Tomorrow holds something we can’t touch today. Pregnancy means holding something, absolutely full with tomorrow, full of joy and promise, full of what you want to touch more than anything else. Something called Nancy or Nickie or Joey or Jane. Miscarriage steals all the suddenly, cruelly, inexplicably. And life’s just not supposed to be that way. As a couple we have been through three miscarriages-each one teaching us what it is that makes losing an unborn baby so very tough: it’s the extremes, the ironies, the contrasts. The most devastating contrast is the high-low experience of “miracle/no miracle.” You have just started getting used to the idea that something extraordinary and sacred is actually happening. Your plans have begun to center around a tomorrow rich with gurgles and coos, jump ropes and pitch and catch, Christmases the way they’re suppose to be, and ….Then in a cruel swift turn of fate, it’s all terribly clear that no there is no miracle happening here—only grief. There may not even be a funeral, even though there has been a death. Your experience becomes a statistic, along with the nearly one million other losses through stillbirth, miscarriage, or infant death each year in the U.S.
Working Your Way Through
There are of course no magic answers to any kind of loss. But a friend of ours long ago hit on one key word that, over the years, has helped us in our steps beyond the pain. That key word is forgiveness.
Forgive Yourself-What Happened Was Not Within Your Control
It’s only natural to look for reasons for the miscarriage. You tend to think there must have been something that you did or didn’t do to cause this. The reality is, most pregnant mothers take very good care of themselves and follow their doctors’ orders precisely. There’s a chance that you will never know the real cause of your miscarriage. You only know that something feels very wrong. While feeling of guilt and self condemnation are a common experience after a miscarriage, counselors tell us that living in the world of “if only…” is a sure path to lower and lower self esteem and a slower and slower recovery. But how can there be any real room for optimism, much less “recovery”? Because recover is a process, and the very feeling that there can’t be any room for optimism may be the first stage of the process. You move on from there. “But isn’t there something practical and concrete I can do,” you might say, “besides hoping to someday fell better?” Some of the sources of additional help listed in this carenote can help. And don’t underestimate your local community’s counseling and health care professionals. They can help you come to know and decide whether “trying again” genetic counseling, drug or surgical methods, adoption or foster parenting are live options for you. Coming to accept that “childless is not always less” is also something which caring professionals stand ready to talk about with you. (And be assured that they know, as you do, that this may be “easier said then done or accepted” in real life.)
Forgive Yourself For The Way You Feel
Forgive yourself for wondering, “what’s wrong with me?” for having such intense feelings of grief. Or forgive yourself for not having severe feelings of grief, if that’s the case. Forgive yourself that you feel you’re the only one going through this. You are the only one going through this in just this very way. Forgive yourself for being depressed or irritable or even for screaming. For “taking it out” on those around you. For taking too long-or not long enough-to get over your loss. Forgive yourself for feeling angry with a lot of people. We need to give people permission to grieve. What a strange idea, I thought yet it is a very real one. I often wish I had received my grieving permit sooner.
One thing that quickly becomes evident about miscarriage is that misunderstandings abound. And misunderstandings have a way of compounding the injury. If you spouse reacts differently than you, realize that it is only natural for every individual to react to loss uniquely. If your spouse isn’t as devastated as you are-or vice versa-know that it’s O.K. Says Sherokee IIse, a nationally recognized speaker on perinatal death, “some people aren’t totally blown away by a miscarriage. And as long as there are no intense feelings being denied, there is no reason the couple will not cope well.” Even if your spouse seems to feel the same degree of shock and sadness as you, he or she may express it differently. Your spouse may worry only about you, or be concerned only about what to say to others, or want to talk about it all the time-or not at all. If your friend tells you he or she knows “just what you’re going through,” translate that only as “I know what I went through, for what it’s worth.” (As many as one out of five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, most occurring during the first three months.) Or, better translate your friend’s sentiments as “I just don’t know what else to say.” If your parents and family or people in general aren’t as understanding about your hurt as you think they should be, know that their lack of sensitivity comes from a lack of knowledge. People will have varying reactions to your news: “how awful but you know really….,” “luckily you’re young-you can try again,” “at least you have Billy,” or they may say nothing at all. Remember that most people who have never been through the experience cannot know exactly what you are going through-unless they listen to you long and hard. (Ask them to, when the time is right for you.) Again quoting Sherokee Ilse who herself suffered a miscarriage, a stillbirth and ectopic pregnancy: “before it happened to me, I thought there wasn’t much reason to get upset. After all I thought, “it’s just a miscarriage.” Now I know differently.” If your doctor tells you that your miscarriage is “nature’s way or taking care of things,” he or she may be making a scientifically accurate statement. (Newest research says that up to two-thirds of miscarriages are due to chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus, making it unable to grow.) Your physician is out of step, however with the majority of enlightened medical professionals who know just how traumatic your loss may really be, and who want to treat you with care and sensitivity. If your priest or minister tells you, “this is god’s way of taking care of all things for the better,” don’t give up on all priests and ministers. And don’t give up on god. Think perhaps about giving up on that particular priest or minister as a personal counselor. But go out and find one of the vast majority of pastoral ministers who want to help you cope with your loss-and have been trained to do so.
Forgive god who so mysteriously has allowed you to get excited about a birth-only to allow you to suffer the pain of a death. Forgive god for letting you reach for something -for tomorrow, for the newness of a baby’s life-be such a very natural part of you, and yet allowing your grasp of it to be so very precarious. Forgive god for seeming to be only a silent listener, a bystander, a “big picture” deity, when you want a “my picture” rescuer and restorer. Says Rabbi Harold Kushner in when bad things happen to good people, “people who pray for miracles usually don’t get miracles… But people who pray for courage, for strength to bear the unbearable, for the grace to remember what they have left instead of what they have lost, very often find their prayers answered. They discover that they have more strength more courage than they ever knew themselves to have. Where did they get it? I would like to think prayers helped them find that strength.”
Miscarriage can end up being an important turning point in people’s lives. It changes things; it changes people. One thing it cannot, must not change, however is something which begins to happen even as forgiveness itself begins to happen: trust. Trust that life matters, however brief. Trust that god’s promise of unending life is real-for you, for lives long gone and for the dear, new life that had only just begun. Trust that your life today matters, too.
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