The Way It’s Supposed to Be
What happened when I shared my miscarriage story
Part three in our series of essays excerpted from The Good Mother Myth.
Pregnant women are subjected to a litany of things that they are "supposed" to do, or ways that they are “supposed” to be, some more legitimate and well-intentioned than others:
- You're not supposed to drink alcohol.
- You're not supposed to change the cat's litter box.
- You're not supposed to consume too much caffeine.
- You're not supposed to eat soft cheeses, or rare steak, even if you have nightly dreams about diving headfirst into a dark pink filet mignon slathered in bleu cheese.
- You’re not supposed to feel anything but angelic and undying love toward your fetus, even if your darling unborn baby keeps you up at night with heartburn and wicked kicks to the ribs.
- You're not supposed to work too much, or relax too much, or exercise too much, or eat too much, or stress out too much.
You're not supposed to be too fat or too thin, too active or too sedentary.And you're not supposed to announce your pregnancy "too early." At least not until after the first trimester (and the greatest risk of miscarriage) is over because, you know, if you do miscarry then you'll have to tell everyone. And that's supposed to be awkward and terrible.
Or at least it’s supposed to make you feel awkward and terrible.
In February 2011, ten weeks and one day into a planned and very much wanted pregnancy, that’s exactly what happened to me. I suffered a miscarriage.
In the morning, in the bathroom, I noticed a shock of pink on my tissue.
I had already announced my pregnancy to family, friends, neighbors, and to the thousands of strangers who read my pregnancy resource blog – Birthing Beautiful Ideas – when I was a mere five weeks pregnant. Now I had to make the presumably awkward and terrible announcement that I was no longer pregnant.
Though I knew of no specific guidelines for how to proceed through my loss, most social cues told me this: You render miscarriage invisible. You speak about it in hushed tones. You don't bring it up, and you don't ask about it. You move along, as if nothing ever happened.
What started as that shock of pink in the morning progressed to cramps by noon, and the certainty of my loss became apparent. The menstrual-like cramps. The rhythmic ebb and flow of a uterine contraction. The indubitable, primordial signal to the brain that this is it.
I straddled between territory that was wild and frightening and feelings that were strangely familiar. It was a death, but it felt like birth. The way I rocked on hands and knees, the way that I arched my hips toward the ceiling, struggling to find a position that would relieve the cramps strangling my lower abdomen.
In an odd way, I felt empowered that I could do this physically demanding thing—that I was able to experience it like this.
But I also felt broken. Wilted. Defeated.
I had lost my baby.
And now I had to tell everyone.
The morning after my miscarriage was the first morning in six weeks that I had woken up knowing that I was "not pregnant." I felt empty. Uncertain.
Specifically, I felt uncertain about how and whether to share my news. Not just with family and friends but also on my blog, which had this amorphous, largely unknown audience whose reactions to this news I had no way of gauging.
I didn't know what I was supposed to do.
Somewhere in the midst of this uncertainty, I decided to live my miscarriage out loud and on my blog. I talked about what we're not "supposed" to talk about: the way miscarriage looked, the way it felt, the complex emotions that arose from the loss. I did it without shame or embarrassment. I revealed my experience to the world and proclaimed that this, too, was a way to cope with pregnancy loss: that suffering in silence, within the walls of my home, was not the only way to have a miscarriage.
My body, which had surely known of its loss far before I was aware of it, was well into its return to its pre-pregnant state. My breasts had already begun to deflate like two balloons slowly hissing out the air left inside them. The tiny baby bump that had appeared just the week before was also vanishing, crawling in and downward with the descent of my uterus.
My 5-year-old son, upon hugging his arms around my waist, even made note of how my belly "wasn't so big with the baby anymore."
I might have thought that such immediate changes would intensify my grief, leaving me with one more image or string of words or intrusive thought to trigger one more round of crying. But instead, I took these changes as evidence of nature's grace, of my body's kindness. I didn't want to look or feel pregnant if I wasn't. I didn't want to be reminded that those breasts wouldn't be nursing in September, that the bump wouldn't bulge with the pace of the baby once growing inside of me.
I simply felt more comfortable sitting in that place of pregnancy loss. Just resting for a moment in the loss itself. Because I wasn't yet prepared to peer around the curtain that separated the space between what came before and what was present, or to think too long and hard about the fact that I had spent the last few weeks being pregnant and then, suddenly, I was not. Perhaps it was evidence of my mind's grace and kindness.
Though I was by no means the first person to do it, I challenged the idea that the "good" pregnant woman keeps quiet when she loses a pregnancy, and that the Good Mother hides the loss from her other children and carries on with work and family obligations as if nothing happened.
I wrote about the peaks and valleys of my moods. I wrote about my fluctuating ability to be an active and present parent to my two older children as I processed my loss. I wrote about how I welcomed the opportunity to have someone take my kids for the day so that I could just sit on my couch eating pancakes, watching bad television, and simply grieve.
I even went on to write about the trepidation with which I approached the thought of trying to get pregnant again. I exposed the messiness of what it was like for me to lose a baby.
And soon, I discovered not only mountains of compassion and support but also scores of friends, family, and blog readers who'd all had miscarriages.
"Five times before. Me too."
"Just last week. Me too."
"I'm so sorry. Me too."
And many of them had suffered their loss in silence. Alone. Living under the burden of what one is "supposed" to do when a pregnancy is lost.
Some thanked me for sharing my story, and my vulnerability, and my imperfection, in the way that I did. Some found it healing. Some found it reassuring. Some found that it made them feel a little less lonely. And many wished that they, too, had been able to share their own story during their time of loss.
I decided then and there that shrouding pregnancy loss in hushed tones and invisibility is not something any woman should feel she is supposed to do. Instead, by sharing our stories of loss, we are helping light the path out of the forest for others who come behind us. Strength through sisterhood.
That, I decided, is something we are supposed to do.
"The Way It's Supposed to Be," by Kristen Oganowski, is excerpted from The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality, edited by Avital Norman Nathman. Reprinted with permission from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2014
Read other essays excerpted from The Good Mother Myth.