If you’re ever looking for way to clear out a room, consider talking about your miscarriage.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s at least a 1 in 5 chance a woman will have one, so the odds are good (well, not “good” so much as “high”) that you’ll have one to discuss. I’m one of those women and I’ve talked about miscarriage with friends, with family and now, apparently, with the world.
I don’t pretend to get all of the “National Theme Awareness” months, but October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and if nothing else, it serves to let women in that place know that there are multitudes of others who’ve also been there. Maybe it helps show them the ways other women have traveled the path.
My first miscarriage, which happened about eight years ago, was a shock. I felt as if I were the only woman who’d ever had one. I was adrift and confused. How was I supposed to react, I wondered. Should I be less sad? More sad? What was my time limit for grieving?
But I’m an over-sharer, and the way I dealt with my experience was to talk about it. I talked to friends, to family members, sometimes to anyone who’d sit beside me long enough. Part of the reason I did it was that I wanted to explain my strange behavior, my paleness, my occasional lapses of silently staring off into the distance. But I also felt another motive driving me, one harder to define. I had to talk.
Eventually, I became a connoisseur of the listener’s reactions.
There was the “Dude” reaction, which was often but not always what happened when I told a man. I never felt men should be spared from the things that happen to the women in their lives, so I told my brothers, my father, my friends even though I knew I might get a Dude response. Besides, sometimes talking about it with The Dude was kinda funny.
“Ahem, ah, well, you know, that’s, um, too bad,” The Dude might say, clearing his throat nervously, avoiding eye contact and stammering out something vaguely kind but also clearly indicative of a passionate yearning to drop the subject and never return to it, like, ever. The Dude — who, by the way, is sometimes a woman — is not above pulling a fire alarm to escape the conversation.
“The Mom” was often an older woman.
“Oh, honey,” she might say softly, patting your arm. Maybe she’d quietly tell you she went through something similar, or maybe she’d just sit with you, in silence. She usually didn’t offer advice or ask follow-up questions.
I liked The Mom best.
My least favorite was “The Encourager.”
The Encourager means well but never runs out of platitudes: “You can always try again!” “You’re still young!” “At least you know you can get pregnant!” “It just wasn’t meant to be!” And the worst: “It’s all part of God’s plan.”
Whether that was true or not, it felt punitive that the Almighty had singled me out for suffering, had decided to inflict it on me intentionally and with an awareness of what he was doing.
Also pretty bad was “The Diagnoser,” who’s never met an ailment he or she can’t cure. Your miscarriage presents a challenge to The Diagnoser, one that almost certainly can be identified and prevented by actions The Diagnoser or someone The Diagnoser knows has undertaken or ceased undertaking. Did you drink coffee while you were pregnant? Fly in an airplane? Paint your nails? Expose yourself to too many free radicals, lead-based paint, fluoride, parabens or cash register receipts? Have you gone gluten-free? Dairy-free? Sugar-free? Paleo? Tried essential oils? Crystals? Maybe you should visit an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, a reiki healing master, a witch doctor, an exorcist.
Eventually I realized Diagnosers are simply terrified of uncertainty. They can’t accept that sometimes bad things just happen, that they can’t ward off tragedy in their own lives by researching or thinking or doing. I’ve been a Diagnoser before, and probably since, but my two miscarriages have made me at least try to stop myself from dispensing unsolicited advice when someone shares.
A miscarriage — maybe any loss — is intensely personal anyway. There isn’t much anyone can say other than “I’m sorry.”
For me, it wasn’t like losing someone I knew and loved. It was losing a possibility, a potential, and the sadness was about never knowing what could have been.
There is no solution for grief of any variety. But I found consolation in speech. It was a dose of medication, if not a cure. While talking, I felt as if my suffering had become a physical load I was offering up.
“Here’s my sadness,” I was saying. “Can you hold it for a second?”
Not everyone wants to, or can. But when you find someone who will, who gladly takes it away, even for a moment, your heart feels lightness in the space where the burden was. And, if you’re anything like I was, you’re grateful.
So thank you for listening, world, and please keep listening to the other women who share this month. Some of us very much need it.
Georgia Garvey is the editor-in-chief of the Pioneer Press newspapers, which cover the north, northwest and western suburbs of Chicago (and have no affiliation with the St. Paul Pioneer Press). She wrote this column for the Chicago Tribune.
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