NaBloPoMo Table of Contents

As I was scrolling through Facebook this morning, I saw a post from BlogHer about September’s NaBloPoMo. For those of you who don’t know, NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) is a challenge for bloggers to post daily. The official, annual challenge is usually in November, but you can do it any month, and each month has a different theme. Since September’s theme is healing, I thought now would be a good time to join in.

This is kind of a huge undertaking for me, but BlogHer provides daily prompts that you can use (or not). Since the theme of healing was chosen largely based on the recent events in Ferguson, MO (and the media coverage of those events), I’m going to use some of them, but since I’m focusing on my own healing process, I’m changing others to suit my needs.

As I post each one, I’ll try to remember to link to it from here so that this post will serve as a sort of table of contents.

Monday, September 1, 2014
Do you find it more helpful to talk things out or to let things quietly rest?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014
How do you communicate best? Speaking or writing?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014
What is the most helpful advice you’ve received (heard/seen/read) since your miscarriage?

Thursday, September 4, 2014
Why do you think it is so difficult for people to talk about miscarriage/stillbirth/infertility?

Friday, September 5, 2014
As part of the healing process, please talk about how you processed the miscarriage.

Monday, September 8, 2014
Do you give yourself time to heal, or do you keep making yourself move forward?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Have you ever had someone break your heart?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Tell us the methods you use to get through a disappointment.

Thursday, September 11, 2014
What is the hardest stage for you in Kübler-Ross’s model of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, or acceptance?

Friday, September 12, 2014
Have you ever been scared to let go of your grief?

Monday, September 15, 2014
Do you believe that time heals all wounds?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Rumi said that a wound is where the light enters you. Discuss this idea and how it applies to a moment in your life.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Name five things that heal your soul.

Thursday, September 18, 2014
Tell us about your comfort foods.

Friday, September 19, 2014
Tell us about your best friend.

Monday, September 22, 2014
Tell us about the best movie to bring on a cleansing cry.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014
If you had to make a mixtape of healing songs for someone, what would you include?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Do you think it is possible to heal on our own, or do we always need to reach out for the comfort of other people in order to fully heal?

Thursday, September 25, 2014
What is the most important aspect of community?

Friday, September 26, 2014
Is laughter really the best medicine?

Monday, September 29, 2014
How do you get through anger?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Make a commitment to give yourself an hour of undivided self-attention this week, and tell us how you’re going to use that time.

Statistics

When you’re pregnant, it’s easy to freak out. When it’s your first pregnancy, it’s really easy to freak out. Your body starts doing all kinds of crazy things, none of which it’s done before, and you have no idea what’s normal, so every little ache, pain, twinge, and sting sends you running to the internet to find out if your body is supposed to do this. It’s no wonder, then, that doctors and nurses and friends and the internet want to try and reassure you that everything is probably fine by telling you that the most likely outcome of this pregnancy is a healthy baby.

And it’s true. You have probably an 80% chance of carrying your baby to term and delivering a pink (at least underneath all the goo), screaming child that you will take home with you and love immensely.

If you are pregnant, just stop reading now. My purpose in writing today is not to scare you, but to make a point that statistics are deceptive, and to encourage women who’ve had miscarriages and felt like some kind of freak because they believed that it was not likely to happen to them and that no one else in their spheres has experienced it.

Statistically speaking, about a third of women who’ve been pregnant have had a miscarriage. So pick any three ladies who have kids or have been trying to have kids. One of them has probably miscarried at some point. Between you, your mom, and your grandmother, one of you has probably had this horrible experience. In the past 12 months, according to census info from this website, 4.1 million women have given birth in the United States. That means about 1.4 million of just those women (1/3 of 4.1) have had a miscarriage at some point.

Now let’s say about 4 million babies were born in the last 12 months in the U.S. (logic, but also fact you can look up). And I am not a mathematician by any means, so if this is all wrong, just bear with me. The point is the same. If the chance of miscarriage for each pregnancy was 20%, then 4 million is 80% of all pregnancies, the other 20% having been lost to miscarriage. That would mean that there were a million miscarriages last year alone in the United States. Shoot, that would mean that for the roughly 350,000 babies born every day worldwide, 87,500 more are lost to miscarriage. Every day.

I’m told that what happened to us was “rare.” And I guess, statistically speaking, it is. Late miscarriages occur in 1-5% of all pregnancies. If we shoot for the middle of that statistic, that means that every year in the U.S. alone, there are about 150,000 miscarriages (3% of 5 million) that occur between weeks 12 and 20 of pregnancy – when you’re led to believe that you’re “out of the woods.” This statistic varies wildly depending on what you’re reading, and like I said, I’m no statistician, so please take all of this with a grain of salt. All I’m saying is that’s a lot of babies.

And if that many women have lost that many babies, this is really something we should be discussing. If someone you love could be going through the physical and emotional trauma of a miscarriage on any given day, why aren’t we talking about it? Why aren’t we preparing ourselves to help the women and families we love? Why aren’t we telling people that we’re hurting and scared?

The less we talk about something, the more mystery surrounds it, and the more frightening and shameful it becomes. The more we risk the vulnerability it takes to discuss it, the less vulnerable, frightened, and ashamed it makes us feel. I don’t know about y’all, but I am not ok with feeling frightened and ashamed, and I don’t want my friends to feel that way either. I respect their privacy if they don’t want to share. That is their choice. But that’s the thing – sharing or not sharing should be a choice you make out of the empowerment you feel to make the choice, not out of shame or fear.

If you’ve had a miscarriage, please know that you aren’t abnormal. Literally millions of other women have gone through it, and I guarantee you are close enough to at least one of them to talk about it if you want to. And if you’re not, email me. Seriously. Don’t stay in the dark, scared or ashamed. I’m with you, and I have a flashlight.

Identity Crisis

I don’t know if it’s because Ella was genetically half me, or if it’s because my body created and sustained whole new organs to take care of her, or if it’s just the way it is with mothers and their children, but I feel like a piece of me was lost with her. I suspect it’s all of those things, but I found myself saying something the other day that I felt encompassed a lot of what I’ve been feeling. I said that I don’t know how to be a mom without a baby, and I don’t know how not to be a mom knowing that I had a baby.

