Monday, March 18, 2013

Defying Gravity: What My Miscarriages Taught Me

By Jessica Hoffman
Jessica, Geshem City Editor and Blogger, is a native Jewish Seattleite. She has contributed her writing to Kveller, Real Time, BBC World News, JOFA Journal, Jewneric, Bangitout, NW Beauty Magazine, and more. Jessica and her husband Ari run Seattle NCSY and raise their 3 children in the Seward Park community. Balancing her writing career with Jewish outreach and being a SAHM is a continuing challenge she faces with eternal optimism.

 I covered it up on the outside so I could cover it up forever. I tried to allow my natural pragmatic nature to smoothly slide me past this phase in my life so I could go on to have more healthy pregnancies.

Defying Gravity: What My Miscarriages Taught Me 

“Just remember, your body knows what it can handle.” My father said this to me when I told him I was pregnant with my first child. I don’t know how he knew. Perhaps some premonition…but he knew. I internalized this wisdom and, at my first ultrasound, stared shocked at the screen when the letters “A” and “B” popped up.

“Um, twins?” I asked the ultrasound technician. My father is a prophet! I thought. And my husband had said over and over again that he would love for us to have twins. She smiled at me warmly and said, “Not exactly.” We looked at the screen together. She pointed at the “A” so I could see the life growing inside the sac. Then she pointed at the black emptiness next to the “B” and explained, “It was twins, but not anymore. Don’t worry. The remaining baby will most likely absorb the sac. It’s actually great nutrition.”

We both looked over at my husband, whose skin had turned grey, something I recognized as a problem because I myself am a bit of a fainter. He sat down and put his head between his knees. I couldn’t believe it. I’m the fainter and he’s the one trying not to hit the floor? Maybe I should have helped him internalize my father’s advice, too.

It’s this pragmatism, this unemotional response, which is probably the reason I was so emotional when I had a miscarriage with my second pregnancy. When the doctor told me my HCG levels were doubling too quickly, she said it was either twins or my body was about to have a miscarriage. I assumed it was twins again. Nowhere inside my head or my heart did I ever consider that it might be the latter. And when the ultrasound confirmed the miscarriage, and it was all over a week later, I didn’t talk about it…to anyone. I didn’t talk to my husband. I didn’t talk to my parents or my sisters. They all assumed I was over it. And why wouldn’t they? When my best friend saw me bent over with cramps, I told her I had the stomach flu. I covered it up on the outside so I could cover it up forever. I tried to allow my natural pragmatic nature to smoothly slide me past this phase in my life so I could go on to have more healthy pregnancies. “My body knows what it can handle,” I said to myself. “And my body knew this pregnancy would have been bad for me, or the baby would have been unhealthy.” I tried to rationalize my way past it.

It wasn’t until a few days after my post-miscarriage mikvah appointment that “Defying Gravity” from Wicked queued up on my playlist. When the music intensified and Idina Menzel as Elphaba burst into; “So if they care to find me, look to the Western sky. As someone told me lately, everyone deserves a chance to fly,” I burst into tears. (While singing along, of course.) It was so therapeutic that I played it again. I put that song on repeat and it played in my car for days. My toddler son knew all the words, which is when I realized it was time to play something else.

After my second son was born, my husband overheard me telling my Wicked therapy story to a friend who had a miscarriage. He looked surprised and sad. “You cried alone in your car?” he asked me. “For days,” I answered. If only I had remembered that my father’s sage wisdom wasn’t about being practical or emotionless. It was about beetachon…having faith. You can give yourself permission to feel sad, to accept pity when you deserve it, and to be comforted. Trusting your body’s decisions is about acceptance and faith, not about trying to sidle past things emotion-free. My father was giving me a guide toward acceptance, not a shortcut past it.

The third occasion was a combination of both situations. I was pregnant, and before my first ultrasound, I experienced what I was sure was a miscarriage. I was bleeding profusely, and desperate for an answer. The nurse told me over the phone that I was most likely having a miscarriage and I could take a hot bath when the bleeding stopped. In the meantime, she wanted me to come in so they could do a blood draw and confirm that my HCG levels were going down at a normal and predictable rate. I went in, got blood drawn, and went home for a bath. Three days later they called me. It was a new nurse this time. “Congratulations, your HCG levels are multiplying nicely,” she said with a sweet and congratulatory voice.

“There must be some misunderstanding,” I said. “I just had a miscarriage three days ago.” It was Friday, three hours until Shabbos, and she had me come in for an ultrasound. Lo and behold, there on the screen was a perfectly healthy new baby! They told me I’d lost a twin. Again. This time I had a healthy combination of relief, sadness, and joy. And I made a decision, then and there, to talk about it. I look at my three beautiful and healthy children, two boys and a girl, and I wonder what the other three children would have been. I do it out loud, so my husband knows it’s on my mind. I talk about it with friends so they know they can talk to me if it happens to them. We all need to have beetachon—but know that we’re human, too.

4 LadyMama voices:

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you for sharing! This is so important! Thank you for the support! Having gone through a miscarriage recently, after trying to conceive for over a year, I can understand the pain and loss of a miscarriage. My family asked me why I wasn't keeping it a secret, they just couldn't understand why I was sharing such personal information. But the miscarriage was constantly on my mind, I needed the support from people around me. I didn't want the burden of keeping it secret. By talking I helped myself heal. By knowing I can talk openly helped even more. God willing we should only have healthy births.

Rachel said... [Reply to comment]

What a powerful, poignant article. And to attach a name to it, without any shame about going through an experience that makes us human, is a call to our culture to normalize these losses just as we normalize the gains.

Thanks Mimi for pushing the envelope on what's socially acceptable to talk about. Going through a loss like a miscarriage is hard enough; to have to go through it in isolation just makes it a million times worse. If this article encourages even one person (I'm sure it will encourage MANY) to share her pain with someone close to her, a huge service has been done to the world.

Chaia said... [Reply to comment]

I found out my first fertility treatment cycled failed on a friday afternoon at work. I didn't even tell anyone i was leaving, I took my stuff and walked out to my car. I sat there and cried for over an hour. Thank you for sharing and making your voice heard! you are an inspiration!

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks so much for sharing! I'm going through a lot to get pregant right now and my emotions are all over the place. This really helped me to cope better..