The Reality of Miscarriage in American Culture
If you have experienced miscarriage, the following post could be potentially triggering.
I was supposed to be at a doctor’s appointment today.
In another of a long line of failures, I had to cancel it. I didn’t have a choice in the matter.
What many don’t know about me is I have unexplained secondary infertility. I am just recovering form my eighth miscarriage; seven which have happened in the last four years.
I have seen very highly acclaimed specialists for over three years, where I had so much blood drawn and so many painful tests run I cannot even begin to recount them all. They found a few things, all treated and made no difference, so I am left without a reason as to why I keep suffering these losses.
At not quite eight weeks, I saw a strong little heartbeat. From all the medical theories on early gender assignment, it seemed like it might be a girl. I kept waiting for the bleeding, because that is how it always starts. But it never came and there was a heartbeat.
I let myself get excited. Just a little. I thought of a way to announce it. It was going to be cute. I was going to do the photo of it soon. I got a few outfits, sure it was a girl.
The last several miscarriages were over before I could even do more than tell my husband. Five weeks… done.
So when I made it far again, I got excited. Surely after all the testing, driving out to specialists two hours away, the missed work, the miscarriages that came before — surely this was our redemption, our rainbow baby.
But at 10 weeks I was spotting. I went in for an emergency ultrasound.
“Sorry, I can’t find a heartbeat.”
I had watched, seen enough ultrasounds to make everything out. No little white flicker.
It was over.
I keep Jizo statues on my mantel for them. It is an Asian custom, but we have no customs here. In America, it seems we push to forget them — as if they were not children.
Even companies won’t count it as bereavement or child loss, because it’s too soon for a coffin.
In our society, it seems as though either life begins at conception, or life begins when you are big enough to require a burial.
And there are no other rituals or ceremonies to mark the life.
I learned the first time or two, you aren’t allowed to grieve the same as if you lost a cousin or grandfather. No, a few weeks and you were expected to be over it.
The first time or two people feel upset for you and send flowers, cards, sometimes gifts and check in on you. They worry about you. After that though, they don’t want to know, don’t want to hear, it’s more like, “Yeah OK… sorry. Whatever.” So you stop telling everyone. You just suffer in silence and watch as they groan when you seem moody or get sullen when you see an infant out and about.
You sit home bleeding and curled around yourself as labor pains, real contractions, hit you and you bleed. You sit there feeling everything. Sometimes the ripping sensation of the placenta giving way and passing. You feel everything. The system doesn’t tend to give you pain management and if you call you get Toradol… maybe. Advil right? Advil takes it away. Surprised they offer epidurals, when Advil makes it better. But then, I am having a birth of another kind, and even the medical system wants you to just go away.
You are a failure.
You couldn’t do anything different, but you are a failure. As a body that should be able to sustain life, as a mother in a society that demands children are a standard of womanhood, as a daughter who can’t give your parents more grandchildren, as a wife who can’t give her husband an heir and a piece of their union.
And no, you don’t need those things to be a successful woman — except if you decided that was what you wanted as a woman.
So you find yourself acting alright, by rote. Smiling though you feel dead and numb inside. Going out after a week or two, because you must keep up appearances. Smiling when you want to go to sleep and forget the rest of the day. You don’t let anyone at work find out, because it’s almost worse than pregnancy — you missed a week of work for a drama, not a child.
All around you, suddenly everyone is pregnant, from family and friends. Sewing groups, cooking groups, and all manner of non-pregnancy related groups suddenly seem to have an influx of birth announcements and pictures of wrinkly, plump, pink faces and slews of congratulations beneath them.
Everyone around you is able to do what you cannot.
And this time I have a new challenge: lactation.
I started getting milk and you have two choices: let it dry up or maybe bring sense to the senseless violence of your repeated miscarriages by pumping and getting milk to babies who need it (or maybe find a wet nurse job).
And if you decide to pump, will work let you use a room and take pumping breaks? Can you do it?
And if you cannot, will you be a double failure this round, too?
What of post-partum depression? No one talks about this with miscarriages and silent births. You didn’t have a baby so your hormones apparently don’t count? You aren’t special. You don’t need a support net or help. Only new mothers do. You should be able to cook and clean and function like any good Stepford wife.
So get to it!
And don’t tell anyone — they get uncomfortable. Grief is not acceptable in miscarriage.
I have even been made to feel like a jerk over celebrating the pregnancies when I could, because it upset people when I lost it. Mind you, I only told our immediate families, but apparently their devastation over my loss of their grandchild was more than my need to celebrate the pregnancy or mourn the loss. So I shouldn’t mention pregnancy again, unless I make it 14 or 15 weeks. Some even made faces of disappointment and complete dejection when I announced to just give me the most half-hearted smile I ever had seen.
So you stop celebrating the life.
And why should I? I saw a heartbeat. I felt flutters (you can’t tell me I didn’t.) I pictured an entire life all the way up to high school.
I should get to celebrate the weeks I have, however fleeting. Shouldn’t I?
And I have named each one. I have given them all names.
Serafina Elisa, Rayne, Micah, Serenity, Aurora Blue, Sage, Mara and now Azliln.
But no one ever asks.
No one acknowledges it at all.
No one wants to hear their names.
So you keep silent.
One in four.
I am one in four.
One in four, eight times over.
And no one cares.
That is how it goes…
The reality of miscarriage is it is lonely and isolating and dark.
You only have your grief and an eternity to imagine what might have been.
And while many do go on to have their babies, a good percentage never do and don’t know why.
Secondary infertility is very common.
And yes there is adoption, but like IVF with screening for the eggs (as we were told is our best hope), is between 12 and 16k dollars.
Which with student loans, car payments, mortgage, etc., we cannot afford to carry a loan for this, too. So we are left with empty arms and breasts lactating for a baby who won’t even come.
You think we wouldn’t sleep, but we sleep deep and heavy. Bodies tired of the appearance of being OK just give out at night and give up for a few hours, so we can pretend well the next day.
As long as we are working, as long as we are smiling, as long as we don’t mention our pain — everything is fine. (To those around us.)
No one ever tells you the path that comes after hearing there is nothing viable inside of you anymore.
How some doctors will push to dissect what there is of a baby to find nothing but the sex of the child you might have had.
How every trip to the bathroom is a new death waiting to feel it pass.
And not wanting it to come at all.
Left with depression, anxiety, and empty arms… to a society that doesn’t find we matter.
I am one in four, and my children existed.
They lived in me.
They have names.
And I want to be at kindergarten, I want to be dealing with another flu going through the house, and I want them gathered around the fireplace at Christmastime. I wish I had the pleasure and bother of all the lives of children encompass.
Instead my smile is fake and my heart hasn’t beaten for years.
I am a husk of a woman.
I am the death of a dream.
I am one in four.
This is my reality.