One of my oldest, closest friends (who I’ve lost touch with, mostly, in the last few years), just announced the arrival of a new baby, her 5th child. Mazel tov. I am happy for her. I really am. She’s a wonderful, thoughtful person, and I cherish the bond and memories we’ve had together. I know if we lived closer to each other, we’d still be close friends. I sometimes wonder that if I felt comfortable being open with her about the reality of my life since marriage, we’d still be close friends, and perhaps this news wouldn’t strike the embarrassing raw nerve that it has.
It’s funny to think that I could have also had a newborn right around this month. Last year I had a miscarriage. Not the kind that’s written about on social media lately, the articles that I can relate to, but not entirely. I was on birth control. It wasn’t supposed to happen in the first place. In fact, I was so in denial of the fact that I was “late” until I was about 7 weeks along. That’s not something you usually ignore when you’re a married, religious woman constantly monitoring your menstrual calendar. But by then, distinct nausea and first trimester symptoms, that I am always blessed with an extra dose of (and know well with, with distinction, from my other pregnancies), were fairly impossible to deny.
Just the cycle before that, I admit, much of me wanted to expand our family. Certainly, my husband would have loved to, and my children regularly nagged me about when they could gain another sibling. But my marriage felt too unstable, and there were never more than a few weeks that I felt remotely secure of the endurance of our relationship. Both our emotional and physical intimacy lacked meaning, and I felt disrespected and hopeless.
So when I realized my reality at 7 weeks, I cried. A lot. I had been toying with the pros and cons of staying in the marriage, and a new pregnancy and baby seemed too daunting to throw into the mix. It would keep me stuck for what seemed like an eternity. My husband knew before I would admit it to myself, having been witness to my odd behavior and recognizing the telltale signs. He was thrilled. A very tiny part of me let myself become excited too, despite the overwhelming fear and disappointment. I thought ahead to what it would be like to have a newborn now, how happy it would make my other children and my husband… how nice it would be to re-enter that stage of life.
And yet, one night, at almost 8 weeks, I called a good friend, finally allowing myself to somewhat, barely, verbally admit to her what this meant, and crying bitter tears while making intermittent trips to heave over the toilet; at that point, I was so sick. I hoped it would be a miscarriage. I hyper-focused on the minor details of wondering how I would buy baby gear all over again, having given most of it away with the intention never to have another again, because of all the fears I had for the future. I was too devastated to feel any positivity about life and was angry that I was in this situation. At Gd, at myself for maybe taking a pill too late, at my husband for the marriage that caused such despair felt over something that should be celebrated.
The next morning I woke up in a tremendous amount of pain, with a gut feeling I knew what was happening. After a day of visiting clinics, consulting with doctors, and crying, it was fairly clear that this short-lived pregnancy ended in miscarriage. I prefer to spare the gore, but it was an overwhelmingly dreadful experience. It felt like the whole world came crashing down. I should have been happy- I didn’t want it. I should have been sadder, and less relieved; there was a life not meant to be lived. I didn’t want it, right? So why was I crying?
I told two other friends who had no idea of the turmoil in our marriage. I said I was ok, it was a mistake, to begin with. They were helpful, but they had no idea. How do you explain the mourning for a baby you didn’t want, interspersed with mourning the marriage and family life you couldn’t have?
How can you reach out and get support for a miscarriage, to risk someone thinking that you would want to be blessed with a healthy pregnancy in the future? How do you comfort your spouse, mourning their loss, through your own personal anger, through the knowledge that you will never want to try again? It was embarrassing to admit how much this loss affected me.
This morning, I was struck by the fact that October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month, and it is also domestic violence awareness month as well. I wanted to write this article in support of the other women who are too ashamed to reach out for support, and for validation because their feelings are confusing. They feel illegitimate getting support for miscarriage, when so many other women who need that support actually wanted their children. They feel dumb for being sad for a loss that would have been an irresponsible decision in the first place, given their complicated domestic situation.
To all those with complicated grief: you deserve to be comforted. You deserve the space to mourn. Your feelings and your experiences are real and valid. May HaShem give you the strength to grow from your loss and your challenge.