Ernest Hemingway once said we should ‘write hard and clear about what hurts’. It’s the blessing and curse conundrum of being a writer. The blessing? Being able to write the words that let others know they’re not alone in their sadness. The curse? Being able to write the words.
There are some things in life that are really crappy. Like a red sock sneaking into a white wash, or stepping too close to the curb just in time to catch a muddy tsunami sent crashing your way by an inconsiderate commuter. And then – sometimes – there are really, truly tragic things. Like miscarriage.
Nobody really tells you what a miscarriage is like. It is The Great Unknown, a foreign land with no maps or markers to guide you home.
I remember the first time I had to say it out loud. The words had been screaming around my head for so long I thought it would be easy. It wasn’t. I tipped my chin towards the ceiling, searching along the cracks and seams hoping to find a script scrawled haphazardly amongst the cobwebs. Eventually I opened my mouth and just let them fall out, clattering and scraping against each other like broken pottery –
‘I had a miscarriage’.
In the endless moments between telling someone you’ve had a miscarriage and waiting for their (often panicked) response you suddenly become acutely aware of your own body. Muscles tensed. Fight Or Flight wrapping her fingers around your throat. Part of me desperately wanted to reach out, grab those words and wildly shove them back in my mouth.
But they were out. I couldn’t take them back. I just sat and looked at them, hovering and quivering in mid-air, so familiar and yet so foreign, empty of life and full of a million ‘what-ifs’ all at the same time.
She responded and the conversation changed direction and everything and nothing was the same.
‘70% of threatening miscarriages settle down and go on to be perfectly normal pregnancies’ my Gynae told me with confidence as I sat on the cusp of what would be two million-year weeks of ‘will it/won’t it?’
But 2 weeks, 3 trips to the A&E and 3 scans later we found ourselves back at the hospital – they knew me there now – and as I watched the nurse’s dismay reflected in my husband’s eyes – I knew.
We were not the 70%.
I chose to have a natural miscarriage, letting my body go through the motions on it’s own without medical intervention. The nurse assured me it would be over in a few days.
A few days later it wasn’t. And I found myself begging God to let this be done. I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be waiting for this tragedy to end but I felt guilty for wishing it towards a conclusion.
When it was finally finished I didn’t know what to feel. Relief and heartache make a bitter-tasting cocktail.
Nobody really tells you what a miscarriage is like. It is the Treacherous Unknown.
Watching your body going from not-pregnant, to pregnant to not-pregnant again is like standing on the side-lines watching yourself race headlong into an unavoidable, life-altering car wreck. A Total Lack of Control and a Desperate Need to Do Something collide in these dark valleys of grief.
And it is an overwhelming and monumental and surprising grief. It grabbed us by the collars and the heartstrings and the throat and demanded to be felt and seen and heard. Louder and more in-our-face than we were expecting. A reckless sense of loss for a little human we’d known for just a few weeks. There is no steadying yourself for this.
They don’t tell you how you will feel betrayed by your body. I couldn’t believe what it had done. My body, this pile of flesh and bones that didn’t want a baby that I so badly did. This treacherous killing machine. It’s a strange thing – feeling a desperation to escape your own body, recklessly searching for the cracks where you begin and your body ends, hoping you can wedge your fingers into them and rip them apart. Like Peter Pan shedding his shadow.
Questions, we had so many questions. “How did this happen?” and “how do some women make having a baby look so easy?” and “will we ever feel normal again?” and “this actually happened right? It’s not just some horrific nightmare?”
Neither G nor I had the answers. We sat looking at each other feeling small and insignificant and battered by the waves of life. Like we’d been cast out into an inky, endless sea with no lighthouses to guide us around the crags and cliffs.
The weeks rumble on and slowly we began to feel out what life in the ‘after’ looked like. I don’t know if we will ever say ‘and then we felt ok’. Do you ever feel ok after this?
