I Need to Talk About My Miscarriage
I’m just hungry, I thought. And dizzy. My overnight bag from a trip to Pop Pop’s house was getting heavier by the step and Gus, now almost two and a solid 30 pounds, hung on my hip.
There’s fresh pizza on the first floor of Whole Foods next to our apartment. A special occasion food. Eight weeks into my second pregnancy, I was craving calories and celebrated my discomfort. I’d been taught in my training as a doula that pain can be productive, and I had an instinct that the cramps I had been feeling all morning were miraculous evidence of new life. I tried to smile. The baby is nesting today. And, this kid’s powerful. Then I felt something on my leg.
A heavy, dark, and slow stream of blood made its way down my left inner thigh. Without thinking, I swiped it. My fingertips came up wet. “What’s that?” Gus inquired, pointing to my hand. All day long he asked this question, which usually rendered the response: “That’s a fire truck.” “That’s a doorknob.” “That’s a storm drain.”
“That’s an emergency,” I now said. I wiped my hand on my jean shorts, noticing they were already soaked through with blood. I stopped to text my husband: “I think I need you to come home from work.”
What surprised me most about my miscarriage was that for many women this far along in their pregnancy, it actually wasn’t an emergency at all. “This happens to one in four pregnant women your age,” my midwife said. If 25 percent of my peers are currently experiencing miscarriages right alongside me, why wasn’t I prepared? Why don’t we talk about it? Why was I feeling embarrassed, broken, like a walking wound? I live on the Upper West Side, the new stroller capital of Manhattan. How many other women have experienced a miscarriage in that very same Whole Foods?
My surprise increased in the days that followed when I reached out to close friends and found out that most had miscarried at least once. My question to each friend: Did you talk freely about it? No. They answered, and sighed right along side me.
Why not talk widely about it? One answer may be: Why should I? Not many people talk about a pregnancy until 12 weeks gestation for fear they will lose the baby or choose to terminate for any number of complex reasons. What’s the point in telling people who never knew you were pregnant the depressing news that you’re not anymore?
My (still bloated) gut feeling is that something even more painful silences us — the fear that we, as women, are failures. Procreation, the driving purpose in our constructed notion of womanhood, is broken by this sudden trauma. Medical confirmations of the lost pregnancy from OBs, chiropractors, and my acupuncturist use jargon that feeds more self-sabotaging thoughts that I am deficient. Abnormality… Defect… Incapable… Incomplete… Not viable.
These are hopeless and disempowering diagnoses. I gave birth to Gus on the living room floor, a planned home birth, with no medication. I am a badass woman. I am strong. My miscarriage, however, decimated my confidence.
Years before giving birth, I went to a small village in Bangladesh by myself and used chalk to diagram the reproductive system to indigenous women in burkas because I believed that saying the word “vagina” out loud might encourage them to seek medical treatment for their yeast infections, UTIs, and prolapses. My goal was to normalize the words so that they might be able to communicate more freely. Now, I stand here in front of you, chalk in hand, needing to normalize my miscarriage. And I’d love to hear about yours. I believe this it will allow me — and us — to gather hope and strength. As we talk, let’s add some of these words into our lexicon: Survivor… Strong… Abundant… Mother…. Hope.
Join me, my now-silent sisters. Tell me.
Or maybe tell your Starbucks barista that you need an extra shot because you just had a miscarriage. Tell someone to carry your bags for you, not because you’re weak, but because you recently had a miscarriage and you deserve a break. Tell the bartender to make it a double because you haven’t wanted to drink alcohol for months and now you’re allowed to. “Why?” Your bartender will say.
“Because I’m not pregnant anymore,” you’ll say. “And I want to talk about it.”
I invite you to start, with me, a vocal army of the 25 percenters who can normalize miscarriage in the social sphere. You are not broken. You did nothing wrong. You are strong, you are brave, and there is hope. I was right there next to you at Whole Foods, bleeding out of my shorts. Now I’m well. I’m a survivor. Healed, I will try again.
Five days after the miscarriage: It was summer here in Manhattan, and water balloons bloomed in our local playground. A young girl gave Gus a green one, and he held it gently to his chest.
“Baby,” he said.
“Really?” I said. “This is your baby?”
“Gus’s baby.” He said.
He parented it around the park, showing off its, “belly button,” the knotted neck of the balloon. He also pointed out its “breast,” the puckered bumpy top part resembling a nipple. Eventually he asked me to hold it. I forgot about it in the coffee cup holder of the stroller.
Minutes later he was climbing a mound of mulch and slipped, landing hard on his bottom. He was more startled than hurt.
“I want my baby,” he wailed. I grabbed the water balloon from the stroller and pulled my son onto my lap, holding him in my arms as he cried. Seeking comfort, Gus squeezed the water balloon too hard and BLAM. It exploded on our clothes, hair, and summer crocs. He was shocked and soaking, not unlike me in Whole Foods five days prior.
“My baby.” He keened.
I knew the feeling. Except at his age, it was socially acceptable for him to scream aloud his pain in public. I hugged him. Another mom a few feet away nodded in empathy.
Squeezing him tightly, I reminded myself that he’d never explode. We were both strong enough for this world, and the world strong enough for our loudness.
Ashley Williams is an American film, television and theater actress. Follow her on Instagram @ashleywilliamsandcompany.
This post was originally published on September 9, 2016 as part of the Human Development Project.