A humanities scholar's occasional ramblings on literature, science, popular culture, and the academy.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Let’s Talk About Miscarriage, Baby (Guest post by Paula Matzke)

A note from Brian: This is a post from my wife Paula. I don't have much to add, but we both believe in the value of normalizing these challenges. And, as usual, I'm blown away by her eloquence.

A note from Paula: In the course of trying to make uncomfortable topics less uncomfortable, things inevitably get weird and awkward. If you're not in the mood for weird and awkward (especially if you know Brian and me personally) this may not be the post for you. Take what you need, and leave the rest. 

Content warning: miscarriage (obviously)

Miscarriage. I don’t even like typing that word. Even when you type it, it still sounds like something that should be whispered. In like, an old women’s sewing circle. Followed by a bunch of those sad tongue clucking sounds and a few murmured “Oh, what a shame”s.

Miscarriage. I had one (‘Oh, what a shame!’). I initially did not want to talk about it because miscarriage is weirdly….embarrassing? However, I very quickly realized what a huge number of other women have realized: that our collective not talking about it makes it feel worse, and that we probably should talk about it more.
There are some very powerful things written by other women about their miscarriages. Many of them are written by women who have some degree of distance from it and have accrued some wisdom or, in many cases, a subsequent child. I’ve noticed in particular, that we seem to feel more comfortable hearing about women’s miscarriages when they now have a baby. Ali Wong has a great comedy special in which she discusses her miscarriage. In interviews she says that people didn’t start really laughing at it until she was visibly pregnant with another child. We want there to be a happy ending.

My miscarriage happened last week. There is no baby. There is no wisdom. There is no happy ending.

I 100% do not want to discount accounts of miscarriage from women who went on to have a baby and/or learned something really profound. I have read and heard many of these narratives and found them extremely helpful and comforting and I think we need that. I am so grateful to these women who have written about miscarriage with beauty and wisdom and eloquence, but you know what? Maybe sometimes we don’t need wisdom, beauty and eloquence. Maybe sometimes we need some discomfort and vulgarity and rambling.

I am no stranger to writing about difficult and uncomfortable topics. In the past I have written very candidly about psychosis and psychiatric hospitalization because I also have bipolar disorder. My medical file now emits a palpable cloud of awkward pity when opened. However, there is a certain pride in having ‘stigma’ be a keyword in pretty much all the articles about any part of your medical history. I’ve got double stigma now: I have fucking STIGMATA (I’d make the obvious Jesus joke here, but when you have bipolar disorder you’re not allowed to do that, so you know, make it yourself). Not to make light of other medical conditions, but honest to god, I really hope next time something awful happens to me it’s appendicitis, or pernicious anemia, or some other shit that it is socially acceptable to talk honestly about outside of a social worker led support group or blog post that people will call you “brave” for writing.

So what happened? Well, I was having a perfectly normal pregnancy. This may be surprising to some of you that know me and/or Brian, because it was supposed to be a secret. You are not supposed to tell people before you make it to 12 weeks. This is because most miscarriages happen before 12 weeks and it is very sad and awkward to have told people you are pregnant and then have a miscarriage and have to tell them you are not pregnant. It is also very sad and awkward to NOT have told people you are pregnant and then have a miscarriage and have to tell people not only that you are not currently pregnant, but also that you were pregnant. It is sad and awkward either way and if you are pregnant you should tell people whenever the fuck you want to.

Anyway, I was pregnant and it was perfectly normal and uneventful. I didn’t bleed; I was throwing up, my boobs hurt; these were all good signs. I had no particular reason to worry about miscarriage, but I did anyway because I am an anxious fuck. From the minute I got that positive test, hell even before I got that test, I worried about miscarriage. I knew that about 1 in 4 pregnancies ended in miscarriage, so it wasn’t a totally irrational worry, at least in the beginning. But as the weeks went on and the risk of miscarriage theoretically dropped (I say theoretically because this is an event that has already happened and therefore the probability of its having happened is now 100%), I still worried. This was not because I had some kind of special intuition, it was because I am an anxious fuck and I always assume the worst. My husband, bless his heart, did not worry. This was, at the time, the more rational position. He was full of hope and blissful ignorance and was therefore very reassuring.

The morning of my first pre-natal appointment, my husband took his blissfully ignorant (and very cute) ass to work as normal. I woke up in kind of a funk. I had previously been very excited for this appointment, but I was noticeably less excited that morning. Again, I would like to think it was some kind of “mother’s intuition”, but more likely it was that it was the first day after spring break and I was a tired anxious fuck. I went into the appointment eager to finally have some concrete evidence that the little sprout inside of me was there and ok. It was there. It was not ok.

