Some lives are long, and some are very, very short, but they all make their mark.
That’s the sentence that came to me from somewhere that felt very much outside myself in the days after we lost the little sprout that we believed would be our second baby.
I’m a fairly private person, so I’ve struggled with how to discuss this here. But I talk so much about finding bliss and equanimity and peace even through the hard days, and there were no days I’ve had that were as hard as those.
So I’ve decided to open up a bit, and share how I found my footing and began to heal after this loss.
Note: If you don’t think you can handle hearing the details of a miscarriage, this isn’t the post for you. I have decided to do something scary, and that is to write honestly, which is something I am tired of being afraid to do. That’s a topic for another post, but suffice it to say, this will be a post that does not hide from life’s more uncomfortable realities.
First of all, miscarriage is something very few people talk about, but it is very common. I think it’s so difficult to discuss because it most often happens well before you begin to look or even feel pregnant. We had only told our families, and so in a sense, unless we said to everyone, “Hey, we had a miscarriage,” it was invisible to almost everyone, making our pain private and lonely. (I actually wrote to my closest friend in the days afterward, telling her, I said, so that she could be witness to this event in my life. I’m so glad I did, as I could not let this little life go without my closest friends helping me to acknowledge it.)
1. Reach out to friendly ears. Don’t go it alone.
When we found out we were pregnant again, we were stunned and happy. We were hoping to have a second child, but we were surprised at how quickly it happened, since our son took us some time to conceive.
I knew I was pregnant for a week (but I was 6 weeks along), and I wish I could say that I spent every moment being grateful and thankful for this new life. Instead, I found myself thinking about how I would fit a new child into our home, how it would affect my relationship with my son, even—gulp—what it would do to my body, as I felt I had finally gotten it “back,” whatever that means. In other words, I wasted more time than I care to admit in useless worry and what-ifs.
Once I saw the spotting, the fading line on the pregnancy tests that I took once I realized this pregnancy was unlikely to continue, and finally, the bleeding that told me that I’d never see this particular baby’s face in this particular lifetime, I was filled with regret, with remorse, for every second I spent not being grateful for this new life.
2. Won’t do that again.
Because it was an early loss, I trusted my body to do what it needed to do. No doctors. Just some ibuprofen for pain, and normal life. After all, I have a beautiful and energetic son to take care of, and a toddler, thank god, doesn’t stop for anything. Life went on as normally as possible, until…
Until I discovered my lost baby’s embryo. That’s what happens, isn’t it? One day an embryo was in my uterus on its way to being my second child, and for reasons I will never, ever know, that path ended, and it couldn’t stay inside my uterus any longer. And there, in the wavelike folds of toilet paper, I was forced to say goodbye to more than just an idea of a baby.
3. There is no denying the reality of death.
Do you know how you know you’re married to the right man? When he comes home that night, and you show him the little box (shipped to the house carrying the beneficial insect eggs he’d ordered for the garden—lovely green lacewings) into which you’ve nestled an embryo that you could identify from a drawing in a biology textbook, but that is your fused DNA, your lost baby, your lost daydreams, and he gets so profoundly sad, as sad as you’ve ever seen him, and you know that somehow, even though this is the most painful moment you’ve ever shared with him, that you are really, actually indivisible, because your sadness is a shared sadness that is so deep it could consume you both, but instead, your love begins to pour into the hole, filling it from the bottom up.
4. True love is salvation.
But it was into a hole, dug by my husband, that our lost baby’s embryo went, under a live oak tree in our yard. Watching my husband go to the garage in a deliberative quiet, retrieve the shovel, and then start digging a little hole with such skill and care made me fall in love with him in a way that had nothing to do with charm or wit or physical beauty or any of the things that people focus on when they’re younger. The seriousness and care with which he treated this tiny resting spot for our sprout is something I will never, ever forget.
In the dark, we kneeled and cried. We cried so, so much. There was a baby, supposed to be inside me, that was now under a tree. We said we were sorry we would never get to meet him or her, that we loved and wanted this life and that we would never forget it. And then we said goodbye, and placed dirt, and finally a rock, over our lost baby.
For the next few days, we cried and we talked, and we stared into space and cried some more. We needed to. We felt our feelings when they asked to be felt.
5. Feel your feelings.
So much of life consists of not knowing, and yet we try to pin life down, to find reasons for the way it is. I do this all the time, and it is normal, but misguided. I see a young girl on the playground with cancer, and I want there to be a reason: exposure to environmental toxins? Genetic mutations? How could it be that she was just unlucky?
Making this more complicated are the swirls of studies and scientific reports that seem to imply that toxins or genes can be the cause of cancers, or that external factors—controllable factors—can cause death, illness, disease. As though those things would not happen if we could eliminate all those factors.
