The Last Words I Wanted to Hear After My Miscarriage

“When are you due?” and other innocuous questions can cause unintended pain

Photo: Naomi August/Unsplash

II carry my angel babies with me every day; some days they talk to me more than others. Today they’re making a lot of noise.

The question came uninvited, from a woman with whom I’d never spoken, as I sat in the waiting room of a therapy clinic.

The inquiry came as a surprise and so did the emotions it stirred up.

“Hmm?” I asked, looking around. I was the only other person in the room. “Oh. I’m not pregnant,” I mumbled, straightening up in an effort to make my ample belly disappear.

The woman apologized and I turned away, running my eyes over some trash magazine article without comprehending a word. My first due date would have been last month, I realized with a pang. The second would have been in another eight weeks.

IfIf I’m being totally honest with myself, I didn’t expect to still be sad about my miscarriages this past Mother’s Day, nearly a year after they occurred. I expected to sleep in, to have my family tend to me, to decompress at the gym, and to spend some time with the other mothers in my life.

But this kind of sadness is just like that stranger’s question. It sneaks up on you.

An older woman enters the sauna, wishing a blanket “Happy Mother’s Day” to all of us. But what about those who aren’t mothers? I wonder. What about those who have lost children or lost pregnancies? And now I am weeping in the sauna because I am one of those women.

It’s complicated, this tightrope of early pregnancy, and everyone handles it differently.

My daughters ask me to give them a baby brother and I stop short of saying, “We tried,” because that is not a conversation I can have with my children today.

I stumble upon a buried message from a year ago in which I asked an acquaintance for a midwife recommendation. Surely by now she has realized I no longer need the advice. I consider texting her an update anyway, but convince myself any attempt to explain what happened would only make both of us uncomfortable.

II suddenly remember a similar request from my friend Liza, and realize she never had a baby, either. I know what that must mean.

I feel guilty it took me this long to realize that Liza experienced a loss like mine, and sad because I know exactly why she didn’t follow up, confiding in me about the loss as she had the excitement — tentative; it’s always a kind of tentative excitement — about a potential baby.

Connecting the dots, I realize there must be others. Intellectually, of course, I’ve always known the sad reality that 15 to 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. It wasn’t until I joined this unfortunate fellowship, though, that I became hyperaware of how easy it is to go through life blissfully ignorant while a friend, a daughter, a sister suffers in silence within arm’s reach, simultaneously hiding her pain and longing for someone to whom she can disclose it.

It’s complicated, this tightrope of early pregnancy, and everyone handles it differently. I chose, for a number of reasons, to keep my news to myself with the exception of a few close friends and family members. While I was relieved that, when the pregnancies ended, I didn’t have to un-tell everyone in my life, my sorrow was all the more lonely because of it. Somehow, saying, “Oh, by the way, I was pregnant, but I’m not anymore,” felt even harder than discreetly announcing I’d lost the baby to the few people who knew I had been expecting.

How many women do I know who spent hours imagining feeling the baby move, planning sleeping arrangements for the rest of the family once the baby came, brainstorming names, and Googling how to wedge a third car seat into the backseat, only to feel the weight of the world slowly descend on their chests as the doctor searched too long and failed to find a heartbeat?

My losses have made me much more aware of the pain that seemingly innocuous comments can expose.

How many mothers do I know who, like me, came home from a D&E procedure to beautiful miracle children who were none the wiser, and who needed Mom to just keep doing all the things, please and thank you?

How many go to work the next day or the next week, grateful for the distraction, yet unable to focus because of the excruciating cramps and persistent sorrow?

How many see a pregnant woman or a newborn baby and feel a sinking sadness before they can muster any other emotions?

How many go through Mother’s Day, and every other day, pretending to be okay while silently mourning their angel babies?

IfIf I’d been asked about my due date when I was pregnant with my daughters, I’d have happily answered, and I wouldn’t have thought twice. I’d have been thrilled to talk about how I was feeling, how forcefully the baby was kicking, and what flavor Pop-Tarts I’d been craving that week.

How many times had I discussed my pregnancy, gleefully and unwittingly, in the company of a friend or colleague who had experienced a loss?

Of course, I don’t think we should refrain from talking about our joy for fear of opening the invisible wound of some rhetorical person. But my losses have made me much more aware of the pain that seemingly innocuous comments can expose. The prevailing wisdom of our day discourages us from disclosing pregnancy in the first trimester, so moms who experience a loss are unlikely to talk about it. For me, the result was a persistent sorrow, made all the more bitter by my attempts to bury it, and subject to surface in inopportune places — like the women’s sauna at the gym.

Women who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy — women like me — are everywhere. They go through the stages of grief in front of our very eyes, and yet they are so adept at carrying this burden alone that none of us would ever know it.

We can’t know what someone might be going through, so we should make it a point to be thoughtful in our words and actions, and show some care and compassion to our fellow humans.

We could all use a little, and there’s more than enough to go around.

Words everywhere. Fiction, poetry, personal essays about parenting, mental health, and the intersection of the two. Check out my column at Invisible Illness.

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