Women love a birth story.
I mean it, we can’t get enough. We watch YouTube videos of births, we read stories about them, we listen to each other’s tales in person, and we watch them on TV. We live for the experience, the excitement, the suspense, the drama, and then the ultimate payoff, the sweet little baby. We love topping each other with hours spent pushing, harrowing recounts of labor, tales of horrible and wonderful nurses and doctors, and of sleeping husbands who arise just in time to see their child or who hold our hand all 100 hours of the experience. It’s a miracle we love to witness over and over and it really never gets old.
Most of the time we aren’t bold enough to just come out and say “so tell me every detail of the birth” but we’re thinking it honey. Oh we’re thinking it. One need only be in the company of mommas and utter the words “when I had so and so it was 22 hours of torture. I didn’t even know I was in labor until…” and you will find yourself swept up into hours long exchanges of birth stories as unique as each grain of sand on a beach.
And while I’m sure there are women out there who maybe don’t so much care to hear the gory details of another’s birth experience, I wager the percentage is low.
But what about the women who have birth stories to share that don’t have happy endings? Do they want to share all the details? Doesn’t the catharsis come from the act of telling each other about the whole life changing experience? It’s still life changing even if the end leaves you with no baby right?
My guess is most people who haven’t gone through it don’t want to hear stories involving dead babies.
Yeah I said it. Dead. Babies.
It’s so harsh isn’t it? So crass and cruel and something we would just rather not think about. Those two words don’t belong together, like opposite sides of magnets pushing away from each other with all their might. No, no, no don’t say those words. We cannot take the pain of it. It is just too much sadness.
Sure we all know it’s pretty common, nearly 1 in 4 women have had one, but talking about miscarriage is a MAJOR downer. Best to just say sorry, must have happened for a reason, there was probably something really wrong with it, God has a plan, let me know if you need anything…
What if that anything is simply to share the experience in all it’s heartbreaking glory?
Part of the problem is we don’t know how to start the conversation. We yearn to be the one to utter the magic words that will make it all better when someone is suffering and we fear being the one to say the wrong thing. One need only do a simple Google search to find a "Top 10 List of Things Not To Say..." for every fathomable situation. We worry too damn much about what not to say. It's crippled our ability to talk to each other and so we say nothing at all or mumble 'that sucks' and the person suffering never gets the necessary release and healing that comes from sharing their story.
Women who have had miscarriages are not fragile creatures who will crumble at having to utter details aloud. We are some of the strongest beings in the world. We have been given the ultimate gift and then been forced to endure having that precious gift ripped from our bodies, bit by tiny bit. We can handle talking about it.
And so we should be talking about it more. We need to release.
There will never be an appropriate occasion, a time during a dinner when uttering the words, “I’m still sad I lost that baby,” will come out clean and seem appropriate and that is okay. It’s okay. Life is messy, rude and screws with you bad. If we want to be truthful about our experiences then the painful ones have to have a place too.
Sure there will be tears, or maybe not. Maybe time has healed a momma enough to let her be more reflective about it all without the emotional breakdown. But if there are tears so what. What the hell is wrong with crying anyway? What needs to be shared are not just the tears but also the details. The birth story.
In my experience through two miscarriages it has become clear that unless someone has gone through one they most likely don’t know what a miscarriage entails. I think there is a protective part of the human brain that has made us think the baby just disappears, gently floating away on the wind like pieces of a freshly blown dandelion. Oh how I wish that were so.
Sadly I know better.
Whether it occurs ‘naturally,’ with the help of drugs to contract the uterus, with a D&C, with an induction, or the ultimate pain-stillbirth, it is NOT gentle or fast. It is bloody, crampy, painful, emotional, heart-wrenching, gut wrenching, exhausting and necessary.
It’s childbirth, just not the way we had hoped. It can last for weeks or even months and in the midst of it you will realize normal and wrong have become kissing cousins. It all feels wrong and it is almost always normal. I’m sure there are women out there whose miscarriage experience doesn’t look anything like that, whose experience was quick and relatively painless. It still matters. A lack of physical suffering doesn’t negate the loss and it is still an experience that 100% sucks.
There is so much talk these days of the need for better mental health care in this country and yet we struggle daily to simply communicate to one and other.
That IS mental health care.
To share with each other and listen even when we may not want to hear what the other person needs to share, even when we are in a hurry, even when we wonder if they are just looking for attention. Does it matter what the reason?
Sharing is caring homies.
So here is my birth story in all its long winded, cathartic glory.
I’m sitting in the waiting room of my gynecologists’ office surrounded by tummies in various stages of pregnancy. Though it is never spoken aloud we’re all thinking the same thing “How far along is she?” It’s what we all think when we join the pregnancy club. Suddenly ‘we’ are everywhere and we are curious to compare.
