I had a miscarriage. Or, to describe the experience more accurately, I went through a drawn-out traumatic ordeal that most women never mention to anyone outside the female-side of the family, reducing it to an unimportant little word. So why am I sharing this intimate news?
Most of your reactions will probably be summed up by: “um, awkward!” or at best “so sorry for your loss!” But while as women we accept these as normal, as a society we’ve reduced an event of major importance to something unimportant and unworthy of the attention it truly deserves.
My goal in sharing this story, like the million others that remain unknown to us, is to create awareness and break a taboo. When it comes to womanhood, sexuality, femininity, and motherhood (all definitions of the same concept, i.e. woman’s identity), we live in world of farce and pretense. While outwardly, we fight for equal rights, strive to be on par with men, demand recognition and equal pay, deep down we simply crave and desire recognition of who we truly are.
Living fully, openly, and unapologetically is, first and foremost, an act of being honest with oneself and receiving an acknowledgement from others. As women, we experience, produce, transform, and live lives in ways that are almost a polar opposite of what our male counterparts experience. Yet, time and again, we pick the wrong fight and scream at the top of our lungs that we do not differ from the opposite sex. In this fight for equality, we deny our differences, erasing what’s truly unique about us. All of our real female attributes remain in a parallel hidden world hardy known to the rest. Often, we ourselves barely remember of its existence. We feign that the lingerie and make-up define our sexuality and bury the rest of the real messy stuff somewhere deep inside.
Think about it. Everything that’s unique yet 100% integral to being a woman is awkward, taboo, under a veil. From menstruation (or in some countries with the budding of a female body), to female sexuality, pregnancy, breastfeeding, miscarriages, and menopause, we put a seal of top secrecy. No one knows when we’re menstruating. Ewww! Breastfeeding? Do it at home! Pregnancy? Wait as long as you can before telling anyone! What does that do to our identity as women? It creates awkwardness at best and shame and disassociation at worst. From the time we start developing our differentiated female traits, we go into hiding, disappear under the veil of secrecy not only from those around us, but most importantly from our own selves. We belittle the importance of those female attributes that transform us into women and mark our life with rites of passage by simply swallowing the bitter pills of womanhood in our solitude. Even our vocabulary reflects how ashamed we feel about all of it; incriminating, coded words like period or business (дела- in Russian) transform menstruation into something we dread, while pregnancy turns shameful with grave (grávida -Portuguese) and embarrassed (empbarazada – Spanish).
It wasn’t always like this. We were once allowed to be the women they were meant to be and our womanhood was celebrated. Every phase was a big deal and was treated as such, with rites of passage and rituals.
Our real fight, therefore, should not get reduced to equal rights, and could instead focus on restoring our right to fully experience what we came here to experience: our sense of womanhood, femininity, sexuality, our motherhood, and everything that comes in between. Only then will we stand on par and maybe even above those ´oppressors´ that we so vehemently try to fight, when, in most cases, we ourselves are our biggest underminders.
I found out I was pregnant a few weeks ago. The whole situation seemed unreal, completely untimely and unplanned. I felt cheated. I was just getting ready to take advantage of fully recovering my body after my first child. I was ready to travel, dance, cheer to being alive, when the verdict for the next 3-4 years was announced without my participation in the trial. It felt overwhelmed: dragged through the days nauseated, tired, and wondering why I had to go through this again, while my husband was planning his next trip. Why us women? Why so much sacrifice?
Denial was replaced by surrender. “I’ll be happy, I told myself.” I really did enjoy having my first one. “I’ll get used to it. ” Then came the loneliness of not being able to tell anyone, because, God forbid, something could still go wrong and that would be so awkward! But I did break the silence on a few occasions, and it felt so liberating to complain, wonder, get advice, and share.
Then came the ultrasound that didn’t show a heartbeat. “Come back next week,” reassured me the gynecologist, “its too early.” The following week’s ultrasound was a long silent 15-minutes of intent looking at the monitor. “The fetus isn’t developing: you’ll lose it shorty,” she finally announced. I was silent for a few moments, and then lost it. What? Why? What did I do wrong? Because its always our fault, right? Maybe I ate something I wasn’t supposed to, or maybe I ran too rigorously or picked up something heavy? “It´s just a malformation, very common especially in women over 35 (close to 3 in 10 pregnancies end up in a miscarriage)”, reassured me the OBGYN. Great, I though, I became part of a statistics at 36. After a few days, I was actually relieved. How cruel and un-motherly of me! But remember, I wasn’t ready for number 2.
My relief was quickly replaced by the agony of a continued ‘pregnancy’, or whatever was happening in my body while I awaited the materialization of the miscarriage. In my case, it meant feeling extremely nauseated (NOT normal for miscarriages) and my blood tests showing an increase, rather than decrease in HCG, the hormone responsible for tracking pregnancy. I spent the next 9 days in limbo, wondering whether I got the wrong diagnostic: having lost my peace of mind, disgusted with those around me AND with myself, unable to down anything remotely healthy, stuffing myself with little snacks to get through the dragging days, feeling stuck.
