I, for one, am not sad to see 2013 go. It’s been a rough year for me. I haven’t been blogging about it – haven’t been blogging about much of anything, actually – and I think it is time for an update. 2013 started with a miscarriage in progress, finally ending with a D&C on January 4. I grieved that lost pregnancy openly on this blog. It was therapeutic for me to blog about it and to feel support from women who had had similar experiences, or at least had empathy for the magnitude of love and hope that comes with a pregnancy. I started to feel better. I was confident that I would be pregnant again soon, and that was the obvious way to fill the gaping hole in my heart.
In the spring, I watched seedlings poke through wet dirt. Our neighborhood burst with color and new life, and I felt hopeful. But as the days grew longer and hotter, I felt sadder and sadder. I still wasn’t pregnant. My previous due date came and went, now just another day, but such a heavy one for me. Cee and I sorted through newborn clothes in our hot attic, not for a new baby for our family, but to lend to a friend. Cee asked to keep a few onesies for her baby doll. I showed her how to fasten the snaps and then sent her downstairs so I could cry.
In August, I had another miscarriage, this time very early. Then, another one in October, early again (and thankfully spontaneous) but far enough out that I let myself think ahead to another summer due date. That one really crushed me. I know miscarriage is common, and it’s easy to chalk the first up to bad luck. But by the third time around, I had really lost faith in my body. It has failed, repeatedly, to do one of the things I feel it was always meant to do. I’ve always wanted children, and the family that I have, for which I am exceedingly grateful every day, doesn’t feel complete. There’s still a gaping hole here, and it’s only gotten bigger.
Meanwhile, Cee turned three in November. I know my sadness has affected her, and it’s affected my parenting, because my emotional reserve is just plain depleted. I am working hard at being enough for her and at assuring her that she is enough for me. (And she is. She really is. I’ve come to terms with that, most days anyway.)
But Cee would be such an amazing big sister. She is obsessed with babies. She cares for her baby doll tenderly all day long. She also has a set of imaginary friends collectively known as “Baby’s cousins,” whom she visits and calls on the phone several times per day. And most days, Cee walks around with her belly stuck out for a few minutes, telling us that she has a baby in her tummy. Sometimes she rubs her tummy and then lifts a new baby out, like a genie from a bottle. She holds this tiny, invisible baby delicately in her arms and tells me that her name is Alice. “You want to hold her, Mama?” I play along, but it is such an eerie, painful game. I haven’t talked to Cee about wanting another baby, but she’s sharp, and she knows, through her three-year-old lens. It’s as if she’s trying to fill my emptiness with her play.
And, of course, this holiday season was tough. For most of last year’s season, I was pregnant and blissfully unaware that it was failing inside of me. As we went through the holiday rituals this year, my latest memories were of that pregnancy. I didn’t really feel like putting on a happy face for holiday parties, and nobody wants to talk about your latest miscarriage around the punch bowl. Passing the anniversary of the ultrasound showing my failed pregnancy felt like crossing over into the current reality. It was a relief. In December, we also did a few baseline fertility tests, and they basically looked normal. That was reassuring.
I haven’t been blogging about this, and I’m not sure why. I know that blogging about my first miscarriage was extremely helpful to me, and I hoped that by writing about it, I would open the conversation to other women. But there is still a dark undercurrent of shame around miscarriage in our culture. A recent national survey was illuminating: American adults believe that miscarriage is rare, and they pretty much place the blame squarely on the woman. Survey respondents thought that miscarriage occurs in less than 6% of pregnancies, when in reality 15-20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. When asked to name the major causes of miscarriage, the two most common answers were stress and lifting a heavy object. This, again, is not the reality; most miscarriages are due to chance chromosomal abnormalities and can’t be prevented. Miscarriage is misunderstood, and that’s a burden on women carrying this quiet grief.
I know that my silence on this topic is in part about shame and vulnerability. But it’s also just been a little too raw for me to share. I seek out support carefully, and blogging and social media often open unfiltered conversations that are just draining to me now. I have been turning inward, dumping my fear and frustrations into my journals. Sometimes this strategy works well for me, but sometimes it swallows me up in loneliness.
My experience, both online and in real life, is that when I open up to another mom about how I’m feeling, two things usually happen. First, my load feels a little lighter. And second, she feels safe to tell me what she’s struggling with right now, too. We all struggle with something, and pretending otherwise hurts us all. It’s always hard for me to hit “Publish” on a personal blog post, but I’ve never regretted it.
And now, I have a book to finish. The last six months of writing have been slow and difficult. When I signed the book contract, I was pregnant, and I envisioned completing most of the manuscript while I prepared for the birth of that baby, giving me a non-negotiable deadline and personal motivation behind my research. Instead, the cycles of emotion that come with trying to conceive, and loss, have made it hard to sit down at my desk and write about… babies. I am still happiest when I am buried in the science, trying to make sense of it all. I just hope that I have the chance to use some of this mountain of knowledge as a mom again. The book is coming along, and I think it will be really great, but it isn’t where I want it to be yet. The manuscript is due in six months, and starting today (yay, resumption of childcare!), I’m putting my head down to finish it.
Anyway, I wanted to write today to let you know where I’ve been and also that I probably won’t be blogging much between now and July 1. I need some major focus and momentum to finish the book well, and I’m still teaching a couple of classes each term. In the meantime, I have a thick folder full of topics for future blog posts, and I’ll be back to blogging regularly after I finish the book manuscript.
And also, I’m okay. I feel ten times better today than I did a month ago. I survived December and have lots of hope for the New Year, and that hope doesn’t even feel entirely tied to a baby.
New Year’s Eve afternoon was unseasonably warm and sunny for Oregon in December. Our little family hiked up a local trail to catch the last few rays of the year.
The sky filled with pink and orange, and I pointed out the colors to Cee. “I think someone much have gone up there with a paintbrush and painted all those colors,” she said. Curious, I asked her who she thought might have done that. “Baby’s cousins,” she replied self-assuredly. Of course. It made me smile to think of an imaginary pack of kids painting the sky.