My baby’s heart stopped beating.
Such tremendous sadness.
I failed. I failed at the only thing I ever thought I never could. I failed at the most basic part of motherhood: giving life. After three perfect pregnancies and babies I was whole. Now I have to live the rest of my life with a small hole in my heart. The strength of my maternal love and optimism has been my undoing.
It’s not rational, but it is my raw, real, right now.
It can be frustrating that the human mind seeks meaning because sometimes there is none. Sometimes there is just a gaping hole devoid of light for no reason. God didn’t need another angel. Everything didn’t happen for a reason. It wasn’t part of anyone’s grand plan. My baby inside me just died. The whys are meaningless. I’m not going to be a better person for having gone through this. I just have to lie here, crying, while my body clings to the life it longs to nurture.
I tell my tribe.
“Through tear-filled eyes, I need those who have shared in our joy to know that after two months together our baby’s heart has stopped beating. I appreciate your love, support, and patience as I step away, while my heart and body let go and heal.”
My body lets go.
It’s happening. My body is letting go. I know my boys’ love will keep me afloat. But right now there is only sadness. My eyes are swollen, my head aches, and it feels like a part of my body is dying. I never thought my womb would bear anything but joy. If any solace can be found it is that my body accepted the loss right after I did. I guess I’ve never been one for denial. My husband holds me while I sob. My youngest nurses. My biggers hug and kiss me. My middle tells me “Everything is going to be okay.” I believe him.
This process is long, painful, and scary. Giving birth was eight hours of confident excitement for me. This could be weeks of pain, pseudo birth, and bleeding, but replace all the joy with anguish. If reading this makes you uncomfortable, then read it again with your eyes and heart wide open. Because I am going through this blind, and perhaps it will be easier for you or the women in your life if we could see through the shame and secrecy to the experiences of sisterhood, of which pregnancy loss is unfortunately one.
“For how long did you bleed? Is it normal that the cramping feels more like after-birth contractions than cramps? Did you pass a recognizable baby? What did you do with it?” These are just a few of the questions I asked some of my most trusted women in my circle. As they shared their experiences honestly and openly with me (for which I am eternally grateful as it took away much of the fear and loneliness) I was left completely dumbfounded asking myself, “How the hell do I know none of this? How is it possible that we have no cultural tradition around pregnancy loss?” You birth a tiny being with eye spots and arms and legs and in a sea of silent grief you . . . flush it and go about your day? I don’t know if I will be given the closure of a body; if I am, after some thought, I know exactly where I want to go and what I want to do. But the lack of any sort of tradition of acknowledgment paired with the frequency of pregnancy loss is a tragedy for all the bereaved.
- Hope and optimism are soul crushing.
- Prayers and positive thoughts are utterly, fucking useless.
- Karma is bullshit and being a good person is meaningless.
I recognize that this is not the position from which to launch into a new lifelong narrative. But this is where I am right now and I am going to be here without judgment. I’m sharing it here because surely other people going through this experience will be familiar with the view. Denying the anger in grief only gives it more power. I know I’ll move through it, but it’s okay for me to be here right now.
Society is confused.
I find myself in a place in the world where I am surrounded by nothing but wise, empathetic support. From my OB to my sons’ instructors to my clients—all of the people and places in my circles are nourishing to my soul. However, I also recognize that that is not the place in which most women going through this experience find themselves.
The pro-choice movement, of which I am an unwavering member, may have inadvertently confused the attitudes of people in our society. A woman has the right to make medical decisions for her own body. That right does not negate my physical and emotional attachment to the embryo that was to be my child. The loss of a baby against your will is a loss like any other. If a friend’s mother dies, would you say, “Well, at least your daughter didn’t die; that would be a real tragedy.”? No, you wouldn’t, because your friend’s pain is real, she is mourning, and grief is not a competition. It does not need to meet any of your arbitrary criteria to be considered valid.
If you come into contact with a mother or father suffering from pregnancy loss, honor their loss by acknowledging whatever very real pain they share with you. You don’t have to even understand someone’s experience to validate it. “I see your pain and I want you to know I’m here for you.” Pain, like love, is universal.
