A Personal Story – Surviving A Miscarriage At Work
Let’s be honest: the topic of miscarriage is largely taboo. On the face of it, I get why no one wants to talk about it: because no one understands it. Not the women feeling scared and ashamed to acknowledge what happened in their bodies, not the people trying to listen sympathetically to a story they can’t relate to, sometimes not even the medical community trying to offer reasons and explanations where none can be found. But as a woman who’s trying to come to terms with her most recent miscarriage, I’m sharing my story with you in hopes that we can all “understand” each other a little better when it comes to openly acknowledging what it’s like to lose a baby.
So here goes. Several weeks ago, my husband and I were surprised to see a plus sign appear on a “surely I’m not but I better check” pregnancy test. We’d always talked about having a third child, but up to that point it was just that — talk. We agreed that if it “happened” we would be excited but we weren’t actively trying at the time. Not with two children (one of which is only ten months old) and two-and-a-half careers to manage. We’ve got plenty going on, but we tucked away the thought of child number three in our hearts as a pleasant possibility.
As warm and cozy as that thought was, it wasn’t without its fair share of fear. You see, in between my beautiful daughter and my precious son, I suffered a miscarriage. It happened before we were blessed with Aiden, before we knew we’d ever have the chance to grow our family again. I’m not exaggerating when I say it brought our entire world crumbling down.
Here is where I feel the need to issue a disclaimer to anyone reading this who may think that my experience or feelings don’t measure up since I do have two children now. I would say that, although my children are the light of my life, they don’t erase the hard, heavy feelings that come with losing a baby.
(My two beautiful babies, who I am so thankful for, every single day!)
When you suffer such a loss, it triggers feelings of self-loathing, or least it did for me. I felt utterly ashamed that I couldn’t carry another child. I believed my body had tricked and failed me, clearly because of something I did, some mistake I made. I tried to process my grief and guilt by talking it out, yet after awhile I realized that it just made people uncomfortable. It wasn’t their fault, though. How could I blame them for being unable to discuss something I don’t know how to talk about it either? I realized we “can’t” talk about it because no one will talk about it.
As a woman, carrying a child seems like it should be the most natural thing in the world. You really can’t dispute that, it’s right there in our biology, and it’s actually quite miraculous to watch how a woman’s body evolves as it goes through the stages of pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum recovery. It’s amazing. But. When you feel like you can’t properly do what you’re anatomically wired for, it’s…well…guilt-ridden and shameful. I admit, I felt this way about myself for a while after my first miscarriage. After my second, my feelings and views have changed a bit, and ultimately I think it’s because of the crazy circumstances in which I found myself when I experienced it. So here goes.
Hardly anybody knew that we were pregnant with our (surprise!) third child just one short week ago. I wanted to be positive and optimistic and “what’s meant to be will be” (you know, all the things), but I had this lingering fear in the back of my mind that something could go wrong. My first miscarriage planted a seed of mistrust and self-doubt that, as I already mentioned, time and a healthy second baby couldn’t uproot. I had an out-of-town wedding to shoot not long after we found out, and wouldn’t you know that right before we left I started spotting. And so the seed grew.
We went to see the OBGYN and scheduled a follow-up appointment the next week to be extra extra sure things were going okay. In my mind, I kept repeating my passion plea: “just don’t turn bright red, please! You’ve birthed two children already, that’s why you’re spotting, friend! Don’t worry; just make it through this week – just the next seven days – until you see the doctor again. You got this.”
I tried convincing myself in every way imaginable to take the edge off and make the fear subside.
We arrived at the wedding venue, and despite the positive façade I tried to maintain I felt that female – that mother’s — intuition that something unpleasant was going to happen. Again. I couldn’t imagine having to experience this pain. Again. And at the most unwelcome time – right as I was set to photograph a wedding. I put on a brave smile; I maintained my professionalism and kept my composure if only to give them the happiest day of their lives as I was suffering one of the hardest in mine.
That stark contrast between their happy reality coexisting with my anguish was just so difficult to bear. I did everything I could think of to keep that ‘bright red’ at bay: staying hydrated, not pushing myself too hard, taking breaks and deep breaths. ‘Surely this this will help prevent anything bad from happening,’ I thought. I’ve never been so sad to be wrong.
