A foreword from Christy Turlington Burns: One thing that has become abundantly clear to me as I have advocated for the health and well-being of girls and women over the years is the innate power we each have within us to establish deep connection with one another and heal ourselves simply by sharing our stories. I have healed myself through sharing my birth story as well as other's stories in my film "No Woman, No Cry," and in various writings and talks about maternal health. I founded Every Mother Counts to help put an end to preventable deaths caused by pregnancy and childbirth around the world. One of the ways we see ourselves achieving this goal is by encouraging more of us to share our stories as a means to empower others. This will allow us to confront all of the physical and emotional losses associated with reproduction and heal. With that said, I wanted to share a powerful story from a woman, who would like to remain anonymous, on an incredibly emotional experience titled "Grand Losses: Musings On My Miscarriage," which many women will be able to relate to and connect with.
Musings on My Miscarriage
My heart is broken. The breaking process has been a seemingly long drawn out arduous shattering. I feel like the cracking is audible sometimes, at other moments it is as subtle as a whisper.
Three months ago I gave birth to my daughter. I was 15 weeks pregnant and, like so many reproductive anomalies, I was tragically shocked and taken over with grief from the inside out. As she emerged from my body, my shrieking cry was nothing compared to the utter physical relief I felt as she dangled from me. Connected by the umbilical cord, our lifeline, I stared at my darling daughter as she hung from me and I from her -- both suspended from reality.
The day before I had started spotting and promptly went to my doctor, where I heard her heart beating beautifully. Later that evening contractions began, on and off spotting- the pain was undeniable. I toyed with going to the emergency room, despite hearing the heartbeat just hours earlier. I phoned my friend who is a midwife to solicit her insights, still endeavoring to remain calm in a sea of physical and mental confusion. I felt overtaken. I knew that this was the beginning of the end of the life growing inside of me. I wasn't so much panicked, as I trusted my body to know that something was definitely not right and that something deeply tragic would be revealed shortly.
Having had a wrinkle-free conception, pregnancy, and birth experience with my son 4 years prior rendered me compass-less. Of course nothing would have prepared me for something so horrifying, so tragic, so surreal. Nothing.
And just like that I entered into a glaring statistical grouping of women that I have been hearing and reading about for ages. I always knew that approximately 1 in 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage. Since it hadn't been a part of my lived experience, it felt like a distant fact, like so many other health crises we are surrounded by and hope to never become intimate with.
I not so gingerly shared my story with friends, family, and people who randomly remembered I was pregnant. They seemed to want to know every detail with expressed care and concern. I even showed them a picture of my daughter when asked. Though I didn't necessarily feel armed with any hardcore tools to navigate the extent of my trauma, I increasingly became more stunned by the reactions -- the actions and inactions of people around me.
I am left feeling more alone than I ever thought possible. Solicited or not, countless women say to me, "Why is no one talking about miscarriage. No one talks about postpartum depression either. All of these things women go through that nobody talks about. Why are we not talking about it if everyone is going through it?" It's only now that I realize why I don't want to share my experience as openly anymore. The more I talked about it, the less understood I felt.
All I yearn for is the simplest of engagement, "How are you feeling?" Four words. Nothing more.
Instead, I am bombarded by horror stories of women losing their longed for dream in a pool of blood or heroic war stories of women whose histories in no my way resemble mine and go on to have healthy children. Are the details of someone's sister's friend's friends' 4 consecutive miscarriages supposed to be heartening?
Women use my openness about my loss as a springboard to delve into their reproductive aches and pains, recent or decades old. The sharing feels tinged -- needing to be less this, more that, better than, more than, and most definitely triumphant in achieving their desired family size. I propose that we simply listen to one another, with presence of mind and heart, no matter the level of uncomfortability.
Here is a sampling of what women have shared with me over the ensuing months that at first felt heart warming but quickly dipped into competitiveness and all too often fraught with a shocking undercurrent of judgment ..."I had a miscarriage too but luckily mine was at 6 weeks so it wasn't such a big deal like yours", "I seriously would have jumped off a cliff if I had gone through what you went through. I could never have lived through that." "I know this doctor you should see who specializes in women who have had multiple miscarriages. Maybe he can figure out what happened to you." "At least you weren't that attached to having 2 children. I always knew I had to have 2 kids so I would have killed myself if that happened to me."
