Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mother (or, finally writing about my miscarriage five months later)

December, 2013
"I think I might be having a miscarriage. I have many feelings:
-fear, that it will hurt; that I killed my child somehow.
-guilt, that at first I thought of this possibility as a kind of possible 'solution'- that maybe, somewhere, I even hoped for it a little.
-guilt guilt guilt. What did I do wrong!? I went off my medication cold turkey. I've been sleeping a lot. Haven't missed a single pre-natal.
And yet, it may be nothing to worry about... just the waiting is terrifying..."

As Mother's Day fast approaches and I start to feel sorry for myself-- because, if circumstances were different, I would be very close to being a mother right now-- and I stop feeling happy for so many friends and relatives who have brand new little ones or are about to, I figure it's time to finally release into the blogosphere some of the pain and beauty and grace and agony I've experienced recently, in relation to becoming--and being-- a mother.

Yes, I had a miscarriage, and yes, it sucked, and yes, it was the ugliest and most emotionally painful experience of my life. To go from having so much hope and joy and expectation for the Little Bean inside of me, and then so quickly and so gruesomely to lose it all: to give birth to death; to be haunted by the guilt and the relief and the "what did I do wrong?"s and the incessant, constant, brutal re-livings of the most unceremonious burial imaginable for my first born-- an insultingly impersonal flush down the toilet... well, that was my purgatory for a long while.

A beautifully-written article in the Exponent II magazine resounded a little too well with me. The author, Heather Sundahl, writes, 
"I'm not saying it's the worst thing in the world. But don't tell me it doesn't suck to carry a life, make physical and emotional plans for that life, and then have it basically disappear, with nothing to hang on to. No memories. No photos. Nothing."
What I feared most was publicity. People feeling sorry for me. People acting weird around me. Trying to comfort me. Telling me that it would be okay. That we could try again. That It's really common. 

I hunkered down into a little shell of isolated self-sabotage and pathologically kept myself "busy". My mom asked me, concerned, why I sounded so "normal" on the phone. My guarded, maybe even slightly cheery tone was understandably unsettling. After all, it was one of the biggest days of my life-- my graduate thesis reading exam, and I had calmly walked to my professors first thing in the morning and explained that I wouldn't be taking the eight hour essay test, because I was pretty sure I was losing my baby, and it seemed logistically a little difficult. Oh, and, by the way, I was pregnant.

Why wouldn't I cry and scream and sob to my desperately empathetic mother who had experienced her own fair share of pregnancy loss? It was because I wouldn't be able to take the compassion and grief that would inevitably be thrust at me if I showed weakness. I told hardly anyone and thus refused to give them the chance to say the right things; well-meaning comfort is so acutely painful sometimes. If anyone had told me that it would be okay... Well, I didn't want it to be okay, okay!? If I tried to get better, if I tried not to mourn, it would only increase my guilt a million-fold, I knew it, and it would surely negate the  importance of the little life-that-was.

 Of course all those things are true-- about being okay and trying again for another one---  but didn't this one matter? Doesn't it still? I wanted to keep my grief private so I could really, really grieve and thus, somehow, make the grief mean something. For the small amount of time we were together, it had  changed so much about me-- for the first time in my life, my life-- my body-- was no longer my own. I was a mother... wasn't I? Didn't that count for something?

I wrote a poem for The Bean when the first waves of unbearable nausea hit that inevitably rendered the abstract idea of "pregnancy" into a strikingly new concept, so real and exciting: the idea of"Mother."

I Have a Secret (Words for Eve)

It's roughly the size of a sesame seed
this week.
I call it "Bean"
and sing to it in the shower.
I call it "her"
in my heart.
I will be her Mother.

My secret is Eve, she is first born.
She is my hope and my joy and my heart-gripping fear.
She is my nausea and my inexpressible "glow".
She will be born into a world of paradoxes--
heavens and hells; "women" and "men";
and endarkenment.
I will be her mother.

She will learn about her name
and the pain and fear and
centuries of weight it carries.
She will learn about her name
and the Mother of All Living.
She will learn that "mother" is not
synonymous with "rib"
or "sin"
or "hearkens".

To her, "mother" will mean

To her, "father" will mean

My secret sesame seed
will grow into a tree
with roots back to the sixth day of Creation--
with branches to a brighter day--
with a name that means
And she, too, will be mother.

 As the disgustingly ironic way of things would have it, that big, big day also happened to be the opening night of the show I was in at the time, Joyful Noise. And, as the sadistic fates decreed, my character's central conflict in the play was having her little daughter ripped away from her. 
I had no understudy. I had to perform. 
I had to waddle around in Depends, amniotic material still flowing out of me, and deliver every blessed line. I had to not tell anyone, because it might make me burst from the ache of it, and I had to sing the Coventry Carol ("lully lullay, thou little tiny child").

The reviewer that came that night said she didn't sympathize with or care for my character because I "cried too much." And that, my friends, was the cherry on top of the knee to my proverbial, achy groin.

Going to church was torture, and I had to leave more than once, choking down sobs as what seemed like every single other woman around me sat with their hands resting on their beautifully healthy, 8-month-pregnant bellies, or rocking their newborns, or chuckling at their toddlers. I tried not to feel sorry for myself, but, in a large way, I mostly felt sorry for my baby. Why didn't it get to experience life? Why didn't it let me love it longer?

But all this woe, this painful, painful woe-- was it all for naught? Of course not. I'm getting to the hopefully inspiring part. But it may not be all that inspiring after all, because I'm not especially wise, and I haven't figured this all out yet. I'm not going to pretend that I have. 

But I learned some things. I learned an awful lot about opening up. I learned how desperately and completely I love my husband-- that he's actually, literally, an angel (for Valentine's day, he wrote me a poem about Mother in Heaven and loss and motherhood that would make anyone weep. It's my prized possession). I learned that it's okay to let others in on your grief. I learned that sometimes the best thing to say to someone who's in deep, wordless pain is what my dear sister said to me: "I'm not going to say it's okay, because it's not. And I'm not going to say to feel better, because you won't for a long time. But I love you and I'm so, so sorry."

 Most importantly, though, I think I learned a little bit more about what it means to be a mother. Yeah, I consider myself a mother now, because I had a little life in me, and that little life came out of me, even though I don't get to help it keep living. But that's not motherhood. 
Mothering, is, well, loving someone so purely and completely that they are, for all intents and purposes part of you, whether it's in the literal sense that many lucky ladies get to experience, or whether it's in the simple, beautiful sense of unconditional love. Motherhood is love in its purest form, and pure love, in my belief, is the love of Christ. And if He can gather us up like a hen gathers her chicks, can't we all mother in that same way? Can't we all love purely and absolutely and so wholly that we become one?
I certainly think so.

This Mother's Day, I'm honoring literal mothers everywhere, because they do great things and beautiful and selfless things. But I'm also honoring the mother-like love that every human being can cultivate and experience. Sometimes, unfortunately, we can only come to really recognize it through pain or grief or, even, loss. But it's so alive and so real, and because of that, I have no choice but to smile.

Love, hope, and happiness.


I want to carry you
and for you to carry me
the way voices are said to carry over water.

Just this morning on the shore,
I could hear two people talking quietly
in a rowboat on the far side of the lake.

They were talking about fishing,
then one changed the subject,
and, I swear, they began talking about you.

Billy Collins

that's all, folks


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