I learned a few weeks ago that the ob/gyn clinic where I got my prenatal care offers pregnancy loss (and postpartum depression) counselling services, so I thought I’d check it out. Even though I’ve been having better days recently, I kept Friday’s appointment. Couldn’t hurt, right? And I might learn something.
When I made the appointment, I’d been warned that the waiting room was the same for pregnant patients which “some women find distressing”. I thought about this as I drove there. Maybe it would be empty like last time. Maybe it wouldn’t, but I could wait outside. Or, in that case, maybe I should force myself to sit there. I decided that the latter option would be best. I can handle it, I thought to myself. It’ll be okay. And I convinced myself I could and that it would be. Then I hit rush hour traffic and was pulled away from my thoughts by the stopping and starting of the long line of cars in front of me.
When I finally pulled off the freeway and wound my way up the hill to the medical centre, I was more focused on being slightly late for my appointment. As I turned onto the driveway, the old and familiar sight of the medical buildings came into view and I unexpectedly became distressed. Bizarrely, I felt like I was going to have a panic attack if I didn’t calm myself down. I focused on my breathing and carefully drove to the parking garage, making sure I stopped at every stopped sign. I parked. I made my way, blurry-eyed, down the white painted steps to ground level. As I made my way to the clinic, tears spilled down my cheeks — panic attack averted!
To hold back tears, I focused on the people I passed: an ashen-faced morbidly obese man being lowered from an ambulance, doctors and nurses in scrubs buying coffee at the silver kiosk with a Starbucks sign inside, a man sitting with a black German Shepherd enjoying the Spring air. I rounded the corner. The poppies that had begun to open a couple of months ago were in full bloom. Orange, red, yellow, pink, their heads nodded in the gentle breeze. An old woman stared at me obviously as I passed. I drew myself up and sailed through the sliding doors. At the elevator, a cheerful sign reminded me that taking the stairs is healthier. Gawd knows I’d prefer to take a single flight of stairs than wait for an elevator, but I can never find the damn things ’round here, I winked back. Down one level I went, grateful to be alone. The doors opened up onto shiny linoleum lit by the massive skylight three storeys above. I paused, calm and dry-eyed, for a second outside the waiting room. It’s okay, you can do this. Besides, it’s usually pretty empty.
I turned the corner and saw a waiting room crammed with women and their partners. I psychologically shielded my view, averting my eyes to the left and squinting my right eye, just to get to the reception desk. Take a seat. I went to the loo instead, I couldn’t control the expression on my face. As soon as the door was locked behind me, I wept. For 2 minutes, I indulged myself, thinking a nurse would, as usual, be waiting outside the door to ask Lauren? Exam Room 3, this way please. I opened the door and no one was there.
Back in the waiting room, there was an air of murmuring happiness — most of these women were at least 6 months along. I envied them their happy confidence that nothing would go wrong. I tried to remind myself that I don’t know their fertility story, but another voice reminded me of the words my friend, L., a therapist whose first pregnancy ended in a missed miscarriage, told me: I felt cheated. I couldn’t enjoy my next pregnancy with [my daughter]. Even though everything was going fine and we ended up having a healthy baby, I felt robbed of my innocence.
I put on my sunglasses as I sat down. Around me, happy couples leaned into each other to talk discreetly, share an article, a quiet moment. I felt like I had a black mark against me. One of these things is not like the others. I did my best to maintain my composure, but, frankly, it was all I could do to not scream, so anxious and choked did I feel. I wished I were a snake, to rub my head against a stone and shed my tight skin, and slither away. More tears. Then I got angry. Angry that I couldn’t permit myself to cry because I didn’t want to somehow upset a room full of pregnant women. Angry that the women opposite were staring at me. Like my imaginary snake might, I shed my anger, revealing a quivering, vulnerable blob of I should be in this waiting room as a woman almost halfway through her pregnancy, not waiting for a pregnancy loss counselling appointment.
My name was called. My counsellor, A., a pretty blonde with kind brown eyes, led me to her room. And I poured out my heart. Despite the intensity of my feelings, A. is not concerned about them — they are, in fact, a very normal part of the grieving process. It’s good to know this, but it just feels like this pain is never-ending. Because I thought I was getting better, but the experience of being surrounded by happy pregnant women has sent me into a surprise funk that has lasted for several days.
In spite of that, I managed to bring myself to Like a friend’s Facebook status update — well, it was rather wonderful!:
A huge thank you to my fabulous wife for giving us the most beautiful baby boy. So grateful for all the months of pregnancy & the birth. Such an extreme physical & emotional experience; the debt of which, I can never repay. Massive respect to all the ladies. – I have no idea how you do it!
I haven’t had the privilege yet of giving birth, but I feel quite proud of myself for coping as well as I am. Even though I feel like I’m living on the brink of losing my shit, I haven’t. Three steps forward, one step back…
In response to what I learned from my counselling appointment, I’ve compiled a list of resources on a new page on this blog called Understanding Miscarriage Grief: Is It Normal?
P.S. I’ve entered my post Grief Reaction to BlogHer’s Voices of the Year Award. Please vote for me, thank you! (You will need a BlogHer account to do so.)