Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dealing With Miscarriage

This is a post that has been done before by others.  However, everyone grieves differently so maybe something I have to say will resonate with someone else.

Just before Halloween I had a miscarriage.  I was eight weeks along.  I hadn't yet told anyone I was expecting.  The first thing almost anyone heard about this pregnancy was that it ended.  It felt far more private than any of my other pregnancies.  This was my second miscarriage.  It was vastly different from my first in almost every way.  But many of the feelings I've had made me remember reactions and feelings I had forgotten or pushed away.  My aim is to give a bit of advice about what the mother may be feeling and how to be helpful rather than hurtful.  This is obviously not a comprehensive list, just what I have felt or needed after my losses.

Allow for differences
My first loss happened at 20 weeks.  It was catastrophic and left me broken.  I didn't know how to be happy anymore.  I was scared and devastated and inconsolable.  I missed my baby like crazy.  It was my first pregnancy.  I felt like the time had been wasted.

My second loss was at a few days over eight weeks.  I had felt oddly peaceful through the entire pregnancy and was blessed to continue feeling that peace once it became clear the pregnancy was ending.  The loss was the result of a blighted ovum (a fertilized egg which produces a placenta but no baby) so there was no baby for me to grieve.

While both losses left me sad and confused, that's where the immediate similarities end.  One loss destroyed me and with the other I was calm.  Sad, obviously, but still calm.  After my first loss I needed to tell everyone what had happened.  This most recent miscarriage is one I haven't wanted to share.

The moral of this little story is that everyone needs to be allowed to grieve in their own way.  Some people withdraw, some reach out.  Some people scream, some turn stoic.  Some people find help with support groups, some prefer solitude.  There's no wrong way to grieve (unless it involves harm to oneself or others), so let those who grieve work through their feelings in the way that works best for them.

What to say...or not say
After my first loss it felt like almost everyone told me what a blessing it is to have the plan of salvation and know that we could be together again.  My first Sunday back at church was Mother's Day, so I got an especially generous helping of it that day.  The only thing that kept me from smacking those people was knowing that they meant well.  I wanted to scream at each and every one of them that I didn't want to see my baby in the future.  I wanted to carry him to term and raise him to adulthood.  Anything else felt like a consolation prize.  Even when the nurses at my hospital discharge tried to comfort me by saying they would see me again in a year (that allows for the three months before another pregnancy and the nine months of gestation) it was painful.  I wanted the baby I lost, not a different one.  

So what's the right thing to say?  I still don't have that completely figured out but "I'm so sorry" and a genuine "I'm here for you" are generally well received.

Fill the hole
Pregnancy take an enormous amount of mental energy.  Everything we eat, do with our bodies, plan for the future (e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g!) takes the pregnancy and future baby into consideration.  After a loss it leaves an empty space where thoughts of the baby used to be.  For me, finding a way to fill that hole was helpful.  I needed something else to think about and do with my hands to take the place of baby thoughts and preparations.  While this is something that is best chosen and embraced by the mother, it doesn't hurt to spend time with her and help fill the void.

Allow for hormones
All those lovely post partum hormone shifts occur with or without a baby.  They tend to make emotions run high.  And while added hormones may make the mother look out of control (totally happened to me) or irrational, it is vital to remember that her feelings are real and they are valid.  They are just intensified by what her body is doing to get itself back to normal.  Be sensitive to that.  And never, never, NEVER blame her feelings or emotions on the hormones.  I will cut you.

More than a miscarriage
The feelings I mentioned in conjunction with the hormones are more than just grief.  There is much more going on than grief.  When my first baby died in the womb I was left with so many unanswered questions and fears.  Did my body reject the pregnancy?  Would I ever be able to carry a baby to term?  Was there a genetic problem with the baby that caused him to die?  Would all our babies be at risk?  Would we ever be able to have children?  Did the loss come because we were unworthy or unable to be good parents?  Testing results all came back inconclusive.  The unanswered questions and fears where overwhelming and maddening.  They drove me to the brink of my sanity.  My emotions were much more than grief, though the grief was palpable.

Now that I have three healthy children those questions are no longer on my mind and sometimes seem a bit silly.  But they were very real at the time.  Despite the calm I've felt about the miscarriage, my mind is still in turmoil.  I'm not yet willing to share with anyone the other thoughts and fears bubbling under the surface of my calm, but I can assure you they are there.  I can't even bring myself to fully consider them yet, as it tips me over the edge and overwhelms me.

Just know that while the sadness is most evident to everyone on the outside, there is much more going on that can't be seen.  And, as I will go over in the next paragraph, sometimes you don't even see the sadness.

