To All the Women Who Are Still Carrying Their Calves

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

Decade Three and My First Self-Help Book

While the bookstore has always been sacred, holy ground to me, the looming “Self-Improvement” aisle was the one teenage-Bri would scoff at before striding over to the Young Adult section to seek out a gripping tale with a strong heroine who was probably caught in a luscious love triangle. Any title sitting on the shelves of the aforementioned place of doom was likely full of sad insight about how to climb out of a painful rock bottom situation. I thought you had to be desperate to go seeking information there – and if you were indeed that desperate, you were obviously old and dull.

… I was quite a cocky teenager.

Jump to light speed and join me here at the beginning of my third decade, and you’ll only find maybe one or two titles closely described as “Christian Reflection” books, and then maybe one or two more books dictated by my previous Corporate America life about sales and management. While I have let go of the stigma of what that aisle contains for others, I have held on to the idea that it meant darkness and doom for me. (Reality Check No. 1 – Self-reflection can be instigated in many ways and in many packages – not just in those 5 minutes of corpse pose in yoga.) I had my mind set that is was a depressing aisle filled with depressing things.

Until recently.

Now – I consider myself an ever-growing but quite emotionally healthy adult. Still, when I first heard the title of Girl, Wash Your Face (by Rachel Hollis) there was this little being inside me that just went full fan girl at a Bieber concert. Admittedly, I didn’t even know what it was about beyond the tagline on the front cover, and truly, I didn’t really connect with the tagline itself. I simply thought, “Well, sure – yeah.” Even worse, I didn’t know anything about the author – which may be an epic fail causing the revoking of my Millennial card – or even worse, my Modern Millennial Mom card. Too bad – I think I lost them in my “Societal Titles that Don’t Mean a Thing” junk drawer in my kitchen on Mars anyway. But I digress.

For some reason, I really, really wanted this book.

Let’s not give me too much credit. I didn’t face that long, dark aisle I scoffed as when I was younger. Instead, my Amazon Fairy placed a package under my front doormat, and I really could not contain my excitement. In fact, my sleep-loving self was so excited to read it that I woke up at 5AM, completed a short workout, then curled up on the couch in a with a steaming cup of joe in a dark and still sleeping house to crack open this book like I’m about to find the Golden Ticket in a Wonka chocolate bar!

I can just see my teenage-self sitting in the oversized chair in the corner silently judging me with a strong side-eye. Sorry, not sorry, Young Bri. Reality Check No. 2 – Self-care is not just a day at the spa. Despite what she may think (despite what my now-self may think) this moment of me in a quiet home before dawn reading a self-help book is a normal, relaxed, well use of my time. I just have to learn to be comfortable in it. Beyond the revelations that left me in tears within the first few pages, I’ve been pondering the dynamic between the self-judgey teenage self and the even harsher self-judgey but now receptive adult-self. Why was this book now deemed healthy? Why did teenager-self hold such a stigma against it? When did it change? What caused that switch?

Writing this now, I think I have realized just how unhealthy my mental state was when I was that young age – which should be no real surprise and would require at least 100,000+ words to explore at even the minimal surface level. But surely there is a shift in most of us that still leaves the questions of when, where and why we first decide to pick up a book like this. I’m sure it’s a different answer for everyone, but I also think that it speaks volumes about the desire for community in our society where we can speak uplifting truths, find support, move forward together and be real about the trials that we come across as we all do this thing called life. I also hope that the reason books like Hollis’ is hitting fandom level speaks to the breaking down of the ‘stigma’ around mental health – thus allowing us to be more comfortable sharing and discussing such challenging topics.

Or maybe I’m just crossing that age threshold where I’ve begun to stick my head out of the foxhole to take notice. I wish my immersion has been as brave, strong, and elegant as Wonder Woman climbing off of that ladder out into the fight as the army of men behind her stand with mouths agape, but at least I’m climbing. (Reality Check No. 3: Be free to move at your own pace. Life is not a cycling class.) I feel like womankind as a whole is finally up the ladder and striding over the barrier. Legions and legions of us! With books like this to push us forward. With forums like this to make us ponder and build communities of support within ourselves.

But it starts while sipping coffee on a couch, book in hand held like a mirror before me as I reflect deeper upon what motherhood means to ME, what being a professional woman means to ME, what being a wife means to ME, and what self means to ME.

I am only a couple of chapters in to the book, but I already feel as though Hollis is my spirit animal. She may actually be my twin. Honest. Either way, she keeps asking me some great questions, and I look forward to the next one. Meanwhile, I’m telling that teenage that if she doesn’t clean up her room in the next hour there’s no going out with friends this weekend.

I can try.

In the meantime, whether its Girl, Wash Your Face or another self-help book that has caught your fancy – I hope you are in a place where you can embrace the message in one way or another and allow the pain you have in your life to move you forward. I hope you are also able to use that pain to serve as a beacon to support, love, and lead others.

It’s not a dark, dreary isle. It’s an aisle full of life. We should all meet there sometime.

Update: By the end of the book, I ended up really not liking it. But I read it. And I know myself better for it.