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.