Just as the first dances concluded and everyone sat down to eat, I felt the sudden urge to run to the restroom. When you’re pregnant, no matter if it is your first time or your fifth, any time you go to the bathroom you hold your breath and pray you don’t see red, literally speaking. Well, I saw red, and plenty of it. It was happening – I was losing the baby, and all my wishes burned down to ashes. My heart sank; I could feel the color draining out of my face. I felt like I was sinking in quick sand yet right outside the door sat a room full of people expecting me to return with an elated bounce in my step in honor of their happy occasion. How unfair for this to happen to me again. How unfair for me not to be able to prevent it. How unfair for me to have to go photograph a wedding at such a low point in my life.
I count myself lucky that in that room of people sat not only my husband, but also my brother and his girlfriend who were there as wedding guests. I walked in the room, trying (failing) to put on a brave face and a smile; my brother saw right through it. He went to get my husband, who walked me to the stairwell so we could have a private moment. The whole way I told myself, “don’t cry, Catrina. There was nothing you could’ve done. This was always a possibility; do not cry.” All it took was my husband’s arms wrapping around me to break the levy. The tears came in torrents.
My heart felt broken, like a porcelain keepsake that had tumbled off its lofty shelf a time or two, whole for the most part but bruised and chipped away at, the pieces too tiny to find and put back but their absence a permanent reminder of the damage done. It wasn’t only my heart that felt broken. My legs felt useless, glued to the spot, unable to ferret me back in to the wedding reception. How could I face the couple and their happy gathering? How could I do their special day justice and allow myself the space to process what was happening? I’ll go ahead and spoil the ending: I went back in, wearing my big girl pants and summoning every ounce of strength I had. I got the job done. But I was robbed of the chance to grieve my loss.
Which brings me back to here, to now, to penning this personal story to share with all of you. Maybe you’re reading this, emboldened by a women opening up about what a miscarriage does to you. Maybe you’re reading this and you’re stunned I would share such a personal story with the public. I’m glad, I’m sorry I’m not sorry…I’m mourning my loss. I’m trying to make sense of it all. I’m using my grief to hold out my hand to any woman out there struggling with her own experience to let her know that you, sister, are not alone. We’ll make it through, one way or another, one foot in front of the other.
My first miscarriage left me ashamed, embarrassed, and feeling like a failure of a woman. My second miscarriage left me sad, heartbroken, and downright angry. I fooled myself into thinking that after having a second healthy kid, we’d be in the clear for baby number three. Knowing that it didn’t work that way made me mad and hostile towards my body. When I thought it would be reliable, it let me down. It robbed me of warm reveries, like telling Abigail and Aiden that they have a new sibling on the way, and the happy glow of pregnancy.
Maybe in a few months, after my doctor clears me, I’ll get another chance to dream these little dreams again. But the math is still there, staring me in the face. If I’m correct, I believe that one in four women endure a miscarriage at some point. Even if you’re able to carry and deliver healthy babies, you’re still at risk.
My husband and I try to find ways to focus on positives. Maybe we’re meant to have babies born in the fall. Maybe this is just a really weird, twisted, frustrating pattern my body goes through when it comes to pregnancy. Who knows? I sure don’t. Clearly there’s a lot that I don’t know.
Here’s what I do.
I know that I’m no longer ashamed of what happened, in and of itself, or to talk about it. I know it sucks. I know most things, however big or hard, usually happen for a reason. Yes, my first miscarriage sunk me to the depths of despair. But then I had my son, and it’s impossible for me to imagine my life without Aiden, or having a child who didn’t turn out to be him. Whatever the universe has in store for us, we will handle it and will appreciate the blessings we’ve been given.
(My sweet baby boy, our little miracle.)
If you’re a woman who has had, is having, or fears you will one day have a miscarriage, all I know is this: there is nothing you could’ve done.
Try not to play those games with your mind and your heart. As often as we hear “mind over body,” this is one area in which our bodies know better. You have to trust it. If you’re like me and you experience more than one miscarriage, I wish I could tell you that it gets easier…but it doesn’t. Just try to have faith in your body, yourself, and the promise of the future you’re meant to have.
You’re not alone, friend. And for anyone who’s reading this, thanks for letting me share my story and process my grief. It lets me know I’m not alone, either.