I took my daughter to a holiday craft fair and fundraiser at her day care on Sunday. She got her nails painted, she played with glitter, and when the musician showed up at 11 AM with his guitar, she and her friends danced their little butts off. Every time a song ended, they just waited patiently for the next one to start up, taut with anticipation. I watched the little babies in the room do their little baby thing and remembered how Ros and I had seen this same musician several times when she was that little and I had thought that I couldn’t wait until I’d really see her dance. I have always loved Ros fiercely, but I like her more and more with every day that passes. Age three beats age two and age one and ESPECIALLY age zero every day of the week. Watching her dance at this little concert on the carpet floor of her favorite place felt like a moment to truly savor her growth and her big little personality.
Then a friend I hadn’t seen in a few months flagged me down - he was there with his wife and two kids. “Hey! How was your race?” he asked, and it took me a moment to remember that he was talking about the marathon I’d toyed with running in September. “Oh!” I said, “I decided not to run it.” He was surprised to hear that. “Oh, how come?”
I knew that this friend was actually asking out of genuine interest and concern, and with the working assumption that I am a driven person who always runs, no matter what, and that therefore there would have had to be a very good reason for me to decide not to run this marathon. So without really thinking it through, I gave the true answer.
“Well, I decided I wanted to get pregnant instead.” At this, he lit up with a big smile, which I immediately torpedoed by continuing with “And then I had two miscarriages, so…I guess it’s been kind of a tough time.”
Both my friend and his wife (who is also my friend, but who would never have known to ask about the marathon) looked at me with surprise and genuine concern in their eyes. Of course, they were so kind. They offered condolences and asked how I was doing, and they gave the impression that they genuinely wanted to know the true answer. Still, I made sure to alleviate the pressure by changing the subject rapidly to holiday travels and potty training. Even though I trusted them and their kindness, I could not hold myself back from saying before we all parted ways, “I am so sorry for just unloading that on you two minutes after you walked in!” As I went through the rest of the day, I kept thinking back to the whole interaction, totally humiliated. I had just word-vomited all over these nice people who were there with their two beautiful children, a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old, about which I had assuredly made them feel awkward at the very least. They did not ask for a huge personal-information dump. I don’t even know them that well!
I need to unlearn the I’m-sorry response. I know I do. This is, I have to think, one of the reasons why women don’t talk about miscarriages very often: the worry that the information will be too much for whoever you might want to tell. That the receiver won’t be able to receive it without discomfort, and that that discomfort might be hurtful to everyone involved. Discomfort, especially the discomfort of unexpected emotional openness, is terrifying. Few things hurt more than sharing a painful personal datum with someone and receiving awkwardness or coldness in return. So much of the time, we think, it’s not worth the risk. What if it comes across as too needy, or worse, a guilt-trip, a naked grab for attention and affection? The fear is that anyone I say this to might feel an obligation to me that they never agreed to.
After my first miscarriage in September, I didn’t feel the need to lean terribly hard on anyone. I was sad but existentially unfazed. These things happen - as it turned out, I knew many women who had gone through it and then had another pregnancy right away! - and I would have better luck the second time. When I didn’t have better luck the second time - when I actually had worse luck, in that my body didn’t miscarry on its own and I was still wracked with morning sickness while undergoing the ultrasound that would reveal the absence of a heartbeat at eight weeks - I had no doubt in my mind that I was done getting pregnant for a long while. This time, the hurt was too much, and my body was compounding it by refusing to recognize that it was no longer pregnant. The few pounds I’ve put on around my midsection are still there and I don’t know how much longer they’ll insist on staying. Nor do I know how much longer the day-to-day sadness will last. Either way, though, I am making the decision to refrain from hiding the midsection and stop apologizing for the sadness. I say this as a person who has lived in fear of over-sharing for decades: sometimes people do want to know. Sometimes, you are giving someone a gift by giving the opportunity to hug you, comfort you, or do something nice for you. More times than I can count, now, people whom I’ve told about all of this have responded with gratitude for my openness, and even with a wish that more women would talk about their experiences in this sad, confusing space.
As a direct result of my telling others about what I’m going through, we’re going to have friends filling our house from now until Christmas, people who will laugh with us and cook with us and be interchangeably serious and silly. One of my parent friends invited me out for a drink on the spur of the moment the other night, and I accepted. I’ve received lovely emails and texts and calls from friends all over the world, and even a gift card to my favorite coffee place (that last one made me sob out loud). Sadness and loneliness don’t subside when people rush in, but they find their proper place among the love and the joy, which I realize I am ready to accept with gratitude. I may never break free of the reluctance to burden people with my feelings, but the people who love me will keep reminding me to stop being sorry for it.