Thankful For A Loss

In sharing this story, I do not wish in any way to negate or belittle the experience of anyone who has gone through miscarriage and is still grieving. My hope is that by sharing my story I can perhaps offer others hope or resolution.

Motherhood came later in life for me than it does for many women. In my twenties, I had no maternal urges. I was probably too messed up for various reasons, including the attack I’ve written about recently on Writing a River. Besides I didn’t have a partner who was ready for fatherhood. By my early thirties, I had met the man who would become my husband and the father to our two daughters and I had met my first niece. I was in love with both! My husband took longer to come round to the idea of children – and then an illness left me with fertility problems. By the time of my first pregnancy, I was creeping into late thirties.

That pregnancy went badly from the start, with bleeding every day. I was in and out of hospital. Then, at around two months, I felt intensely sick all day. After that the bleeding stopped, but few days later a scan showed no heartbeat. I had what is known as a missed-miscarriage, and needed an operation to remove the dead baby.

In my first novel, Drawings In Sandone character has fertility problems and says she’s grateful for this. She says, “I used to think people who were obsessed with trying to get pregnant were selfish, and instead of squandering money on fertility treatments our taxes would be better spent teaching them to accept their lot. In my calmer moments like today I realise it’s taught me compassion.”

Drawings in Sand is not an autobiographical novel, but that bit was. That was me. Having fertility issues was humbling. I had become one of the people I’d previously judged. Now I knew the longing, the aching, the seesaw of raised hopes that were dashed month after month.

Losing the baby was something else again. I had been depressed before, but never so deeply. For weeks afterwards I felt as if there was a huge wall in front of me. My husband worked shifts and would leave for work early and I was generally still in my pyjamas when he got home mid-morning, if I was even out of bed. I didn’t want face the day alone.

Photo by FrameAngel via FreeDigitalPhotos

Photo by FrameAngel via FreeDigitalPhotos

Yet even in those darkest days, I knew that I would rather have gone through it than never have been pregnant at all. I knew that the experience had changed how I saw life, and in a good way. I wouldn’t say I was selfish before, but perhaps I was more self-absorbed than is ideal for parenting. It’s true I approached pregnancy assuming I would be kind to my children, yet I also had a sense that is hard to describe – perhaps it was what’s often called “entitlement.” I expected things to go the way I thought they should. We had moved shortly before the miscarriage and I was unemployed at the time, but I assumed that I would get a job and that children would fit round that. I totally believe it’s okay for mothers to have jobs, but for me back then it wouldn’t have been an informed choice but a reaction. I would have acted from unquestioned assumptions and beliefs, not from any sense of weighing up what was best for all concerned.

That first pregnancy was markedly different from my other two in many ways. I knew, long before I took the test, that I was pregnant. I felt a strong sense of connection to the baby, almost as if I could sense her soul (I was certain it was a girl.) I’ve often wondered if this was just my imagination. And I’ve often wondered if it was because the baby was dying from the start. I won’t ever know for sure, and that’s okay. Although I had grown up in a church-going family, for many years I had shunned that, along with the possibility of any God’s existence. At that time I would have described myself as an atheist. But in hospital, I read a friend’s copy of Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. This book is part novel, part philosophy and was my first introduction to Buddhism. Gaarder’s description of how Buddhists see God in everything stuck a chord with me. I didn’t become a Buddhist, but I did begin to look at life with new eyes.

I see the miscarriage as a turning point in my life. It was not by any means the only turning point, but it was major one. One of the most profound lessons I learned was that even in the midst of suffering, there can be awareness of growth, and there can be gratitude. A few weeks after I’d lost the baby, I went back to visit friends where we’d lived before. One of my closest friends now had a three-month-old baby. She worried that meeting would be too upsetting for me, but actually it was wonderful to hold her baby. My friend had post-natal psychosis after the birth of her first baby and had to wait years before she could have a second, so all I could feel holding that baby was joy and hope.

And yet, bitterness could still creep into my being. For months it seemed as if all I did was buy baby gifts to a never-ending stream of new babies.

I went to visit my sister. When my four-year-old niece found me crying, she asked why. I replied that I was just sad over something that had happened. She said nothing, and went out of the room. A few minutes later she was back with a painting she’d done at nursery. I no longer have that painting, but I have the memory of that small person’s small act of kindness that was so hugely comforting.

What the miscarriage did for me was to rekindle my dormant spirituality. It was the beginning of my journey back to exploring the mysteries of life, the unknown, (unknowable perhaps.) It was the dawning of a realisation that I don’t have the answers in life, that often I don’t even have the questions. More importantly, it was also the beginning of a realisation that I don’t need to have the answers, that it’s okay for life to unfold as it does, without my opinion. Of course I still have opinions, but mostly I am aware that’s all they are, not The Truth. Mostly I am aware that the truth is a mystery that comes in glimpses and that can’t be forced or demanded.

