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 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 if — not when — and it's time we talked about it that way.