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Giving Voice to the Silent Sisterhood

I don’t talk about it a lot and I have certainly never written about it. “It” is that twelve years ago, we lost a baby sometime between 16 and 20 weeks of pregnancy. I still feel a stab of pain as I type that.

Life has moved on, but that loss will always be with me. I was inspired to write this after I read a post by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as well as a blog about miscarriage on the always excellent website The Mighty. In announcing his wife’s pregnancy, Zuckerberg mentioned that he and his wife had endured a number of miscarriages and wrote about the need to bring pregnancy loss into the open. Indeed, miscarriage is a truly “silent sisterhood” including members of all ages, races, faiths and beliefs. But few people talk about it. So, here goes.

I got pregnant in 2003 after a trip to Hawaii. My husband and I were a bit overwhelmed by the thought of a third child when we already had two girls (at that time aged 6 and 3), but we were pretty stoked. Our kids are our life, and the more the merrier. The fact that I got pregnant while on Maui was pretty magical.

My third pregnancy was not different in any way than the first two, in fact, when I got pregnant that time, I was actually in better physical shape than prior to the others. Despite the typical pregnancy accoutrements like morning sickness and fatigue, things sailed pretty smoothly, until suddenly, they didn’t. I will never forget sitting in my office at the VA Hospital and getting “the call” from my doctor at 20 weeks. As I sat frozen in my office chair, he told me that one of the measures on my triple test was markedly elevated. Something was “very wrong”. I didn’t sleep at all that night. Terrifying thoughts.

The next day, my husband and I went to the OB’s office. The drive felt like a death march. And when we got there, there was no heartbeat. What happened after that was a blur, but I recall we were sent for a confirmatory ultrasound at UM hospital. Our baby looked perfect, but was no longer with us. Numbness set in.

We went home and we watched a rented Margaret Cho standup video to distract ourselves. It didn’t work. Our doctor called and explained that it was likely our baby had died sometime between our 16 week checkup when there was a strong heartbeat, and 20 weeks.  The measure on the triple test was so elevated because our baby was already gone. Somehow my body hadn’t gotten the “message” and I hadn’t miscarried on my own. I would need to have a “procedure” to do what my body hadn’t done.

We dropped our kids off at my parents and told them some lie. We were not ready to tell them. As the “procedure” started, the resident laughed and joked with the nurse assisting. In fact, I clearly recall her saying jokingly “Oh, I am such a retard sometimes!”. I also recall wanting to jump off the table and throttle her, but being sedated and beyond paralyzed by grief, it was not in my capabilities at the time. To say we were treated with insensitivity as if the loss was “nothing” would be accurate. After the procedure, care staff said some brief platitudes, “sorry for your loss” etc, but that was it. We were given a small pamphlet-like book called “Empty Arms”. I read, reread and highlighted that book like it was my new Bible.

In the hazy, painful days that followed, a remarkable thing happened. My “silent sisters” came out of the woodwork one by one, calling, visiting, writing and taking me out to lunch. They each had their own stories of loss that were sadly powerful. My own mother and grandmother (“YiaYia”) each revealed their own losses to me. Tears still came to these women’s eyes as they told me their stories. For my YiaYia, this was 60+ years after the fact, but she still teared up in talking about the daughter she had lost. And in every case, they had “moved on” but somewhere, “it” was still with them. I drew strength from them. Particularly as a part of me viewed the miscarriage as a sign that my previously healthy body had failed me in some way. I was not alone. I was not defective.

About a month after the procedure (sorry, I have a difficult time typing D&C for some reason), we got a letter from a pathologist. They couldn’t figure out what had “gone wrong” but wanted to console us on the loss of our “baby boy”. I can see myself standing by the mailbox as I read those words. It will never leave me. Thankfully, I had two lively and loving little girls whom we loved a little extra hard that day and pretty much every day that followed.

The acute pain receded. Things did get better. I would like to note that the platitude/misstatement “you can always have another” (along with the even worse “it’s a blessing, something must have been very wrong” or “it’s Nature’s way”) while well-meaning, was never helpful. What was helpful? Family, love, friendship, faith, time and most of all the sisterhood (and brotherhood for my husband).

Six months later we found ourselves trying again. Our son Theodore (Greek for “gift from God”) was born in August of 2004, a year and a couple of months after we lost our first son. I have never felt that Theo replaced our loss, but somehow he did make our lives measurably better.

Every time I go to church, I light a candle for the son that we lost and feel that connection. One very positive thing the UM hospital has is called “The Walk to Remember” where a huge group of people who have experienced pregnancy or infancy loss walk together, culminating in a tree planting ceremony. Over the years, we have attended this several times and it is very healing.

I only hope that by more people (women or men) sharing their own losses and stories that we can make miscarriage something less hidden and help others to feel less alone.

kales@umich.eduGiving Voice to the Silent Sisterhood

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  • Soon I’ll be 51 years old… | PositivelyAging - March 14, 2016 reply

    […] we spaced them out quite a bit (Tasia when I was 32 ,Sophia when I was 35, Theo when I was 39). A miscarriage at 38 was one of the saddest times in our lives. But it also changed us in good ways; before that I […]

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