Trigger warning: post discusses death and loss
The cool air shocked my sweltering face as I walked into the doors of Old Navy. My husband kept his hand on my back to remind me he was still with me amidst the summer hustle that was buzzing in the store. We were there for a shirt. A single shirt.
An embarrassing want that I was calling a need. I thought I would actually laugh at the situation once I got out of the house for the first time in a week.
Seven days before, I was lying on my back in an exam room. I was alone while my legs were held up in the air by cold stirrups and I pushed out my 13-week-gestation daughter.
My grief struck me in waves like it always does. Roaring one second and then abandoning you breathless in the next. In a post-COVID world, your home is your office, restaurant, spa, and often—your own hospital. We were hiding in our home. Tending to our wounds and escaping the trauma and heartache that pounded on our door once again.
I walked from the kitchen to our guest bedroom which now functioned as my husband’s office and gym, and I tried to form words. Nothing but moans and sobs escaped my mouth. In between gasps of air, I whispered pointless repetitions of “I’m sorry.”
I was so overcome by my grief that the weight of a broken heart was too much for me to bear, and at that moment I had no control over my movements. I unknowingly began to rip and tear my clothing off of my body as I sank to the floor.
“Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship” (Job 1:20).
My ears soaked up the sounds of cheap threads shredding as my olive-green relaxed scoop-neck tee became scraps that hung off my shoulders and arms. My husband followed me to the ground, held my head up, wiped my tears, and I’m certain, questioned my sanity.
I sobered up as my tears dried to my face. I looked at my husband in shame and wanting. I cleared my throat as best as my hurt could allow me and said, “This is crap.”
I’ve been pregnant five times. My last two losses were twins, each miracle hanging on as long as they could inside of me, leaving me with six miscarriages to my name.
I’m not trying to give Michelle Duggar a run for her money, that position has been filled. I’m just a woman trying to have a family. And like so many women, now, I’m facing unprecedented struggles in that area. Something that should come so naturally, something my body was made to do, something I’ve wanted since I was a young girl—it’s not happening for me. It’s not happening for a lot of women not only across our country, but the globe.
I could bore you with the details of my thyroid, my blood clotting disorder, my natural inability to produce folate, the vaginal suppositories I had to give myself during my fifth pregnancy, and so on.
But in an effort to avoid this turning into something that belongs in a medical journal, I would rather discuss the inconsistencies and complete lack of care women receive after such losses.
Postpartum—we picture exhausted women, with bloody nipples, brain fog, and a screaming infant. This woman we see is swollen, in love, exhausted, emotional, and up to her ears in dirty Pampers. Her baby has a good latch so feeding comes easy, it’s the sleep that is hard to find for her and her child. This is the image of postpartum we’ve been fed.
We like this image. This image is happy, normal, comfortable, and easy to accept. We brush her off after six weeks, but she is happy because she got her baby. There is a mom, bruised but healing. And there is a baby, helpless but growing and learning. Alive.
But there is another side to postpartum that we ignore entirely.
If a woman is pregnant, and in the next minute she isn’t, then she is postpartum. It shouldn’t matter if the baby is 6lbs 8oz, or if the child was born premature and sleeping, or if the pregnancy was miscarried or even aborted. That woman is still postpartum.
We send these women home with the expectation to have a “heavy period” and to take Tylenol. When in reality the emotional and physical pain we suffer and the amount of blood we lose could land us in the emergency room or worse. No directions are given on mental health, suicidal thoughts, hormone rebalancing, how to shrink your uterus, or just how extreme the loss will be.
I’ve known women to lose their babies and be sent home only to have their milk come in, but there is no child to feed. I myself have experienced unmedicated labor when I suffered with seven-minute contractions for over three hours because no one told me that I would need a fundal massage to encourage my uterus to go back down.
I only discovered this after texting a friend in desperation in the early hours of the morning. After her lifesaving response, I then found a YouTube video, and my husband began the massage on my lower abdomen when a nurse should’ve done that after I handed over my sleeping baby.
I was told to eat something and drink lots of water. I was told to take a muscle relaxer if needed. And nothing more was offered.
I wasn’t told that most funeral homes in our country will cremate babies at no charge if they are born sleeping. I wasn’t told that my uterus would contract, and I would experience phantom labor that could cause fatal hemorrhaging. My friend wasn’t told how to stop her breast milk (or that she could donate it) from producing after she gave birth to her son whom she wasn’t able to take home. Another friend of mine who lives in India suffered through a C-section to deliver her stillborn son, received ten stitches on her lower abdomen and was simply put in a car to go home. No aftercare, no guidance, no number to call if she had questions. Nothing.
