*8 years ago we spent our 2nd wedding anniversary in the Outer Banks. This is my brave face, friends. This is the face I put on to tell myself everything was fine when I was hurting so deeply inside. Just 3 weeks earlier I had miscarried our 2nd baby and I knew when the vacation ended I was headed for a battery of tests that would last months. I was tired, sad, and scared. And I didn't want anyone to know. But this man knew and loved me right through it. Took me out to dinner every night, bought me a new dress (wearing it in the picture), let me lie in the sun and swim in the ocean all day, let me talk when I wanted and just sit quiet when I didn't. I'm so grateful I married a man who knows me and loves me and cares for me.*
The other day I posted the photo and caption above on Instagram and I read a handful of really beautiful responses that caused me to go back and re-read my caption. One phrase struck me, and I wished I had written it differently or explained it better.
"This is my brave face, friends. This is the face I put on to tell myself everything was fine when I was hurting so deeply inside."
The more I think about it, the more I'm not sure I used the right words. Because what if instead of smiling on a balcony for a picture I had stared sadly into the camera? What if I hadn't felt like faking it in that moment and just suggested we not take pictures? What if someone caught on film my most vulnerable moments? The moments when my knees were tucked under my chin and tears poured down my face as I tried to muffle sobs in the crook of my elbow. Would that not be my "brave face"? Of course it would.
It's brave to feel and let out our grief. And it's brave to put on a new dress, go out to dinner, and smile for a picture when your insides hurt so bad. Just about every minute of life is a brave one when you're walking through the trenches. And sometimes it's actually harder to show the world your real self in your darkest days. When I lost our first two babies, just 10 months apart, I didn't really let people in. I struggled to process the losses myself and didn't feel safe letting anyone else into it. I spent a lot of time in public with that "brave face" on. But it wasn't always the truth.
Here's my truth about having a miscarriage:
I was shocked the first time around. The hours spent in the hospital are a blur. My memories are fuzzy and the whole thing felt like a whirlwind, even though we were there most of the day.
I couldn't stop crying. Even when I didn't think I was crying anymore, I noticed tears were still streaming down my face. Tears became second nature that day and in the days, weeks, months, and years that followed. I cried myself to sleep a lot.
It was painful -- emotionally, mentally, and physically. I was surprised by how physically painful it was.
I blamed myself for a long time. I questioned everything -- the foods I ate, the amount of sleep I got, my level of activity, and the day or two I forgot to take my prenatal vitamins. I couldn't shake the feeling that somehow it was my fault that I miscarried. And I carried that guilt for a long time even though the doctors and nurses and my mom told me I hadn't done anything wrong.
I felt rushed through my grief. I felt a mostly unspoken nudge to move on and "get over it." I noticed that after the first few weeks most people seemed to think life ought to be normal again. But I wasn't there yet, and as a result I felt lonely and kept my grief to myself. And to be honest, life never did "go back to normal." Life changed -- I changed.
I looked at positive pregnancy tests differently after our first miscarriage. I suddenly knew that being pregnant didn't always mean you were going to have a baby to take home and raise... sometimes it means miscarriage, or stillbirth, or infant loss. I lost quite a bit of my usually optimistic self. But I turned into a hopeful realist, and that's not a bad thing.
I struggled to go out in public for a while. About four months after our first miscarriage, we went out to one of my favorite restaurants. The waitress was so sweet and peppy and it was hard for me. Everything in me wanted to tell her my world had tipped over. How could it just keep turning for everyone else?
I lost more than an "idea" or "dream" or "future hope"... I lost a person. Two persons. A real human baby was growing inside of me with a beating heart that just stopped one day. And I don't know why. And then it happened again. And I still don't know why. It's hard to explain to others in a way that is easily understood. Because no one else was as connected to my babies. I was the only one who ever physically "touched" them. I carried them and my heart was knit to theirs and my life sustained their lives... until one day it didn't. And it was utterly crushing. It is utterly crushing.
I lost two children and I have no idea if they'd have blue eyes like mine or green eyes like my husband's. I have no idea if they'd be blondes or brunettes or one of each. I have no idea if they'd like music or sports or science or creative writing. I ache for the time we lost and the lifetime of tears and laughter we'll never have.
And absolutely nothing about my grief takes away from my complete joy and gratitude and love for the two children I hold in my arms.