Wait and notice
The hardest times I've had with my most recent miscarriage took almost two weeks to come to the surface.  I knew I needed something but I didn't know what.  I have not been grieving the loss of a baby because there was no baby to lose.  But I have felt weak.  I've needed to be taken care of.  I did such a good job of telling people I was okay (and I was) that some of the concern for me may have been alleviated.  But the mental process doesn't happen overnight.  Things I hadn't considered came to mind.  The weak feeling got worse and worse until I lost all motivation for pretty much everything.  I've been working through that.  What I really needed was for someone to notice.  I knew I needed help, but the help was useless if I had to ask someone for it.  I needed someone to think of me and step up without my saying anything.  It's a tall order, as people have their own lives and responsibilities to worry about.  It's also hard to notice sadness when the person has withdrawn.

After my first miscarriage I wondered how people could walk around so bright and happy when I was so miserable.  Couldn't they see by looking at me that I was broken, that nothing would ever be right again?  Of course they couldn't.  The thing I really needed in the weeks following the initial support after the miscarriages was follow-up from people who thought of it themselves.  That was more meaningful.  And it's been true of both pregnancies.  "I've been thinking about you; how are you doing?" is what I've wanted to hear more than anything.  Asking for the help has felt hollow and insufficient.  I wanted someone to see my need and fill it, for someone to take care of me...without a request from me.  I know it's an unreasonable desire and I didn't expect it.  But I wanted it.

I was thankful today when the Relief Society presidency came to visit me.  She knew about the miscarriage. When I wasn't in Relief Society today the presidency all came to check on me.  It was a comfort to have them tell me they love me and want to help in any way they can, including specific questions.  The Relief Society president waited to come see me so I would know she was still thinking of me.  I feel blessed to have that.  

Remember due dates or other significant times and extend that love and comfort.  At the due date for my first I received a note from a friend letting me know she remembered and cared.  It was such a small thing that made me feel so greatly loved.
Sunset the night before the miscarriage.  It felt like a promise that everything would be all right and that there is still beauty in the world.
What I've Learned
I feel this narrative would be incomplete without a note to grieving mothers about a couple of things I've learned while wading through this particular trial.  If this is where you find yourself, I'm so sorry.  I hope what I have to say helps rather than hurts.

First, the world keeps on spinning around you even though yours may have stopped.  People will still be happy.  People will still have healthy pregnancies that result in healthy babies.  Even that woman you know who shared your due date.  Or the one who smoked and drank and screamed non-stop at her boyfriend and other child.  Even the woman who was upset to be pregnant.  Those all happened to me.  It's maddening and unfair, but it is reality.  It's hard to accept.  I found that the sooner I stopped allowing the bitterness to take over I was better able to heal and move forward.  It's part of learning to be happy again.  You may want to hold on to the grief and sadness because it keeps your baby real.  As one who has come through it, your baby will ALWAYS be real to you.  I still love and miss that first sweet baby.  He will always be real.

Second, you need people to be patient with you as you heal.  You also need to be patient with people around you.  They will say thoughtless and insensitive things that will make you both angry and devastated.  Most of what you hear, however, will be well-intentioned.  Just poorly delivered.  Some people really are emotional clods who need a flick in the eyeball but most are just doing the best they know how to help you.  It's a learning process for you and for them.  If someone isn't being helpful they probably want to know.  Gently tell them you appreciate the thought but the action isn't making things better.

Third, asking why accomplishes nothing.  In my experience, a miscarriage or other loss can either bring you closer to God or drive you away.  It all depends on how you move forward.  Placing blame is a dangerous game, whether you blame yourself, God, or even another person.  With my first I wondered if I had done something with my body that hurt the baby.  I wondered if God was punishing me for something.  I blamed my neighbor for creating an unsafe environment.  None of that was true.  It happens because it happens.  We don't know why I lost my first.  I loss this last pregnancy because there was no baby.  Seeking answers that may not exist is frustrating and exhausting, while releasing the anger (when you're ready) is cleansing and cathartic.

Lastly (for now), healing doesn't happen overnight.  That's not true physically or emotionally.  I keep thinking I should be over this most recent miscarriage by now.  I'm not.  I've been cycling through most of the steps of grieving and haven't been able to settle in to "acceptance" for more than a day.  It just takes time.  There will always be a hole in your heart but time helps if you let it.  The sun will keep rising and setting every day

Hopefully this has been something helpful.  As I said, everyone grieves differently and there may well be people out there for whom this list would be a total bunk.  Just remember to be kind, patient, and understanding of those who suffer.  Love them truly and show up when they need you.  If there is anything else I have missed (and I know there is), please feel free to mention it in the comments.

1 comment:

Jami Little said...

I am SO sorry Jordan.

So much of this post rings true! I remember feeling the exact thing of wanting help but needing it to be volunteered. Needing to be noticed and asked how I was doing etc.

Do you mind if I share this? I think it's an excellent compilation of things to consider for people who know someone who's miscarried, as well as for someone who is going through the loss as well.

Again, I am so sorry, and wish I could reach across the states to give you a hug!