Then all of a sudden the long-awaited pain arrived. It felt so welcome; my body was finally doing its thing! The light pain turned into stronger pangs, until on day three I was having full-on contractions every four hours. Was this normal? Heck if I knew!
It was day 4 of the ‘pain-phase of the miscarriage’ when I entered into a 1.5 hour-long contraction that no medication was able to knock out. I was alone with my 3-year-old, my husband far away (because I told him I was totally fine and he could enjoy himself), convulsing on the couch unable to think straight, let alone do something about it all. “Are you ok, mommy?” my daughter would ask. “Yeah, I am fine Lulita,” I’d mumble through my clenched teeth.
Then I just broke down crying; I wanted it all to be over. I had to get myself to the hospital. Immediately. This wasn’t normal! A desperate call to my gynecologist was followed by another one to my nanny to come help me with my daughter. Then came the unbearable thought of going to the hospital alone. I hate asking for help, especially when I am sick. Luckily, my ex-coworker’s message came just in time. “How are you?” she asked. “I think I am dying,” I responded in the most as-a-matter-of-fact tone on WhatsApp. “You think I should I go to the hospital?” I asked unable to plead for help directly. Twenty minutes later she was in my room as I was crawling on the floor, scrambling through my drawers, trying not to forget something essential I might need during the possible overnight stay at the hospital. Luckily, my friend had brought all of the essentials, reassured me, gave me the hug that sent me convulsing in tears. I finally found myself in a cab, sipping the chamomile tea she made for me, relieved to be acting.
At the hospital, the decision was made quickly to do a ‘relatively light medical procedure with partial anesthesia’. The only other time I’ve been on a hospital bed was while giving birth. I had never gone through this alone without family. Having a friend there was amazing, but also a bit awkward – I should have just come alone, right?
Two hours later it was all over, and I was transferred to a hospital room for an overnight stay. The IV was slowly dripping a painkiller into my blood, my legs were partially regaining sensation, and I could feel my eyelids heavy, waiting to shut tightly to recover from the 40 + hours of endless pain. I asked my friend to go home. I really don’t know what I would have done without her.
Leaving early in the morning alone felt so painfully lonely. I felt emptied out: literally and emotionally – done, yet drained and exhausted. When I arrived at home at 6 am, my daughter, sensing my return, ran out of her room to greet me, hugged me, and would not let go of me for the next three hours as I passed out on bed. She was the only family member that fully comprehended what I was going through. She was there for me. She allowed me to be, to feel, to pain, and to recover by her side without any judgment.
Then there was the near-panic attack after waking up with a numb leg and arm. I thought I was losing my mobility or having a blood clot, or something worse. Again, I was on the floor crying alone in the middle of the night and trying to control the anxiety attack with deep breaths.
Three months of my life have been consumed by this ordeal, this experience, this process. Call it what you may. What can’t be denied is the following: the real experience I was having with debilitating physical symptoms, the roller-coaster of hormonal changes, the lack of adequate knowledge of all the physical transformations and symptoms that were rebuilding me and someone else’s body insde, was completely and utterly unknown to the rest of the world.
To them I was still the same as early in September, and the expectation of me doing the very same things I did before, was what weighed heaviest. I was supposed to be successfully running my business, submitting my project evaluation report on time to a client, taking care of my daughter, allowing my husband to take his once-a-year family-free vacation, carrying on my social life, and being there for everyone as always. But I wasn’t the same anymore! My body and mind transformations were screaming for recognition, for a pause to absorb the rampant changes and to make sense of them.
Yet everywhere I turned, I heard the ‘oh its normal’, ‘been there done that’, ‘you’ll be fine’. At times I wondered whether I should just be able to bounce back and stop being so damn sensitive about the whole thing. Thanks to my ex-colleague, who happened to be a doula and who happened to offer help on the dreadful night of the ´procedure´, I was reminded that going through this was nothing minor. My body was actually pregnant, creating life, and now it was ´giving birth´ and at the same time getting rid of something that wasn’t suppose to be there anymore. It WAS a big deal.
When we deny ourselves the honesty of being what we are, of experiencing the rites of passage with due meaning, manifesting what being a woman means, we belittle and reduce ourselves to caricatures of what our society makes us out to be. It’s our inability to accept and honor those female ‘unpleasant moments´ that ultimately makes them so painful and hard to bear. No, miscarriage is NOT just about the loss of a child we expected. It’s first and foremost about a loss of a part of ourselves, its about the transformative storm that we feel inside, its about the support that we require as we turn into fragile yet powerful carriers of a new life, its all of those things that we should allow ourselves the ´luxury ´of feeling and require others to accept as part of who we are. With acceptance comes awareness, with awareness, we become knowledgeable, knowledge makes us prepared and able to deal with changes, and the changes become transformations that are celebrated a parts of who we are as women.