Will pointed out recently that I am sort of an extreme processor and preparer. As soon as we started dating, I started reading books about dating, and we got a book of questions to discuss before we got engaged. As soon as we got engaged, I started reading books about marriage. As soon as I got pregnant, I started reading pregnancy books. And now I have at least three books on dealing with the grief of losing a baby. It’s just what I do. I need to understand what’s going on so that I can cope with it and be prepared for what lies ahead. Plus I’ve always loved being a student, so educating myself comes naturally, and I enjoy it even if the subject matter is difficult emotionally.

Because of that, it might look like I’m taking on this identity of a-woman-who’s-lost-a-baby to an extreme – like this is all I’m ever going to think about, read about, talk about, be interested in, or devote my life to again. But I think of it more like going to my favorite store, piling my arms full of all the clothes I want to try on, and then deciding which things fit, which things are appropriate for my life, and which things I can afford.

The reality of miscarriage is that it does change you. All major life events do. I read a bunch of marriage books because I was trying to figure out what kind of wife I would be. I read a bunch of baby books because pregnancy and parenthood are scary as the dickens, and I needed to start wrapping my brain around it all and begin to consider what it would look like when I did it. I’m reading books for bereaved parents because I need to know that the things I’m feeling and doing are normal or helpful or not crazy. I need to know that we’re not the only ones who’ve gone through this, and that lots of other folks have come through it and survived. And I’m trying to figure out how this will change me and how it will not. I’m trying to decide what fits my personality, what works for me practically, and what it will cost to allow these changes to take place in me.

Practically, I don’t know how all of this will play out. I don’t know if it will make me change jobs or hobbies or interests in the long run, but I think my identity is much deeper than those things, and that’s where I’m concentrating. I’m hoping that losing a baby will make me more compassionate, and that it will not make me bitter. I’m hoping it will show me how strong I am, and not make me afraid. I’m hoping it will make me more appreciative of the things I have, and not make me jealous of what others have. I’m hoping it will make me more caring, and not make me cynical. I’m hoping it will give me eyes to see beauty in painful times, and not blind me to hope. In general, I’m hoping it makes me a better mama to the babies I will one day hold in my arms and the ones I will always hold in my heart.

I don’t know how to be a mom without a baby, but I’m not going to worry about how not to be a mom anymore because it’s too late for that. I just am a mom now. And I’m starting to think that being a mom is largely about character anyway – character that will come out in everything I do, not just parenting. The mom I am now will affect the wife I am, the teacher I am, the friend I am, the daughter and sister I am, the writer I am, and every other role I play. Maybe I’m starting to figure it out after all.

Moving On and Settling Down

If you’ve never noticed before, the tagline of my blog is “moving on and settling down…all at once.” However many years it’s been since I came up with that, I still find it appropriate. The “moving on” part is about not getting stuck in a rut, letting go of things that don’t fit my life anymore, and always evolving. The “settling down” part is about putting down roots, building deep relationships, and generally becoming a grownup. I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing either of these things, but right now, they are both really difficult.

I still haven’t gone back to work. I thought about it last week, and every time I did, I had a mini-panic attack. We decided that was probably a pretty good indication that I wasn’t ready yet. This week, I decided to dip the tiny tip of my pinky toe in the water and visit my classroom…while it was empty. Some copies I’d requested had arrived, and I thought if I was considering going back to work next week, I should probably pick them up and do some planning. I didn’t want to see anyone, though (red flag), so I chose to swing by after everyone had left for the day. I got my copies and sat in my classroom for a few minutes feeling utterly uncomfortable and out of place. I tried to imagine a group of students sitting in there. Then I tried to envision myself giving a vocabulary lesson, and I just couldn’t do it. It felt so foreign to me. It honestly felt like I wasn’t even the same person as before, like a really intense experience of reverse culture shock – where you go away for a while and when you come back to your home culture, you find that you don’t fit the same way (or at all) anymore.

I keep saying that it would be so much easier if I could just start a brand new job – an office gig where I could just go, do my work, and keep to myself (maybe listen to music and podcasts all day while I do my thing). And while I’m still pretty sure that’s true, I would definitely get bored with that kind of job later on. It’s just that right now, teaching still requires more from me than I have to give socially, and the thought of going back to “normal” makes me very sad.I guess my problem right now is that I don’t know where to move on and where to settle down. I don’t know what to let go of and what to dig into.

“Normal” doesn’t mean the same thing it did a month ago. A month ago, we had just started to wrap our brains around the idea that our lives were changing completely. A month ago, our to-do list included rearranging everything in our condo so we could turn our guest room into a nursery. A month ago, getting fatter was a thing of pride for me, and being out of breath was just how things were. A month ago, I had gotten used to accepting congratulations and answering questions about baby things. A month ago, I had just started to feel little flutters of movement in my belly, and although it was weird, it was expected. It was normal.

Along with all of that, a month ago, going to work every morning and teaching was normal, but now that my whole world has been dumped on its head, I can’t just go back to business as usual. It seems wrong that the world is still turning, that billions of people are carrying on as though nothing terrible has happened. Losing Ella felt like being thrown off of a moving carnival ride, and going back to work feels like trying to jump back on while it’s still in motion, knowing that once I get back on, it won’t be as fun anymore.

I suppose that’s what it’s like when you lose anyone. Even if you can get back on the ride, one of your ride buddies won’t be there. It would be easier to hop on a different ride – one that is just starting up, one where all your memories are yet to be made, one where there are only seats to be filled, not seats left empty by those who are gone too soon.

Moving on seems easier, but I’ve done too much settling down to just leave it all behind. Moving on seems like it would bring the instant relief I want right now from the pain of going back to a past that doesn’t look like my future. But settling down offers the long-term comfort and support of those who’ve loved me all along and will continue to do so.

