[OPINION] Grief after miscarriage: Unmade memories, unfulfilled dreams

Demsen Gomez-Largo

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[OPINION] Grief after miscarriage: Unmade memories, unfulfilled dreams
'The hardest part of my miscarriage was the unwanted communal opinions from friends, masked as condolences'

My miscarriage is something I don’t like to talk about. It is my shameful secret, the guilt that I always carry around with me. It has been months but I still haven’t processed the entirety of it. My husband and I never really talked about it; I think for the most part, we just pretended that it never happened. I go through so much self-deprecation, guilt, and all this other stuff I make up in my head. Does he blame me for the death of our baby? Is he hurting for me too? Is the loss as heartbreaking for him as it is for me?

It still feels surreal, like watching something happen to me but I am on the outside looking in.

It was a Friday. I was whisked into the surgery room – tubes in my arm, suctions on my chest, and this plastic medical mask that was hooked to my mouth a little too loose. I remember crying, tears hot on my cheeks and my neck. “Please, can you hold my hand?” I told no one and everyone. Warm fingers gripped mine, I don’t know whose, but I was just glad it was there. My lasting memory of it was the darkness: my eyes closed, pitch-black, and all I could hear were the faint lullabies of “Shhh, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

I woke up to nurses tapping my arm, telling me it was finished. I tried to open my eyes and saw them taking off the oxygen mask and putting my clothes back on. There was an emptiness now, both emotional and physical. It was bare, vacant, a body adorned of naught. I was crying for what I lost, for something that never became mine, that I never saw or touched but was a great loss all the same.

I stayed in the hospital for the night. I barely ate. I bled, vomited, and had to call nurses every time I needed to pee. My doctor told me my miscarriage was not my fault; it just didn’t happen for me. They threw around statistics and flashy semantics as a way to console me. “15% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage.” They now clustered me among the millions who experienced it, only it’s a club that no one wants to be in.

For a week after my miscarriage, I had this recurring nightmare of burning in hell. I’m screaming but the devil just laughs as he watches my darkened, charred body. It didn’t happen one time; it was on repeat, a hundred, a million, times. I would wake up to the same thing over and over again – a memory of the devil standing on top of me, holding a torch, ready to set me on fire. I hated the idea of sleeping the first few months. It was just an intense grief and aloneness that I was not prepared to cope with yet.

I regret not getting help after my miscarriage. I tell people I was sad but I couldn’t express the degree of it. I was calm on the outside; I smiled and even laughed a little. I went back to work quickly after. I was advised to take a few weeks off but I couldn’t, I was terrified of being alone. I wanted the company of strangers, of white noise to hide away the screams of “It was my fault” and “I killed you.” I told none of my coworkers, and at the end of every day, there was this desire to shower, to purge myself of something. But when the water hit me, it didn’t feel like a cleanse, but more like a river flow of blame and guilt.

Months have already gone and I thought I would be over it by now, but it still feels like being in the thick of dealing with loss. It creeps up on me in strange ways and I feel a flood of emotions all at once. There are days when I just want to do nothing, to watch everything happen around me and just be still. I get this deep longing whenever I see babies on trains and kids laughing in the park.

The hardest part of my miscarriage was the unwanted communal opinions from friends, masked as condolences. Instead of being consoled, I was inundated with, “You can try again,” or “It was only for four months,” or, “You’re still young; you can make another one.” Grief in miscarriages is harder to explain and therefore more isolating. It brings up your defensiveness, because society hasn’t fully ritualized it, so we don’t know what to do with it.

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The loss itself made me feel really small, and in my smallness, emotions loomed large. I felt paralyzed, like being stuck in this closed loop of malaise. I just wanted to grieve silently, to slip into the back and cry without an audience.

I’m still subjected to an onslaught of grief that I never knew existed. It’s my baggage that weighs heavy on my back. But on good days, I sit with it, unpack it, and try to be at ease with the notion that it may well never go away. It morphs and changes but routinely presents like a background of unsettledness, a trickle of unease, a little whisper that keeps me scanning for signs of someone or something.

Who would you have looked like? Who would you have been? Would you have had your father’s smile? What would you have looked like when you looked at me for the very first time? I see her everywhere – in the eyes of my husband, in the smell of other babies, and the laughter of all the children.

Grief never leaves; it morphs and changes. Every moment with it is completely different; every moment needs its own type of attention and grace. Does the moment need a ritual, a listener, curiosity, or a massive cry? “What do I need right now?” And sitting with the likely answer of “I don’t know” is a much more compassionate response than trying to make it better.

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I make space for it to honor her memory. I welcome the sadness that comes along with loss – it’s my only remembrance of her. I would rather be comfortable with the silent unrest than for her to fall into oblivion – untraceable and unremembered. Without this grief, would I even remember her years from now? There is no quick fix; I just have to acknowledge that there’s a dagger twisting my heart and I’m limping, just trying to make my way to the finish line.

Every day, I pray I can fast-forward to a time when I am already past this. Losing a child is the ultimate tragedy, born or unborn. It’s a loss that bleeds profusely then oozes and finally scabs over. The scar it leaves tugs at you for the rest of your life. But no matter how long, I think one thing will never go away: the ache of what could have been. –

Demsen Gomez-Largo, 31, is writing this for her baby, whom she would have named Noa.

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