Infertility is sweeping the nation and our medical professionals are taking a blasé approach while they encourage women with statistics like, “One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage” or “One in eight couples will struggle with conception.”
The statistics are increasing at an alarming rate while women are told to relax, stop trying so hard, or to have a glass of wine and eat more vegetables. We are saddled with the grief of losing our child along with the infuriating responsibility to fix a broken system that we didn’t break.
If we do not start paying attention to the women who lose their babies and go home empty-handed after miscarriage, pregnancy loss, or infantile loss, then we will begin to lose our women.
Our society has taken great strides in acknowledging the need for mental health care in this country, but as someone who has lost six pregnancies with little guidance as to why from several OBGYNs, I can tell you from first-hand experience we are dropping the ball and doing a grave disservice to the women and couples who face this ordeal. Little bedside manner, if any, is presented as a doctor walks out of the room to “give you two a moment” before they send you home empty-handed.
I have sporadically struggled with anxiety since college. And as it sometimes does, anxiety brings her companion depression along with her. The combination of the two can leave a life unlivable. I had never known the darkest of dark days until I started to lose my babies.
I can honestly say that I love my life. I’ve enjoyed my time on earth as a human and have no plans to end this journey anytime soon. However, I’ve never wanted to escape this life so greatly until I found myself a postpartum mother with no child to hold. Six times.
This feeling as scary and foreign as it is to me was not uncommon. I have reached out to several women in my life who’ve had to bury their children or gave birth but were unable to bring their babies home—and I found that handfuls of them could match my terrifying thoughts.
This urge of a mother who wants to be with their child, no matter the cost. A sobering feeling, that is unimaginable unless you’ve faced it for yourself. Why is it so unimaginable?
Because we don’t talk about it.
So where do we go? The uninsured can barely afford to call a counselor to talk them off the ledge of self-harm. There is zero off-time allocated from corporate America to the women who have suffered miscarriages. We are expected to go back to work; try again, but don’t try harder; think about it, but don’t think about it too much. Why be so upset when “it wasn’t a real baby yet?”
We are told pregnancy loss is normal, but then we are treated like we’ve only scraped our knees when actually, we’ve lost a literal part of our being.
If this message is nothing but a reminder to check on your friends after they’ve had a baby or bring a meal to the friend who is facing an unimaginable loss or offer to do your sister’s laundry after her miscarriage—then so be it, here is your reminder. You reaching out to a friend who has suffered this loss is not going to upset her or remind her of what she has faced by your presence or phone call. Not a minute has passed that she hasn’t been suffocated by her heartache, but what will hurt her most is silence from those she loves.
But I would rather we come together for something much greater. There are Instagram pages available to follow, groups to join, podcasts to listen to, and the like, but all that comes with time, long after the dust has settled from life kicking dirt in your face in the worst way.
Women are jerked back and forth like ragdolls in our current society. We struggle to find a happy medium inside the Tilt-A-Whirl of shaming, mom guilt, me too, breast vs. bottle fed, stay-at-home mothers vs. working mothers, women who chose careers over tummy time, and women who are trying to start their own businesses. We run to these conflicting corners to show our allegiance to whatever cause has angered us that week.
We lock arms and march for equality, but after the march is over, after the last step has been taken, we hide behind our phones and cast judgment because we learned to compete, before we learned to comfort.
We need a better system, a better plan, an action that is immediately swung into motion once a woman hears that her growing baby no longer has a heartbeat or she gives birth to her silent child. Most hospitals in our nation partner with psychology fellows who will see bereaved women at no charge right after a loss, but this issue I have found is that doctors just assume we know this. We don’t. We shouldn’t have to do our own research as our bodies heal from trauma, the information should be readily available, waiting in the wings to catch us before we fall.
We need a system where women who suffer pregnancy losses aren’t labeled as “other,” but rather labeled as grieving postpartum. We could be doing so much more for these women, for all women. Women who know what death feels like from the inside deserve way better care than what we’ve been told to accept.
We have come so far but still have so far to go, and until I know where to go next, I will keep buying cheap T-shirts because I’ve found they tear just as quickly as my heart.