A SECRET GRIEF
★ ★ ★ ★
Life is full of cruel ironies.
One that struck me when I got older was the fact that I had spent most of my younger years trying very hard not to get pregnant, but then when I decided I was ready to have children, I spent my thirties trying very hard to get pregnant. Of course these are just the realities of age, but it felt cruel nonetheless.
“Trying” to get pregnant can conjure up some surreal images. Of turkey basters and acrobatic post-coital poses. Of deliberate and diligent love-making, and painfully-kept ovulation charts. What other people don’t see are the knees red from praying, even with a heathen heart. The effort. The monthly heartbreak. It is a kind of desperate reaching for what is really the randomness of life. Grasping for something that lies just beyond you. Something out of your control.
My first miscarriage happened nearly two months after I got pregnant. It’s funny to think now but that very first time we tried I got pregnant straight away. But then two months later I felt what I first thought was the flu—fever and aches. When the bleeding began, there was a sad and futile attempt to keep my knees clamped together. Because I knew, I knew deep down what was happening. But it didn’t stop it. And after that I was plunged into grief.
I was not prepared for the terrible, overwhelming grief. It went to the very depths of me. I hid away from the world so wrapped up in sadness that I found I didn’t believe in anything anymore. People were well meaning but it seemed the more they said the worse it became. One kind but somewhat tactless friend tried to tell me that this was Nature’s way of getting rid of non-viable pregnancies. I spat this bitter truth out and retreated even further.
In truth there was nothing anybody could have said that could have consoled me. Or even made sense of it for me. Because none of my feelings were based on logic. They were huge, and instinctual, and completely primal, and they swallowed me whole.
Because, for me, from the moment I got pregnant, I became a mother. The little living thing inside was my child, my baby. And there was, on my part, a kind of magical happening in which I became transported instantly into a relationship. People didn’t realise that at the two months into the pregnancy I had already travelled past the birth, through many birthdays. I had chosen countless outfits, had countless conversations with my child. I had heard his voice and laughed as we talked. How cheeky and funny he was! At two months I had already experienced a kind of instinctive knowing of my child. The kind of knowing that I imagined would’ve helped me find him if he strayed in a crowd, so that I would have been able to recognise him from the shape of his head, the gait of his run. There he is! That’s my child. That’s my baby.
But then he was gone.
I locked this grief deep inside of me so the miscarriage and all those feelings took on the terrible quality of a secret. It had the same heavy weight and it felt like there was so much of it to hide.
There was the immediacy and intensity of my mama-love, and the curious shame of my dysfunctional body.
There was the blame I grabbed hold of, as if there was anything I could have done to prevent it.
And there was the strange persistent thought that maybe, maybe, it was some divine comment on my worth as a mother. That somewhere upon a cloud a malevolent being decided ‘not good enough’.
All these feelings that sat on the edge between birth and death.
Another reason I kept it a secret was that when I entered my thirties people I knew, mostly family and friends, all had something to say about whether I should have babies or not and when this was going to happen. There were conversations and discussions, tips and advice. I suppose it is natural for a family to feel invested in the idea of a new member of a family, but even people I didn’t know had something to say. I remember my in-law’s neighbour telling me in the driveway: “You’re no spring chicken! You’d better get started!’
But the reality of my grief was that it felt intensely private. And in some way it still remains so to this day. As if that place of love that I voyaged to with those children that I never had is something too intimate to share. And is something that is mine, and mine alone.
So I didn’t want to talk about it, to anyone. And I hid. And I cried. And I mourned, and in that process somehow got better. We tried again. And then there was a beautifully luscious baby. And our lives continued on. Until we wanted number two. And then there were more miscarriages. And another pregnancy.
This is one terrible effect of a miscarriage: it robs you of the joy of being pregnant. This too becomes a secret until you hit the blessed 12 week-mark. And even then you are quieter, more humble in the face of your age and the odds. You hide in large sweaters. You take very good care. And the colour of your knees descends into a deep dark brown as you pray, and pray, and pray.
But the one wonderful effect of these experiences is that I feel totally and utterly blessed. I have two healthy, happy children, and even now in the madness of a household with small, noisy children, I am loathe to complain about the burden of motherhood. (Though of course it has its ups and downs, and sleep can seem like a distant memory.) Because for me motherhood was a battle hard won, and I know that someone somewhere is on the long road of recovery back from the grief and pain of miscarriage.
ExpatMama lives with her family in Berlin, Germany.