Today I pray is not the day someone decides to ask me.
Today I’m not here because I’m having a baby, I’m here because I’m not.
Three weeks ago I entered this very same office and sat in this very same chair surrounded by tummies in various stages of pregnancy. Though it was never spoken aloud, we were all no doubt wondering “How far along is she?”
I was 12 weeks along, due January 26 with baby #5.
I was so overwhelmed when I found out I was pregnant. Five kids! I had a baby just last year and he still isn’t sleeping through the night so the idea of continuing what was now a two year run of no sleep into what at the very least would be a three year run with no sleep made me feel crazy.
I processed the news slowly, waiting two whole weeks to tell my husband. He had just turned 38 and had made some comments that got me thinking he was ready to be done with the baby stage of our lives so when I finally did tell him and saw that he seemed not only happy but amused by the idea of a veritable circus of children I started to embrace it all.
Babies here, babies there, babies everywhere! Bring it on. We can do this!
We shopped for a space shuttle size vehicle that would fit all of us, we plotted out redoing rooms in the house to make way for another human, and slowly we told people. Actually I told just a few people, he told many. He was excited and I was cautious. I found myself not wanting to share the news just yet, a gnawing fear in the back of my mind saying wait until you see everything is moving along as it should. I was sick but not sick enough. I kept telling myself maybe this pregnancy would be the easy one, that the pattern of struggling through horrifying morning (noon and night) sickness for months in all my other pregnancies may be broken by this one and just stop worrying. But I lost a baby 4 years ago and the story went much the same.
Found out I’m pregnant, told people, noticed I was not sick whatsoever, found out baby has no heartbeat, miscarry, mourn.
But that was then and this is now. I'm in the waiting room about to see my baby for the first time.
I am 12 weeks, due January 26th with baby #5.
As I lay down on the table that day and watched anxiously as my baby appeared on the screen I knew before the words were even out of her mouth. I knew because a 12 week old baby is so clear and this was so not.
Where is the heartbeat? What is that? What’s happening? No, No, No.
Two circles with two lumps, one smaller than the other.
In the instant you see a positive pregnancy test the entire life of that baby flashes before you and in the instant you look at that ultrasound screen and hear your doctor say “oh no, I’m so sorry’ all the possibilities of that little life, the person they would have been, the kisses and smells of them, the toddling and teething, the talking and teaching, the growing pains and joys, Christmases and birthdays, first days of school and graduations, all of it is suddenly ripped from your grasp. You may not have even realized until that moment that you had attached yourself to all of it so deeply but the sting of it being ripped from you will bring you to your knees.
I heard her say it though she sounded so far away “Oh Katie I’m so sorry. Are you sure about your dates? I’m measuring about 7 weeks or so, maybe 8.” Then she saw the second circle.
“Is that twins?” I asked, shocked and feeling myself about to cross over into hysteria.
“Well could have been, yes hmm…but it looks like the second yolk sac was smaller… and things are breaking down a bit…let me look at the second one… it’s hard to tell. Are you sure about your dates?”
I can tell through the fog that she is trying to spare me pain. I’ve been with her 10 years and am on a regular hugging level of closeness so I know she is choosing words carefully. I shut down and start thinking about how I hate the term yolk sac.
Sounds like I’m growing breakfast. Just ew. Keep it together, just make it to the car then you can lose it.
As soon as I think of lose it I start rapping Eminem’s Lose Yourself. It has nothing to do with the situation but it helps to calm me since I’m focused on remembering the lyrics. My body may be betraying me but my brain is sharp and knows how to protect me. She's talking to me about what happens next but I'm busy rapping and feeling surreal.
I need to shift gears in my story and explain miscarriage a bit for those who don’t understand because my experiences thus far have shown me that many truly don't.
When a woman has a miscarriage the baby does not disappear into the ether. As you watch that screen and hear the words it can certainly feel like that is exactly what is happening but just like a healthy pregnancy carried to term, a miscarried baby must come out and when it does it is not pretty.
For most women who miscarry early on a D&C is avoided if possible. You are put under anesthesia, dilated and the baby and all the contents of the uterus are scraped out. While it is the quickest option there are risks involved including infections, puncturing the uterus, scar tissue etc…so it’s not ideal and docs like to avoid it if they can.
I was given drugs to induce contractions so that the uterus could be given a chance to empty on its own. Both times I had what’s known as missed miscarriages meaning my body never got the memo that the babies had stopped growing and continued feeding the placenta and treating my body like it was growing a baby. I can tell you that my body does not let go easily.
