Blessed are they who mourn; for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:5
Grief is one of the most difficult aspects of life. We are guaranteed that it will come our way. Most of the time it blindsides us. Grief in miscarriage can be lonely, deeply painful, infuriating, and cathartic all in the same day. The grief sets in when we are told that our child is dead or it may set in once the bleeding starts or stops, or it may take years for the grief to overtake us. Miscarriage is something that our society, and I hate to say it, the Church largely ignores. This is probably for a number of reasons. I would say some of it has to do with the abortion culture, some of it is privacy, and a lot of it is fear. Fear on the part of the family who has lost a child. They are afraid to share their pain and experiences with others, even their own priest, or their own spouse. This can also be mixed with embarrassment thanks to a culture that does not acknowledge the brief motherhood and parenthood of the family involved in the loss.
My own experiences with grief in my miscarriages have varied widely with each loss. My ability to deal with my grief has been affected by my own health or mental well being at times. I too have fallen prey to being embarrassed to talk about it, usually after someone has unknowingly said something insensitive to me. My first miscarriage was the hardest to share with people. When I found out about losing Michaela’s twin I was in shock. It was not real or tangible for me. I did not actually see my body lose the life. I told family and friends about it, and they brushed it off. While I know they did not mean to hurt me, they did. By telling me to focus on my daughter who was alive, they essentially told me that I did not have a right to grieve. That may not have been what they meant, but that is how I took it. I am here to tell you that you have a right to grieve the loss of your child or children. Take as long as you need.
I was violently ill through most of my first and only full-term pregnancy. I could not leave the house for the first month of “morning sickness”. I was too sick to focus on much grief. I was just trying to survive. I finally got to a point when I could return to the Women’s Bible Study at the home of a friend of mine that I attended. She promised to clean the bathroom, which I had to use regularly to throw up what little I had eaten or drank. It was there that I opened up a little bit about what happened, and it was then that I learned that there are a lot of women who have lost children in miscarriage, but have remained silent about it. Why? They have been hurt by others, they felt alone, even in the Church, or the grief was too much to bare.
I finally found a couple of women who had been through it. Not only had they been through it, but they had had multiple miscarriages. I did not know it at the time, but I would be one of those women too. My friend who led the Bible Study asked me to go to Franciscan University with her on a youth minister’s retreat. I decided to go, but was hesitant because of how sick I was with the pregnancy. By the grace of God, I did not get sick the entire retreat. My morning sickness returned when I got home. It was during that retreat that some sense of healing began. During what Franciscan calls the Festival of Praise, I had a prayerful vision of Our Lord holding a baby wrapped in a pink blanket. I was only 3 months pregnant at the time, so I did not know that I was having a girl. It was then that I knew that Michaela would be a girl and that we had lost her identical twin. I cried. I cried healing tears. I cried as I felt my heart being ripped from my chest. I cried until peace enveloped me. Afterwards, I shared the experience with my friend. She said she had had a similar experience with one of her losses and she knew immediately what had happened to me. It was then that healing began. I was finally free to grieve.
Throughout all of this I did not talk much to my husband about it. He is much better at accepting God’s will than I am. So while he was sad, he chose to focus on Michaela and taking care of me during the pregnancy. As a mother, I needed a chance to let go of the child I would never hold. When Michaela was born I was overjoyed. I did often think of her twin, though. I would see twins and cry. I would see twins and wonder. My husband admitted to me that at times he thought about it too. I still think about it every now and then and my daughter is 2 years old. I will see identical twin girls and look at my daughter and wonder what her twin is like and how it would have been to be the mother of twins. That wound is still with me. Time has just made the pain less acute. And I try to trust that she is with Our Lord.
My second miscarriage in March of 2012 was more difficult. I was devastated. I had really felt like we were having a boy. I was excited, pouring over boy’s names. Picking out saint names that my husband would never go with i.e. Augustine, Xavier. I felt pretty good during the pregnancy. I was motivated and glowed. I only threw up a couple of times. I thought maybe this one will be different. It was different, but not in the way I thought. I lost Caleb Augustine at about 7 weeks. The most painful part for me was having to flush my child down the toilet. It ripped me into pieces. My heart broke in such deep ways that I felt like I would never recover. I felt alone. My husband is always so strong in these situations when there was a part of me that needed to see him fall apart. I needed to see that he felt as devastated as me. Instead, he later told me that he wept in private to stay strong for me. I didn’t want him to suffer like me, but I needed to see that I was not alone. I still haven’t seen him grieve in front of me after three losses. I have had to accept that he grieves differently from me.
Grief varies from person to person. Experts tell us that grief has five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Quite honestly, I only remember being angry, depressed, and working on acceptance. I am not sure how you bargain with the loss of a child. I think there are parts of me that denied it in an attempt to move forward. With my second miscarriage I spent quite a few months in depression mode. I would cry at random times. I would hurt when I saw other babies. I was afraid to try again. I guess one day I woke up and was able to hope in another child. It was a process. I also organized a Mass in November of 2012 for all families who have lost a child, no matter the circumstance or age. It was closure for families who have experienced miscarriage. I think that it gave me some closure since we have not been able to have funerals for any of our lost children.