The guilt I felt for the miscarriage was what descended on me in the next few days. I’d had a glass of wine. I am still nursing my toddler. I have been dehydrated a lot lately. I am maybe nutritionally depleted. I read an article that said nursing, for some women, is linked to miscarriage. I showed the article to my husband, and I started sobbing. Curled on the floor, my face buried in my hands, I cried, saying: “I killed my baby.” Because at that exact moment, that’s how I felt. So again, I felt my feelings, entrusting them to the most trustworthy person in my life.
He smoothed my hair, and just held me. No, you didn’t, he said. You don’t know why this happened.
Over the next several days, I realized that the suffering, the guilt, was based in my trying to find a reason that I could control. If I could figure it out, I could make it never happen again. But, once I felt those feelings and let them pass through me, I realized that I didn’t know anything for certain. Somehow, I had to accept that I would never, ever know why we lost this life. Sure, I might have suspicions, or theories or thoughts about why, but while I am alive, I have to accept the unknowing.
6. Know what you don’t know.
And I got to that acceptance by grieving fully and totally for something I have no power to change. Even if I could have prevented it, I didn’t, and so the baby that I loved from the moment I saw the pink line is still, sadly but surely, irretrievably lost to us for all time.
I had already gotten so attached. Imagining this little boy or girl playing with my son, imagining how his or her features would differ, what sort of personality I’d get to meet. I thought about the little toes I’d now never get to kiss, the little mind I’d never have the privilege of exploring, the giggles and tantrums I’d never witness. I kind of wanted to not think about these things, because every time I did (and even now, many times that I do) I had to experience an intense, painful sadness that brought me to tears. I was giving this nascent life its due, and in the process, letting myself be sad enough that I could properly say goodbye.
7. Purposefully meditate on whatever it is you can hardly tolerate thinking about.
The next few days I walked around in a fog. I was just numb, checked out. I was able to take care of my son and his needs, but I was less able to focus, and off in a netherworld that felt shadowy and gray.
I don’t know what was going on inside me, but whatever it was, I just let it happen. Almost as though after such intensity of feeling and awareness, I had to power down in order to restore a normal level of functioning.
And at no particularly important moment, I just started feeling better. I could laugh again. I could look at the world and not take it or myself so seriously. I could return to yoga and reading, my body and mind again willing and able. I began to pursue the care I needed—contacting a midwife for counsel, herbs and what I could do to prepare my body and mind for a healthy pregnancy, whenever we were ready. I could appreciate how many blessings I had, as well as appreciating and accepting all that I had lost.
8. If you’ve felt your feelings, time does heal.
No one wants anything bad to happen, and I don’t think there’s a “reason" for why things happen the way they do. I think that life is inherently a rising and falling wheel of fate that we can ride in one of two ways. 1) We can ride on the rim of the wheel, attached to good fortune and crushed by bad fortune, clutching and avoiding and suffering all the way or 2) We can crawl toward the center of the wheel, and witness the rise and fall from a place of equanimity, seeing it for the impermanent journey that it is while still being a part of it, while still fully experiencing it -- and embrace it.
Not that that’s easy to do, but, you know, that’s the way I think makes the most sense, so it’s what I practice at.
I have a friend whose nephew died when he was very young. I can’t imagine. How much grief I went through for an embryo of 6 weeks, so much more a child you have loved and nurtured and known. No one can mindfully say that there was a “reason” for his death, just as there’s not a “reason” for my miscarriage, or for that little girl’s cancer. That’s not the spiritual universe I subscribe to. My god has a little “g” and is not a being, is not wrathful or rewarding, is not a parent trying to teach me a lesson.
What I’ve come to is that bad, truly awful things can happen to us. And, if we can survive them, and feel our feelings and grieve our losses fully, we become new people in new territory. And like any new journey, we will come upon trials as well as gifts. Why spurn the gifts, especially if they are so hard-won?
I would never have chosen to go through the abuse I went through when I was younger, I would never have chosen to go through the miscarriage. I hope I won’t go through another one. But since I have gone through those things, and since I am irrevocably on the other side, I choose to accept whatever positive changes these great trials have brought with them.
The deepened love for my son and my husband.
The greater sense of self-knowing.
The gratitude for the many blessings I have.
The reminder of the shortness and sacredness of life.
The knowledge that I can deeply love another child, even one I will never meet.
The heightened awareness of impermanence.
Some lives are long, and some are very, very short. But they all make their mark.
About two weeks after the miscarriage, my yoga teacher closed class with “Keep Me In Your Heart” by Warren Zevon, which he wrote while dying. Eyes closed, on my back in savasana, I started to cry. I cried and cried. And then I felt an incredible lightness, a peace. At the end of the song, my yoga teacher said, “I like what Rumi said: ‘We haven’t truly begun to meditate until we cry.’”
Not only do I like what Rumi said, I think it is true.
I don’t know what the future holds for me and my family. Right now, I am choosing to stay as close to the present moment as I can, and find my balance by trying to move toward the center of that ever-rolling wheel.
Peace and love to you,