Two years ago on the evening of my birthday, my body wracked with pain and I felt my heart crack as I witnessed the pieces of our first baby exit my body.
“I’m miscarrying,” I sobbed to my husband.
“Don’t say that,” he said, “I don’t want to even think that word.”
And so I went through our first miscarriage alone.
Last year my doctor couldn’t locate the heartbeat we had seen a few weeks prior and declared our second baby dead.
“I’m so sorry,” he said.
This time my husband held me through the night, massaging my back as I endured contractions leading to my birthday morning when I woke to find our baby in my panties.
I brought the POC (product of conception) in for research.
“What’s your date of birth?” the doctor asked.
He looked down and continued writing. He didn’t charge for the visit.
Thanks for the birthday present, doc.
Back home, I prepared my own birthday breakfast for my husband’s family.
This year I wrestle with working to concurrently hold gratitude for life in the face of grief. I mourn our two babies and anticipate the sense of loss will never end.
No live baby can replace the two babies who died.
So how do I respond when family and friends wish me, “Happy Birthday!”? Do I say, thanks and today is also a day on which I remember our two babies you never met?
Yet, in the midst of my pain, I cannot deny the joy my mom felt when she first held me in her arms, nor ignore the call to celebrate this gift of existence.
As an introspective introvert going through grief, my thoughts sift through questions in an attempt to find better answers than, “it (your loss) was meant to be.”
Am I a mother or just someone whose two babies died?
Were they babies or embryos? Did I go through postpartum or was it just a big period?
Is it my birthday or their death day? Did they die that day, or was it just the day life was ruled out as a possibility? Was it for our collective good or to avoid making life worse?
This discombobulating both-and, this nebulous in-between, simply confirms uncertainty as my only current certainty.
For every four pregnancies, miscarriage occurs at least once, yet despite its ubiquity remains shrouded in silence.
I want to break the silence and advocate for societal compassion for future mothers who miscarry, but often my voice is drowned by the din of those who would throw in their own two cents rather than listen to my story.
“It’s because you ate pineapple.”
“I told you not to walk so much.”
“God is good.”
“It happened for a reason.”
“I lost my phone last week and it felt like I lost a child.”
“Get over it.”
Yes, there were empathetic responses, a memorable few who took time to grieve and cry with me. For their kindness, I am grateful.
I’m currently based in Indonesia where an apparent national preoccupation with procreation post-marriage (culturally, newlyweds are expected to produce a child within the first year) coupled with ignorance around the intricacies of fecundity, create fertile ground for invasive questioning and hurtful assumptions.
“Do you have kids yet?” and “Are you pregnant?” are the two most commonly asked questions when people find out I’m married.
Whenever I share about our two miscarriages, they invariably want to know why.
I’d like to know why as well.
The stark reality is that miscarriage is under-researched and an area of much mystery even for experts on pregnancy loss.
After each baby died, I assumed it was my fault, an idea supported by most people I encountered as well as by books I read about miscarriage. After all, the woman carries the child so what she does determines what happens, right?
We’ve learned that of the 15% of couples who face infertility and repeated pregnancy loss, half are due to issues the men have and half are due to issues the women have.
Recent research supports it is shared 50/50 and a difficult season for both.
So next time you encounter a couple who has experienced pregnancy loss or struggles to get pregnant, show kindness and encourage both the wife and the husband to seek medical care.
Express empathy and remember that grief has no timeline. And if they’re not comfortable being open with you about their sex life, that’s ok. They don’t have to.
How much do you share when it comes to discussing your reproductive organs?
Pregnancy remains a significant opportunity cost, a risky venture, and a taxing emotional and physical experience for women. Yet, many choose to sacrifice and endure discomfort in the hope of one day holding a baby.
These women are courageous.
Braver still are parents who lose a child and continue to live with and honor their loss.
For these women and men face social stigma – both unintended and intentional – as well as judgment when they should be met with compassion.
I like to believe our babies were “fast-tracked” to heaven, their ultimate destiny uninterrupted. This does not lessen my current sense of loss, but it contributes to the idea that my pain and their suffering was not wasted.
Though I cannot guarantee I will ever see them again, I treasure the memories of when I felt them inside me, when I sang to them and whispered, “I love you.”
Not a day goes by when I do not miss them.
As I approach my birthday and the heartbreaking memories connected with it, I recognize many holidays others anticipate with joy are difficult for us who have lost loved ones.
We will never run with her in a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, never hear him race to the Christmas tree to open presents. We will never hear him say, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!”, never hear her say, “Happy Father’s Day, Dad!”
As those around us celebrate their children’s milestones, the only stone I have is the one placed by the Jacaranda tree planted after Phoebe’s death, under which Micah is buried.
And yet, in the face of what will never be, we rejoice with our friends surrounded by wonderful bundles of energy, even as we envy their sleeplessness.
There will always be a little sad in our happy.