We started telling friends where we’d been for the past six weeks and we ventured out to meet all the new little ones that had been born in our circle over the summer. We flung arms around friends in genuine joy as they shared their pregnancy news, even as our broken eyes met over their shoulders. We entered into sleep-training theories and ‘when will he walk’ and ‘I’ve been having such weird cravings’ conversations with gusto. Even as we desperately swiped away tears on our walk home.
The total ‘lost adrift’ feeling doesn’t last. But this is a ‘new normal’. And the grief is always there, bubbling just below the surface. Ready to burst out unexpectedly. Who are you, when you have lost your first and only child? Are you a parent if you never got to hold them? Small questions become cannon balls. The taxi driver asking if I had any children – ‘no’ (but I do!), the standard ‘when will you start having children?’ conversations – ‘no plans yet!’ (please stop asking me!), well-meaning friends telling us to ‘hurry up and jump on the baby bandwagon’. It goes on.
If you’ve ever driven a car with a chassis that was slightly off you’ll know it’s hard work. The car still runs, but it’s constantly pulling off-centre, gently at first, but eventually it wears you down. Everything looks fine on the outside, but it’s off-kilter, off-course and not ok. That’s what our new normal felt like. Life was slightly off-kilter in a monumental way. We wondered if we’d ever feel normal again. We felt robbed of our joy, knowing that future pregnancies would be tainted with anxiety and extra hospital visits. I held onto my sadness because it felt like the only evidence that there had been a baby.
G and I both felt convinced that our little one was a girl. We don’t have much evidence for that other than a Feeling. All through our short pregnancy (and miscarriage) we referred to her as Her and we still talk about her that way even now. Maybe that makes it harder? I don’t know.
Almost 6 months on (and a hospital process that has only just ended) and I still feel an ache when I see a Mom walking down the street with her Little Girl, knowing that, on this earth, we will never do that with ours. We will never hear her first cry, or have the joy of holding her close and watching her grow. We won’t know whether she would have looked more like him or me. Would she have added up numbers in a blink or would words have lit a fire in her eyes (blue or brown?)? Would she have been scared of bikes (me) or spiders (him)? Preferred coffee or tea?
We will never get to hear her laugh. Or see her first steps or push her on her bike (provided she wasn’t afraid of them, of course). We will never teach her to drive or to cook or to change a light bulb. G will never walk her down the aisle or share a father-daughter dance. There are so many would-have-beens that are now just should-have-beens.
That, I think, is the hardest thing. It is difficult to believe that we could have felt so many things for a little bean of a human we only knew for a few weeks. And yet it is not the loss of those few weeks that is heart-breaking. It is the loss of all the weeks to come. All the things that will never be.
But do you know something? We mourn for us. But we REJOICE for her.
She will never graze her knees or break her heart. She will never shatter bones or feel afraid. She will never be at risk in this broken, tempestuous world.
It is difficult to believe that anyone could have greater plans for her than we did. But we know that from the moment of conception, that little cluster of cells, racing towards skin and bones and a beating heart and beautiful big blinking eyes and thoughts and feelings, was and is a little person, wholly and completely loved by our God.
And even though it’s hard to image that anyone could love her more than we do, we know that instead of being in our imperfect human arms, she in the arms of the One who loves her wildly and recklessly and perfectly and infinitely and more abundantly than we ever could. The first eyes she looked into were not mine, or G’s or the midwife’s or Doctor’s. But the kind, strong, fearless eyes of Jesus. And she will know that she is chosen and loved and knit together for a purpose wilder and greater than we could ever dream.
I never wanted to be standing here. I never wanted to battle the ugly bitterness that raises its scaly head whenever I see (another) pregnancy announcement on Facebook. But I am here. And the bitterness has lost some of its grip. And we are learning how to breathe again.
This was and IS His plan. And I know, despite myself I know, like a living, breathing thing totally apart from me and yet totally integral to who I am, I know that His plans are always good. And I know that there are no tears in heaven, and one day we will be reunited with our precious babe and what a day of rejoicing that will be! We live in hope, and eager anticipation for the day when death and illness and heartache are no more.
I may not understand all the parts to my story. But I trust the Story-teller.
And He is good. He is good. He is good. Even then. Even now.