I’m lovingly supported.
So many genuinely caring friends asked what they could do. The only answer that comes to mind is to make my baby not dead. The truth is, I don’t even know how I’m going to take my next breath under the weight of my grief. I don’t know what I need.
Then the doorbell rings. A friend sent a dozen chocolate covered strawberries along with a nice note. My boys are all over me covered in chocolate and filling the room with squealy laughter. I realize I haven’t eaten all day. And for a minute, there is light in the darkness.
Some tips for support from loved ones:
- Don’t expect me to talk, because I just can’t, but please continue to check in on me with your messages of support. I hear them, even if I can’t quite respond.
- There are no right words. So just say something that lets me know that you are holding some of my pain with me.
“My heart aches for you”; “I am so saddened to hear of your loss”; “We are loving you fiercely from afar”; “We are mourning the loss of this life alongside you”; “Tears are flowing for you right now. Love, light, and healing energy your way.”
If you have experienced pregnancy loss, “I know this pain and share in your sadness. I honor this loss, even if society does not.”
- There are wrong things to say.
“God needed an angel;” “Everything happens for a reason;” “You can still have kids;” “At least you weren’t further along.”
- Do something, if you can.
Send flowers, order chocolate covered strawberries, drop off dinner or dessert, take my boys to play with yours at the park, mail a heartfelt card or sentimental gift, have a tree planted in my baby’s memory. Words are comforting but actions are helpful. Having a token of physical support is like an anchor that keeps me from going adrift in my grief.
I feel gratitude.
I want to sincerely thank all the loved ones, friends, and Sage Parents who sent me messages of loving support. I read and felt hugged by each and every one. I have cultivated a friendship garden with great intention and your presence in it has honored this baby and me. I have received a wave of heartfelt words from women sharing their experiences of pregnancy loss and from friends offering special support tailored specifically to their intimate knowledge of who I am. I am touched and grateful and will respond to every message as soon as I am able to speak again without becoming overwhelmed with sadness.
I reach for acceptance.
Holy fuck, this is hard.
I decided step one would be to have a drink. Sounds so easy—until you’re faced with actually taking that step. Inside my head: Just take a drink. It sounds so simple yet every molecule in my body is screaming out, trying to stop me to protect my baby. But I’m not pregnant anymore. Just take a drink. You can do this. I’m trembling. Your baby is gone. I need to step back into the current of a non-pregnant life. I’m not ready. You can’t live in a state of mourning in your bed forever. You can do this. You’re not hurting your baby.
Your baby is gone.
Next steps: Empty the baby items from my Amazon cart and take the maternity clothes out of my closet.
Even doing the laundry: My baby was with me when I wore this shirt.
Damn, it is hard to accept goodbye.
My baby passes.
Profound emptiness washed over me the second it passed out of my body. I didn’t even have to look to know that I was now alone. My womb feels hollow. Giving birth to a dead baby has to be one of the absolute lows of the human experience. It definitely provides closure—sad, traumatic fucking closure. I had no hope that my baby was still alive, but now it’s really over. I thought I had no tears left. I was wrong.
I need a ritual.
As my body continues to let go and begins to heal, I will look toward some kind of ritual to aid in the emotional side of my healing. While a couple of the women in my circle have shared some truly special and inspiring steps they took to honor their lost babies, most are still longing for it.
We have decided to retreat to a small cabin on the creek in Sedona. When I die, I will be planted into a tree, so planting new life to honor this small one feels nice. I will float a flower in the creek for my baby and watch it carry away into nature in the hands of the red rocks. I will feel the energy of Mother Nature around my feet and let go of this soul into that powerful and beautiful current. That feels so peaceful for me. I will return home with a piece of locally crafted jewelry, signature to the region, as a symbol of the ritual that I will get to carry with me.
Inspiration for finding your own pregnancy loss ritual:
- Retreat: Give yourself permission to cocoon for as long as you need. Allow your partner to be your gatekeeper: absorbing all the love and support, then bringing it in to you and managing life so your world can carry on in your absence.
