By Paulina Grace Hay
8 years ago, a few weeks before my 30th birthday, I had my second miscarriage and a D&C. Physically, I recovered very quickly. Emotionally, I was in a tailspin that left me and my marriage in a pile of rubble. It looked like there would be no survivors. I wasn’t sure I wanted to survive.
There’s no handbook for moments like this and no one size fits all plan. It reminds me of the magic trick where they pull the tablecloth out from all the place settings. Everything rattles for a moment but quickly settles and looks untouched. To everyone else, it looks the same. To you, the foundation is gone in the blink of an eye. You can barely process what has happened to you, let alone explain what’s happened to your spouse or partner, your best friend and loved ones.
I read books like Welcome to Your Crisis. I went to therapy once and thought that was all I needed. I shut a lot of people out. That move cost me my best friend and almost my husband. I was back at therapy months later even though I thought I should be stronger than to need help. (I still struggle with that one.) I attended a Resolve group to meet other women like me. I tried a few infertility treatments and came to the gut wrenching but weight lifting decision to stop trying to have a child and re-embrace my life. I was 32.
In a couple of weeks, it will be my 38th birthday. I’m not one to dwell on numbers and usually being the youngest by far, I welcome a chance to be considered one of the “big kids”. Yet I’d been in a deep funk recently. I couldn’t shake it, I felt my anxiety escalating beyond my control. I decided to make an appointment with my therapist. I almost cancelled it.
He’s the one that said things to me like, “You have a birthday coming up.” and
“I feel like you’re not letting yourself feel some pain.” I was practically rolling my eyes and thinking, “Are you kidding me? Am I still here after all this time?” However, I trust this man so we went on. (The other interesting note is this is not the therapist who helped me through my infertility crisis. I’ve learned therapists help me with perspective and can give me emotional strength when I don’t have it. Bless the good therapists of this world.) We’ve never discussed my miscarriage or my marriage, as those aren’t the areas I felt I needed help with right now. I felt better when I left. I proceeded to start a fight with my husband when I got home.
The next day I was working from home alone and my husband was out of the home office for the day. I was doing the everyday task of cleaning the kitchen. My mind was wandering. I remembered my nephew’s birthday was coming up and I’d had the date wrong in my mind. It was later in the month than I realized. Then the trigger came like a bolt of emotional lightning. I’d had my D&C the day before his 2nd birthday and we drove to their house the next morning. I didn’t mention it to my family. A few weeks later everyone came to my house for my 30th birthday. We took a full family portrait. My one sister-in-law was already pregnant. My other sister-in-law was newly pregnant. I was in denial.
I started to cry. I hate to cry. I started to fight the tears. Without realizing it, I started to engage my Emotional Emergency Plan.
Let Yourself Feel The Pain
I remembered listening to Dr. Brene Brown talk about how she processes shame. One of the things she has to do is cry, even though she hates it, too. I let myself sink in the corner of the kitchen and sob. I wailed at my own pain.
Shame Can’t Survive Being Spoken
My first inclination was to process all of this alone, as I’d done many times before hiding in a closet or a bathroom. It would be perfect, no one had to know. I remembered Brene saying that shame can’t survive being spoken. I scrolled my emotional Rolodex. It’s uncanny how often you pick the worst person ever for support and end up feeling worse. For me, that would be my mom. I almost called her and thought better. (Thank you Martha Beck for that insight. )
Know What You Need and Ask For It, Even If You Don’t Get It
I wanted a friend. Not any friend. An old friend, someone who is like a sister. One who knew me before miscarriages and failures. One who told me when she couldn’t take it anymore hearing awful infertility stories because it made her feel guilty. One who had her own issues, even if she had 2 beautiful children of her own. I sent her a detailed text (thank you again Brene for reminding me to be clear on what’s going on so they understand I need their full attention) and finished it with, “I’m having a really hard time. Can you please call me?” I let her hear me cry and sob. I know it broke her heart. She wanted to fix it. It kind of irritated me but I know she just felt helpless. Then the best part of an old friend kicked in. We got through it and talked about a hundred other things. She can follow me from deep to frivolity without missing a beat.
Know What You Need and Ask For It, Part 2
I also wanted a friend who wouldn’t feel sorry for me, fix me or try to convince me that maybe I do want to have a baby. I texted an online friend who has also made the choice not to have children. Again, I told her exactly what was going on. She cleared some time for me and said, “It sounds perfectly normal to me.” A weight lifted. This is normal. It will pass. We talked about the grief of passing the fertile years of your life. She shared insights about leaving a sliver of hope in your heart. Yes, so true. We talked about other layers of life from aging parents, being entrepreneurs, friendships and life journeys. We’re so much more than our infertility. I told her of the good things in my life and she reminded me to keep following that trail.
Share With Your Partner
When my husband got home, I told him what happened. I didn’t text him. I told him face to face. I let him hug me when again, I’d prefer to hide and be alone. He has learned to just be with me and not try to fix it.
I still have more to share with him. It might just come through letting him read this post.
That night I had dinner plans with my husband’s family and then to see a niece’s play. She was one of many pregnancies that surprised and haunted me during that time. At dinner someone announced a pregnancy. On any other day, it wouldn’t have bothered me. However, without my preparedness plan engaged, I might have completely lost it at the table. I might have left that play heartbroken. But I was happy and so proud of my niece. I remembered how much I love my life. The storm had passed.
Is that the end of the story? No, but in an emergency you do what you can to get the wounds under control and then get more help. In an emotional emergency, calling in reinforcements is so key. Don’t go it alone and find a way to let it out, even if it’s on a piece of paper. Or a blog post. I’d love to hear how you handle an emotional emergency, too.
Paulina Grace walked away from the infertility roller coaster 6 years ago. She hopes to help other women let themselves grieve and then let themselves live. Outside of running her own business, Paulina fulfills her need to nurture by being an involved aunt and caring for her aging parents.