The Weight of Silence
When I eventually came to learn that I lost my unborn baby, it surprised me how terrible I felt. Because it was my second pregnancy, rather innocently, I presumed the threat of miscarriage was over. After all, I’d already proven that I could carry a healthy, ten-pound baby well past his due date.
In the weeks leading up to the ultrasound, I remember feeling irritated, intolerant, impatient, and in many instances, down-right angry. Appropriate emotions considering a life had ended inside of me. Looking back I often think to myself that I wish I’d known.
But then again, I think I did know.
I considered, at the time, that perhaps I was having a girl. Surely the bizarre emotional landscape surrounding this second pregnancy could be explained by something positive? Every pregnancy is different, I told myself. This could be normal.
But the day before my ultrasound, swinging the fridge door open, staring blankly at the contents, I commented to my husband that I’d be glad to hear the heart beat. I had a ‘bad feeling’ that I really just wanted to be done with. He reassured me and I chalked up my fear to the same unsettling cloud of pregnancy paranoia that I drifted through with my first pregnancy.
The day of the appointment I allowed myself to feel the excitement that I knew I should. We were there to determine dates: how far along was I? When was our baby due? We knew we were pregnant, but for some reason, despite our excitement and anticipation, neither one of us felt as though it was really happening. I’m sure it felt real initially, but somewhere along the way the feeling was lost. We thought it was because we had no idea when we could expect our bundle of joy to make his way into the world. We told ourselves that once we had a due date the feeling would return. And we were excited for that to happen.
I knew from before that it was easy to hear the heartbeat. And, laying on the table, ultrasound in progress, the resounding silence became uncomfortably apparent. No tiny, galloping heart beat. That which I was most looking forward to, was simply not there. I couldn’t help but notice.
Still clinging to hope, my first thought was equipment failure. An oversight perhaps? She forgot to turn up the volume? Yes! That must be it.
Again, the weight of the silence.
When the ultrasound technician eventually informed us that she was having difficulty, the wall of denial crumbled and I felt the panic sweep in. My stomach knotted. I immediately recalled the emotions I’d been struggling to cope with in the weeks leading up to the appointment. I was right. Something was wrong.
After performing a second, more invasive procedure, the technician left the room in search of a doctor to provide assistance. Or so she said. In actuality she was in search of a second opinion; one more official than her own. Time slowed to a crawl as we waited for the inevitable.
When the doctor arrived, he formed his opinion and delivered the news. We lost our baby at nine weeks gestation. At this point, my thoughts drifted, and the doctor’s voice became a mere buzz in the background.
I began to question myself. Why is this happening? Is it my fault? And, why, dear God, did we tell SO many people? The sadness was overwhelming. The knowledge that we had a long list of people to inform weighed heavily upon me. I felt sick. Like my body failed me. Like I failed myself. Like I failed my husband.
Next time, I told myself, we will do better. I will do better. If there is a next time! Perhaps a second child isn’t in the cards for me. Perhaps this will continue to happen. And thus, a whole new reel of self-doubt and sadness unwound, coiling itself tightly around my thoughts, weaving in and out of what was left of my confidence in my ability to do what I was created to do.
The doctor informed us that he was required to deliver this kind of news at least once a day; that what was happening to me and my family was ‘normal’ and completely ‘natural’. I supposed he was right. Who was I to argue? It all sounded so… rational.
They asked us to stay for a few moments so they could inform our midwives of the situation. We were left alone in the blackened room; alone with our grief and our thoughts. And the silence. Still, the silence.
I dressed myself, hoping the ‘okay’ to leave would come quickly. It didn’t. I wanted to run from the place, and why I felt captive in that moment, I can’t really say. I could have left. It’s not like I had anything left to lose. But I didn’t. Run, I mean. Perhaps it was the shock.
Eventually, they gave us the go-ahead to leave. To go home.
And we fulfilled our responsibilities as grieving parents. We made the calls. We went through the motions. We clung to one another and to our young son. And we were utterly and completely shocked.
