Back in high school, my parent's took my sister and I to London and Paris one summer. We were that family. I was 15, knew everything, and had the most discerning taste, as my Limp Bizkit CD collection obviously confirmed.
That summer we went to the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa. We also went to the Musee D'Orsay, which I had never heard of, but found it had a trove of Impressionist paintings I'd seen for years in books.
But the work that left the biggest impact was on me was one I'd never seen before. It's a massive sculpture of a woman in agony. She's naked, in the process of getting dressed. In one hand she's pulling on some garment. In the other hand she has a mask that she's putting over her despairing face. The mask is a plaster smile she'll have to wear all day.
Despite the symbolism basically hitting me over the head with its obvious meaning, I was struck. It seemed to so perfectly reflect what's often expected of women, or really anyone in internal distress: the public façade of joy we put on to appear normal when inside, we're in pain. At 15 I thought it was cool. At nearly 30, this year I've felt an uncanny kinship with that sculpture in the past several weeks.
I had a miscarriage this year. If the photo at the top looks familiar, that's because I used it last year for an article about why we shouldn't ask women when they're going to procreate. One of the reasons I cited was that for women who have miscarried, this question is incredibly painful. At that point, I'd only known other women who miscarried.
Mine happened Valentine's Day, 2016. The day Ghostbusters predicted the world would end. My husband and I actually joked about that prediction earlier in the day. The irony of a Bill Murray joke being personally prophetic is by no means lost on either of us.
"I only knew I was pregnant for about a week when I miscarried. We were so damn excited. We were going to be parents. Then we weren't."
This was my first pregnancy, and the first time my husband had ever knocked someone up (he's pretty sure). It was very much wanted. Somewhat unexpected, but wanted. The day I found out, I went straight to Target to buy gender-neutral baby booties, pre-natal vitamins, belly bands so I could wear my pants after the bump started to show, and a pregnancy pillow. I probably would have bought more if I thought I could reasonably fit it into my tiny car.
I only knew I was pregnant for about a week when I miscarried. It was in the early days, but had been confirmed with a blood draw after I peed on a stick. Even in that week I noticed changes in my body. My boobs hurt. I was tired all the time. My runs were slower. I was hungrier. I felt different.
In that one week, my husband and I told at least 20 people we were expecting. We were so damn excited. And we should have been. We were going to be parents.
Then we weren't.
That's why they say you shouldn't announce pregnancy too early. Because if you lose it, which so many women do, then you have to go around and tell everyone it's gone.
Here's the paradox: on the one hand, you don't really want to have to tell people you lost a pregnancy because it's all around uncomfortable; on the other hand, there's this primal urge to scream it at everyone you see because its such a major loss that you want people to understand why you're not all there. You also want to acknowledge the pregnancy because to you, there was this life, not only inside you, but also the vision of your own life to come with this new being. And it's all gone.
"You don't really want to have to tell people you lost a pregnancy because it's all around uncomfortable, but there's this primal urge to scream it at everyone you see."
Despite these mixed emotions, the feeling I get from those around me is that it shouldn't be that big of a deal, or that I shouldn't publicly express my grief. It's as though because it wasn't born, it didn't matter. Or that at a certain point I should just be "over" it.
It also makes people uncomfortable when I bring it up. Nobody knows what to say. And it makes sense because pretty much anything you could say other than "I'm sorry" or "let me know if you need anything" can be pretty effing hurtful. I personally wrote up a list of some of the unintentionally painful things people said to me in an attempt to make me feel better (it didn't), such as "at least you know you can get pregnant," or "you know, I think I may have had a miscarriage once," or my personal favorite "did it hurt?"
Yes it hurt. Still does.
Miscarriage and discussing miscarriage occupies this really odd space in our culture. It's this silent loss that people generally deal with on their own and often aren't afforded any time off work that would likely be allowed if a relative died. Thankfully my company has given me leeway. Only a few people at work know it happened. I thought I didn't tell more people because I didn't want to be treated differently. In reality I didn't tell people because I knew it would be awkward.
"It's as though because it wasn't born, it didn't matter. Or that at a certain point I should just be "over" it."
So, now almost two months out, how am I handling it? I've been drinking too much and crying often because goddamn it hurts. I find myself going back to this picture on my phone of the pregnancy test I took that a second faint line because it's the only tangible proof I have that I was ever really pregnant.
Every day I'm going into work and putting on my smile. Sometimes I'm genuinely happy. Other times I need to cry in the bathroom. I'm better today than I was a last week, and a lot better than I was last month, but I never know when something will trigger me and I'll be a wreck.
Miscarriage is real. It's a loss and something that everyone handles differently. It doesn't have to be a secret, nor does it need to be public. Emotionally, it's this major blow and nobody should feel that they have to keep it inside, or that they need to get over it and move on. Eventually, yes, we need to move forward, but there's no leaving a pregnancy behind.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.