When it comes to work, I’m tempted to move on, but I think settling down is the better choice. When it comes to my daughter, however, I’m not ready to move on, but I can’t settle down either. Not the way I was planning to anyway. I feel like a shift in perspective would help a lot, like “it’s not that I’m moving on from my daughter, but…” or “I can’t settle down into motherhood, but…”

I just don’t know what that new perspective will be or how to get there. Suggestions welcome.

Grief Attachment

One of the things we’ve learned through the grief process is that people have rituals surrounding death because it gives us something to attach the grief to. Lots of people have asked if we’re going to have some kind of memorial service for Ella, and that would be something to attach grief to, but neither of us wants to have one. I’m really not sure why, but it’s just not something we want to do. When we were in the hospital, the chaplain came and did a blessing for her, which looked very much like a baptism. I held Ella, and Will held me, and the chaplain said some things I cannot remember, but that I remember being really beautiful. And she sprinkled some water on Ella’s tiny forehead while we cried and tried to understand what was happening.

Just thinking about that moment makes me cry, so I know that some of my grief is attached to it. The only problem with trying to attach all of your grief to a ritual is that your grief is much larger than that. You can’t just have a funeral and move on. You have to work through it. In the process of working through it, though, there may be other things you can do to memorialize your loss.

Box It Up

babyboxI found an Etsy store that makes personalized keepsake boxes. I really liked them, and I could have the box say anything I wanted. I got one that has my daughter’s name and birthday. It also says, “forever in our hearts,” to remind me that although she is no longer physically present with us, she was real, she was alive, and she is not lost. I put all the things that remind me of her into the box: ultrasound pictures, a bracelet with her name that the nurses made for me, the positive pregnancy test, the tiny hand- and footprints they made, and a “birth certificate” the nurses gave us. (They told us that they don’t do official birth certificates for babies born that early, but they made a little keepsake one for us.)

I knew that I wanted to keep all of her things in a special box just for them, but I didn’t realize how therapeutic it would be for me. As soon as I got everything in there and closed the lid, I felt a sense of relief. It was like she had a place and I would always know where to find her.

Plant a Tree or Garden

I haven’t done this yet, but I’d like to. I haven’t done it yet because we don’t have a yard, and I am a terrible gardener. But one day, when we have a house with a little patch of grass, I will plant a tree, and I will watch it grow over the years. And should we sell that house and move, I will plant another one. Alternatively, you could plant a garden. I read a story about a family whose friends and neighbors all contributed items to a memorial garden. They set aside a section of their yard for the garden, and they planted everything they were given. Then every year, they added to it and watched it grow and bloom. I love this idea.

Get a Tattoo (or a Necklace)

My mom will be happy to know that I have not gotten any new tattoos…yet. I might later, but I’m going to start with a necklace and see how that suits me. A very sweet friend sent me a necklace from this website, but there are also tons of Etsy stores where you can buy necklaces or other pieces of jewelry that suit your taste and style.

Do Something Creative

I am not super-artistically talented. My students laugh at my stick figures almost daily. But a friend who is very gifted at painting surprised us with a painting she did as she prayed for us, and it is beautiful.

But art is not only painting. Make a mosaic, write a story, article, song or poem, cook, dance, knit, crochet, cross-stitch, make pottery or jewelry or film. Do something creative to express what you can’t say, or to make something you can keep and enjoy, or just to keep your brain and your hands busy because God knows you have to keep yourself occupied or you’ll remember what happened, start thinking about it too much, and fall apart again.

Help Others

After they measured, weighed, and cleaned her up, the nurses put Ella in a little knitted (or crocheted?) blanket so we could hold her. I didn’t think to ask where the blanket had come from, but it was clearly a handmade, non-hospital-issued blanket, and I think now that it might have been made by someone who cared a lot about helping parents who’d lost tiny babies. It might have even been made by someone who’d lost a baby herself and who kept her brain and hands occupied by making tiny baby blankets and donating them to the hospital.

You can use the fruits of your creative labor to help others, or you can help in other ways. If you know that a friend has lost a baby, you can clean her house, take food, organize food deliveries and visits for her, or just send her pictures of cute animals. Or you can give to your favorite charity in loving memory of your child.

Get Involved

Rather than just giving money to a charity, get involved with one. Participate in a walk/run to raise money for a cause you care about, host a fund-raiser or charity auction, volunteer at a hospital, school, or other community organization. Do something to remind yourself that life is good and precious and that you have a lot to offer the world. Do something to contribute to the greater good and connect with people because connecting with and offering kindness to others will help you to heal. Do something special for your baby because he/she did something amazing for you, and because your love for your child doesn’t end when his/her heartbeat stops and you need an outlet for your love as much as for your pain.

Survivor’s Guilt

Friend A – we’ll call her Ashley – has had two healthy pregnancies that resulted in healthy babies. She has never had a miscarriage or any difficulty conceiving. She told me that during her first pregnancy, two of her coworkers had miscarriages, and she tried to hide herself from them so that they wouldn’t have to see her and be reminded that she was still fine while they had lost babies.

Friend B – we’ll call her Bonnie – had a miscarriage the week before I did and told me that a pregnant coworker was being really weird and avoiding her, and it hurt her feelings.

Friend C – we’ll call her Candace – has also had two healthy pregnancies and no miscarriages or difficulty conceiving. She emailed me the other day to express her sympathy, but we also had a really good discussion about the guilt she feels about so many things regarding her kids. When so many of her friends have lost babies, she feels guilty for getting pregnant easily and never miscarrying, for having her tubes tied when she and her husband felt that their family was complete, for experiencing joy when so many others are experiencing pain, for feeling frustrated with her kids when she knows how incredibly lucky she is to have them, for posting Facebook statuses about her kids, and for being unable to relate to her friends who have experienced the heartache of miscarriage or infertility.

When Bonnie told me about her miscarriage, I was still pregnant, and I said to Will that I felt a little guilty that we had conceived so easily (without meaning to, really) while she and her husband had been trying for several months, and that things had been going so well for us while they had had a terrible loss. And then the next day, my water broke, we lost our baby, and I felt guilty for that too.

