On July 3, I had a miscarriage. As far as miscarriage preparedness goes, I was prepared. My mom had had three miscarriages between my sister and I. My family talked about them very openly. I knew all about the orphaned baby that they’d almost adopted after the third miscarriage, and before my sister. I’d heard 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. Intellectually, my eyes were wide open to the real possibility that I would have one too.

But miscarriage preparedness isn’t really a thing. When the doctor looks at you the way he looks at you, when he stops moving the ultrasound wand across your pelvis because he already knows, when you look to the monitor at the dead contents of your uterusyou’re never prepared.

That’s the first thing about miscarriages: They’re hard to understand because we live in a world in which we don’t talk about them. And even when someone does share a personal experience—until you’ve had a miscarriage yourself—you’re hardly equipped to absorb what you’re being told. I was convinced that if it happened to me, I would be fine. I talked about that publicly.

I told people I was pregnant well before I was supposed to, because I knew that the only reason we’re told to wait is so that, if a miscarriage transpires, we don’t burden the world with our loss. It’s so that we suffer in isolation, because a miscarriage is “nobody’s business”. But I was resolved: If a miscarriage happened to me, I would talk about it openly and I would cope because it would be perfectly normal, and surely, everybody would identify with me.

Walking up the stairs and into the building for my second ultrasound, I directed a conversation with my partner about the possibility of a miscarriage happening to us. That coming out of this building, we might not be pregnant any longer. As ever, he was supportive and I wasn’t worried. Even if it happened, I would be fine.

But then it happened and I was all but fine.

“It became clear to me that “see what happens” was a doctor euphemism for: I know what’s happened and … if you need time to accept it, you have a week, during which time you will probably endure a very uncomfortable miscarriage on your toilet, alone.”

It started with a conversation with my doctor, after I’d gotten dressed, ultrasound gel-soaked underwear and all. I remember he used very strange, very nebulous language. He was careful not to explicitly counsel me to get the D&C—which stands for “dilation and curettage” and is the procedure by which they vacuum a non-viable pregnancy away.

He tactfully presented me with the facts: There’s no fetal pole. There’s no heartbeat. By this time in the pregnancy, there should be a heartbeat. If you want, we can hold out another week to see what happens before making a decision.

It became clear to me later that “see what happens” was just a euphemism for: I know what’s happened and it’s already happened but if you need time to accept that, you have a week, during which time you will probably endure a very uncomfortable miscarriage on your toilet, alone.

But even still, he wasn’t going to serve me with a plan and I can only assume it’s a liability thing; that a doctor prefers to equip you with information to make a decision yourself. And since medicine is never black or white, I normally appreciate that approach a lot. But when you’re having a miscarriage and you can’t see between the tears, all you really want is for someone to tell you exactly what’s happened, what we’re doing to get through it, and that all will be fine when all is said and done. (By this time, the idea of being fine again felt like fantasy.)

And that’s the second thing about miscarriages: Everybody else’s discomfort with them makes you feel completely broken, like you have a terminal illness.

By the end of the conversation with my doctor, I’d been crying for a good half hour, I’d downed a pill that would dilate my cervix over the next 24 hours, and I’d scheduled an appointment for a D&C the following day. I’d made the decision in the end with my partner, despite what felt like little guidance from the doctor—but we knew right away it was the right one because all of a sudden time started to move again. I wanted definitive guidance and that’s what I got, eventually; I just needed to say the right thing for the doctor to trigger the plan.

“That’s the other thing about miscarriages: Everybody else’s discomfort with them makes you feel completely broken, like you have a terminal illness.”

I bring this up only to point out that neither the medical system—and to be clear, I really do like my OB—nor society have a good way of handling miscarriages or, more specifically, the people who have them. And the part that surprised me most was that the person saddled with all the responsibility to navigate the complexity around it, for everybody else, is the person who is least equipped. And so perpetuates a cycle, where suffering in isolation is the only coping mechanism. For her.

Why society is so poorly equipped to talk about miscarriages, and lovingly hold a person recovering from one, has everything to do with a bigger, badder history and stigma that informs how we deal with sex, reproductive rights, and sexuality across the board. It’s informed by religious text. It’s informed by the patriarchy. And it’s perpetuated by society. But stigma and taboo has never informed my approach to any of these topics and certainly wasn’t going to be the reason I clammed up and submitted around the ultimate source of shame: the miscarriage.

With a fire lit under my very vacant uterus, I devised a plan: I would be really open about my miscarriage with everybody. I told strangers at the coffee shop. I told people I was interviewing for jobs at Miss Grass. I told investors. I told my substitute yoga teacher. My accountant. I even told my landlord.

It would be my way to stand up to the patriarchy, but it would also be an important part of making sense of the experience personally, while exposing the people around me to the kind of conversation I hoped my future daughter could have when she has her first miscarriage (because odds are).

I would keep telling people, and slowly they would tell people, and by the end of my miscarriage adventure, I would have infected at least my share of people with a normal, real conversation about miscarriage. That felt like my responsibility.

But after a week of that, the miscarriage script—and I had no idea this was a thing, but damn, it is pervasive and well-studied—started to wear on me. Everyone had the same response: Oh I’m so sorry, followed by very uncomfortable looks, and a swift change of topic.

Everyone had the same response: Oh I’m so sorry, followed by very uncomfortable looks, and a swift change of topic.

At first, I was nonplussed. But after seven days, I was depleted. I felt so isolated. That dreaded I’m so sorry script had permeated the framework of some of the woke-est people I knew. The friends I thought knew better, who engaged in very human and thoughtful conversations around every other taboo topic, were all of a sudden defective conversationalists. I tried to stay the course—and I did some days—but there were others when I just kept it to myself. I couldn’t bear the heavy lift required to steer people toward honesty, toward making things fine again.

What I learned was that making things fine again wasn’t something I needed someone else to do for me. It was something I could do for myself—and was something I had done for myself before the miscarriage. In the end, it was the miscarriage that let me tap back into that—that gave me permission to pick up my cannabis ritual, which I had so missed while I was pregnant. (I had stopped momentarily when I was pregnant, while I digested the literature and tried to understand the risk.)

Weed has always been a powerful tool in helping me work through and meditate on the stuff that unsettles me. So when isolation and a loss of perspective around this miscarriage gripped me, I was back to my old routine of drawing a bath, turning the lights down low, and lighting a joint. Just me and my empty-as-all-hell uterus got high again.

And just like that, I found all the support I’d been looking for, in me. I just needed to give myself permission to take it.

 

By Anna Duckworth

April 22, 2019