One thing I’ve learned after 5 miscarriages is that before you can begin to navigate the world through a lens of intense grief, you have to figure out how to exist in it. The saddest moments I’ve had in the midst of my losses were thinking I couldn’t go on. Not only could I not fathom day to day things like getting out of bed, showering, getting dressed, going to work, eating, interacting with people; I couldn’t even fathom waking up, because every morning when I open my eyes it’s a slap in the face. Having to do anything beyond waking up and facing my reality from under the sheets is an impossible hurdle some days. You learn to survive by the minute or the hour, not by the day.
Nothing is the same after miscarriage, and I describe life after loss as having to find your new normal, because there is no returning to the way things were. Pregnant women and babies are everywhere, just as they were before, but now it feels like they exist just to punish you. I almost abandoned my cart in the grocery store last week because of 2 small children nearby whose innocent voices I couldn’t escape. I lost my focus, let the tears well up, and then debated if I should run out of the store or take a deep breath and get what I came for. I managed to finish the trip but added a pound of gummy bears to my haul, a consolation prize for enduring grief at the grocery store.
In the beginning, life is little more than enduring a series of painful moments. Waiting rooms full of pregnant women you identified with just a week ago, having to stare at the collection of baby photos on the wall of the doctor’s office, those are the obvious and immediate triggers. Life continues like that. Babies and pregnant bellies are suddenly in every public space you go to, and it begins to feel like nowhere is safe. You find yourself having a decent morning on a rare occasion you decide to leave the house, and suddenly you’re choking back tears witnessing a moment between a parent and baby in a Starbucks when all you want is to order a damn coffee.
I remember going through the multiple pregnancy tracking apps I was using and having to click “Report a miscarriage.” It was a real punch to the gut bonus when the app didn’t have that option, and I continued to get emails, “your baby is the size of a lime!” I sent at least one scathing email about this, and learned to never ever sign up for more than one pregnancy tracking app. Gone was the joy of having what I call a naive pregnancy, no real worry that anything could go wrong.
Then there are the unexpected triggers that kidnap your joy when you least expect it. Without explanation or reason… random unrelated songs, movies you once enjoyed, “baby on board” stickers, stacks of booster seats at restaurants, social media targeted ads that stalk you everywhere you go just because you googled something about a pregnancy symptom 3 months ago, ultrasound photos and pregnancy announcements popping up on Facebook and sending you into a tailspin.
Last year we went to Target a few weeks before Christmas to get a small artificial tree, since we’d be spending Christmas just the two of us at home. The aisles of trees and decorations and wrapped gift displays were a lot to take in. Parents wheeling carts full of children’s toys, hearing Christmas music, the feeling of holiday cheer in the air, it was all so overwhelmingly painful. It put a spotlight on the fact that our October baby didn’t make it. I saw no reason to put up decorations or get a tree if we didn’t have our 2 month old to celebrate with. Feeling blindsided, we left empty handed and I cried on the ride home. It was our first holiday season since losing a baby, and by that time, we’d lost 3.
I wish more people understood how hard it is to exist in the world after one miscarriage, and how much harder it becomes with each additional loss. It’s not that I don’t want to see your baby on social media, or that I don’t want to come to the children’s birthday parties. It’s that I physically and emotionally can’t. Not forever, but for awhile. Protecting your heart after loss should be prioritized, without guilt, without outside criticism.
I learned after awhile to be unapologetic about protecting my heart. In the beginning, I would worry that I was making people uncomfortable by talking about my pain freely, or that I was weak for not being able to show up to an event where I knew babies would be present. I would take with a polite nod all the well-meaning comments that secretly infuriated me. Maybe I have become hardened or bitter, but navigating grief after multiple miscarriages will give us a hardened perspective at times. I’ve learned how important boundaries are to my healing and that speaking up is okay when someone doesn’t respect them. Holding myself together in public to avoid making everyone else uncomfortable at the sacrifice of my own comfort is a thing of the past. I will cry at dinner and keep eating. This is my new normal.