It’s kind of a cliché to say that you can’t possibly understand what it feels like to, at one second think that you will probably be bringing a baby home in seven months, and the next second know that you won’t because your stupid embryo doesn’t have a fucking heartbeat. So I will try.

You know that feeling where you are expecting reassurance? Like when you text your friend to see if they got home safe, or tell your partner that you love them just so you can hear it back, or hear a car pull into your driveway when you’re expecting someone home and they’re late? It’s like when you get a call back from your friend’s number, but it’s someone else’s voice. It’s like hearing that infinite pause instead of “I love you too.” It’s like when you look out the window and it’s a police car.

It’s that feeling when your wife went off to her pre-natal appointment that morning and you hadn’t even thought about it until you looked at your phone after class and saw the missed calls.

My husband is no longer full of hope and blissful ignorance. It has been squashed right out of him like the last dregs of toothpaste and now for any future pregnancies we can be anxious fucks together.

My body failed at pregnancy, but it also failed at miscarriage. I had what is called a “missed miscarriage”, which is when the embryo or fetus dies, but your body doesn’t recognize it, so you don’t miscarry “naturally” (which is the polite way of saying you don’t bleed and cramp and expel the dead embryo or fetus from your body). In this situation you can either 1) wait for above “natural” miscarriage to happen 2) induce bleeding and cramping and associated dead embryo or fetus expulsion with medication, or 3) have surgery to clear out the dead embryo or fetus from your uterus.

Many women like to let things happen without additional intervention or prefer to have the comfort of miscarrying in their own home. That’s perfectly valid. I, however, did not want to let things happen naturally because nature is a goddamned asshole. Additionally, the prospect of copious amounts of blood and pain did not appeal to me, while a minor surgery that would get it all over with quickly and that involved a legal high did not sound so bad.

A week later I got what is technically called a “manual vacuum aspiration”. This is where they basically take a big syringe and suck out the dead embryo or fetus and associated uterine gunk. It is exactly the same procedure they use for many elective abortions. The difference is that when you wanted the pregnancy you get to do it in the hospital instead of having to go to a whole separate clinic and your insurance covers it. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It was painful and awkward, but I got to get high so I didn’t really care that much and I don’t remember much either. I threw up on the car ride home. My husband pulled over and I spewed apple juice onto the dirty snow and thought about how this was the last time I would throw up because of this pregnancy.

Physically, I actually feel much better now, which I feel weird about. I’m no longer nauseas and exhausted. I haven’t bled or cramped that much after the surgery. Emotionally, I feel like a woman who just had a miscarriage. I have spent most of my time on the couch watching re-runs and eating take-out (but I’ve still managed to lose 3 pounds, so there’s that). I have not been back to work yet. This is not only because I want to cry and eat pizza in peace, it is particularly because my job this week was supposed to involve 1) making plans for my future that just a few weeks ago were supposed to have to be rearranged to accommodate a baby, and 2) teaching students a unit about kids dying of cancer. I do not want to do either of these things right now even though I probably physically could. I have also previously been on the student side of the TA having an obvious emotional breakdown in the middle of class situation, and it is not comfortable for anyone. My students deserve better.

Luckily (well not really luckily because, as I have been wisely told, there is no good news when there’s a dead baby involved) miscarriage is one of several “trump cards” in life. Similar to how saying you have diarrhea will get you out of pretty much any social obligation, informing people of your miscarriage is SO awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved that no one is going to ask follow-up questions or challenge you. They just want to get out of that conversation as soon as possible and they don’t want you around crying and being sad. To be frank, this is one of the main reasons that I told people. I needed that instant pity and I wasn’t above getting it.

When you tell people about your miscarriage they now know, not just that you’ve had a miscarriage, but also some shit about your sex life, which is fun. When you are young and recently married and obviously very sad about your miscarriage people will assume that you have been “trying” (which is polite code for ‘having unprotected sex’) and may continue to do so in the future. “Trying” is also not polite conversation, so now there’s just a whole bunch of unspoken knowledge and assumptions about your and your partner’s reproductive organs out there. For those who are curious, yes Brian and I had been “trying”. Yes we will continue to be “trying” in the future. No, we don’t want to talk about it with you unless you’ve also had a miscarriage and want to be sad about it with us.

That’s it. I hope I’ve at least satisfied your morbid curiosity about miscarriage. And for those of you who didn’t have any morbid curiosity because you already know all too well yourself: I am so, so sorry. I hope my words have at least provided some small comfort to you in the same way other women’s stories have comforted me. Like I said before, I don’t have a happy ending. What I do have is pizza, Sex and the City streaming, and a bottle of wine. So let’s talk.

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