After my miscarriage early this summer, I wondered if I’d let myself imagine too much. If it would have been easier if I hadn’t envisioned our child in such vivid detail. Because there I was in pain, grieving a girl who was largely imaginary. Though
her presence was confirmed by doctors through blood tests and ultrasounds, where a heartbeat raced on a monitor, she was larger than life in my imagination. What I grieved alongside her physical absence was the unraveling of all that I had dreamed about her, about us together. I grieved memories that never had the chance to be made.
Before I got pregnant, I didn’t dare to imagine being a mom. Not only did I not dare to imagine, I actually tried to push aside my hopes of motherhood as a way of self-protecting and managing my own expectations. Getting pregnant was not easy for me. I had a lot of time to ruminate, lots of time for teeth-gnashing. When people asked if I wanted kids, I’d say, “I’m not sure. I think there are other ways of mothering and living my purpose. And, besides, the planet is overpopulated.” Some of those things are true, but I knew that wasn’t my whole truth.
Over the course of two years of being hot and cold to my own desires — and as a result being either committed or laissez faire about trying — I was poked, probed, and subjected to all kinds of machines and tests. I found out that
I had hypothyroidism (the cause of my irregular periods), a pedunculated uterine fibroid (the size of a small grapefruit but initially deemed to be harmless), and that I had what I thought the doctor said was a “unicorn uterus” (how magical!). It's actually a unicornurate uterus, meaning that it's one-sided, small, and makes it extra hard to get pregnant and carry a baby to term. My chart also reads “elderly primigravida,” meaning I am old (at 37, this just seems rude). The longer I was on this path, the longer the parade of issues marching alongside me got.
On the early road to fertility, I was so closed off to my wants that my imagination became a walled-off city. I was guarded and wary. Then, as things progressed, I found that I needed my imagination to get me through the intense physical realities of the process. So, with trepidation, I knocked a small hole through the wall. I allowed myself to imagine kissing my baby’s bald, fuzzy head as I went under anesthesia for egg retrieval. I imagined reading my future child
Miss Rumphius and The Woman in the Moon as I jabbed myself with shot after shot of IVF hormones. I even had my husband speak to my belly each morning and evening so that he could imagine, too. I still tried to keep managing my own expectations — I knew miscarriage was all too common, and mine was a high-risk pregnancy — but as the weeks ticked by, and my belly grew, something in me was opening and my imagination grew and grew, too.
Then at 12.5 weeks, my dreams and newfound excitement hit a dead end.
Miscarriage is a real mind fuck. There are so many levels to what you feel. For me, all jumbled together were the trauma of bleeding profusely in the office bathroom, dreams emptying into a toilet bowl; the exhaustion of a two-year pregnancy journey coupled with the dread of starting all over again; the feelings of shame for not being able to carry out my "role" as a woman (and shame about that shame as a feminist and someone who would never put that burden on anyone else); the mystery of what went wrong, the grief for someone I had never met but dreamt up a big life for; and the harsh recalibration of my dreams for myself.
I’m a creative person and an entrepreneur (and a cofounder and executive creative director here at Refinery29), and imagining is part of how I manifest and plan.
I dream it, then I do it — that’s my MO. But after I lost my pregnancy, both my dreams and my to-do list were suddenly obsolete.
I was split wide open with a complex grief. My heart felt totally exposed. I didn’t know what to make of all the things I felt, and despite multiple people telling me I needed to “be still,” I desperately wanted something to do. I quickly realized that there was no protocol, no ritual for miscarriage in our society — and that I was going to have to make my own meaning to find a way to turn my pain into some kind of purpose.
So I followed my intuition and with imagination, creativity, and a newly wide-open heart, I made a path for myself to recovery. Here are some things that helped me rally my spirit. This is by no means a prescription but, rather, my way of starting a conversation that I wish was more present, of taking my broken heart and turning it into art (as the late-great Carrie Fisher said). I hope it will help someone else who’s hurting to find their way forward.
Welcome to if Mothership: Parenting stories you actually want to read, whether you're thinking about kids right now or not, from egg-freezing to taking home baby and beyond. Because motherhood is a big — not when — and it's time we talked about it that way.
