I find physical pain easier to deal with than emotional pain. Even when physical pain takes over your body and you think you can’t get through it, you can pop a painkiller. Physical pain is a reminder to take it easy, and if you don’t it will nag you until you do.
Emotional pain is just relentless. There is no relief, except for physical pain which bullies it into hibernation. But when the dark winter is over, grief starts to thaw, its shoots growing and stretching towards the day.
Sometimes emotional pain manifests as physical pain. The day after surgery, I woke up stiff as a board. Every single muscle in my body, save for my arms and front of my calves, was sore. It hurt to breathe. My coughs were pathetic. I hobbled around like an arthritic octogenarian. Confused, because my surgery was too short to cause such discomfort, I called the nurse to see if this was normal. She was also confused. She concluded that I must be feeling some pain and my body wasn’t recognising it. Take the Percocet, she advised.
So I popped a pill and found some relief. I called my best friend, A., who echoed what the nurse had said — the nurse thought it was physical pain that my body didn’t recognise. A. said it must be the emotional pain. She gave the example of working like crazy to get something done on time (like a work deadline or moving house) and only when it’s over do you get sick. When she said that, something inside me clicked into place: Yes, this is emotional pain manifesting as physical pain.
It’s a couple of days later and, save for a post-operative burning sensation, the physical pain has gone. I still have to take it easy — no physical activity, including sex or lifting more than 10lbs, for two weeks. I am officially recovering from a miscarriage. I am now someone who had, not is having, a miscarriage.
Now that my miscarriage is over, I suppose it’s time to return to the real world. Last night, DH and I went to see a movie, my first post-op, post-miscarriage outing. The cinema wasn’t very crowded, but I came home feeling very sad. I know the world continues to turn whether or not I participate. It’s just that the past 3 weeks have stood still for me. I’ve been suspended in time, doubled over in pain, and bouncing around in a bubble of steady doctor visits.
When we got home, I watched another film. The House I Keep is an indie award-winning, 10-minute short about miscarriage. You might find it interesting, or helpful, or comforting, but I didn’t. Actually, I found it alienating. The grieving woman vocalised her pain but I felt she didn’t let you in. I thought this expression of pain was abstract and, dare I say it, self-indulgent. Who knows? Perhaps I am too wrapped up in my own pain to let it in, but I also wonder if it’s possible to make a successful film about miscarriage. I wonder if such a loss can only be expressed verbally or visually, but not both.
An hour later, I began to quietly cry. There are so many ‘things’ I can’t relate to, that don’t speak to me, I feel like there’s something wrong with me. Unlike many women who have had a missed miscarriage, I was never freaked out by the idea of carrying a dead baby inside me. And unlike many women who have had a miscarriage, including the main character in The House I Keep, I never dreamed of my kid’s firsts — first words, first steps, first day of kindergarten, graduations, prom.
I didn’t live in the future with my short pregnancy. Sure, I thought about it and the impact a baby would have on our lives. I did my financial research and looked into the cost of car seats and cloth diapering vs. disposable nappies. DH and I might need to buy a car soon, so I looked into fuel-efficient cars with high-safety ratings that could comfortably fit a car seat, a giant dog, and my 6’1″ frame. And I thought about names. I’ll never know for sure whether it would have been a boy or a girl, but that visceral experience of delivering the placenta with the bean attached felt like he would have been a boy.
I have no guilty If Onlys and What Ifs over why this happened. I did nothing wrong and did everything right. I started taking prenatal vitamins 6 months before I conceived. I avoided alcohol. I ate right. I rested. I carried on as normal. I exercised gently. I avoided unpasteurised food. I learned which fish are high in mercury, and how to heat up deli meats to kill listeriosis. I did everything right, and this still happened. It wasn’t my body, it was chromosomal, and I was helpless to stop it.
I lived my pregnancy each day and loved every moment. I cheered my little bean on from outside. Grow, and grow strong. Every few days I would read and re-read about his developmental milestones and excitedly share them with my three best girlfriends. This week it’s the size of a lentil! Its heart is beginning to beat! It was a strange relationship I had with the life growing inside me. Although I didn’t visualise all the future milestones, I had hopes and dreams for my little guy. He wasn’t a baby per se, but he was human and he was mine.
And, simply, I loved him.
Last night showed me that I don’t feel ready to return to the world yet. The amount of work I have to catch up on is overwhelming and provokes anxiety. And I don’t feel up for socialising. I don’t know that I can pull off a whole evening of Happy Face. I don’t know if I can face my grief yet. I am having such a hard time crying, perhaps because emotional pain is harder to surrender to.
Emotionally, I’m not sure where I am. I appear brave to others — they say so because I write this blog — but I don’t feel brave. I feel sick, overwhelmed, anxious, and on the verge of tears that stubbornly refuse to come. The physical agony has been swiftly replaced with emotional turmoil. Now that my miscarriage is over, I know the support will start to dry up just when I need it the most. In some ways I am more terrified than ever.