Monday, October 20, 2008

A planet of pain, where no words are quite right

Two years ago this week, I found out I had experienced a miscarriage. At the time, I wrote about it extensively as a way of coping, even detailing my disastrous surgery. I received more support online than I ever could have imagined. Other women confided their own stories, often admitting that it was the first time they were talking about it openly.

It stuck with me that something so out of our control could be reserved to hushed whispers behind closed doors.

Until now, I hadn't read someone else's account of miscarriage that explained my feelings about the topic so thoroughly. Yesterday I found a New York Times article by N. West Moss that begged to be passed along.

Like her, I don't think it should be "a secret or a shadow or something that is endured only alone." So if you feel compelled, copy and paste, link, share:

There are no pink ribbons to wear if you’ve had a miscarriage, no walkathons or T-shirts to encourage awareness and prevention. And to the extent that we have a language to talk about miscarriage, it’s full of airy platitudes: ‘‘Don’t worry, I had one once, too,’’ or ‘‘I had two, and then — poof — Davey was born, and he’s graduating from college this week.’’

But until you belong to the imaginary club of Mothers Without Children, it is a secret planet of pain, all but invisible to the outside world.

I recently had my third miscarriage in a year. It happened early in the pregnancy, and it was dismissed as no big deal — ‘‘chemical pregnancy’’ seems to be the term of art. Let’s not overreact, no need for hysterics, keep moving. ‘‘We’ll treat it as though you’re just getting your period,’’ as my doctor put it.

But honestly, it is not just like getting your period. Psychologically, of course, it is nothing like it, but physically it is different, too. I had cramps for hours that left my ribs feeling bruised, and then four days later I was back at work and exhausted because I was still bleeding a lot — not an alarming amount, but enough to make me schedule meetings in rooms near bathrooms, and to send me home in the afternoon for a two-hour nap. I wonder how men would cope. All of the pain, mess, furtive tidying-up, shame and soldiering-on seem so fundamentally female to me.

People act as if a miscarriage were a locatable event on a calendar, with a beginning, a middle and an end. But in fact it starts when you feel that first unmistakable twinge that something is totally wrong. It continues through the rough days of sorrow and deep cramps, and then it meanders through every single day of the rest of your whole stupid life. I will probably mourn about this miscarriage in some outwardly unremarkable way until I either have a healthy baby or die.

Talking about miscarriages is so loaded and pitiful and hushed and fraught with meaning about age and usefulness. It feels as though having three miscarriages in a year means I did something wrong, when the reality is that most miscarriages take place for chromosomal reasons out of our control.

Yet a woman who has had a miscarriage has likely asked herself why. ‘‘God must not want me to have a kid,’’ she might think, or ‘‘I am too old.’’ There are moments when you can feel that the miscarriage and the calamities of the world are your own doing and you should have somehow known better.

Maybe we don’t talk about our miscarriages because we don’t want women with children looking at us with pity, or teenagers in their immortality-flushed way thinking, ‘‘That’ll never happen to me.’’ We do not want happy families to whisper, ‘‘Thank God that’s not us.’’ We don’t want to wonder if men are thinking, ‘‘If they can’t have kids, then why are they here, anyway?’’

I cannot tell you, though, what you should say to women who have had miscarriages. While it can be touching to hear other women’s stories, it can also be irritating: It makes our moment of extraordinary sadness feel ordinary and unremarkable. Why would I want to hear about your miscarriage when I am lying on the floor trying to lift 500 pounds of failure, disappointment and crashing hormones off my chest?

I can tell you that I want people to know. I don’t want it to be a secret or a shadow or something that is endured only alone. I want people to know that I have been through something, that I am tired but optimistic, that I’ve been knocked down but don’t help me up because I can get up myself.

It’s fair, I think, to want witnesses for our suffering. But with the sorrow also comes hope. And after all, we are resilient creatures. A friend of mine said it well in an e-mail message after she heard my news. ‘‘I hope you don’t give up,’’ she wrote. ‘‘I want to take a picture of your child one day against the tallest sunflower.’’


N. West Moss said...

What a delight to see your comments. I wrote that article in the NYT, and I am thrilled to wake up this morning to find the discussion continuing, the taboo perhaps lifting ever so slightly. Knowing that I am not alone has helped me tremendously, and to read the eloquence of others who struggle with this mighty disappointment is cathartic. Thank you for sharing my piece, and for sharing your thoughts. N. West Moss

novelle360 said...

