Empty Arms Bereavement

How You Begin Again

Hope in the Rough: Surviving Miscarriage & Challenges Conceiving
By Charlotte Capogna-Amias

It’s been five weeks and five days since my pregnancy ended.  Following my attendance at a support group for women who have miscarried, the facilitator said she was impressed with how well I am doing, and the truth is, sometimes I am too.  

Let me be clear: I was incredibly saddened to lose my baby. It is something I think about every day since it has happened. It went like this: First, I laid in bed and cried for the entire day I found out that my baby did not have a heart beating within me.  I kept replaying those awful minutes when the midwife’s doppler wand could not find the “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” sound of my baby’s heartbeat. That cold instrument tricked me for fleeting seconds by picking up on my own pulse through my abdomen and filling the static-y air with its subtle thunder. But there were no fetal sounds to reassure the worry rising in my body. And then there was the drive to the hospital for the ultrasound to confirm what my heart already knew to be true. As I drove there numb and scared I kept thinking, “please don’t let this be my fate.” I wanted to live in the white calm that was my life as a woman with a seemingly healthy pregnancy, before the doppler wand signaled that I wasn’t that anymore. 

In the days after the miscarriage was confirmed, it was all I could think about, except for when I was very intentionally distracting myself with all-consuming activities. I learned that sometimes distraction will save you. In the second week, I thought about the miscarriage every day, but I had longer stretches where I could go without thoughts of it floating in and occupying my brain, taking my imagination hostage in that busy place. Now, I find that most of the time, I am not thinking about the miscarriage. I know its ghost still lives in the background, occasionally coming out to nudge me with a pang of gut-stabbing sadness.  It does not offer any advanced warning- it just shows up, lets itself in, and then is gone.

I have been thinking a lot about resiliency since the miscarriage, that raw, strong bone of the wise ones who inhabit this beautiful, terrible world.  I have had a good life in many ways.  I am grateful every day.

Before I began trying to conceive I was so naive. I didn’t really know the realities of trying to get pregnant, particularly trying to get pregnant when you’re nearly 40 and gay. I had plenty of queer friends of “advanced maternal age” (gag) who had been through the process, still, I didn’t truly understand all that was involved until I was in it. I didn’t know that you could miscarry without having any outward, physical signs. And why would I have known any of this?  Years before, my spouse got pregnant with our daughter on the second try; conception and pregnancy came easy to her, even at 37. I didn’t have the same luck and I quickly found out that not only did I have a rather irregular cycle, I also had an undiagnosed thyroid issue that had to be managed.  I became a verifiable Eeyore about the whole conception process. I complained. I cried. I felt repeatedly disappointed with each month that passed that I was not pregnant.  And then I got pregnant and it didn’t work out.  EE-YORE.

I remember when I was first trying to conceive this acupuncturist saying to me, “you have to manifest that you can get pregnant… picture yourself pregnant… imagine your child.” The thing was, though this made sense to me, I could never figure out how to manifest hope that I’d get pregnant, without getting incredibly disappointed with each passing month that I wasn’t. I am a student of the Buddhist teachings and I knew my attachment was causing some of my own suffering.

In the weeks following my miscarriage, this question has loomed large in my brain again: how can I maintain hope that I will get pregnant again, something I very much want, while not getting disappointed if it doesn’t happen readily, or at all?  How can I manage to carry and nurture a pregnancy again, knowing that it could end the same way the first one did?

These questions itched at me, bothered my very core, and I felt this odd sense that I wouldn’t be able to rest until I figured out the answer to this psychic conundrum. 

Recently I was reading an essay in About What Was Lost, a wonderful collection of essays about the experience of miscarriage. One particular piece- a letter exchange between two women who had miscarried- held the proverbial key to my question. One of the women talked about this exact challenge when she was pregnant for a second time after miscarrying. She tried to do what I had thought was the only possible solution to this dilemma: she tried to not to get attached to the baby developing within her. She pushed that life growing within her out of her mind in the early months before she would push it out of her body. She carried on like this for as long as possible, until it was, quite literally, impossible. She had to love and nurture that baby. And love that baby she did. And she also accepted, or at least named out loud, that it could die before it made it to her anticipating arms. So there was my answer: you have to hold both things, things you always knew were true, but you turn away from until you experience something where turning away is impossible. I will keep trying to get pregnant and I am hopeful with a laser fierceness that I will get pregnant again. And I also know that it might not happen quickly, or (knot in my throat), at all. There you have it. I knew that all along, but I couldn’t see what was right in front of me. I might still be disappointed each month that conception doesn’t happen- to deny that would be self-punishing- but at least I won’t be blinded. 

I also started playing this game with myself. I admit it’s a little twisted, but it’s intent is a healing one. As many women who have experienced miscarriage or infertility will attest to, being around pregnant women can be painful. It’s a literal reminder of what you lost and what you don’t have, but long for. I took myself off of Facebook for months because I couldn’t bear to hear another pregnancy announcement, or worse, watch friends and acquaintances swelling with baby when I should have been ballooning as well. But then I realized something: in all my efforts to soothe myself in the five weeks since I miscarried, I found that what helped me the most was talking to other women who had miscarried, especially if those women had gone on to get pregnant. It was too scary to talk to women who had miscarried and not been able to go on to conceive. So my game became this: every time I saw someone in the grocery store who was pregnant, or someone announced they were pregnant over an email (yes, this happens regularly at this point in my life), or I saw a pregnant colleague at the college where I work, I would imagine that they had miscarried prior to conceiving that child.  I know that’s kind of messed up, but it helped me. And you know what?  Some of them probably had.  I could take my poison and make it my salve. 

In the days and weeks since my miscarriage I have been fortunate to receive so much support from friends and family, and this is undoubtedly a major part of why I am fairing as well as I am. One friend has set herself apart from the rest, however. This friend has been the primary person to call me, text me, and email me repeatedly since this whole ordeal began, and explicitly ask how I am doing. And when she asks, “really, how are you doing?”  I know what she’s asking. I’m so appreciative to her for asking me outright.  She is one of my oldest friends and she also miscarried during this past year.  And you know what else? She’s about to have a baby. So when she asks me, “Really, how are you doing?” I reach over and accept her hand; this is how I begin again.

Addendum to this piece:
1) I wrote this many months ago, now I am nearly five months out from my miscarriage. I planned to share it publicly soon after I wrote it, but that never happened, so here it is now.
2) Honestly, some days I am doing really well, and other days, I am not… I think that’s the reality of loss.
3) The friend I mention now has her baby. She’s a girl.
4) My experience with grief is ever-evolving and sometimes regresses. All I can say is that for me infertility is inextricably tied to my miscarriage experience and some days I can’t tell which is worse. 
5) I’m resilient and so are you dear ones.

Thanks for reading,

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