Here’s the thing: You can feel guilty for so many things, whether everything is going well or you wonder if you did something to cause a tragedy, but the truth is that there’s no need for guilt. If you had babies without ever having to deal with miscarriage or infertility, you didn’t do anything wrong by having healthy kids, and you aren’t doing anything wrong if you share your joy with others in person or on social media. I didn’t do anything wrong in my pregnancy, and I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong by sharing my pain. People are meant to live in community and share their lives, both good and bad. My hope in sharing now is not that people would feel guilty for never having gone through a miscarriage, but that people who have suffered in silence would feel less alone and more a part of a community.

But now that this has come up, I feel like we need to talk about it. Communication between women breaks down completely around the topics of miscarriage and infertility, and I think there are a few things going on:

  1. Women who have had miscarriages or difficulty conceiving feel ashamed or embarrassed, or they simply don’t want to bring everybody down by shedding light on their misfortunes, so they don’t talk about it (like the dozens of women who have told me privately about their miscarriages over the past couple of weeks).
  2. Women who have only had healthy pregnancies are trying to be sensitive toward their friends who have had difficulties (like my friend Ashley and possibly Bonnie’s coworker), and they feel guilty for their good fortune (like Candace).
  3. We stop talking because we don’t know what to say, or we think saying anything at all will cause pain.

So let me just address all of that now. There is nothing for any of us to feel ashamed of or guilty about. Can we please just love and take care of each other instead of worrying about how we’ll be perceived?

Friend, if you’ve lost a baby, I promise you that people who love you are not blaming you for it. People who are idiots will say stupid things because that’s what idiots do (and even good people are idiots sometimes), but people who love you will only want to hug you and be there for you. They may not know what to say, and everyone will feel awkward standing in your living room while you can’t stop crying, but it’s ok. It’s really ok. Your tears are appropriate and good and beautiful. And I know you feel guilty (and ashamed, embarrassed, confused, angry, hopeless, sad, and lost). I know. Feel it, but don’t become it. You are not at fault, you are not less than, and you are not hopeless or lost forever. You just feel that way now. And you are entitled to your feelings.

Friend, if you’ve never lost a baby, I am so happy for you. Seriously. In the midst of all of this horribleness, I am nothing but thankful that you have never had to go through the same horribleness. Seeing babies makes me sad sometimes, but some friends’ babies are so darn cute, they actually cheer me up. I can’t help it. And seeing pregnant friends is hard for me right now, but their friendship is so important to me. It would make things even harder if they avoided me without any explanation. If you are pregnant and have a friend who is dealing with a miscarriage, it’s ok to ask what you should do. And if your friend isn’t up to seeing you just yet, don’t take it personally. Just give her time.

We need to keep talking. A few days after we lost Ella, we had a doctor’s appointment, and the doctor said that no matter what people said to us, it would probably hurt for a while. Even if people said very nice, comforting, loving things, they would sting. He said it’s like an open wound, and no matter what you do to it – even if you’re doing healthy things like cleaning and bandaging it – it just hurts. And he was right, but that doesn’t mean we should stop talking just because it hurts. That’s like saying you shouldn’t touch a wound – even to clean it – because it stings. Yes, it stings, but it’s necessary for healing.

Unreasonable

I used to say things like, “Everything happens for a reason,” and, “This is part of God’s plan.” I’m not going to say those things anymore, especially when death is involved. Jesus’s death and resurrection were physical so that ours could be spiritual, but I think that in the original plan, there was only life, both spiritual and physical. And I think that in eternity, there will be only life. And while we are physically living, we are meant to experience life in abundance. I think that death is an indication that something is broken. I don’t think it’s part of the plan.

That is not to say that I doubt God. I’m a big believer in the redemption of all broken things, and I hope that I’m in the process of healing. I think these are God-given things that come after a death or loss, but I will not say that God planned the death of my daughter. (Nor will I say that God planned the death of my great-grandmother, who passed away after living a long, full life.) I think we find hope and redemption after a death occurs, and those are good things. I think we have healing, hope, and redemption because we have death, loss, and brokenness. I do not think we have death, loss, and brokenness so that we can have healing, hope, and redemption.

I don’t really know how it all works, but what I do know is that in this time of loss, it is not comforting to me to hear people say that it’s part of God’s plan. It’s not comforting to me to think of God as someone who plans death for babies and pain for parents. It is, however, comforting to think of God as someone who comforts, someone who loves, someone whose heart breaks with mine over the brokenness of death, and someone who brings healing, hope, and redemption.

So if you’re dealing with a death, be it sudden or expected, a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or a loss of any kind, I want you to know that there is hope for the future. There is always healing and redemption to be found. Just try to hang in there. I know that’s what people mean when they say that things happen for a reason. They mean that if you hang in there and work toward healing, healing will come. They mean that in time, you will learn a lesson or come to appreciate something about the hardship. They mean that this will not always be the completely and totally horrible thing that it is at this moment. But that’s not always the way it comes across. So if someone says something insensitive or hurtful to you, I know it’s hard, but try to remember that people are not always the most eloquent, diplomatic, sensitive, or helpful in times like these. They don’t know what to say, but they want to say that it’ll be ok and they love you.

And if you love someone who is experiencing a death or loss of any kind, consider refraining from saying things like, “This is part of God’s plan.” If your friend expresses this sentiment, you can certainly support the belief, but be aware that these words are not always comforting. Honestly, the best interactions I’ve had since my miscarriage three weeks ago have been with people who’ve:

  • said, “I’m sorry.”
  • said nothing, but just let me cry.
  • said, “You can talk about it if you want to, but we totally don’t have to.”
  • brought food and talked to me like a normal person.
  • texted me cute/funny animal pictures.
  • cleaned and/or helped me clean something.
  • played games with me.

It’s ok if you don’t know what to say to comfort people. They don’t need to hear your theories on why it happened or what’s to come. They just need to know that you love and support them where they are right now.

