You pee on the stick, have the blood tests. Positive. Pregnant. Elation or dismay – extremes at either end.
And then, if you choose to continue, the secretive first trimester ensues. “Keep it a secret, in case something goes wrong”.
I was of this mindset. Until it happened to me.
Living in a rural community where everyone knows not only everyone but everything about everyone, meant that keeping my first trimester a secret was perhaps more difficult than that of my metropolitan sisters.
The shared knowledge in a small community is deafening. “She isn’t playing netball anymore” “she didn’t attend function x” “she wasn’t drinking at dinner last night”
Being a sporty but equally social/boozy person, combined with the fact that we found out we were pregnant at two weeks (and therefore had been keeping the “secret” for a loooonnngg time!) made this exceptionally difficult. Thankfully, community members, friends, colleagues and family had the decency to only talk about my “secret” behind my back, rather than speak to my face about it and force me into a crappy lie.
The latter part of this sentence makes no sense in any other circumstance.
We had told immediate family and a handful of close friends. And as we drove to our routine ten week appointment with our obstetrician, we were excitedly discussing maternity leave arrangements and pregnancy announcements.
Obviously the hypochondriac within me was nervous and hoping that our ob/gyn would do our ultrasound ASAP so that I could relax for the rest of the appointment and excitedly ask questions about our growing miracle. I had no symptoms or anything to fear, other than fear itself.
Gel, ultrasound wand, screen, wrong.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. I could tell instantly that the image on the screen was not right. Our little baby looked quite similar to what it had at our six week appointment. It should be four weeks bigger, instead it was one. Our doctor’s face also told the tale. “Things don’t look normal, Emma..”
A missed miscarriage.
The whirl wind of travel, fasting (ergh), surgery, discovery of previously unknown endometriosis, recovery, tears. So many tears. Chocolate, movies, pasta, cuddles, ice cream.
Initially, I could not utter those five words.
“I have had a miscarriage” was the hardest phrase I have ever said. But honestly, I rarely had to speak it. I knew that friends and family were waiting to hear the outcome of our ten week check up. Text messages had to do. Not at all proper etiquette, but when I could hardly stop the tears to breathe, I certainly could not speak those despicable words. The thought of telling people broke me.
That first day I felt incredibly alone. My body had failed me. I had failed my husband. I realised how unreasonable these thoughts were but I couldn’t help but think them. My eyes hurt from tears. My chest hurt. My head, my heart. I didn’t want to see anyone. Speak to anyone. I couldn’t. I didn’t want their sympathy, their pity. The whole situation was completely and utterly exhausting.
After my surgery we stayed at my sister’s house. We were forced to speak to actual human beings about what happened. Then something strange happened, I started to feel better.
The next day I spoke to my Mum, my best friend and I felt lighter.
The following day, I told my netball team, a few friends, some colleagues with the magic words, “it’s not a secret” and the grape vine did the rest.
There were still times, particularly in that first week, I didn’t know what to say. My voice cracked, I couldn’t finish my sentence without tears, others had to step in and deliver the news. It was hard. Bloody hard. Even now, two months on, I struggle to get out those five words, that awful sentence without crying. But that was the beauty of the grape vine. I rarely had to speak that sentence but yet, people understood.
Now, I am an over sharer. I am too comfortable. I realise that this method might not work for everyone. But at times when I wasn’t able to speak about it, people respected that. I also didn’t have to tell the story one million times over to get the word out.
My husband is amazing. He deserves a medal. So do my family and friends. I hate to brag, but it’s true. I have an incredible village around me. I realise that I am lucky and that not all women have the support that I had.
What really made me feel so #blessed (insert hashtag irony here) was the support that we received.
We allowed the community to spread our news and the love we received was overwhelming. Food, presents, thoughtful texts, support, hugs, love. Our silver lining. While I felt so incredibly unlucky to have been in this situation in the first place, I felt so incredibly lucky to realise just how many people care for you.
Something that really took me by surprise was the number of women who sought me out to let me know that they knew exactly what I was going through. Women that I knew well, women that I didn’t know as well. I couldn’t believe that I had no idea what these women had been through previously.
The chorus of “me too” from other women didn’t lessen my pain by any means. I was still heart broken. But I felt so much less alone.
I think that for these other women, sharing their experience, regardless of how recent, was healing for them too. One in four known pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Thinking that most mothers have more than one child, the odds would say that roughly every second woman experiences this. Despite knowing this statistic, the number of women that I knew, that approached me and said “I know exactly what you are going through” still surprised me. The “me too” of miscarriage was overwhelming.
I had never really thought about it, but looking back, before I had a miscarriage I could say that I knew of three women who had been through this. Now I can say I know in excess of 20. Aunties, friends, colleagues. All who had suffered in silence.
I never felt embarrassed or ashamed. I didn’t feel pressured or burdened. Predominantly I just felt so damn lucky to have such lovely people in our lives. Which makes sense really. Who is going to be a dick to someone who has just had a miscarriage? Who is going to make someone feel ashamed that they are no longer pregnant? What kind of person is going to go out of their way to worsen your misery? Kick you when you are down? No one. Well, no one worth knowing anyway.
I also felt that (after the initially, uncontrollable sadness turned into regular, more controlled sadness) talking about it was so helpful. Men, women, everyone can share in this grief, this human experience.
While everyone grieves differently and I absolutely respect peoples’ choice to work through their sadness however the hell they damn well please, the understanding and love I received from others made my experience less awful. I also realise that I may sound full of privilege and small town naivety, many other women are less fortunate and/or may have much smaller networks. But everyone needs a village, regardless of size. It’s about quality, not quantity.
If people know what you are going through, they can help. They understand when you start crying about your boss or when your reaction to the fact that your afternoon apple did not magically turn into a cheesecake is blown (arguably) out of proportion. They get it when you are giggly over the first sip of red, because it has been (a long) three months between drinks. They understand if you just can’t be at work for one more second because you just need to lie down. On the floor. In silence. And speak to no one.
And at the end of the day, the lovin’ and understanding that you’ll receive makes this shitty time so much more tolerable.
It was this lovin’ that led me to question, what’s with the secrecy? What’s with the fear of honesty? What’s with women feeling like they can’t share this common experience with each other? Is the judgement real? Or perceived?
I get it. People can suck. This is evident in the time of internet trolls and keyboard warriors. Of Donald Trumps and Kim Jong Uns. I am not talking about these people. These people who are not worth your time or energy. I am talking about your people. You family, your friends, your colleagues, your wider social circles. Anyone who matters to you that you want to share with. People who will support you. People who you want to understand. People who are worth your time.
People are happy to post photos of themselves in their underwear, share their heartbreak, Instagram what they had for breakfast. They are happy to discuss the flu, a broken leg, a headache, a heart attack. In a world where people are more comfortable than ever sharing their lives, why not share their miscarriage? Where is the authenticity in what we share? The trust?
If women prefer to remain quiet about their pregnancy, their miscarriage, their anything. Good for them! If women choose to share their joy, their pain, their anything. Go for it!
People should feel that they have the choice. The choice not to allow their fears to stop them from sharing if they want to. The choice to stay quiet if they wish. Free from fear. Free from judgement.
The advice that I would give anyone in this situation: do what you want and what works best for you, but don’t be afraid to give people a chance, they aren’t all bad.