Recently, celebrities such as Chrissy Teigen and The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle have bravely opened up about the emotional pain associated with pregnancy loss. I applaud their courage to come forward and share their experience. Some may criticize that their fame makes it easy for them to share their stories but I can guarantee that it does not preclude them from the pain of the personal grief, nor does it exclude them from the healing process which can be a very difficult journey. If anything, I believe sharing such intimate experiences requires immense courage and vulnerability and I – as a survivor of pregnancy loss – am grateful it has opened the door for us to all have a bigger, very necessary conversation.
For many women, bearing children can in some ways be considered our super power. It is – for those that choose to have children – the most magical experience of a lifetime. The thought that a woman’s body can create another human being and bring it into existence is a wonder that I have no doubt all of us have contemplated at one point or another. After all, it is the miracle of life. It is important however to include in the discussion the roller coaster of emotions that come with motherhood and, the fact that the mother-child connection actually begins the moment a woman decides she wants to have a baby which is why I believe, pregnancy loss is such a difficult experience to understand – especially for the woman going through it.
Women have been having babies since the beginning of time – no pun intended – so, it would make sense that today, women were as equipped as can be imagined for the journey of motherhood but sadly, this could not be further from the truth. Women today are as unprepared for the ups and downs they are about to endure as ever. There is no doubt that deciding to take on motherhood is both exhilarating and blissful but somehow, somewhere along the way, we forgot to tell women that it’s also the most terrifying, overwhelmingly petrifying experience of a lifetime. We left out the part about how the internal fear regulator shifts to high and never really comes down. The part about the persistent uncertainties such as “will I be able to get pregnant” or “will I be a good mother” and even, “will the baby be healthy” that grip an expectant mother’s every waking moment. And then, the moment that positive test result finally appears, those emotions you thought could not possibly become more intense do exactly that. The fragility of a pregnancy is so vast that it leaves women in an incomprehensible predicament. Everything you have ever wanted is finally almost yours. It’s so close you can feel it – literally – but it’s actually not. The uncertainty surrounding the outcome combined with the lack of control over it makes connecting with your unborn baby both necessary and frightening. Our bodies have been given a beautiful and miraculous task yet, we have absolutely no measurable control over the outcome. These fears – however prevalent – are rarely spoken about even amongst fellow women which is what contributes to the overwhelming pain endured by a women when a pregnancy ends terribly. In Canada, at least one if four pregnancies end in loss yet still today, many of these losses are not talked about, not appreciated, and not given the attention and care they need. The collective pain has mounted for far too long and it’s time we heal and educate our daughters about the fact that it’s okay, to not be okay.
If we think about it, the fact that all pregnancy loss is clustered under one umbrella “MISCARRIAGE” is disturbing in itself simply because each and every pregnancy loss is distinctly unique. Miscarriage literally means “the spontaneous loss of a fetus” which is tremendously insensitive and in my opinion largely inconsiderate of the fact that a child has been lost. The label implies that the loss is insignificant and unworthy of further thought and reflection, it even suggests that such a loss is undeserving of grief. But why? Why are we expected to be strong when we have suffered such an enormous loss? Why do so many woman feel they have no choice but to suffer in silence instead of seeking the support they need in order to understand and process their grief and trauma. Pregnancy loss is such a complex type of grief which in my opinion is the reason many people don’t talk about it. Many may feel misunderstood by their very own partners regardless of how supportive they may be. Think about this, pregnancy loss often happens in a matter of minutes without as much as a warning or explanation. You can be fine one minute and the next you are immersed with fear while hemorrhaging uncontrollably or, you’re excitedly walking to your ultrasound appointment one minutes only to be told there is no heart beat the next minute. The build up of our physical and emotional expectations of becoming a mother and having a baby are torn away in a matter of moments leaving us bewildered and alone so much so, that I have no doubt we all have at least one woman in our lives that has silently suffered over a pregnancy loss while in our very own company. For example, as a child I remember my parents briefly talking about a baby my mother gave birth to when she was 7 months pregnant. He lived for 2 hours and sadly died but, for some strange reason we never talked about it. It wasn’t until I had a loss of my own that I contemplated the pain my mother must have lived with all those years. But why did it need to be a big secret? Whey did she feel she had to suffer in silence?
When I experienced my pregnancy loss I was 22-weeks pregnant and it was traumatic on many levels. I lost my baby girl, I almost lost my life and, I lost the ability to ever have another child. Processing the layers of grief seemed impossible because I felt nobody could possibly understand what I was feeling. I felt like I had been let down by my own body in ways that are difficult to explain. It was as if the agreement we had made to go through this together was broken and crushed without as much as a heads up. Having zero control over something so significant brought with it not only intolerable pain, but also a great deal of shame, anger, guilt, sadness and even confusion. Processing just one of these emotions on any given day is a difficult task. Having to deal with all of them simultaneously while also trying to grip the reality of what had just happened impossible. I considered myself a failure. A failure at being a woman, at failure at being a mother and, I was even failing at keeping it together which left me mentally and emotionally broken at a time when I was supposed to be strong because well…that’s what mothers are – strong! I had two other children sitting at the foot of my bed smiling up at me and even though my love for them cannot be measured, the void inside me continued to grow. Seemingly comforting comments such as “you have two other children to be grateful for” – which obviously I was – did not make me feel better, I actually felt worse. For years I suffered silently and struggled to regain the person I was, to get back to normal. But that person no longer existed. No matter how hard I searched I could not find her. There were many dark days where I did not understand my anger and frustration. Where I found myself going through the motions of being a mom, wife and daughter and although I was taking care of everyone else, I was not taking care of myself. It took a long time for me to understand that the person I was before no longer existed, that my experience had changed me forever into a different person with different perspectives and different needs. It wasn’t until I accepted this that I was able to process my feelings and learn to accept the person I had become. It was only then that I began to feel stronger and empowered by my struggles and I am truly thankful for the people that stood by my side no matter how difficult it was and for allowing me the space and time I needed to grow from this painful experience.
Having this conversation is long overdue. It’s time to bring awareness to the struggles faced by women when they suffer a pregnancy loss and help them feel free to process their feelings without the fear of being judged. It’s time women felt liberated to speak about their pain and acknowledge that an experience as significant as pregnancy loss is expected to change you. The pain is not only real but it is also legitimate, and women should no longer feel that their only choice is to suffer in silence.
Grieving is like having broken ribs. On the outside, you look fine but with every breath, it hurts.