The Honest Guide to Miscarriage

After 16 weeks of pregnancy, I gave birth to a baby girl. Ella Claire McMillian was born at 9:08 p.m. on July 19, 2014. She was about 7 inches long (18 cm) and weighed 5 ounces. I’m honestly not sure if I should be writing about it yet because I don’t have a neat and tidy bow to tie it up with yet, and normally my blog is more upbeat. But if I’m writing an honest guide to anything, it should be honest. So here we are.

If you want to hear the whole story of what happened, I will tell you, but it’s pretty graphic because my pregnancy was much more advanced than most are when miscarriages happen. So for now, I’m just going to stick with the emotional fall-out from it because I think that is not so unique to my situation and perhaps more helpful to you if you’ve had a miscarriage and somehow found my blog looking for help.

If you have had a miscarriage, I’m so sorry. I am so, so sorry. You are not alone. Your grief is valid and completely warranted. Your feelings, whatever they are, are respected here. I’m not going to tell you about statistics because as helpful as they can be, statistics have not been as comforting to me for the past two weeks as simply having permission to feel what I feel. I’ve been very lucky to have friends and family who have given me that permission and freedom, but who have also encouraged me not to beat myself up.

Hormones

In an honest guide to miscarriage, I should start by saying that your hormones are going absolutely insane for the first week or two at least. And this massive hormone shift will make your already-intense feelings just completely out of control. When I am able to remind myself of this fact, it makes things a little more manageable, I guess because I know that eventually my hormone levels will go back to normal, and I’ll be able to feel things normally again.

In the midst of all the hormonal changes, here’s what I’ve been feeling:

Guilt

My husband has had to tell me a LOT not to beat myself up. Two doctors told me there was nothing I could have done or not done to prevent it, and we had just had a prenatal appointment 4 days earlier where everything looked perfect, so intellectually, I know it wasn’t my fault. But there’s just something so frustrating about it not being anybody’s fault, about there not being a reason for it at all. I don’t know how I would feel if I knew for sure that it was my fault. I’m sure it would be worse, and that I would require years of therapy for that, but part of me still thinks answers – even horrifying ones – are better than no answers, so I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I did wrong.

I’ve gone through the quasi-plausible mistakes – I didn’t exercise enough, I didn’t rest enough, I strained too hard when I pooped, I accidentally rolled onto my stomach in my sleep, I didn’t eat well enough, I didn’t take my vitamins consistently – and the philosophical ones – I complained too much about the discomforts of pregnancy, I didn’t appreciate what I had when I had it. But none of it really adds up. Women who treat their bodies terribly and don’t want the babies growing inside them have been having healthy babies for centuries. There’s just no logic to it.

The thing is I didn’t do anything wrong. The doctors said so. And my counselor friend pointed out that if I didn’t do anything wrong, I must have done everything right. I hate that right now because I still want to know why this happened. I want to know how we can prevent it from happening again. I want to trouble-shoot so that next time, I can do pregnancy perfectly and keep my baby safe. There is a chance that I will get some answers. They’re running some tests on the baby to see if she had some sort of chromosomal abnormality that prevented her from developing, and in a few weeks, I’ll have a follow-up appointment where they’ll start looking to see if there’s anything physically wrong with me that can be fixed. But the truth is that nobody knows why a lot of miscarriages happen.

Anger

There just are no answers, and there might never be, which really pisses me off. What has medical science been doing for all these years that there are still no answers in one of the most devastating situations ever that SO many women go through? I’m also mad at my body for not doing its job. I’m mad at Facebook for showing me all of my pregnant friends’ happy pregnancy posts. I’m mad at the rest of the world for continuing to spin and function as usual when my world has completely crashed down around me. I’m mad at myself for getting so wrapped up in pregnancy that it became my whole world. I’m mad at the fact that women who don’t take care of themselves or their unborn babies have completely healthy pregnancies, that women who don’t want or love their babies still carry them to term, that we were supposed to be in the clear, having made it squarely into the 2nd trimester, and that we’d gotten so excited and told everybody the news just to have it completely shattered.

Depression

I’m angry and sad about the same things, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two emotions. I think the only way to tell (for me) is that when I’m angry, I want to destroy something, but when I’m really depressed, I want to destroy everything. I’m not saying I’m suicidal. I would never, could never do that to the people I love. But when the sadness becomes overwhelming, you just want it to stop, and you care very little about how that is accomplished. And in the midst of all those hormones, sadness can turn into intense depression very easily. These are just the facts. I think I’m out of the woods on this one, thankfully. After a lot of crying, a lot of talking with my husband, a lot of board games and Parks and Recreation on Netflix, a lot of praying, “Help,” over and over and over, a lot of friends and family bringing food and babysitting me, and a little bit of time to adjust, I have more hope. And hope goes a long way. Here’s what I have told myself often over the past two weeks:

Where there is love, there is life, and where there is life, there is hope.

Will and I love each other like crazy. Our friends and family have shown us so much love. We believe that God loves us completely. And even though it hurts, we loved and still love our baby. The joy we feel loving each other and the pain we feel loving Ella both remind me that we are experiencing life. And where there is life, there is hope.

Fear

Hope and fear play a terrible tug-of-war in my mind and my heart. As soon as I think, “We can try again,” I am immediately afraid that this will happen again, and I don’t know if I can do this again. When you have a miscarriage, everyone wants to tell you success stories about people who had a miscarriage, but who now have healthy kids. It’s helpful in a way, but it doesn’t stop you from being terrified of trying again and going through this pain again.

Hope

Right now, we’re in a never-ending fear-hope-sadness cycle. I start to feel ok, but then I do a load of laundry, and there are still maternity clothes in there. I start to feel ok, but then I eat something I craved when I was pregnant, and it reminds me. I get sad, and then I think we’ll try again, and then I’m scared. It just doesn’t stop. I’m told that that’s normal, and that it will probably continue, especially if I get pregnant again. I’d like to see longer stretches of hope and shorter stretches of fear in the cycle, but I suppose I need time for that to develop. For now, I’m eating chocolate cake for breakfast and looking forward to a weekend away with my husband because when the past is painful and the future is terrifying, all you can do is focus on what you have going for you right now.

