I have lost four pregnancies. Four babies. One to first-trimester miscarriage, one to TFMR at 27 weeks, and two to stillbirth past 20 weeks.
For ten years, family, friends, and acquaintances have praised me for being so strong and brave and resilient in the face of recurrent loss.
And I very much appreciate their kindness and support. Honestly, it keeps me afloat and propels me; I’m not sure what I’d do without it.
But I took this photo after a severe panic attack to show that my ‘doing fine face’ is not my default setting.
I took it to bring awareness to how much effort actually goes into seeming normal. This particular attack struck because I was running late for one of my son’s appointments and I couldn’t find my keys.
What should have just been an easy fix – calmly retrace steps, calmly find the keys – I spiraled into mania.
I’m not fit to be a mom.
I’m not responsible.
I can’t keep him safe.
I can’t do regular things.
If he misses this appointment, I can’t get another one for so long and who knows what could happen to him by then?
Heart pounding, sweat dripping, dizzy, nauseated, stomach cramps, blurred vision all because it took me five extra minutes to locate keys.
We were still twenty minutes early to the appointment.
I was formally (finally) diagnosed with PTSD in 2017 after my second attempt at therapy, but I’d been experiencing the symptoms for years and years, following the loss of our daughter at 27 weeks.
It manifested mostly around the safety of my living sons – if they strayed too far from me, if they did anything remotely dangerous, if they crossed the street without me, if they wanted to sleep over a friend’s house.
I could see the irrationality. The logical part of my brain knew that I, obviously, couldn’t control everything, but the side that had signed off on multiple cremations for my own children – that side didn’t seem to get the memo.
I have left a baby shower shaking uncontrollably, barely able to get the pleasantries out before devolving into a sobbing mess in my car. I haven’t even been able to go through the front door for two.
Not that I didn’t want to go; I just physically could not.
My legs turned to jello, my insides convulsed like I was about to vomit, and I sat there just spinning, spinning, and spinning, getting angry with myself for losing it, and in turn, just compounding the stress and making it worse.
Being diagnosed felt like the confirmation that pregnancy loss and baby loss was more than just something really sad. It felt like confirmation that it changes you, on a cellular, behavioral level; It forces you to relearn how to be a person in the world.
And although I am not a doctor or a nurse or a research scientist, I live with the daily effects and feel very confident in my anecdotal assessment of pregnancy loss as trauma.
Sometimes I think we are too good at pretending to be okay and healed.
Sometimes I think people are more surprised than they should be when they find out that we’re not ‘over it’; that we don’t get over it.
Sometimes I think people see the brave face, the ‘doing just fine’ face, and think it’s the only one I have.
Sometimes I don’t think people fully appreciate the exhaustion of just showing up to life.
People praise my bravery and strength because they see me still going, still taking part, and still having very real moments of joy and serenity in the midst of chaos.
Part of that bravery, though, is being willing to share how much work goes on behind the scenes. Being willing to take off the mask and admit that yes, I am strong, but I also have had a panic attack when my children went down the ‘big’ slide at the water park.
That’s my reality.
This is the face I don’t like to show but I want people to know what it’s really like.
And if you’re struggling some days like I am, I want you to know that you are not alone. Just close your eyes, breathe, and we can get through it together.