A month after my first miscarriage, I ran into a friend in the doctor’s office. She offered to listen if I needed to talk and shared that she’d “been there” too, but “no where near as traumatic as you.” At the time, I felt a little puzzled by the term—I didn’t feel like what I experienced with Noah could really be called “traumatic.” I did feel like the placenta aftermath was traumatic as was the blood loss and fear of death, but his birth was not traumatic and that is what I was focused on. As time went on, I was interested to note that my interest in reading and writing about birth and my birth activism interest hadn’t changed. But, what had changed was my interest in working with or being around pregnant women. And now, I have this experience of being pregnant again and that feeling of not wanting to talk about it out loud—and feeling nervous, skittish, and like saying “stop!” if other people talk about it out loud (like, “do you actually think I’m going to have a living baby?”). Not wanting to wear maternity clothes, etc. And what I realized is that I am not birth traumatized, but I am pregnancy traumatized and for me there is a difference between the two. My experience of birth with Noah was a positive one (as these things go), it made me feel strong and brave and proud of myself and it reaffirmed my sense of amazement at the capacity and capability of my body. The experience of losing the pregnancy, however, was scarring. One of the most painful experiences of my life (not including burying my baby) was having to put away all the maternity clothes that were unpacked and in my drawers. It was awful. I can still hardly stand to look at the tub where they all are now. And, I certainly haven’t gotten any of them back out and do not know if I will be able to wear some of them ever again (i.e. the shirt I was wearing during the ultrasound where we found out that he’d died).
Another painful experience was cutting my fingernails for the first time after Noah was born—why would this be painful? Because they were super-strong from pregnancy hormones and cutting them off felt like abandoning my last physical sign of pregnancy (also because the reason I had to cut them short was in order to try to feel around the edge of the stuck placenta). I have never been able to cut my fingernails again without remembering how it felt to cut off my strong, pregnant fingernails. The kids for days said things like, “you still have your strong mama fingernails!” Of all things to be “scarred” by, I know, but it was very painful.
There is STILL a bookmark in my Meditations for a Healthy Pregnancy book at the 15 week entry. I can hardly stand to look at the pictures in the pregnancy book or on my charts of the 13-15 week size fetus—but that is where my eyes automatically go. When I look at pregnancy books now, I only go to 15 weeks and stop—for me pregnancy arrested there. That is as far as it goes (mentally). If someone says they’re 14 weeks pregnant, I want to run away from them.
Shortly after he died, I put away all my pregnant belly necklaces that I like so much, because I couldn’t stand looking at them either. In the last week, I have gotten some of them back out and worn them a couple of times, though I feel strange and almost “scared” of them.
My kids, I think, have been pregnancy traumatized too. When we told them about the new baby (they never knew about my second m/c), L said, “I hope this one survives.” And, just now, Z (4) said to me, “I’m glad you’re pregnant, but I really hope this baby does not die.” Little four year olds shouldn’t have to know so much about that possibility 😦
This revelation about the difference between birth trauma and pregnancy trauma made a lot of things more clear to me—how it is that I can still enjoy birth stories and books about birth and that I still love writing about and talking about birth. Because birth itself didn’t hurt me—it affirmed me. But, pregnancy left me empty and sad. I can’t read a pregnancy announcement without thinking about putting away those clothes and cutting those fingernails.
This explains to me why I cringe slightly when I see someone else’s pregnancy announcement—because it seems hopelessly naïve in a way, because I hope so much that they don’t have to learn that for themselves, and because it is a painful reminder of what ended so sadly, and so suddenly, for me.