I got to a point where I desperately wanted to get pregnant again. It took a couple of months to get the double pink line. I was so excited. I took a picture of the test to share and I drew a picture for Michaela to give to Phil announcing her coming sisterhood. I was so happy. Then the pregnancy symptoms hit and I was the most miserable I have ever been. I spent hours on the couch. I struggled to function both mentally and physically. I spent days vomiting followed by days of debilitating depression and anxiety. I was on a roller coaster that I had not bought a ticket for. I did not understand what was wrong. I wondered if I was actually pregnant with twins this time. Then my first ultrasound came and I got the news I was not expecting. There was a gestational sac but no fetal pole, that meant no baby. The doctor tried to reassure me that I might be off on my dates, but any good Catholic woman who pays attention to her cycle knows better. My husband tried to reassure me, but deep down I knew the baby had died. I started lightly bleeding a few days later. Then a second ultrasound confirmed that the baby had died just days after conception in what is termed a blighted ovum. The problem was that my body thought I was 8 weeks pregnant. My HCG was at 9000.
I went through an agonizing week of waiting. I stayed home because I was not sure when it would hit. I truly felt like I was in my own personal Agony in the Garden. I was waiting to lose my child. I was waiting to physically suffer. I was waiting…When the miscarriage went wrong and I was laying on an operating table about to go under, all I could do was pray. I barely remember it. I was so doped up on morphine and then the lights went out for the surgery. I remember being cruciform and bleeding out. I vaguely thought about how Christ bled out for so many who would deny Him. He bled out for nothing. My heart ached. I felt like I had gone through Hell for nothing. I bled for a baby long dead. I hemorrhaged for a child I would never hold, hear, or see on this side of eternity. I immediately fell into anger.
I was angry at God. How could He make me hurt this much? Why had he taken 3 children from me? Why the depression and anxiety? Why the trauma of emergency surgery? Why? Why? Why? Two days after the surgery I stumbled, literally, into Confession with our then new priest, Fr. Mike. I sat in front of him and poured out my heart. I cried. I told him how angry I was, how hurt I was. He stayed and talked with me for a while. He told me that my anger was natural and that it was good for me to share it with God, just not to stay in that anger too long. He reminded me of how we all have to be purified in the fire of suffering. I left Confession feeling a bit better, but the anger stayed with me.
I then went through and still am struggling with a period of intense fear. I feared for my life. I feared for my family. But, most of the fear has centered around me dying. I have thought that I have had so many life-threatening conditions over the last few months. I am 32 with a family that has a history of long life. The chances are slim that I am dying and yet it became an obsession. I will look at my daughter and cry, sure that I am leaving her. My husband finally explained to me what is going on. He said that I have not dealt with this miscarriage fully and that because I have lost three children, I am convinced that something must be seriously wrong with me. I think that he is absolutely right. I recently read a quote from CS Lewis in which he talks about the death of his wife Joy Gresham, “Grief is a lot like fear.” This quote has been so true for me this time around. I have been confronted with my own mortality in a tangible way, but I have also lost three children, it has been compounded with a recent sudden loss of a dear friend from my Navy days. I have been in a state of grief for three years. I have lost a baby a year for three straight years.
There are days that I am petrified by anxiety and days that I can not cauterize the wounds pouring from my heart. I pray. I look for answers. I get angry. I struggle to trust Our Lord’s plan. It is a circle that I keep going in. I find peace and then the wound re-opens. I find peace and then I fear the worst. My arms ache for the children that I do not get to hold. There are holes in my heart that will never be filled for the rest of my life. I see new babies and think of my own. I would have been due with Marie Therese, our most recent loss, about now. I miss her and her siblings. I miss them terribly.
That’s the thing with miscarriage. There are so many anniversary dates in the beginning. First, there is the day or days the loss takes place. Then, there is your due date, and then before you know it, it has been a year. Even though I do not desire to envy anyone, there are times when I see friends’ babies at church and I am jealous. They are cuddling their new baby while I am being torn apart. And this has nothing to do with not being thankful for my daughter. She is the most amazing person and I love her more than I ever knew I was capable of loving. There is a connection between a mother and their child that is so strong that when it snaps, even at seven or eight weeks of life, it leaves a lasting imprint.
I am still grieving the loss of Marie. It has been seven months, but I still feel the pain acutely. The grief with this loss is compounded with the trauma of the loss itself. I am afraid to get pregnant again. I don’t know if my heart or body can take it again. More than anything it is my heart. How many times must I feel the joy of pregnancy only to be devastated by another loss? This is what I keep asking God. How do I trust? My biggest struggle. I know with every fiber of my being that Jesus Christ is present body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Most Holy Eucharist, but I am scared. I fear what he will do with me? I told my Confessor this and he told me this is a rational fear, but that I must learn to trust that He will do what is best for me and that is to make me a saint. I guess it is only now that I am learning just how hard to path to holiness i.e. sainthood really is to tread. . I know that I am supposed to embrace the Cross. I always think about that image in The Passion where Jim Cavizel, who is depicting Christ, kisses the Cross. How do I kiss this Cross? These are the questions I struggle with daily and they are some that I will discuss tomorrow when I write about the Church and miscarriage.
My prayer is that my story brings you healing. I do not wish to re-open old wounds. I can tell you that I cried my eyes out as I wrote this piece. My heart also hurts for you who have been through this pain. May Our Lord and Our Lady bring healing and peace to your heart.