experience with my second pregnancy. I thought I was twelve weeks along when I started spotting and my Doctor sent me in for an ultrasound to make sure everything was okay. The technician who did my ultrasound was a student and kept asking me - "are you sure about the dates?" but wouldn't tell me what she was seeing. The radiologist came in and told me that the sac showed a 5 week old fetus instead of the twelve week it was supposed to be and that it was a missed miscarriage that I would soon expel - which was the case. How awful it was. What made this so much more devastating was the fact that my sister-in-law had just confided that she was expecting and we were to be due several days apart and I had told several more family members I was expecting too. Having to go back and inform them I was no longer pregnant was so awkward and painful.
Its almost so hard to remember how horrible I felt because I conceived my amazing six year old daughter just two months later and I cannot imagine a life without her, B"H. I suffered a second miscarriage last year and, while sad, it was much easier and less traumatic this time around. Mostly because I saw that there are wonderful children after miscarriage and B"H, we've been blessed with a son conceived soon after.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Wow Mimi this is such a powerful post. It touched me especially, because I met you at the Kinus, and Jesse delivered me 2nd child and I love her too! I"m so sorry you had to go through something like this but you amaze me with your ability to stay strong and strengthen others through your loss. The only thing I am wondering about is what you write in the end, how our community should be more open about speaking about losses, if the woman wants to. To me it seems more of a personal thing than a community thing, I think if a woman wanted to speak about it to someone she would definitely be able to find people to listen!. On the other hand I think most people want their privacy, especially because it often takes place before the pregnancy is public knowledge anyway. (I hope I am not being insensitve with this comment. B"H I have never had to go through such an experience)

Esti said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks Mimi,
My husband shared this article with me, we just recently went through a miscarriage and your words bring strength and courage. He didn't tell me about it when it was posted on, apparently because I would be infuriated by ignorant comments!

Chani said... [Reply to comment]

As someone who has suffered through several miscarriages, my heart goes out to you. May Hashem bless you with only positive events and many healthy children in your life from now on.

I disagree with you on the shame part, I don't think that most women don't publicize their miscarriages because of shame, rather it's a matter of privacy. I shared my losses with my close friends and family, because they are part of my life and I want them to know what's happening, I did not share it with people I'm not close to because, quite frankly, it's none of their business. Shame has nothing to do with it at all.

Esther said... [Reply to comment]

I also had a miscarriage 1 year ago or so, my experience was very similar to urs.
BH I read that is normal long time ago, I think I even wasnt married yet and this helped me go tru it, so articles like urs will help many many ppl