If you knew how many life lessons I’ve learned from the Broadway show Rent, you’d either feel like you don’t understand me at all but you love me anyway, or like we are absolute soul mates, depending upon the depth of your love for musical theater. Different ones hit me at different times in life. Right now, it’s this:

Forget regret,
Or life is yours to miss.

And this:

Give in to love,
Or live in fear.

The rest of the song is sort of hit or miss, but I really love those lines about giving in to love and not missing out on life. It isn’t fun at all right now. It hurts, and it’s scary, and I wish I could fast-forward through this part of life or just cut it out entirely, but I’m starting to think it’s possible that I might make it through to a place of joy again at some point in the future.

A good friend who had a miscarriage a couple of years ago sent me a message that I’ve kept in mind a lot these past two weeks. She said that you never really “get over” it, but that it’s like a drop of ink in water, and over time, it goes from being a drop of ink in a shot glass to being a drop of ink in a bathtub. I hope (and feel like) there is truth in that. And I think that every kindness, every loving thought, word, and deed, every bit of grace and truth, every casserole and chocolate cake delivered, every card, email, text, call, and Facebook message, every prayer, every hug, every moment that folks sit with me and just let me cry, every heart that is broken with mine, every moment of snuggling with my husband, every funny/cute animal picture, every episode of Parks and Recreation, every board game, every warm shower, every breath of fresh air is a drop of water in my glass. It’s still pretty dark, and I think it will be for a while, but it’s diluting slowly.

The Honest Guide to Pregnancy – Weeks 14-15

I don’t know if I’m starting something here that I won’t be able to keep up with, but I’ll try. I really like the idea of documenting this journey for other women, but also for myself so that if we have another kid, I can look back and remember what happened when…not that a 2nd pregnancy will necessarily be at all like this one. But still…

Today is my last day in week 15. It’s been 19 days since I last vomited (knock on wood). I know it’s been 19 days because we keep a chalkboard by our front door, and for the past month, it’s had a square drawn on it followed by the words “days without incident.” We update the number in the square every morning on our way out the door. We’ve had to reset it to zero a couple of times, but this is the longest stretch so far, so I’m feeling pretty good about the odds that my “morning” sickness phase is finished. I may give it another week just to be sure, and then return the chalkboard to its original role as Sweet Note Spot.

Some interesting things have happened in weeks 14 and 15 besides the fact that I haven’t hurled once (knock on wood). Let’s start with the least interesting and work our way up.

Flintstone’s Vitamins

I am not a champion when it comes to taking pills. I can do it, but I really have to psych myself up, and it’s not enjoyable. So when we found out I was pregnant, we got gummy vitamins. They tasted not awful, and they were easy to take, but I really think they contributed to my nausea, and I was not cool with that. Then we found some that were supposed to be easy on the stomach and actually help prevent nausea, so we got those, and voila! The nausea abated. Unfortunately, they were larger than rifle bullets, and I dreaded taking them so badly that I just gave up. I mean hey, women had healthy babies for centuries before prenatal vitamins even became a thing, right? And I’m suuuuuure I’m getting everything the baby and I both need on my diet of cereal, pickles, and peanut-butter crackers…

After some internet research on the subject, I found out that many women take Flintstone’s chewable vitamins while pregnant, so at our last appointment, I asked if that was ok, and I got the go-ahead. Yabba-dabba-doo!!

Shortness of Breath

This is actually not new. I think I’ve been out of breath since about week 6, but back then, I got out of breath from walking up stairs whereas now, all it takes is rolling over in bed. To be fair, changing positions in bed is a greater ordeal in pregnancy in general what with all the pillows involved in propping me up so I don’t sleep on my stomach. But seriously, it’s just rolling over. It’s not an Olympic event.

Sidebar: What would pregnant Olympics look like? Would rolling over in bed be an event? Surely one could compete in how long she can go without peeing. Later in pregnancy, leg shaving could be very competitive. And of course, the long-distance waddle would be a highlight of the games. :End sidebar

Baby Bump

At the end of the last quarter (3 weeks ago), I promised my coworkers that I would work on a more respectable bump over our two-week break, and I’m proud to say that I totally delivered (pun intended) on that promise. Here’s the thing, though: I’ve always had a belly. The only real difference now is that I can’t suck it in anymore. At all. It is out there for all to see, and honestly, I’m ok with that. We were walking around Target the other night, and I said to Will, “You know what I really like about being pregnant? It’s totally ok for me to look pregnant.” When skinny women get pregnant, they are generally still pretty thin, but they have a baby bump, you know, like every time US Weekly posts a grainy long-distance photo of a celebrity on the cover with her belly circled. But when you have the kind of build I have, it’s hard to tell when you’re pregnant and when you have just started to let yourself go.

The people who know I’m pregnant know I’m starting to show. The people who don’t know definitely wonder, but they don’t have the guts to ask yet because it’s still very possible that married life has just been that good to me.

As the bump gets bigger, though, I’m starting to believe that it has power. People are starting to make way for me and let me have their seats and stuff. Not a lot, but you better believe I’m going to use this thing to my advantage as it becomes more obvious.

Relaxin

And no, I don’t mean chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool (and definitely no shootin’ some b-ball outside of the school). Apparently, around this time in the pregnancy, your body produces a hormone called relaxin that relaxes your joints so that your hips can spread out to make way for baby’s grand entrance into the world, and possibly so that your rib cage can spread out to make way for all the organs your baby is displacing as it grows.

But what you feel is that your legs could detach from your body at any moment, your hips are sore, and your back muscles are begging for mercy from working overtime to hold your torso together. Hence, the no b-ball.