After our second daughter was born very prematurely, one nurse said to me that these things happen to us only if we are strong enough to cope. I’ve since heard the same thing many times – life only gives us what we can handle. I don’t actually believe that – if it were true people would not develop psychosis and they wouldn’t kill themselves. But often I do think that some of the suffering we experience in life can be there for us to grow – if we are able to see it. I am eternally grateful that somehow I was able to see that in the midst of my depression. And often I think that my first baby’s very short life had a deep and meaningful purpose. I am eternally grateful for that.

 

Comments

  1. That’s lovely, to find good and meaning from a sad situation is a blessing. I find it amazing how many women have had a miscarriage. I never imagined it could happen to me, but I learnt more understanding and compassion that I had never had before. Perhaps these things are not meant to test our strength but to teach us how to be stronger.

    1. Author

      Yes, Piper, compassion is definitely one thing I also learned from my miscarriage. It sounds as if you had a similar learning experience to mine. You could be right that these things do teach us how to be stronger – or maybe more whole. Why some people get to grow though painful experiences and others crumble – or why we might grow through one and not another – is such a mystery.
      And yes, miscarriage is so common. I seem to remember it’s one in four.
      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Beautiful, Yvonne, and I can understand so much of what you say here. I’ve also been thankful for mine, in many ways – Husby’s been so sick that trying to cope with a newborn in addition would have been terrifyingly hard. And with the questionmark over genetics and predisposed illnesses, I wonder whether ours would have been quite…healthy, and so perhaps they’re better of…not. Which is awful to say, but something I’ve considered.

    1. Author

      Oh, Lizzi, your comment touched me so deeply. I am glad you are able to feel thankful too when this is still so much closer for you. And I don’t think that it’s awful of you to say what you did at all – the opposite in fact. It shows acceptance and healing I’d say. (It might be awful for someone else to say it to you though, because we need to reach that understandings ourselves, rather than have them forced on us.)
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, and I hope your husband’s health improves.

  3. This was beautiful, Yvonne, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy to write. I was an “old” mom, too. I had a miscarriage at 14 weeks between my two kids, but I remember being worried that my eggs were too old. And I don’t believe we’re only given what we can handle, either.

    1. Author

      Thanks Dyanne. Oddly, the only thing I found hard about writing this was that I didn’t want it to seem as if I think anyone else should feel the way I do. Many women won’t be feeling grateful -either because it’s still too raw, or just because. And we all have a right to our own feelings. I hope I’ve managed to convey that.

      I did wonder, from something you’d written if you were also an “older mother.” It is supposedly more common for us to have miscarriages, but then I’ve also read that the research into older mother is way out of date – by over a century! I was more worried about running out of time than the quality of my eggs – I don’t suppose either worry helped us!

      Thanks for your comment.

  4. What a gorgeous personal testimony to your pain and your experience with loss… so genuine and your words are both painfully and beautifully soaked in to my heart. I am so glad you were able to open yours, to growth and new awareness of compassion and all that surrounds you. It’s amazing how our circumstances can either change us and propel us forward with new-found sight, or pull us down with closed eyes and suffocation. I am so glad you have your sight!

    1. Author

      Chris, your comment about how “circumstances can either change us and propel us forward with new-found sight, or pull us down with closed eyes and suffocation” really struck me. I have a close relative with severe psychosis, so this is something I’ve pondered many times. I don’t think it’s anything to do with strength of character. There are so many factors that seem to be involved, and more than anything I am thankful that somehow the experience of miscarriage was, overall, a strengthening one for me.
      Thanks for your thought-provoking comment.

  5. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sorry for your loss & amazed that you are able to finds things to be thankful for about it.

  6. Even such a tiny short little life that never even made it out of the womb had a profound purpose. I believe everything happens for a reason, but it’s often very hard to understand until much later. I recently had a miscarriage and this post speaks to me. Thank you.

    1. Author

      Leah, I’m sorry to hear you have been through this recently and hope that this post is helpful. I agree that even that tiny short life has a profound purpose. My thoughts are with you.

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  9. Yvonne, I had no idea that you suffered miscarriage. I have had 3, so I do know the many layers of pain, grief and gratefulness that you shared here.

    This part spoke to me most:

    “I see the miscarriage as a turning point in my life. It was not by any means the only turning point, but it was major one. One of the most profound lessons I learned was that even in the midst of suffering, there can be awareness of growth, and there can be gratitude.”

    Thank you for your transparency and heart,
    Dani

    1. Author

      Dani, one miscarriage was hard, but three must have been so painful. My heart goes out to you.
      Thank you for your kind comment.

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