And then there is the deafening silence... The silence of sisters, mothers, colleagues, and dear friends I've had since I could crawl. It's unclear which hurts more -- the convoluted questions or participating in pretending that nothing ever happened and isn't it amazing that it's 80 degrees in February?! Are we seriously coercing each other into thinking that by focusing on the weather we will make the remarkable mainstream? And isn't it almost always 80 degrees, cloudless, and sunny here in Los Angeles? We all know that what is going on in our bodies and the losses we've experienced within them can leave us disproportionately speechless but we must stretch to find words. Words of loving kindness, words that normalize reproductive situations that happen globally, words that leave us feeling whole rather than bruised.
Some of these interactions feel deeply loving while others feel pointedly harmful. Are we really competing for a less challenging reproductive journey? When you say that yours was easier than mine, what are you saying? Are you feeling less damaged? Less victimized? More empowered? It hurts me and it actually hurts you too and all the other women riding this reproductive roller coaster to minimize, to distance, to compare and contrast. It's tempting to explain that my life is the only life I would want to live, despite its pitfalls and unforeseen traumas. I hold my breath.
When the pathology report came back 2 weeks later I learned that my daughter had an extra X chromosome. My amniocentesis was scheduled to take place 2 weeks after the miscarriage. I would have been faced with a monumental decision. To terminate or not to terminate. I have always felt grateful that my daughter came out whole in the privacy of my home, where peace and profundity were possible. The genetic information reiterated to me that my body and my daughter danced, albeit uncomfortably, to assist in bypassing a life-changing decision. Instead she made the decision for me, for herself. Unabashedly.
Last Saturday my midwife friend who has been by my side through this unprecedented sea change in my life, turned to me plainly with exuberant love and a chilling seriousness, "You totally could have died. You nearly hemorrhaged to death while giving birth. Alone. At home." Similarly, conversations with my obstetrician feel authenticating, scientifically based, and free from competitive comparisons and crazy-making circuitous superstition. I feel understood, but more importantly I feel that there is accurate reflection taking place rather than jumbled supportive banter that often leaves me feeling dizzy and sometimes meagerly depressed.
What I've learned is that people are afraid to get close to their unnamed pain, their historical landmines, and bevies of unspeakable regret, sadness, and interior discontent. People want to be there but don't know how to be or try to be and unfortunately say things that feel awkward at best and downright cruel at worst.
I am grieving my enormous loss while simultaneously feeling more at home in my body than ever before. No one seems to want to hear this. No one seems to believe me. Ironically, it wasn't until I began sharing my story of my daughter emerging from me at 15 weeks that I began to feel sprinkles of shame. Why would I be ashamed of chromosomes gone wrong? How would I have any control over this? Magical thinking and long stored up dark reserves seep out as women experience reproductive hardships. They think they must have done something to "deserve" this, had to have been "unlucky", and chase every possible line of thinking imaginable to connect the dots. There are no dots here. Miscarriage isn't about pregnancy ambivalence or anxiety, prior abortions or outbursts of venomous anger, feelings of sadness or anything else that you can seemingly control.
Miscarriage is simpler than all of that. It is loss of life that wasn't sustainable.
I have fantasies of shouting this from rooftops and tweeting random cryptic notes containing the facts about pregnancy loss in the hopes of galvanizing women's perceptions of themselves. I daydream about pleading with women not to blame their beautiful bodies for their reproductive devastations. I wish I could dare every woman who has at some point or another wondered if they were somehow the root cause of a reproductive disappointment to turn that question on its head. "What if you are not the reason that this happened to you? What if it just is?" I can't help but wonder if this would illicit more anger, more grief, more relief, and/or more hope. Or maybe something else completely. I am confident that it would engender less competitiveness, less perfectionistic strivings, and more self-love.
My heart sags as I collect countless unfortunate stories of loss and the way women believe they caused it. Maybe in blaming themselves for the unthinkable reproductive tragedies they feel a shred of control, hoping this might yield a very different outcome next time? Passionately perfecting pregnancy is not within our wheelhouse. We are not in charge of chromosomes. Culture tells us that we can have what we want when we want it if we just try hard enough to attain it. Perhaps we so desperately believe we can achieve anything we put our minds to that women feel an unruly amount of competitiveness despite logically knowing there is not much we can control here. Maybe it leaves us too vulnerable to think that we can become a reproductive statistic just by being who we are? I'd like to invite women to believe, if only for a moment, that what they have journeyed through is not a fault of their own but instead a very real possibility for anyone brave enough to get messy in the making of babies.