The Great Migration

At this point in pregnancy, your uterus is getting too big for its cozy little usual spot and decides to take up residency a bit farther north. So it squeezes itself out of its downtown location, which is unpleasant in itself. I was sitting on the couch one night and got very uncomfortable. It felt crampy in my baby box, which had hitherto been the worst possible thing that could happen. In the first trimester, almost anything you look up has an explanation with this final sentence: “As long as you’re not cramping, you’re probably fine.” But the second trimester…well that’s a whole new ball game, so I Googled “14 weeks pregnant pressure in lower abdomen.” And I found this awesome website with the best sentence I could have possibly read at that moment. “If you’re feeling little contractions or pulling and stretching sensations this week, don’t panic.”

It went on to explain that all my organs were going to move. And friends, they DID. And I felt it happening. And I knew what the earth felt like when Pangaea broke up. It was weird. I told the nurse at our last appointment that I woke up in the middle of the night and could feel everything moving around inside me, and she said, “Yep, that’s probably exactly what was happening.”

Skeletor

At our first appointment, we saw the baby. It looked like a kidney bean with a heartbeat, and it was amazing. At the second appointment, we saw the baby again. It looked like a very squirmy pile of string beans with a head and a heartbeat, and it was also amazing. At our third appointment, it looked like Skeletor. Yep. Still amazing.

And let me tell you, Skeletor is ROCKING OUT in there. L-Josh gave us her home fetal monitor thingamajig, and we haven’t had any success finding the heartbeat with it so far, but now we know why. The little booger won’t sit still long enough for you to find its heart. Even the nurse couldn’t do it with her fancy medical-grade doppler. That’s how we got to see Skeletor.

As real as the symptoms of pregnancy are, it’s still hard to believe there’s a tiny human in there. I see my belly growing and understand, theoretically, why it’s happening, but even when I see the ultrasounds, it doesn’t seem real. It feels like they’re putting cold gel and some kind of Pampered Chef product (you know, one of those things you got as a gift but don’t know what it’s for) on my belly and then showing me a crappy black-and-white movie of a really freaky-ass baby kind of half-heartedly trying to do the worm.

Maybe when I can feel it moving and kicking, it’ll start to feel real. Until then, I’m just going to rejoice in the fact that I haven’t thrown up in 19 days (knock on wood).

The Honest Guide to Pregnancy – First Trimester

In case you haven’t heard, I’m pregnant! I know, I know. It’s weird for me too, and most of the time, it still doesn’t seem real. I don’t have that great a bump going on yet, and I can’t feel the baby or anything, so it’s kind of just like I’m bloated all the time and can’t get enough pickles…which, now that I think of it, might have something to do with the bloating.

Aaaaanyhoe…some of the early signs of pregnancy are well-known – morning sickness, food cravings, tiredness. If you had asked me 4 months ago what pregnant women experience in the first trimester, I might have given you those three. Maybe. But I am here today to tell you what it’s really like, or at least what it has been like for me with this baby. I know from being on an expecting moms message board that no two pregnancy experiences are alike, so I won’t presume to say that my experience is universal. But here is what I have learned about pregnancy so far.

Morning Sickness Is a Lie

If by “morning sickness,” you mean nausea throughout the entire morning with possible vomiting between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m., then a more sinister nausea with almost inevitable vomiting between 5:30 and 7:00 p.m., and a slight queasiness anytime it’s been more than an hour since your last snack, then yes, that is accurate. But the term “morning sickness” implies that this is an early-in-the-day phenomena that will pass after a certain hour in the day. Lies. So many lies.

The worst part about morning sickness (once you get over the deception of its name) is that it’s every freaking day for WEEKS. Nausea is the worst. Throwing up feels terrible. But usually when you have a stomach bug or food poisoning or something, it’s awful, but it only lasts for a few days. When you feel terrible every day for a month or more, it really wears you down, and you feel like you’re never going to feel good again. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. Even though you can’t imagine ever reconciling your relationship with your stomach, there is hope. The vomiting incidents start happening less frequently, and one day, you walk out the door to go to work and realize that you aren’t worried about puking in the bushes on your way to the car. It’s a good feeling.

You Don’t Know What Boobs Are Until You’ve Had Pregnancy Boobs

**TMI Alert**

I don’t think I’ve worn anything smaller than a C-cup since I was about 13, and honestly, I have no idea what size I am now. I found these amazingly comfortable bras a few years ago that just come in sizes small-extra large, and I’ve been wearing them ever since, but when you get pregnant, your boobs decide to get really ambitious. It starts out as a horrible sort of discomfort – we’ll call it “pain” – that makes sleeping on your stomach impossible. Also jumping, running, descending stairs quickly, not wearing a bra, and anything other than very gentle bathing are out. Then you notice that each boob weighs about a pound more than it did last week. When we went to our 2nd doctor’s appointment and I hadn’t gained any weight from the first one, we were surprised because we thought surely my boobs would have tipped the scale, but I guess all the vomiting evened things out.

Why the boobs need to get bigger now, I do not know. It would make sense around month 8, when the baby will be coming soon, and the milk is preparing to come in. But at week 8? I’m at a loss. On the bright side, my husband has no complaints.

Tiredness Is Nothing

Tiredness is what you feel after a day at the state fair, after a long day’s work at the office, after staying up too late and getting up too early. Everybody experiences tiredness at some point. Exhaustion is what you feel when your body is making another human being. I imagine people who work outdoor heavy construction jobs for 10 hours a day in NC in August feel the same thing. For the first couple of months of pregnancy, I slept for 11-13 hours a day, and I have never been more thankful for my part-time job. After sleeping for 9-10 hours at night, it was still all I could do to get through a 4-hour class and eat lunch before napping for another 2-3 hours. I don’t know how women with full-time and/or physically demanding jobs do it. Or moms with other young kids at home. They must have some kind of super power.

I Pee 500,000 Times a Day

I knew that pregnant women peed a lot, but I always thought it was only toward the end of the pregnancy when the baby is huge and stepping on your bladder. Nope. It starts immediately and with enthusiasm (if urine can be enthusiastic). First it has something to do with the fact that your body is making extra fluid in general. By week 6 or something crazy early, you have like 50% more blood in your body. I figured out how much that would weigh and factored it into my first trimester weight gain, but since I didn’t gain any weight, I guess we’re back to the “morning” sickness offsetting things.

