Note to readers: This essay contains detailed descriptions of pregnancy loss.
I was in a normal strategic planning meeting for our districts’ seven leaders in the Special Education Department, where we reviewed data and caseloads for the upcoming year. My supervisor said, “Let’s take about a ten minute break before our next meeting begins.” My coworkers begin chattering, “What’s for lunch today?” “Anybody wanna come to the break room with me?” “Whew!” I exclaimed, stretching. “I could use a good sandwich and the bathroom.” I stood and immediately felt warm blood trail down my right leg.
“Oh Lord! This is not supposed to be happening,” I thought to myself. “Another miscarriage?”
I left behind the friendly chatter of my coworkers, and all of my belongings, and I walked quickly to the bathroom. It was only about 20 steps away, but I took careful strides. I did not want any of my blood on the floor. I remember being grateful, for the first time in my life, that my thighs rub together when I walk; this time my thighs were a barrier between the floor and my six-week-old pregnancy.
I swung the bathroom door open so hard that it hit the wall and while I typically aim for the last stall, the first stall had to suffice that day. In one motion, I pulled down my pants and sat on the toilet. My purple underwear was now soaked in bright red blood. “It’s ok. Take a deep breath,” I thought to myself. “Calm, calm, calm, count your fingers in your palm, palm, palm.” This was a rhyme I’d taught my students to recite when they got too anxious or upset. Now, I needed it for myself.
Two huge clots plopped in the toilet. One plop after the other. Blood poured out of me like urine. So much blood! My pants were a bloody mess, the bathroom stall was a bloody mess, my cute pink and black socks were a bloody mess. My new pink and black Sketcher Bobs were a bloody mess. After minutes, once the blood stopped pouring, I padded myself with a whole roll of tissue, got off the toilet and tried to clean up the mess. The more I tried, the more blood smeared across the floor. The toilet seat. My hands. Blood was on my hands. I needed help. I needed a woman who would see me as a human in need of help.
Silently, I prayed, “Lord, please let the right woman walk in here.”
When Mrs. Kim, the data manager for our department, came whistling through the bathroom door, we locked eyes. I stood in the middle of the bathroom with the legs of my black palazzo pants gathered in my hand. My black cardigan was now tied around my waist. My socks and underwear were in the trash and I had lined my shoes with paper towels. Mrs. Kim had caught me with a handful of wet paper towels.
In a trembling voice I said, “Mrs. Kim, I am having another miscarriage. I can’t go back to that room. Tell them I had to leave. Tell the cleaning staff to come up. Sorry for the mess I made.”
She nodded with motherly concern, sighed, and said, “Natarsha, don’t you apologize for nothing. It’s gone be alright.”
She backed out of the door and walked away. I was no longer alone.
Mrs. Kim and I had a good relationship. She was spry and enjoyed going to the movies with her husband and eating her lunch in the park. She loved sharing stories about her grandchildren. About two months prior to this I told her and a few other coworkers about my miscarriages. None of them judged me or made me feel like I was less of a woman for not being able to “hold a baby.” They just listened. I felt ashamed.
I am stupefied now as I remember that I apologized for having a miscarriage. There is nothing I could have done to prevent them from happening. I had done nothing wrong. So, why did I apologize? Miscarriages are common. In fact, 10% to 15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage within the first trimester and another 5% end in miscarriage during the second trimester– even more when you consider the number of miscarriages that occur in women who did not know they were pregnant. That number equals a lot of grieving women who never got to hold her baby in her arms.
None of them judged me or made me feel like I was less of a woman for not being able to “hold a baby.”
During the 40-minute commute home I passed by a hospital and thought about going inside, but I didn’t. Hospital staff and doctors had not helped me the half dozen times before. The first time I miscarried the triage nurse dropped her jaw and loudly exclaimed, “You’re having a miscarriage right now! How do you know?” The third time, my husband and I watched an entire movie while we waited in the emergency room before we finally left. The fifth time I was out of town at an education conference. I called my doctor but she never called me back. This was the seventh time.
Once I asked a church leader to pray for me and they responded by asking, “Do you even want children?” I knew how to pray for the type of woman I needed to enter the bathroom with me that day because of encounters and questions like that. And yet, I am not alone.
A woman talked to me about how she was shamed during a church sponsored women’s retreat. She said, “They told me I must not be ‘doing it right.’” I thought to myself, “Is there a wrong way to have sex?” I couldn’t wait to get back home, away from them.
That day in the car, I couldn’t wait to get back home either. Once home I immediately went to the shower. I wept profusely as I washed away what I knew was our final attempt at having children. I wept because I knew people we had never met would ask us why we did not have children. I wept because I did not know how to answer those invasive inquiries. I wept because my husband would be a remarkable father. I wept because I was really mad at my body. I wept because I would be cyclically reminded that my body had failed. I wept because I felt forsaken by the God who declared me fearfully and wonderfully made. I wept because I was ashamed.
I wept because I felt forsaken by the God who declared me fearfully and wonderfully made.
I sat, exhausted at the kitchen table in silence drinking hot tea. I had just confirmed my pregnancy seven days prior. I had planned to tell my spouse during our weekend getaway to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. I was relieved when he came through the front door and etched the following words in the crevices of my wrinkled soul.
“Your life partner is here.” My spouse came to me, wrapped me in an embrace that embodied the very words that had just come from his heart, and we cried. Again.