Practicing Self-Compassion (Through Selfies) After my miscarriage, I was upset and I was annoyed with myself for being so upset, for not being able to move on quicker. I thought, Why are you so upset? It’s not like your husband or mother or someone you actually knew died. This is so common — so many women go through this — don’t make it into such a big deal. I wanted to be strong, to get on with life and work, but I was gutted. I was in desperate need of some self-compassion, and I found it in a really unexpected place: selfies. Selfies get a bad rap, so just hear me out. Throughout the fertility process, I had the instinct to document. To create a photographic journal of my experience, taking photos of the doctor’s office, the needles, my feet in the stirrups with a thumbs-up. I didn’t know what I would do with this visual diary. As I sat in the office bathroom crying as I miscarried, I took a selfie to document the moment. It felt like a very weird thing to do, but I did it anyway. Then, when I was struggling to have compassion for myself, to allow myself the space to grieve and to feel all the feelings, I instinctively opened up the “Fertility Journey” folder on my phone and started looking at the pictures. As I went through them, I recognized how much I’d gone through. Seeing myself crying in a hospital bed, I want to reach out and hug the woman in the photo. It awoke a tenderness that had been lacking. The photos helped me to be kinder and less judgmental to myself, to acknowledge what I had experienced. They gave me permission to be sad, to grieve, to take care of myself, and give myself space.
Creating A Grieving Ritual
It’s amazing how much you can love a person you’ve never met, and how much grief you can hold for that person when they’re gone. It’s a lonely feeling. Especially because, in contrast, you know how surrounded with community you would be if you’d given birth. You’d also be surrounded by community if you’d lost a person who existed in the external world — you’d get together, have a service, share memories — you’d have a ritual for grieving.
Yet for miscarriage, I had no ritual, no gathering, no tradition. For most people it’s a very quiet affair, and isolated; the grief is only known to the couple experiencing it with no established path to channel it.
I wanted a ritual. I wanted closure. I wanted to acknowledge my love and to mourn. So a few days after our miscarriage, my husband and I sat down and wrote a letter to our vanished child. It was a tearful, bonding act that helped us express as a couple what we had lost, helping him to see me, and I him, connecting us on a deeper level. Putting our thoughts into words, to this child we’d never know, allowed us to understand the complexity of our emotions. Since so much was in our imagination in the first place — we had envisioned this child, ourselves as parents — the letter helped to close the loop by addressing our child and saying goodbye to her and to the life we had dreamt up.
I found that channeling grief into writing a letter honored our experience and the life we created, and that it helped with healing. In the following weeks, I learned about
: lighting a candle, planting a tree, and the Japanese ritual of the
. I haven't practiced any of these, but found comfort in learning that they were out there.
Washing & Wearing My Miscarriage Pants I thought about throwing out the clothes I had on when I miscarried — the pants were bloodied from the crotch to the hem; there was some on my shirt and sandals, too — were they bad luck? But other than the fact that they were soaked with blood, I liked the floral culottes and sparkly sandals, so instead, I immediately washed my “miscarriage pants” and wore them the next day. I didn’t want pants or anything else to have power over me, I wanted to look at this head-on. I left my ultrasound pictures on display at my house, despite the fact that there was a sharp pang of pain every time I looked at them. I wore the oversized summer clothes that I had bought to accommodate a growing belly. I had a summer vacation planned with a dear friend who got pregnant within two weeks of me. We had been planning the trip, imagining being at the beach together with our matching, nearly six-month baby bumps. Immediately I thought, I should cancel. I don’t know if I can handle this. But again, I thought better. It might be hard, but I wanted to go, I had been looking forward to it. So I wrote my friend and expressed my fears to her, saying how excited I was for her but how I worried that, at times, it may be hard for me because her pregnant belly would be a reminder of what I’d lost. She completely understood and was beyond supportive. She lost her mom as a teenager and confessed that even to this day, it was sometimes hard for her to see people with their mothers. It started a dialog that we continued on vacation. There were a few moments that were hard, but I talked to her, I talked to my husband, I took a minute to myself, and overall I had an amazing, relaxing vacation. I didn’t want to hide from what was painful, I felt I needed to stand and face the fear in my sparkly sandals and floral big-girl pants. And so, I did.
Sharing My Story “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” — Maya Angelou
Miscarriage can be an isolating experience largely because we’re “not supposed” to tell people. Doctors warn you not to reveal that you’re pregnant until 13 weeks so you don’t risk having to later reveal that you’ve lost the pregnancy (as so many women do). This can reinforce the shame and loneliness connected to miscarriage. From the beginning, I thought,
Early on, I shared my pregnancy news with those closest to me, people whose support I knew I’d want if I miscarried.
It makes me really sad to think that so many women take miscarriage on themselves, not being able to share their grief; to be surrounded by the love, connection, and understanding that they deserve in that devastating moment. I didn’t want to carry the burden of that experience alone. I also wanted to break the cycle of shame that silence perpetuates.