I Can Smell Everything x 10

This, they really should warn you about, so I’m here to do it now. I had to switch to an unscented body wash because my regular one made me gag. My sweet husband couldn’t put his face too close to my face because despite his excellent oral hygiene, I couldn’t stand his breath. He could have just brushed his teeth and used Listerine, but my super-sniffer would only detect the half-digested food coming directly up through his stomach and esophagus from his intestines. Speaking of food, the smells of most of them made me sick, so we have gone through cereal at an alarming rate over the past few months. I don’t know how I made it through the worst of it without having to change deodorants, but maybe my brain instinctively knew that my own natural odor would have made me sicker than my fruity Dove deodorant. Thanks, brain, for sparing me from the torture of my own B.O.

Oh! And I smell a phantom smell that follows me sometimes. Mostly, I smell it at home, but I have on occasion smelled it in the car and at work. It’s a terrible, sour milk smell that Will can’t smell at all ever. Fun times.

Food Cravings/Aversions Are Serious

It’s not that you just really want Bojangle’s fries with honey mustard dipping sauce from Chick-Fil-A and a Wendy’s Frosty. It’s that that is the only thing you can even conceive of eating without hurling. And it’s not that the smell of chicken-flavored ramen makes you a little queasy. It’s that should your husband have cooked it in the last 24 hours, you have to open all the doors, turn on the fans, and leave the house for two hours so that you don’t hurl. He has been amazingly supportive and refrained from cooking things we’ve discovered cause a vomiting incident, bless his precious heart.

You Have Pain in Body Parts You Didn’t Know Existed

Ladies, did you know you have something called the round ligament of the uterus? I did not, but I am well acquainted with it now. As your uterus grows, the ligament stretches, and you feel it. Hoooboy do you feel it. You feel it when you’re walking, when you’re sitting, when you roll over in bed (that’s the worst), and when you sit up or stand up. And when you first start to feel it, it freaks you out because any pain in the pelvic region is cause for great alarm, but I’m told it’s quite normal, so whenever I feel something new, I always check first to see if what I’m feeling is connected to the round ligament. It very often is, and the other times, it’s usually gas.

Not Telling People Is HARD

We found out I was pregnant on a Saturday. That night, we went out to dinner and a movie with some friends. The next day, we went to church and lunch with Will’s mom and sister. The next day, I went to work. We told his mom and sister because we HAD to tell somebody, but when I wasn’t telling people, I had one thought running through my head just behind every other thought and conversation: “I’m pregnant. Holy crap, I’m pregnant. There is the tiniest of tiny human beings growing inside my body. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh I’m totally pregnant.” We told family pretty quickly, and close friends followed, but we didn’t tell everyone or make a Facebook announcement right away, and I’m glad. I feel like the news has spread at a pace I’m comfortable with even though not telling people was really, really hard.

Perhaps harder than not telling people is figuring out how to tell them. We just blurted it out for most people. Maybe we should have planned something more elaborate, but did I mention the exhaustion? If I had been awake for more than 4 hours when I told you, blurting it out was probably all I could muster. Whitney got the best announcement we did. She sang us the most amazing toast at our wedding – yes, sang…live – so we thought she deserved something similar. Will had given me a ukulele for Mother’s Day, and I learned how to play Jim Croce’s “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song,” and I changed the lyrics to give her the news. Maybe not my best performance, but it was received very well.

The Internet Is Very Helpful…Sometimes

I’ve read what the whole internet has to say on every tiny little thing I’ve experienced so far, and it can be very helpful, but it can also be completely terrifying. Say you Google “first trimester bleeding.” You’re going to get a bunch of people who say it’s completely normal, and unless you’re also having terrible cramps, you’re probably fine. Then you’re going to get a bunch of people correcting those people, and saying that it’s not normal, but it is quite common, and while you’re probably fine, you should talk to your doctor anyway. Those people are my favorites. But then you’re going to get a bunch of horror stories about miscarriages, at which point you have to just stop with the internet because the more you read, the more stressed out you’re going to get, and that’s not good for anybody.

My Husband Is Amazing

As I mentioned before, I’m on an expecting moms message board, and bless their hearts, some of these women have terrible husbands/boyfriends/fiances. Just terrible. One woman said that the smell of beer makes her sick, but her husband still brings a beer to bed with him and then wants to kiss her with his beer breath. Other women say their husbands won’t help them around the house, but actually complain that the wives aren’t keeping things as tidy as they should. And in one unbelievably sad story, a woman told us that her husband had punched her in the stomach. I mean…really, really terrible.

When I read stories like these from other women, I can’t help but be extra thankful for my husband, who has been a complete champ so far. He does the dishes because the food on them makes me sick. He brings me a bowl of cereal in bed because it helps my stomach if I can eat before I have to get up. He goes to the grocery store because I don’t have the energy to walk that much. He doesn’t cook foods that make me queasy. He doesn’t get upset when I can’t talk to him face-to-face because of his breath. He doesn’t get scared when I start crying for no reason whatsoever. He doesn’t complain that there are three times as many pillows in the bed as humans. He tells me every day that I’m beautiful, and that he loves me like crazy. He doesn’t mind that I went two whole months without folding any laundry. He rolls with the food cravings. If I couldn’t get enough Life cereal last week, but this week it must be Cinnamon Toast Crunch or nothing, that’s ok. And he doesn’t judge me if I eat 10 pickle slices in one afternoon (purely hypothetical situation, of course).

So if I’ve made pregnancy sound terrible so far, then I’ve done a pretty accurate job describing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. I’ve also gotten to see just how lucky I am to have a husband who is so incredibly perfect for me and who loves me so much, to have a body that is capable of supporting the growth and development of a whole other body inside it, and to have friends and family who have bent over backwards to love and support us. Seriously, it’s been wonderful.

And now that I’m in the 2nd trimester, I’m getting over the exhaustion and the morning sickness, so I’m able to enjoy it all the more!