The contractions and cramping hurt horribly. You are home and you are essentially giving birth on the toilet. It is mentally traumatizing and emotionally crippling. You go crazy for a bit and even look at what you pass horrified that you may see the tiny baby but also grotesquely hoping you do because it will be the only chance you have. Some people do see the baby but I never did. Most of the time I was in too much pain to search.
You will pass placenta in pieces, fluid, clots, and of course baby. It can last weeks and for some even months because it doesn’t happen all at once but piece by agonizing piece. There is a lot of bleeding and it will leave you weak, tired, emotional and even ill. My first miscarriage took three weeks to complete once I took the drugs and I still had to have the last of it removed in the office. In the end it was six weeks total after the baby had stopped growing.
The second one I am currently going through and it has been three weeks so far. Seven weeks total since the baby stopped growing. This time after I took the pill to move things along I lost enough blood and fluid to make me pass out for the first time in my life and ended up in the hospital. There is a special kind of pain that cannot be described when you are lying in the hospital losing your baby while lullaby music plays over and over as others are born.
It’s important for people to understand that miscarriage is sadly so common that you probably know 50 women who have had one. When I had my first miscarriage I was shocked as aunts, cousins, friends and others shared their own stories of miscarriage and they were all hard and sad but so helpful to hear.
Yes it is sad but it really helps to know that you are not alone and it is not your fault.
In your mind you will go over every meal you ate, drink you had, wonder if you sniffed fumes somewhere or were exposed to something, didn’t take enough vitamins, is there something wrong with your body, if you try again will it happen again, if you do have a baby does this mean there will be something wrong, are you too old, is the universe trying to tell you to stop?
Is the universe trying to tell you to stop?
You will think to yourself why did God take my baby? Am I not worthy of being a mother? Do I have too many already? Did I party too much in my twenties and damage something? Have I not taken good enough care of myself? Maybe not these exactly but your mind will spin like a hamster wheel inside a gyroscope on a roller coaster. Round and round it will go trying to make sense of it all.
In 99% of cases there are no answers to be had. Miscarriage isn’t even considered a problem unless you’ve had three in a row.
Three in a row…what the hell…having one is hard enough I can’t imagine three in a row. I can’t imagine a lot of things. I can’t imagine the pain of still birth, or a 2nd or 3rd trimester miscarriage, or infertility and never being pregnant at all. Those aren’t my experiences but I weep for and with the women who endure them.
I remember sitting in the car that day that I found out thinking just be grateful you have children at all. I’m not sure why we do this? We make ourselves feel petty for mourning the loss by focusing on how much worse it could be. It doesn’t need to be worse to count. Someone will always have it worse than you but your experience is no less valid because it’s not the worst of the worst.
Being a woman is a privilege but Lord it is hard. We are built especially for this, built for making babies, and when we want that and it doesn’t happen, when it doesn’t go right, we feel like our bodies are betraying us. Suddenly the skin we wear seems more like an ill-fitting space suit that is malfunctioning and we can't breath and we just want to get out of it. Or take it in for repairs. We want to fix it and we can’t. What’s wrong with you body? Just do your damn job. I bathe you, I feed you, I clothe you. I buy you that nice organic lotion…wtf.
In the end It really doesn’t matter if you already have 11 kids or none at all, the experience of losing a baby is one that will bring you to the bottom, test your will, hone your strength, teach you how precious life is, and leave you feeling a void that will never be filled no matter what may follow.
It took having miscarriages myself to understand the physical process. I had to go through and experience the kind gestures of others to learn how to treat someone else who has had one emotionally. I’m sure at some point I too said insensitive things to a grieving momma, though it was certainly unintentional. I probably tried to make them feel better by saying ‘you’ll have more.’ I’m sure it seemed positive at the time. But now I know whether I have more babies or not, I will never have these.They are gone and they were wanted and loved before they were even known.
Now I know when it comes to birth stories it’s important to listen to the sad ones as well as the happy.
My miscarriage is nearly complete and with that knowledge comes the realization that I am about to be done. Not pregnant, not miscarrying and no longer attached in any way to the babies that once were. I’ve prayed for it to be over so that I could move on but now that I’m almost there I find myself sad to be moving past it. This is the part where you let go for good.
Some people move on and don’t look back, some don't really even want to talk about it; others plant a tree, pick names, or get some other bit of remembrance so that they can keep a little part with them always. I didn’t with the first one, I simply moved on, but this time an unexpected gift of bracelets from a friend proved shockingly healing. I haven’t taken them off yet. One for each baby I’ve lost each engraved with a sweet little symbol; wings, tiny feet, and a little heart.
It’s a reminder that they were there once. That they were a part of me and that even though they are gone and were never given a chance to be the magical little people I know they would have been they are still part of my story and always will be.
I have given birth to four healthy children but I have six birth stories to share.