I stepped away from the world, retreating to my inner circle for the initial week. Now I am about to retreat further with my boys to heal with wholeness.
- Connection: From your safe, secluded harbor, reach out to a few chosen, trusted women who have been through pregnancy loss. They can connect with you in a way that soothes your foggy mind and comforts your aching soul.
My greatest gifts during this very dark time are in this form. I can only hope to pay the support, love, and wisdom forward one day.
- Nourishment: Give yourself permission to nurture you.
Chocolate covered strawberries, a massage, sleep, a book . . . if there is anything that would make this moment a little more bearable, you have the universe’s permission to do it.
- Expression: Find a way to release your emotions and make sense of your internal world.
Some people create art. Words are my art; so writing this for you has been helpful for me. You’re reading my expression, but find something that resonates with you like painting, singing, gardening, etc.
- Mark: Mark the world with your baby’s existence. Your baby didn’t get the opportunity to make the world a better place on their own so find a way to do it for them in their honor. Plant trees, work with a charity, help others, make a donation, extend a random act of kindness. Use your gifts to leave a mark on the world in your baby’s memory, however small.
While on retreat, I am going to purchase an inexpensive but special piece of native jewelry that will be a beautiful, physical memento of my baby’s soul. It will serve as a reminder as I walk my path to live in a way that honors my baby’s memory.
- Transition: Take a step forward into your new, unexpected path.
I have a maternity sweater that I have been wearing almost daily for years while pregnant and babywearing. I am going to go shopping and buy myself a new (non-maternity) sweater. It might sound silly, but it is a step forward.
What’s in a name?
Our baby had a name. This word is indescribably precious to me. I cannot begin to convey the power of this combination of vowels and consonants in my soul. For now, I want to keep it for myself, like a secret shared between us. Someday, I will do something special with this name. For now, I just hold it close.
My retreat provides healing and peace.
In Mother Nature’s Embrace
The red rocks, like special elder sentries, inspire and protect.
The creek, like the heart, nurtures and flows the most precious of energy from this cradle to the rest of the outside world. Like the voice, it sings a never-ending lullaby.
The earth, like the womb, holds living souls in its most fertile of hands.
The breeze, like breath, infuses every atom in its domain with fullness and peace.
The trees, like grateful offspring, smile and shelter all below.
The creatures who greet me: the butterfly, the dragonfly, the squirrel, the bald eagle, and the blue heron, like the body, dance and soar.
The seasons, like age, use sunshine in summer, color in autumn, snow in winter, and blossoms in spring to teach the beauty and value of change.
Here my baby has been laid to rest, taken into the circle of life, for eternity all around me.
A kiss from my peaceful soul.
Miscarriage is birth.
After over two weeks, my body is done letting go (though my brain obsessively thinks of nothing else, my chest hauntingly experiences phantom baby weight, and life feels overwhelming). My doctor tried to prepare me for what was to come with warnings of “cramping and bleeding with some clots.” Now standing on the other side, and having experienced three births, I can tell you that this was a birth (and I am grateful this too was a natural birth)—one for which we as women are inadequately prepared. It is a birth in which honor is replaced by shame, joy by anguish, confidence by fear, support by loneliness, and bonding by heartache. But my uterus seemed to turn to stone in waves, and I bled and birthed the beginning of a life formed in love right along with a small piece of my soul that won’t walk about the Earth outside my body like the other three orbiting around me. Pregnancy loss is a form of birth, and while anguish and heartache are central to loss, I argue that shame (I hate the word miscarriage; I don’t have a bad baby container.), fear, and loneliness are not. When one in four women share an experience it is not an outlier indicating brokenness but one piece of being a woman.
So how do we make this shift? What helped me more than anything else (besides my amazingly supportive and loving husband and children) was the women who reached out to me and shared their experiences. Perhaps one step we could take is to share our stories honestly and openly witness the stories of others.
"Babies lost in the womb were never touched by fear, never cold, never hungry, never alone, and importantly always knew love."