Content Warning: Grief, loss, miscarriage
This week, I have found it very difficult to create. Sometimes creating is wonderfully therapeutic and cathartic, sometimes I’m walking backwards on a travelator, paintbrush or notebook in hand, but going nowhere. This past week or so, it’s been the latter.
I seem to run through a regular cycle of encountering a number of physical, mental and emotional blocks, and when I overcome one, another arises. Having dealt with chronic illness, I know this is quite common. But this year, in particular, the circumstances that contribute to the stop/start cycle are definitely not.
This year has undoubtedly been one of the toughest I have lived in this lifetime (and yes I remember 2020… So I guess that says something). Loss and trauma feature regularly, and I am truly ready for the season/chapter to end. I know it won’t, and that’s ok, but the struggle is real. Having just wrapped perinatal mental health week, I feel a little bit more prepared to share one of the reasons I’ve found everything more challenging over the last few months.
Earlier this year, I miscarried in early pregnancy. I was already going through a turbulent time and this loss added another layer of grief to an already complicated, difficult chapter of my life. It is grief that has changed me, my marriage, and my children forever. The night I spent in the ED of my local hospital and the events of the days that followed still haunt me. I am still working through this, I probably always will.
But I don’t work through it alone. I am grateful for organisations like the Gidget Foundation, Pink Elephants, PANDA, Beyond Blue, Lifeline and many others that make more common and available the conversations about the unique struggle, overwhelm, fear and pain that parents experience. Thank you to the wonderful people behind the awareness, education and services that support people through pregnancy, birth, parenthood and also (in my case this time), loss.
I know myself enough to know that death is a major trigger for my anxiety and depression, so after I lost the baby, I asked my GP for a referral for mental health support immediately. Proactively. At the time I asked for a mental health care plan, I knew that I didn’t want to wait until I was in the thick of the fog, at the bottom of the valley, before I sought help. I knew I would need someone to navigate me through the unique, unknown, gut-wrenchingly painful territory that is pregnancy loss. I knew I wouldn’t (or didn’t want to) walk through it alone.
In case you have ever thought that your experience or emotions don’t warrant the time, cost or perhaps even the embarrassment of seeking mental health services, I will tell you that in my experience, it is worth every second, every cent and every snide comment you may receive from (or is in the head of) others or perhaps say to yourself. The conversations I have had with psychologists, counsellors, health workers, family and friends have quite literally saved my life. They have helped me hold space for every messy, complicated thing, and have offered me the tools needed to build myself a ladder out of the pit of despair.
Miscarriage – like many painful, unspoken life experiences – is notoriously misunderstood and underreported. It is a life experience that brings with it a weight of pain, insight, love, empathy, and so many more emotions.
I think often of the many friends who’ve walked this hidden path. And of the friends who walk in parallel, mourning the children/families/life they want and for whatever reason, didn’t get to have. The friends and families who have ever had to say goodbye to something much sooner than they were ever ready for. I know we become stronger after it all… But I don’t think it makes me hate the process any less.
Over the past months, I’ve grieved many things.
The life of the unborn child that I’d already begun to imagine. The life I’d pictured mothering 3 children, carrying a newborn again, of watching the many “firsts” that will now no longer happen. After years of believing I might never experience pregnancy again, I had a glimmer and glow of being proved wrong and experienced the devastating fall from my momentary high. I mourn the deep love that my beautiful sons felt in abundance so quickly for their unborn sibling. My heart breaks when I remember their tears after we told them the baby was no longer with us, and my heart sings knowing that they think about her, ask about her and pray for her regularly.
I grieve the peace I knew before this turning point… Having carried two babies to term and labouring twice with little to worry about in comparison, I know if I were ever to get pregnant again, the anxiety of losing my baby again will follow me like a dark cloud, ready to break into torrential rain at any point.
I also grieve the loved ones who have passed away recently. The family members and friends whose souls we pray for this month of November. Whose presence we celebrated and whose absence is felt and mourned. These are people I think of constantly and picture in Heaven, playing with the child who I didn’t get to meet. The image brings me comfort and deep sadness at the same time.
That’s one of the things I have had to (re)learn through this: the ability to carry and hold space for both happiness and sorrow. That is a true gift in our humanity… To hear and fall head over heels for the giggle and gurgle of a friend’s growing bub, to warm a tearful heart in the snuggly goodness of a godchild’s sleepy embrace, and to genuinely feel joy for all those friends and family members sharing their own big news and irreplaceable, beautiful successes. I have had to relearn how to allow myself the joy of those moments, and I am, over time, accepting that they can’t and never will take away from the person whose presence I miss.
Life moves on, and I will too, as the grief no longer paralyses me (not as often anyway). But I move on with a new weight that I have learnt to walk with. Much like when other life-changing events have come my way, I have learnt to take a deep breath, readjust the load to carry and walk on. Albeit carefully, perhaps a little more slowly. And thankfully, a little more intentionally.
I know that one of the hardest things about miscarrying so early in pregnancy is that your grief is almost always invisible. There are no Novenas, no funeral Mass or memorial service, no eulogies, and no photos to look back on. The loss is not of a life that was lived but of one that never got to live.
And it is deeply difficult to process, understand the value of, and mourn a life you only held momentarily. It is difficult to understand the enormity and worth of a life you imagined. It is incredibly difficult to explain to the closest to you (and even to yourself) that a life imagined, hoped for and willed is a life still worthy of grief.
And so I am talking about this, writing about this, making space for this because I would like others to know that even though it is often an intensely private and invisible event, it is something we can – and should – continue to acknowledge, support and carry our loved ones through. ❤️
If you or someone you know needs support, please contact your GP or reach out to the following services: