THE 9th of this month marked eight years since I had a miscarriage. The emotional pain is not as raw as it was when it happened. It’s just is a sad memory that can wipe the smile off your face when you remember.
My miscarriage was such an incredibly crushing blow. My first child is autistic and was 6 at the time. I had been up to the ears in pressure from all directions to have a second one. One cousin was constantly coming to me with tales of how my mother was pushing her to push me to have another child. No-one cared to ask why I was taking my time. They just wanted me to pop more babies.
I had the second pregnancy when I felt I was emotionally prepared for it, following the trauma that had come from the autism diagnosis. But maybe I wasn’t really ready. Losing the baby was among the worst things that ever happened in my life. When you discover that you are pregnant with a child you’re ready for, you obviously get excited. You visit Internet sites to calculate the Expected Day of Delivery long before you see the gynaecologist, you start looking at cute baby things in the shops and make mental notes about what to buy and where to get it from. You see and feel your body changing, and you know it’s because you are carrying another human being inside you. It’s a beautiful feeling. If you have a child with special needs, it is even more exciting because you feel you have got another shot at experiencing normal motherhood.
I knew something was wrong when I saw the look on the gynaecologist’s face. Then he said, “There’s no heartbeat. I’m afraid you’ve lost your baby.” He told me to go home and process the bad news, then come back within 48 hours for dilation and curettage (D&C), a surgical procedure often performed after miscarriage to stop bleeding and prevent infection. I was quite numb at first. I just said OK and went back home with very dry eyes. When I got home that’s when I cried buckets. My stomach was already showing, and I could not believe I was carrying a dead baby in it.
I will skip the other gruesome details, but all I can say is a miscarriage is a lot more than just bleeding on a pad. You don’t say, “Oops shame, don’t worry you can try again,” to someone who has lost their unborn child. That’s exactly what many people said to me. This is different from discussing a loss in a game of chase. Others would say, “At least it’s not like losing a real baby. You hadn’t met this one yet.”
I was told that in my culture, condolences should not be expressed or accepted following a miscarriage. And why not? It is a heavy loss. I was told not to respond when people said sorry because it would bring bad luck. I was also advised not to cry because people who had suffered miscarriages were not supposed to cry. I cried a lot! For many, many days. Some family members didn’t even reach out and just acted like nothing had happened.
At the hospital, I was taken aback when the gynaecologist kept referring to the baby as “product of conception”. I know it’s probably the medical term for it, but because I was bitter and confused, I felt he was making light of my misery.
Reality set in after the D&C that I had really lost my baby, they had cleaned my womb, there was nothing anymore, and I woke up wailing for my baby. A theatre nurse said I should go for counselling, which I never did. Afterwards I’d find myself grinding my teeth a lot, but I “moved on”. Like the strong African woman society expected me to be. During my brief stay in hospital while recovering. I was placed in a maternity ward, where I could hear new-borns’ shrill first cries. Even as I was waiting to be attended to, new mothers passed by with nurses wheeling their babies in trolleys. It was such a stab in the heart.
When I went for check-up a few weeks later, pregnant women were visiting the same gynaecologist for routine prenatal examinations. My stomach was still distended, and excited, chatty mothers-to-be would ask, “So how far along are you?” Then I’d tell them I had lost the baby. Nothing prepares you for the pain that you feel having to explain to people close to you that you suffered a miscarriage. I won’t even start on the sore and swollen breasts when the milk starts flowing and eventually has to dry out because there’s no baby to take it. But you do recover from it; your heart doesn’t bleed about it forever, even though you can’t erase it from your mind.
Suddenly it seemed every woman I saw on the street was pregnant, and all my Facebook contacts were having babies left, right and centre. It was as if they were rubbing my pain in my face saying, “See! Easy peasy, this is what you failed to do”. My friend likened it to what happens when you’ve just had a break-up. It will look like everyone is in love, people holding hands everywhere, at every street corner you will see a kissing couple, and wedding pictures all over Facebook. All you want to do is go home, hide and lick your wounds. I felt ashamed of myself, I felt like a loser, which I was because a loser is someone that has lost. I thought maybe God was telling me something – that procreation is not for everyone.
I became extremely sensitive to certain expressions. For my end-of-year project, I interviewed a disgruntled father who felt the justice system had failed him and his miscreant son. He liked the phrase, “miscarriage of justice”, and the word ‘miscarriage’ was like a bomb on my fragile heart and kept ringing in my ears. I almost asked him not to use that phrase.
I would see some beggars on the streets of Joburg with a baby or two, sometimes even three. I had newfound respect for them and felt very small in comparison. I asked myself how I could have failed to carry the baby to term when I eat good food, have access to healthcare, and live comfortably? How can I be beaten by this person who eats bad food on the street (if they eat at all), and probably only goes to hospital to give birth, with no prenatal visits in-between? I wondered if there was something I’d done wrong, like taking medication or bad food. Did I overwork? Now I’ve accepted that it wasn’t something I did. Even if it was, it wouldn’t have been deliberate. It just happened.
Since I didn’t get counselling, I tried joining some online community for people who had suffered miscarriages, but ended up unsubscribing because the group was one big endless pity party, and I didn’t see how I would move forward if I was constantly around such raw emotion and negativity. I decided to just do it my way, one step at a time. Baby steps. Cruel pun. Even though I’m still keenly aware of that loss eight years ago, I’m grateful I got another child afterwards. I choose to count my garden by the flowers, not by the leaves that fall.