TRIGGER WARNING: Contains graphic content regarding miscarriage.
I have written about my miscarriage before. I have shared the depth of the physical and emotional pain hoping that the women who have similar experiences have a resource for what to expect and know they are not alone even in the darkest moments.
In honor of the orca mother who has been carrying her dead calf for more than two weeks, I feel compelled to write about the part that I previously have not dared share, because it is the part that I’m ashamed of. It is the part that hurts the most. This is the part that is the most confusing to me as I reflect back on it. And it is the part where I find the heart of Isha, the name I call this Orca mother, and mine are one.
After the pain of knowing the child you had hopes for is dead inside you – after your body bleeds for over a week trying to relentlessly hold tight to it in hopes of miraculously igniting life back into it – after the true, physical labor your body goes through as you grip the towel you have laid on the bathroom floor to catch the blood, praying that the pain was over – after that pain and blood doesn’t stop coming and you wonder if you’re dying too because no one told you it would hurt this bad – after all of that, your body finally releases the clumped mass of flesh folded into a package the size of your hand which contains the remains of what life there was. And you wonder why when you googled “miscarriage” none of this part was mentioned. You read the medical process. You read the signs about when to begin to suspect you have lost your child. You read about timelines, doctors, procedures, how to know it’s all going wrong, but you don’t read about this part. You don’t just bleed more than usual and then it’s over. You have to labor so your body contracts again and again to bunch up the placenta you had made so you can pass it through you without dilating traditionally.
And there was never any mention about this precise moment.
It’s the moment you stare at this bloody flesh at 3AM alone on a dark bathroom floor and say to yourself – “What now?”
Dear Isha, I do not know. I wasn’t prepared for this. I wasn’t told there would be a decision to make. I wasn’t told there would be something to make a decision about. It would happen. I would bleed. It would be finished.
Instead, I had to do something with this. With my child. With the flesh. What do I do? There are no formal funerals for this. It is rarely even talked about! Do I put it in a baggie and place it in the fridge until I had the strength to Google “what next?” Do I wrap it up and place it in a shoebox to bury in the garden? Do I throw it in the trash and let my husband unknowingly take it out? Do I stare at it for a while? Do I take a picture to remember them by? To remember this moment? Do I flush the flesh? Do I carry it around for three weeks like this orca mother until I finally decide which path to take and at last feel like my grief, the pain, the emotions, the fear, the sadness can be let go as I let go of it?
This happens to a quarter of ALL WOMEN, and I have never seen a story or heard another woman talk about this part.
I think Isha moved me to write this for a very specific reason. I know I still have a lot of unpackaged pain and guilt about this part of my miscarriage. And it wasn’t even over at this point for me. I continued to bleed for the next 24 hours – fist-sized blood clots about every 20 minutes and filling up heavy pads between each one until I was pale and weak and sat on the doorstep of my house, because I didn’t have the physical strength to stand, until a friend could pick me up and take me to the ER because my husband had started a new job that week and was in a meeting all the way across town.
It wasn’t over for me when I “miscarried.” It still isn’t over for me. I still carry my calf. And I still think back to the moment I decided to let them go into the depths of the ocean and wonder if I did it right – if I let go at the right time and in the right way.
I am with you, Isha. Take your time.
Photo: Robin W. Baird/Cascadia Research Collective