I’m determined to put our entire journey down on paper. So, I am forcing myself – mentally kicking and screaming – to tell the story of our fourth miscarriage. But if the theme of our third loss was compounded grief, due to the concurrent loss of our cat, the theme of our fourth loss would have to be ignored grief. So ignored, in fact, that my husband barely remembers the pregnancy at all.
Our fourth pregnancy was not necessarily an accident, but it was a surprise. Our third pregnancy had ended just a few months prior and had been carefully ‘manufactured,’ with regular ultrasounds leading up to ovulation, a trigger shot, and a prescribed conception window. This pregnancy felt almost natural to me by comparison.
I didn’t want to tell anybody. I wanted it to stick, and I was afraid that just speaking the words “I’m pregnant” would somehow jinx it. As if I were being given a test like Lot’s wife in the Bible – if I vocalized it, I would turn into a pillar of salt. But I did tell people. I told my immediate family. Like I always did. Like I always would. My mom was the first. I confessed my condition to her through hysteric sobs. I say “confessed” because that’s what it felt like. For the first time, the words “I’m pregnant” were more fearful than hopeful. I was terrified I would lose the pregnancy and I was ashamed. Ashamed that I wasn’t excited, and ashamed in anticipation of a loss.
I was supposed to leave for a business trip to Europe the following week, so I called my clinic and they brought me in for a blood test to confirm. The morning of my departure the clinic called to inform me that my levels low. They told me the pregnancy would not progress. My husband was already at work. I couldn’t even see him to tell him in person before leaving.
I admit that as I type this I am thinking, “Why didn’t I just cancel the trip?” In retrospect it seems obvious that I was experiencing trauma and that it would have been fully appropriate to call my boss and my supplier and tell them I couldn’t come. I didn’t. With a false rationality, I told myself that there was nothing I could do about it (true) and that my cancelling wouldn’t change the outcome (also true). I know I didn’t want to go through the hassle and embarrassment of explanations, but I also think I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was upset. Wasn’t it the exact outcome I’d expected? Wasn’t I mentally prepared?
I boarded the plane and flew to Germany, but I kept taking all my medications. I specifically remember giving myself shots of blood thinner on the plane. It was always like this with me. I was certain I would lose my pregnancies, but then when doctors would actually tell me they weren’t progressing, I was convinced they were wrong. Maybe the real reason I didn’t cancel the trip was because I didn’t accept that the pregnancy was a loss. Afterall, I hadn’t started bleeding. Maybe, just maybe, there was a miracle waiting to happen.
The day after my arrival I had six hours of meetings with our supplier. The bleeding began before our morning coffee break. I didn’t say anything, I simply excused myself to the bathroom. I held it together, but I have no idea if I appeared normal to the team. I’d bet I did. I have a remarkable ability to compartmentalize.
I remember one time finding an enormous cockroach on the wall of my hotel room. We were about to check out, and my husband had already left to go downstairs and pay our bill. I hate cockroaches, and I’m certain that had he been in the room, I’d have screamed and made him deal with it. Instead, I calmly covered it with a glass and walked away. That night in my hotel I reread The Untethered Soul. Then I wandered alone through the December Christmas markets in Germany. I drank spiked hot chocolate, bought boxes of marzipan, and fingered handicrafts. I didn’t cry. It was like the cockroach; no one was there to comfort me anyway.
My husband and I recently listened to Malcom Gladwell’s book, Talking to Strangers. Gladwell would characterize me as a person who is ‘mismatched’ because my outward appearance belies my inner feelings. I am an example of why we never truly know what’s going on inside the head of people sitting across the table from us.
The next day was Saturday, and I flew to the UK for another supplier meeting the following Monday. Luckily, one of my childhood friends lived in Cambridge and I spent the weekend with her drinking wine and catching up. Her company buffered me across the waves of grief, and again, I refused to collapse. I was engaged and present, if a little emotionally distant.
Then, the night before my trip home, my sister informed me that my brother-in-law needed emergency surgery. I shifted into help mode. Rather than returning to Seattle, I went to Chicago to sit for my niece and nephew. I am ashamed to admit that while his situation was scary, I provided me relief. I was grateful to have “acceptable” justification to change my flights and take time off work. Surgery. Emergency. Family. It now strikes now me how ridiculous it was to think I didn’t have this already.
My brother-in-law’s illness also provided me a reason to push aside my grief in support of someone else. Because I didn’t want to grieve our 4th miscarriage. I didn’t want to admit that I had a 4th miscarriage. So, I deflected. I redirected. I avoided. But like phantom limb syndrome, just because I cut it off, didn’t mean I couldn’t still feel it there, aching.
I don’t like sitting in in uncomfortable feelings. I don’t like talking about them either. I don’t think anyone does. But we have to find ways to process or the feelings fester. A lot of what I’ve worked on with my therapist over the years are ways to process grief nonverbally, through journaling, art, visualization, or movement. Because grief can’t be rationalized. You can’t talk your way into feeling better.
The Christmas after our fourth miscarriage, my husband and I spent alone in Seattle. This Christmas will be the same. I feel similarly sad and lonely, although for different reasons. But I am better at recognizing my emotions now, instead of ignoring them. I know I am grieving distance from family, a gap in traditions, and missed memories. Talking about it doesn’t help, because we all feel this way. So, I am trying to process other ways. I am making a concerted effort to create, through art, decorations, crafts, and cooking. I am using what energy I have to connect, through Zoom, and FaceTime, and phone calls. And I am giving myself the grace to sit quietly with my coffee, hang out in my low energy, and eat all the holiday sweets I desire. If I have learned anything, it is that time heals (most things). The challenges of 2020 will fade. We will recover. Of this I am sure. Happy holidays.