Hi friends. It’s been too long.
The pandemic brought some things to a screeching halt. Other things took a slow-burn approach.
My cozy WFH lifestyle of writing and teaching online came to a screeching halt when the kids were suddenly all home from school last March on the spring break that wouldn’t end.
As the weeks stretched on, here’s what life looked like: four kids at home distance-learning and summer breaking, Dave working full-time mostly from home (in my home office for months), me teaching the equivalent of a full professor load between two universities, trying to keep new podcast episodes coming, monthly letters and videos going – it was just too much. Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be my mental health or family.
I took a much-needed break from the podcast, and it turned out I needed a break from talking and writing in that way. I needed to tend to what was happening in my heart and mind. I needed to give my soul some rest. That was the end of summer/fall 2020.
I journaled and read. This was a season for listening and learning, giving myself the freedom to write for no one but me. I leaned more fully into parenting and cooking and baking. And to be honest, I struggled a lot with self-doubt. Who was I to think I had words to share that anyone else would want to hear?
And in the middle of that season of stepping back, resting, and wrestling, I got a pretty big surprise. My sense of smell was heightened. I was fatigued. I started having food and drink aversions. I couldn’t believe it was happening, but the symptoms were so clear: I was pregnant.
Forty-one years old, with four children in first through eighth grade.
We stressed over the unknowns and anticipated impacts. I had some pretty epic anxiety spirals. We lamented over what we were losing. Resetting the parenting clock by seven years… I had just been offered a full-time job but did I want to do that with another baby? I had serious doubts about this whole thing.
At the same time, we wondered and treasured this secret in our hearts, starting to let ourselves get excited for a new child in our family. I revisited memories of having a newborn, a toddler, a preschooler. We started making plans for how we would fit this new child into our home and family.
Once again, my heart expanded to accommodate the space required to love this new member of our family.
Eventually, we told the kids and then the grandparents. Everyone was surprised but excited. The kids couldn’t stop making lists of baby names and talking about all the things they were going to do with their new sibling.
We went to the 11-week ultrasound appointment, eager to hear the sweet fluttering of a little heartbeat, excited to see the shape of the new life we had created.
The shape was unmistakably human, but the image was still. I thought the baby was sleeping.
I was waiting for the doctor to confirm there was only one in there. The doctor was quiet, just kept moving the device around. The room was quiet and everything was still. On the screen, there was no pulsing movement in the chest, and deafening silence.
“There’s… no… heartbeat…” she slowly and quietly said.
Life was exchanged for death.
Our worries, laments, and excitement were exchanged for profound grief.
I tried to hold still so the doctor could finish her exam but the sobbing was uncontrollable. This is a club I never wanted to join.
I wrote a lot in those first few weeks. The grief and loss were all I could write about. My fear told me not to share publicly about this–it’s too personal. But my heart says this story and these words might not be only for me.
Apparently, miscarriages are fairly common, but those stories are shared only sparingly, in whispers, and when triggered by someone else experiencing it.
Why don’t more people talk about this? Perhaps because it’s horrifying and devastating. Perhaps because the grief feels unbearable. Perhaps because we can’t talk about it without sobbing.
I was three weeks along when I discovered the pregnancy. I spent eight weeks actively nurturing this new life growing inside of me. I changed the way I ate and drank. I changed the supplements I took. Eventually, I had to change the clothes I wore, the way I slept, the way I exercised. It felt like I changed nearly everything about my daily life to accommodate my new guest.
And yes I was stressed and worried. But I did everything I was supposed to do to support and grow a tiny human. And then the heart just stops beating? Without apparent reason, and without notifying me – the host, thank you very much – the heart just stops? For nearly a week, I went about my days and nights, trying to nurture a fetus that had already died in my womb. And I had no idea.
Fetal Parts Present
A positive test, a rush of joy and surprise,
A rising tide of worry.
A life on the verge of turning upside down,
Secrets shared and hope ignited.
The tide comes in and goes out and comes in,
The wait is over.
First glimpse of new life
Becomes first glimpse of recent death.
Arrive by seven. Sign here.
Ten hours and the death is gone.
Three incisions and the possibility is removed.
Status report: two tubes and fetal parts present.
A new death emerges,
This one cannot be undone.
In the doctor’s office that day, full of shock and broken by grief, I agreed to a D&C to remove the pregnancy, which was already now labeled a miscarriage. Within hours I decided I should also have my tubes “tied” (I thought that’s what they still did, but apparently now they remove them instead). It seemed like the right thing to do, since we had initially felt so unsure about the prospect of having another baby. I was already going to be sedated, so why not get it all done at once?
I was miles away from being in a proper mental and emotional state to make such a decision. And yet. No one questioned it or stopped me. I forced Dave to stay up super late with me that night, binge-watching Netflix because I couldn’t let my mind think about what had already happened inside my body and what would take place tomorrow.
I went in for both procedures the next day and my life was forever changed.
I never wanted to be medically sterilized. I always thought if it needed to be done, Dave should be the one to do it–after all, I *had* already carried and delivered four children. He could take this one for the team, right?
For years we questioned when the time would be right to make that call. But neither of us wanted to take such a permanent step. We couldn’t quite close that door.
On that day, though, all I could think was that I never, ever wanted to go through this again. I couldn’t risk another experience like that day in the OB’s office. The pain was so searing, and unlike most situations in life, here was a lever I could pull that would prevent me from ever experiencing that pain again. I could take away that possibility.
And I did.
And I have regretted it every day since.
Yesterday was my due date. Two days after my birthday. I often struggle with mixed emotions on my birthday. This was maybe the hardest one yet.
Over the last few months, there have been so many reminders of what could have been. Seeing a woman with her newborn at the zoo. Photos of my own children as infants. Pregnant women everywhere I look. And as the due date approached, the grief kept pushing me down deeper.
I wrote almost all of this back in February, two weeks after it happened. But I couldn’t share it. It felt way too personal, and also – who was I to complain about this? I already had four healthy kids! But the longer I stay quiet, the more it eats away at me. This is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever gone through. And the fact that most of my friends and colleagues didn’t know made the feeling of isolation worse.
I know I’m not the only woman who has done this – stayed silent in her grief because this is a thing we just don’t really talk about. A few days ago Sarah Bessey wrote about the traumatic story of her third child’s birth and the significant impact of keeping that story secret for so long. And just like that, I knew I had to share my story too.
Because maybe you, too, have lost a child. And you don’t ever talk about it. And you look around at people who’ve suffered “bigger” losses and you think your loss isn’t as big and you stuff your feelings down. And you say to yourself all those terrible things that people say to those who are grieving – “hey, at least…” “it could have been worse…” “just be grateful that…” And you think you’re mostly okay but you still sob uncontrollably once or twice a month.
It’s okay. At the risk of sounding like a hashtag, it’s okay to not be okay. To acknowledge your grief and how heavy it still is, regardless of how much time has passed.
Also, I think we as women should start talking about this. Because you are not alone, and neither am I.
The death began on January 27, but my heart pronounced it final yesterday when the due date came and went without the baby I thought I would be holding. It is finished.
I have four children. I lost a child. I did not know if I wanted more. I cannot have more. All of these things are true at the same time. The grief still brings forth big heaving sobs.
Share your truth. Share your grief. Maybe we can all hold it for each other when it feels too heavy to hold it alone.