How could we really know how this would feel before we experienced it for ourselves? I kept recalling the ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ discussion . None of this felt ‘normal’ or ‘natural’. Despite my subconscious reservations, I had already started to dream for this child. He was a part of me. He was a part of my family. To me, his existence was inevitable. And it wouldn’t be long until I could hold him in my arms, to see for myself the innate potential. For months, I had loved him no differently than I love his older brother. I love him still. Always, I will love him. He was and is and will forever be a part of me. A part of my experience. My journey.
To know my unborn child, but yet, not really know him. To lose him due to causes unknown. To wonder what could have been, what would have been, had he lived. This is my grief.
If this is such a ‘normal’ thing, this miscarriage, this grief, this something ‘that happens all of the time’, why does it not feel as such? The magnitude of this kind of loss is unquestionably obvious to those who’ve experienced it, and yet somehow elusive to those who have not. Certainly, speaking from my own experience, I can honestly say that I had no idea. I really had no idea. Why is that? I am not lacking in compassion. It’s quite the opposite really. If I could somehow be less empathetic, less sensitive to the emotions of others, I’d feel far less of a weight on my shoulders, far less responsibility for the state of the world, and maybe, just maybe, my heart wouldn’t bleed quite so freely?
Here lies the root of the problem: so many suffer in silence. When we keep our feelings and our thoughts to ourselves we’re less likely to make others feel uncomfortable, to potentially remind them of their own grief, or to somehow spoil the excitement and good cheer that comes with a less problematic pregnancy. I’m not saying it makes sense. Nothing about miscarriage makes sense.
But occasionally, we do find others like us.
The public health nurse who comes to confirm wellness for a life insurance application. She has one daughter. Four subsequent pregnancies ended in stillbirth.
Another mom at playgroup. She just lost a set of twins. They would have completed her family. Number three and number four.
The people we grew up with. The girls and boys we sat next to on the school bus.
But in order for this to happen, we must first choose to be vulnerable. To talk about our experience. To make it safe for others to do the same. In so doing, we heal ourselves, our sisters, our mothers, and our grandmothers. And all of the men who walk beside them.
After much deliberation, not to mention confusion, I opted not to accept offers of medical intervention. I waited for the miscarriage to happen naturally. And waiting is what I did. That’s all I did, everyday, until the day it actually happened. It took a couple of weeks. Our time waiting in the blackened room felt like nothing compared to this. As much as I wanted to hold on, I couldn’t stand the thought that my child had died inside of me. I wanted it out.
The night the physical expulsion started, I said my goodbyes the only way I could; with pen to paper, quickly, quietly and with all of my heart. I knew I could pull through despite the tragic irony of the situation; pain equivalent to that I would experience in labour, with no baby to look forward to at the end, and because of that, a diminished capacity to cope with the pain.
And I was right. Like many before me, I did it. On my own, and yet not alone, with the love of my husband, and my home filled with the happy sounds of my mother playing with my son. The squeals of laughter and the pitter-patter of rambunctious feet; this is what I choose to remember about that day. And for the state of grace that allows me to make this choice, I will be eternally grateful.
In times of loss it’s easy to fall into a left-brained way of thinking: speculating, analyzing, theorizing, what-if-ing, etc. Perhaps this is nature’s way of softening the blow, of providing a protective barrier between the rawness of intense emotion and the vulnerability of one’s fragile state. Whatever the case may be, attempting to understand things we are not meant to understand is a futile exercise in resistance. In our quest for understanding, we fail to grasp, (whether we know it or not,) that which we need and want: acceptance. When we accept what is, only then can we answer the questions that weigh so heavily upon our hearts and minds. Why did this happen?
Love made it so.
I feel it’s important to note that I started this almost two years ago. (I won’t deny that I’ve been somewhat resistant to finishing it up.) My first miscarriage happened in September of 2009. The second occurred in February of 2010 and the third in May of 2010. In a previous post I mentioned that I would write more about miscarriage, thus why I am choosing to post this here. I will likely write more…
As with most everything I do, my hope here is that someone will find this helpful. Feel free to share it with others. And of course, comments are always welcomed and appreciated. T.