As you might know, October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month. I've decided to tell my story (deep breath) in hopes that women can heal in a different way than I experienced. It was the late-ish 1980s. I was 18 or so. I had a boyfriend, my first love, and our relationship was as angsty and chaotic as it can be for teens. I was wrapped up with school, jobs, friends, and all the things 18 or so-year-old girls obsess over. I do know that when the bleeding started, it was intense, as was the pain. I'd had painful periods before but this was just...another level. I was living at home, in my parents' house, with two younger siblings. I even remember my little brother banging on the bathroom door while I was doubled over. And then, something happened. I felt a tearing away, a “leaving” if you will. I struggle to find a way to describe it, something was just ...gone. Suffice to say the bathroom was a bloody mess and I was petrified. I realized with a growing panic, I had missed a period or two; and this was a miscarriage. There is a period of time where I have no memory in that bathroom, my memory gets cloudy and stops as I remember looking into the toilet. I know cleaned everything up, neat and tidy. I remember throwing away a towel and my panties. I told no one, initially. The pain was incredible. The fear was like an actual, palpable taste in my mouth. I remember talking to an OBGYN on the phone, and he asked me in the middle of my living room with my family around, if I could possibly be having a miscarriage. I said immediately “No, no, no, that couldn't be!”, while panicking that someone could hear his voice over the phone. I could never have admitted that in front of my family; the validation of sexual activity? At that time and in my family, it was more frightening than admitting reality. The guilt and shame were already taking hold. I was scared, but the bleeding slowed down over the next few days and the pain with it. I told my boyfriend, as we watched TV one night, just casually, "Hey, think I had a miscarriage". He was nice about it, caring enough as to my health; but neither of us knew what to say. I admit I was kind of relieved. I didn't have to make a decision; WE didn't have to make a decision. My life would just go on as I planned, nursing school, great life. But I began to have dreams of a baby. My baby. A beautiful curly haired blue-eyed baby, that looked like her father. Her name was Aubrey. Yes, like the Bread song. I knew the second I heard that song, like a lightning bolt, that's who she was. It helped me validate her, in a way, in my silence, in my lonely grief. I began the go-round and round on the guilt and shame wheel. I realize most women who miscarry do the same. Did I do something on purpose to make this happen? Maybe I knew somehow and played basketball little too hard, smoked a little too much weed, partied with my friends a little hard? It began to invade every corner of my life, insidiously and obviously. I had no one to really talk to about it, either...grief over something that was shamefully conceived (read: out of marriage)? How to even begin? I tried to share it with my mother once. I cried and told her that I had had a miscarriage, and I wasn't sure what to do, and it was eating away at me. My mother was not a particularly warm parent, and I can’t tell you how hard, how very hard that conversation was. I clearly remember her standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes, not even turning to look at me, and telling me to talk to a friend of hers who had lost a baby. It wasn't very helpful, and supremely awkward, to talk to my mom's friend. Neither of us knew what to say, and she was a married woman who’d lost a baby, and that was a much different situation in a much different time. Again, lonely silence returned. My mother and I never spoke of it again. My boyfriend and I had broken up, and we both moved on with our lives. I got married, finished nursing school, and got divorced. I was lucky enough to have my first beautiful son from that marriage, and felt myself being called to OBGYN, Labor and Delivery Nursing. There is both outrageous joy and horrifying loss in the Delivery Room, both for the nursing staff as well as the families. There came a time where I needed to care for families and mothers with very preemie babies and stillborns. I prayed hard, for the strength to be strong and manage my own sorrow. I realize now, I prayed to Aubrey. She was with me when I cut up tiny diapers out of a sheet, for dying 19 week triplets. She was there when I wrapped them and brought them to their dazed and shocked mother. My baby was with me when I struggled to keep my own composure. I know she was with me when I held an 18 week infant who was gasping his last breath, on a stormy summer night, to my own chest because his parents couldn't bear to see him after he was born, and I could not let him die alone in a hospital treatment room. There were so many times I prayed for strength and guidance, and times I was grateful for joy. Aubrey was there for me every step of that journey. Every single time I prayed to God to help me be a better nurse and to get these parents through the most awful experience of their lives, I realize now that I was praying to Aubrey. And I think this is where the healing has finally started to make headway. The realization that she has never really left me.
My life moved on to marrying my current husband, and us wanting to grow our family. I kept dreaming of Aubrey here and there, feeling so many conflicting emotions. Guilt. Always guilt. And this seemingly necessary cone of silence and holding on to my trauma, like it couldn't be discussed, or no one would care, or I would somehow upset my husband by sharing it with him. But shockingly, it didn't upset him. He understood. Because he is my gift, and a pretty awesome guy. When I miscarried again, before our second son, we knew it was time to try to let go of that early pain. It was important that I validate it, bring it from some dreamworld into the light. It seemed like it had happened to someone else and that bloodied bathroom was out of a horror movie, on some Drive-in movie screen. It's hard to reconcile that awful experience with the baby that lived in my heart, the beautiful curly haired blue eyed baby that was always with me. But slowly, I began to unravel the shame. After shit-ton of mistakes, and lots of misunderstandings and self blame, the needle started to move. In supporting other women in my nursing career, they have healed me. They have made me brave, and helped me bring my story out from the shadows into the light. I don't feel guilty anymore. I don't feel guilty about missing her and still being so very grateful for the children in the life that I have now. It's okay to miss someone and still be happy about the road that your life has taken. I feel like my children, and my long ago boyfriend's children, have Aubrey for a big sister looking out for them from heaven and I am so very grateful for her. It is taken many, many years to get to this place of acceptance, of letting go of anger and blame...and of rejection of my own shame. It's even hard to put this to paper, finally. But it's happening! I'm 54 years old now. I pray by sharing this that other women can let go of their guilt. That they do not even let it in the door, when it comes to pregnancy loss. It's not on you. It wasn't on me. Grief (I can say that word now and call it what it was and is!) only festered and manifested in ways that I never ever expected. So, the next time someone says one of those awful platitude-like phrases, “You'll have another baby”, or, “ It wasn’t wasn't meant to be”, “There was probably something wrong with it anyway”, you tell them thanks, but no thanks. Talk about it. Cry about it . You need to grieve in the way that works best for you. If it's relief, great. if it's regret, well, let it run its course. If it sadness, it's okay. Feel all the feels. Let it come and then let it go on your own time. Because hanging on to guilt and shame and the “what if's” can put a hole in your soul. Take your time to move through whatever you need to. You have an angel on your shoulder, too.