Empty arms: ten things I learned from my miscarriage (not recommended for sensitive readers)

changes-and-mistakesRecently, a friend of my suffered the devastation of a miscarriage. The timing of her pregnancy wasn’t perfect. (It never is). The circumstances weren’t ideal. (Is there such a thing as “a good time” to have a baby?). Many people view it as “fortuitous” that she has “been spared” some of the tough decisions that lay ahead for her. Thankfully, they’ve had the discretion to keep that opinion to themselves, and they’re right to have done so. In light of this, I felt it time to share the following story, and some thoughts on losing a child you never had a chance to know.

I feel your pain

Some years ago, a lady found out she was pregnant. The timing was terrible. It often is. But this was particularly bad, at least to her mind. She had recently lost her business, and her husband was unemployed. They’d just moved into a house they couldn’t afford, and they had two small children to feed, clothe and educate. They had no medical aid.

To make ends meet, husband and wife had both taken freelance contracts wherever they could get them, and were working around the clock. They had no rest, no money, no health and no time. The family was subsisting on popcorn and el-cheapo peanut butter, lubricated with heavy doses of caffeine. The stress of survival was taking its toll on their marriage, too. The thought of bringing another person – a completely helpless, needy, dependent person, deserving of love and care – into that mess was unthinkable. Wrapped in silent misery, this lady kept her secret, crying quietly to herself when she thought no one was around.

About eleven weeks in, there was a flutter. Something stirred in her protruding belly, and for the first time in months there seemed to be a faint flicker of light and hope at the end of a very dark, lonely tunnel. She began to imagine names. She wondered about the baby’s gender, and imagined how he or she might look. The tear streaks on her haggard face began to fade, and a dim light returned to her eyes.

One morning every one had left for work and school. Working away at her computer, she felt a sudden, very sharp pain in her abdomen. She tried to get up and stretch, and fell to the floor in agony. She could hardly walk. The spasms were blinding. She began to be aware of a damp sensation she hadn’t had in months, and knew instinctively what would come next. In a haze of cramps and fear-fuelled resignation, she made her way to the bathroom. She hoisted herself onto the loo, and let nature take its course. Sobbing with a mix of pain and despondency, she looked at what she’d lost, and saw her child just once.

Then I flushed the loo, and buried that day in a box somewhere hidden from everyone. Because this is my story, and that pain was mine, once, too.

It’s taken more than four years to find healing. It will probably take the rest of my life, and it has impacted who I am in so many ways.

10 things I learned from my miscarriage

1. It’s not your fault.

I blamed myself. I was foolish enough to fall pregnant in the first place. I was careless with my health and I killed my child. That line of thought haunted me for years and sapped my will to live. Eventually,I had to realise that there was nothing I could have done. Sometimes bad things happen.

2. You’re not being punished.

I blamed myself for making the bad decisions that led to us being in the position we were in. I felt that my foolishness and my failure to heed the warnings in God’s Word created the situation I was in. My friends, God is not cruel. He is not vindictive. He created nature and a natural course of events, and He allows that to play out to its logical conclusion. But He doesn’t hurt us in capricious and senseless ways.

3. Biology happens.

The fact is, nature takes its course. Pregnancies happen. Births happen. Miscarriages happen. People die. These and a million other details are what make up LIFE. We live it every day until we stop, and then we’re dead. If only the best planned, most loved children were born, and the mistakes were always intercepted by a heavenly force, a nine-year-old in Brazil wouldn’t be a mom right now. A loving couple with ample means wouldn’t be barren. It’s not cruel or fair. It just is what it is.

4. Don’t take on the guilt.

Understanding that these things sometimes “just happen”, don’t allow anyone to add to your guilt. Furthermore, let your guilt go. It doesn’t help you. It will not heal you. You don’t need it or deserve it, so let it go.

5. It’s okay to be relieved.

When it happened to me, I felt an avalanche of emotions. I was overwhelmed. I was exhausted. I was devastatingly sad. I was transported by relief. The relief was the killer, though. As if I didn’t feel guilty enough, I now felt even more responsible for my baby’s death in that some part of me – however infinitesimally small – could see the upside of the situation. Sometimes there is an upside. Sometimes you see it. That’s okay. In fact, that can keep you sane. It doesn’t make you a bad person.

6. Talk to someone.

Get the help you need. Unburden your heavy heart, and find someone who will hear you and love you. It took me a long time to do this, and I damaged a lot of things on the way as a result of my own brokenness.

7. Give yourself time to heal.

Don’t expect to be better right away. Sometimes you’ll never be “better” in the sense that some people mean it. You will probably never again be who you were before. You may be better than you are right now, and you may be a better person than you were before – I know that is true for me. But I can only claim to be healed by the grace of God in my life. I certainly cannot claim to be “whole” in any other sense. Expecting that is setting yourself up for disappointment. I chose to embrace the change and see where it led me. So far, so good.

8. Let yourself grieve.

You have lost something, after all. Even the worst things we lose cause us some grief at their passing. It’s not that we miss the ‘thing’, necessarily. Rather, it’s that we miss the familiar. Now, an early term miscarriage hardly robs us of the familiar. But it robs us of a very specific and clear hope. The baby I don’t have is a specific person who is not sleeping on my lap as I type. It’s a particular body not sharing our dinner each night. Just because I didn’t know that person doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to – no matter how ludicrous that truth may seem. I’m allowed to be sad. You are allowed to grieve. The pain and the loss are real. Bottling it up will make it worse. Trust me.

9. Don’t rush into anything.

Many years ago, the popular thinking was that the best way to heal after a miscarriage was to rush ahead and fall pregnant right away. There are a number of reasons that this is bad advice. For one thing, you lost that baby for a reason. Get checked out before you subject yourself to a repeat performance. For another thing, your body needs time to recover from what is truly a significant trauma. Thirdly, your heart needs time to repair. Furthermore, relationships can take strain in the wake of a miscarriage and a strong relationship is essential to weather the potential storm of another pregnancy – whatever the outcome may be this time around.

10. It’s okay to be angry.

Yes it is. Feel it, accept it. Then move on. Be angry, sure. But don’t stay angry. It helps no one and hurts you. You have enough pain: don’t add to it.

I am not a counsellor or a therapist of any kind. I am compulsively fasicnated by how people work, and how I work, and how life works. This blog is a chronicle of my journey to understand it, and hopefully some of what I have learnt or experienced over the years will help someone else. To quote a favourite saying,

“If I can’t be a good example, perhaps I cna serve as a horrible warning.”

If you have thoughts on this or have experienced miscarriage yourself, today I’d be grateful if you shared your story in the comments. I really have hardly mentioned this to anyone, and it feels a little strange to share it in such a public forum. If it’s helped in anyway, let me know. If you disgaree with anything I’d really be interested in what you have to say. Let’s discuss it. Thank you for reading.

– Vanessa

4 thoughts on “Empty arms: ten things I learned from my miscarriage (not recommended for sensitive readers)

  1. Thank you for your story, I does help and it has help. Things I learned? People who’ve been there are everywhere, support is everywhere if you’re brave enough to ask ( even online).
    I’m so sorry for your loss.

    1. Thanks very much for your kind words. The grace of healing is made manifest in the face of pain. Without loss I would never have known the joy that comes from being made whole. So while I’d never choose it, I am no longer tormented by it.

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