Ms. Moss, Thank you for your words. The imagery of the sunflower your friend spoke of is so striking. I can only hope that someday you'll have the actual image hanging on your wall.

Jaclyn said...

I admire every Mother Without a Child's bravery to continue fighting for their right to be a mother to a living child. And I hope they all keep the hope, just as you did and continue to do.

Suzanne said...

wow, just wow. I've not experienced what you both have, but Kelly, your experience touched me, as did the N. West Moss article. It's not something to be taken lightly. The places your mind goes when you know you are pregnant is..well I can't even think of a word to use. I wish there were more people like you and N. West Moss that can put it into words so well to help the rest of us understand it better.

Jennifer Suarez said...


Too spectacular for words...

Jessica said...

Thanks for sharing this, Kelly. My sister had a miscarriage about two months ago & was just devastated. I may share this with her, too.

Ray said...

That was such a touching story. Such beautiful words. This especially got to me, "I will probably mourn about this miscarriage in some outwardly unremarkable way until I either have a healthy baby or die." Hopefully a lot of people get around to reading it and passing it on.

Sometimes I think about the story of your miscarriage. To this day I still carry it with me, certain parts of it. You're just such a gifted writer that how could I not....? I know, "Sorry" is just a word but that's all that I can think of sadly. I'm sorry that this happened to you, but I'm glad you have Allison. I know Allison doesn't replace the baby that you lost, but I'm glad that at the end of this that you got what you wanted, "to be a mother."

Take, care.

(I hope this comment doesn't end up sounding dumb. Because just like your title, "no words are quite right" for this.)

N. West Moss said...

As this day progresses and I see more and more people responding, I am aware that there is so much shame surrounding our miscarriages. As my friend in AA says, "We are only as sick as our secrets," and I do believe that sharing our stories lessens the shame and allows us to get onto the good old, well-earned sorrow and grief that is so healing and connecting when shared. It is healing to me to feel that my article was in some way generative.

Erinn said...

Thank you for posting this Kelly. It really helped me see the "light" at the end of my horrible tunnel.

Anonymous said...

I think you'd enjoy this column in the Southeast Missourian. Callie had several miscarriages before giving birth a few months ago -- and she and her husband have written about it openly in their column.

Check it out:

T said...

I had a miscarriage 7 1/2 weeks ago, and it's still very raw, though it's fading into something almost imperceptible (it feels like it happened a million years ago, not just 7 1/2 weeks). It happened, and I blogged the whole way through it, and posted the posts once I'd actually miscarried. It was possibly one of the most cathartic and hugely uplifting things to do, it allowed me to free myself of a burden. Like you, many women contacted me and said how much it'd affected them, reading what I was going through as I'd experienced it. It shouldn't be a taboo, it happens, it happens a lot, and I think not only should it be not at all shameful, I think medical professionals should be a lot kinder when treating women (for the 8 weeks I was under medical supervision, I always felt like I was a burden on them, and I only got nice words the day before I lost the baby).

Anonymous said...

When I had a miscarriage very early on I made the decision to not tell my family. Only my husband and a few friends knew.

I didn't want to feel pitied and I didn't want the reactions I knew I would get.

The symapthy and support I got from the few people I told was enough to move on.

Today I am 20 weeks pregnant with our first child.

I do not regret the choice I made, for me it was the right thing to do.

Anonymous said...

My name MAM, I am gynecologist, I read the publication of the writer N West Moss, and interested in me help you, I am available to her and anyone else you like.

Shinyung said...

Ms. Moss,

Thank you for your article. I just had my second miscarriage this past week, and I have been angry at the silence that so many accept about miscarriages. I have been doing my part to speak out about it (on my blog and elsewhere). I was so grateful to read your article and to see my sorrows so eloquently reflected in yours.

Haley said...

Hi Ms. Moss,
I recently came across your article while I was doing some thinking about how to help friends who have experienced miscarriages,
and I wanted to let you know I really appreciated hearing what you had to say. My mother suffered a miscarriage not long before having me, and she has echoed many of your sentiments.
I actually wrote up my own blog post on the WEGO Health blog referencing your article and sharing some of my own thoughts and questions. I’d love to hear what you think:

Thank you again.

bleedingheart said...

I just came across Ms. Moss' article recently, and found this through googling her. I just had my first miscarriage (first pregnancy) three weeks ago. It has been a physical and emotional journey unlike any other I have ever experienced. I just want to say thank you.