These experiences have been chock full of shame, but the shame I experience does not belong to me. I am learning what it takes to release the shame of such losses. For me it takes deep breaths and prayer, supportive people, nature walks, therapy, and the self-awareness to say, “No” to baby shower invitations and to avoid church on Mother’s Day. As I remove layers of shame placed on me by those who cannot accept the fact that my body cannot bear children, myself included, I realize the grief of a miscarriage is enough; there ought not be any shame.
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Rose Hesselbrock says
Dear Ms. Sanders,
It has been many years since I realized that I would never be pregnant and we made the decision to explore adoption. Our daughter is now 30 years old. When I read this piece, I was astounded that shame was its main theme because it made no sense to me that shame would even enter into such a sad experience of losing 7 children by miscarriage. For every 10 women who looked upon your experience as some kind of failure at being a woman who could bear children, what a blessing that there are the Mrs. Kim’s in the world who show up just at the right time. It is disturbing to read of the treatment, or lack thereof, you received from the medical system that drove you to the point of not even engaging with it anymore. I love the reassuring and loving words of your husband who seemed to know right away what had happened. “Your life partner is here.” What an incredible comfort, what a kind enveloper to draw you to him. I feel like he embodied Our Lord at that moment.
Thank you so much for this beautiful writing of grief. I pray to those women in scripture who struggled with having children that motherhood, in whatever form fits for you, arrives soon.
Rose, thank you for your response. My spouse is a good person. Having him and my coworkers present was God telling me that I am not alone. I appreciate your blessing and prayers. Be well!
Jamonica Holmes says
I wept like a baby as I read this. Beautifully written, vulnerable, relatable, real. You’re right.. your grief is enough, there is no room for guilt. We don’t get to choose the crosses we bear. But we do get to choose how we respond to God’s sovereignty. I am blessed and encouraged by tour response. The love that you and Lorenzo share is a gift that some others weep, grieve and feel shame for when they cannot have it. To God be the glory that he allowed you to experience that kind of love and devotion that prayerfully lightens some of your enormously heavy physical and emotional load. I appreciate this. And I look forward to seeing what God’s promise of restoration will continue to manifest in your life.
Thank you Jamonica! So true that we don’t choose the cross we bear, but we can always choose how we respond to its weight. I am glad that you expressed your thoughts on this essay in writing here. Bless you my sister in Christ!
Katha Chamberlain says
Thank you for your honest words that help us all better understand the trauma we inflict on each other. I wish for you good health practitioners who will help you care for yourself and your life partner.
Thank you Katha! It has taken a while, but I believe both my spouse and I have physicians who really care for our well-being. We’re so grateful!!
Alice Lerp says
Oh my, Natarsha. Add exceptional talent at writing about a very difficult situation to your list of many talents.. I,too, wept as I read this. Thank God for the love between you and your husband and may you continue to be blessed by the Holy Spirit in all you do.
Alice. I appreciate your kind remarks. My husband and I are grateful to love each other and humbled by the love of God. Thank you for your blessings! May you reap what you’ve sown. Be well!
Thank you for sharing your story. I can’t find many more words. Just thank you.
JRuss, it is humbling and healing to tell this story in this space. Sending grateful hugs, smiles and positive energy your way. Flourish!
CHARITY FORD says
Thank you for your story. I had seven miscarriages but have 5 living children. It was not until after the 12 pregnancy that I got a chance to grieve. This story made me have flash backs. But my response let me know I am healed emotionally. Whats sad is during my 6th miscarriage folk had the attitude of oh she lost another baby we still need her to be here she’ll be alright she dont need no more kids anyway. That was shaming.
Charity, I am so grateful for the evidence of emotional healing! What you experienced is absolutely shaming and very offensive. Those who have not experienced this type of loss cannot know the physical pain and emotional scars. Thank you for sharing here! Be well.
John Ruth says
This was a hard but necessary read. I appreciate your sensitive skill in relating the beseeching ‘whys’ of such trauma. Even more, I appreciate your grace and faith, and I feel so blessed to have you in my life.
Alexis Carter Thomas says
Thank you for telling your story and sharing your painful journey. May God wash away the shame for those who endure such horror and grief.
Natarsha Sanders says
Alexis, thank you for such encouragement. I receive this blessing for myself and on behalf of the countless women who need to be washed of shame.
NaTarsha, Thank you for opening your heart and sharing your story. I believe many women and men will be healed and blessed by your story. From my experience with miscarriage, I did not experience shame directly from individuals, but I placed shame upon myself. It was a battle of my mind and spirit. I could literally hear a voice in my head tell me I will never have kids. I blamed God. I hated God. I did not understand how He could let this happen to me, while there were women who could care less about their children, have babies. I went thru a whole year of separation from God because, at the time, I did not understand why He allowed this. This was many years ago, and I have matured since then and I am grateful to God for the lessons I learned in the process. I don’t think I will ever forget the experience, but it doesn’t hurt like it use to.
Natarsha Sanders says
Delisha, I appreciate your response and openness here. The emotions are so raw and real. I am sure you are living your life as a witness that things will get better; maturity and growth, as you named, certainly help us see the better. Your experience is also a witness to how our own minds can paralyze our growth and inhibit our healing. Thank you for journeying with me.
Jim Lein says
Thank you for sharing your ordeals. We all, including us guys, need to learn and know more about the reality and anguish of miscarriages–especially in these days when an increasing number of states have jailed women for having miscarriages. A young woman in Oklahoma is facing 4 years in jail for a miscarriage. Again, thanks for your courage and your concern for others with difficult pregnancies.
Natarsha Sanders says
Jim, thank you for reading and commenting here. It is an honor to have you read our essays. Learning about the anguish of miscarriages is so important to the healing process for both women and men.