First I shared the news with my family, close friends, and some colleagues whom I thought should know. Then, I did a few sessions with a therapist a coworker recommended to help me process everything. Then, when I was ready, I shared publicly
on my Instagram
this article on R29
). When I hit “post,” rather than feeling terrified, I said “now everyone knows,” and breathed a big sigh of relief. There is something life-affirming about allowing yourself to be seen, in all your beautiful imperfection.
Sharing my story was powerful and made me realize how many people had gone through similar experiences. It made me see how much others were dying for an opening to talk about their own losses and struggles, and to let go of shame and silence. There were a few who judged me — who said I shouldn’t have traveled, that I worked too much, that I shouldn’t have gone to Bonnaroo, that I was too active, that
my hospital bill couldn't have been real
. But the overwhelming response was one of love, empathy, and connection. Speaking openly gave me a sense of purpose, it brought meaning to a shitty situation.
Having A Physical Object To Reach For A wonderful friend and coworker who is spiritual gave me a palm-sized, lime-green crystal a few days after my miscarriage, right before I had to travel to France for a work trip. She told me to place the stone on my heart or anywhere that hurt. I felt so raw and unready to be in the world at that moment, I was open to anything that might help. Not having any strong beliefs about the healing power of crystals, I was surprised by how comforting I found this stone. Regardless of the metaphysical, its physical presence was soothing to me. As I sat on a plane holding back tears, I pressed it to my heart. When I felt a wave of sadness coming over me, it gave me something tangible to hold onto, to ground me. Grief litters the world with emotional trap doors. You’re walking on a sunny day and all of a sudden you see a pregnant woman, and you’re falling through darkness. Or your red toenails remind you of staring at your feet in sparkly sandals covered in blood. After I had a D&C, and the fetal remains were tested to find any genetic anomaly (there was none), I was given a piece of paper with the results. I hadn't realized the baby's sex would be revealed on the paper, too, until I glanced at it in a cab on the way to work: Just as I had imagined, she was a girl. A trap door. There are so many unexpected moments where I’ve gone from A-okay to feeling full of sorrow, anxious about a future unknown. I didn’t want to burden loved ones with all these outbursts of emotion, and my pain came up at unexpected times, and frequently. The rock gave me something to reach for, a silent yet effective support system that fit in my pocket.
Finding The Words & Melodies That Expressed My Pain
As I searched to understand and acknowledge what I was feeling, I immediately turned to music. I put the Lee Fields cover of “My World is Empty Without You” on repeat. It seemed a little melodramatic, but it was also precisely how I felt right after my loss. I started adding songs to a
: songs that reflected my experience and evolving feelings.
Angel Olsen’s angst-filled wail, “If all the trouble in my heart would only mend. I lost my dream, I lost my reason all again.” Feist, woeful and raw, singing, “I was so disappointed I didn’t know what to do… I wish I didn’t miss you.” I listened to these songs over and over. They made me feel seen and understood, but also provoked a sloshing-bucket full of subway-platform tears.
At times I wondered if I should instead be listening to happy songs to boost my mood. Was I wallowing by listening to these songs that made me even sadder? My answer lay in Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky,” where she describes trying to do a list of things — from shopping to drinking — to keep her feelings at bay, “but that just made me even sadder.” I knew I had to wade right into the pain and swim through.
Over time, my relationship with what happened has changed, and the playlist has shifted from wails of grief into more hopeful territory and some cosmic perspective, too (thanks, Flaming Lips).
Where I am now can best be described by Active Child beautifully, vulnerably singing, “I dedicate my life to something richer. And all the things that come, ‘cuz that’s no price at all… Keep your head up, hold your head up, even though it’s a cruel world.” To me, this song reflects being at peace with my pain and with the unfairness of life sometimes and the belief that it’s all part of living with my whole heart.
Reading About Others Who've Experienced Loss
I sought perspective, solidarity, and connection in reading stories of others who had experienced loss. In addition to music, I found this in the written word.
First I read articles by my fellow R29ers. My business and creative partner Christene Barberich wrote a breathtakingly
about coming to peace with the unknown after her succession of miscarriages that helped me to recognize the many paths to happiness and meaning in our lives. Our health director Anna Maltby shared a
blow-by-blow recap of her physical miscarriage experience
which took away the stigma and shock and mystery around what it physically means to lose a pregnancy. Our creative director Rachel Birnbaum’s essay “
I Didn’t Want to Become a Mom Until I Did
” resonated with me as I blamed myself for “waiting too long.”
I gathered up these truths and sat with them. (Side note: I am so grateful and moved to have had a part in creating an environment where these stories can be shared, and where I am surrounded by brilliant, brave women like these authors. It’s a privilege and something truly special.)
Wanting to find the tools for resilience, I read
Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B
. From it, I learned so much about how to help myself, but even more so how to be more compassionate and caring in order to help others experiencing loss.
One friend shared a beautiful Instagram account with me:
@IHadAMiscarriage by Dr. Jessica Zucker
, a psychologist who specializes in reproductive and maternal health and who advocates for sparking a conversation about miscarriage. It’s a beautiful project and one that I’ve shared with many friends who are in this “shitty club” of pregnancy loss.
Writing. A Lot
I journal regularly, writing my highlights, lowlights, ideas and inspirations at the end of each day before bed. After my miscarriage, I wrote even more, letting my thoughts and feelings pour onto the page unfiltered. Writing is a therapeutic act; it helps to get specific about experiences, to approach them with curiosity. There was a lot to navigate within miscarriage. Most of what I wrote was documentation, play-by-play recaps of what happened or what I felt. I wrote for no one but myself at first. I wrote when I felt I needed to get something out, to channel my grief somewhere.
Then, a month and a week after the miscarriage, I woke up one night at 3:30 a.m., got up, and started writing. A
poem spilled out of me
. I hadn’t written poetry since creative-writing class in eighth grade. I had no idea if it was “good” but I knew it was absolutely real and true, and I decided to open up and share the poem on my Instagram.
The act of writing helped me capture my feelings; the act of sharing connected me with women and men whose lives had been affected by miscarriage. A woman who’d recently miscarried told me I helped her to realize she needed to write everything down and bare her soul; another who had buried her feelings after pregnancy losses said, “Your words helped me.” A guy friend whose wife and sister had been through the experience thanked me for breaking the silence around miscarriage. I witnessed firsthand the power of courageous creativity.
Wailing My Heart Out (At Karaoke) Our primal response to pain is screaming. Children are allowed to wail, but as adults we’re taught to be more measured in our expression of emotion. In many cultures, wailing is part of the public grieving ritual, but not in mine. My disappointment post-miscarriage was so deep it felt primal, yet I often found myself holding my breath trying to keep feelings from coming, thinking that if I stayed perfectly still, I could keep the pain away. Then, my friend invited me to do karaoke. She was waiting for a breast cancer diagnosis and wanted to get her mind off things. I love karaoke but it was the last activity I felt like engaging in. But I wanted to be a good friend so I went. I was so thankful that I did. It was the antidote to holding my breath. At karaoke, I let go. I wailed. I screamed, I danced, I expressed. We sang angsty '90s songs and badass anthems to surviving heartbreak, and ridiculous '80s jams. Hole "Doll Parts," Alanis Morissette "You Oughta Know," Jane's Addiction "Jane Says," Radiohead "Creep." Then there was "Goodbye Horses" by Q Lazzarus, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar, "Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler, "Shattered Dreams" by Johnny Hates Jazz. I wasn't really thinking about it as therapy at the time. But it was an immediate release of emotion and completely therapeutic to have a venue to express my grief in that way with a friend who also had emotion to release. After, we both felt relieved and joyful; I'm sure we'll engage in this form of therapy again soon.
Moving Forward After my miscarriage, a friend wrote to me and said: “If you want to be a mother, you will be. It just might not be on the timeline you thought or exactly how you thought it would be.” These words rang true to me, they are what I now believe for myself and anyone trying to become a mom. As I head back into the great unknown, my battle armor is a bit more dinged up than before. I carry sorrow with me alongside my hope, dreams, and joys. I am trying to keep perspective, trying to remind myself that this is what I want (even as the anxiety of it all makes me doubt myself all over again. After all, it would be a LOT easier if this wasn’t what I wanted). I’m also enjoying my child-free life, reminding myself of all the freedoms I have right now. I still don’t know if I’ll be able to bear my own child — if my tiny unicornurate uterus will allow it. Perhaps I’ll give birth. Or perhaps a loved one will carry for me, or perhaps I’ll adopt. Perhaps I’ll create rewarding relationships with my god children, my niece and nephew, and the other children in my life. Or get more involved with organizations I work with and love, like Lower East Side Girls Club or Step Up, finding multitudes of daughters to “mother.” But thinking about all the options at once is overwhelming. There are too many “what ifs.” So instead, I’m trying to move ahead one step at a time, knowing that there are many paths to this dream. I believe my creativity, imagination, and spirit will guide me to a beautiful place, I just haven't imagined what that place will look like yet. For anyone reading this who has experienced a similar loss, please know that there is no statute of limitations on grief, take the time you need. Everything you feel is valid. Please trust your intuition, listen to your heart, and listen to your body. I wish you strength, openness, and imagination to heal. I’m sending you my love.