Today on the blog, I’m honoured to have Shesta B. sharing her story of miscarriage, loss and grieving. We hope that this post helps someone out there. You are not alone.
The post and the words below are from Shesta B. I thank her for her courage.
Our house was filled with an undeniable buzz of excitement. Presents under the fireplace, ‘Eid Mubarak’ decor hanging from the wall and a Ramadan calendar which marked off thirty days of fasting. This had been a much-awaited day for our family. Not only did this represent the end of the holy month of Ramadan, a time of celebration, but it also marked the day we could finally share our secret.
We were pregnant!
Finding out you are pregnant at the onset of a global pandemic is nerve wracking to say the least. When we first saw the baby’s heartbeat, our worries melted away and we were overwhelmed with joy. I still remember holding back tears as I saw the little heart fluttering so fast inside of that tiny body. We were going to be parents again!
“The baby is healthy,” the gynecologist said. “Cautiously, congratulations!” Subtly, the gynecologist had reminded me that I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. Seeing a heartbeat was indeed a great sign, however, it didn’t mean I could start celebrating just yet. She told us “Make it to twelve weeks and then you can start announcing the news to your family and friends.”
I quickly searched through my calendar. I discovered that twelve weeks landed exactly on Eid day. This had to be a sign. Everything was going to be ok! We spent all of Ramadan praying for this baby. We prayed for the baby to be healthy, for a safe pregnancy and an easy delivery. I would experience bouts of nausea and sickness, all while navigating a pandemic that had introduced the unfathomable concept of Work from Home (WFH), while simultaneously full-time parenting and teaching our 4-year-old.
Secretly, the nausea made me happy. They say nausea is a sign of a healthy and thriving pregnancy. For that reason alone, I would welcome the sickness. As we waited cautiously for Eid day, I had let the excitement slowly seep in. I crafted a small pregnancy announcement that I had intended to send out to those whom I love most. I was so impressed with my little pregnancy note. I couldn’t wait to see the joy on their faces as we revealed that we were going to welcome our second child.
On Eid day, I found myself admiring my pregnancy glow. We took family pictures. I was certain people would know as I had started to show. That didn’t matter, I could finally share my news!
In an instant, the joy of the day was robbed as I started to experience bleeding. I was rushed to Emergency. As I mouthed the words ‘I am twelve weeks pregnant and bleeding,’ the nurse promptly escorted me to the Labour & Delivery unit.
I had feared the worst, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from my face. I was calm. As if I was ready for what was to come. My husband comforted me. Kept repeating it was going to be OK. Our baby was going to be fine.
Our baby wasn’t fine. Ultrasounds could not find a heartbeat. After spending the night in the ER, our fears had come true, we lost our baby. That too, on Eid day.
This wasn’t my first loss. This was my third.
You would think that by now, I would know what would come next. What to do, how to do it, what to feel and how to navigate this loss. The truth is, there is nothing that can prepare you for this. Not even the prior experience of loss itself.
Pregnancy and infant loss are misunderstood topics that are surrounded by a paralyzing and isolating silence. When I first miscarried, I couldn’t think of a single person amongst my family and friends who had suffered the same.
I had felt completely alone. As if I was the only one experiencing this unimaginable loss. It wasn’t until I started to openly talk about my experience and research miscarriage, that I stumbled across some staggering statistics.
According to Tommy’s, one of the largest Miscarriage Research Centres in the world, 1 in 4 women experience at least 1 miscarriage during their reproductive lifetime. Studies with women who have experienced miscarriage revealed some upsetting truths:
- 70% of women said that they felt guilty about miscarriage.
- 79% said they felt like a failure after losing a pregnancy.
- Two thirds of women said they found it hard to talk about their miscarriage.
- 85% said that they didn’t think people understood what they had gone through.
- 67% felt that they couldn’t talk to their best friend.
- 35% didn’t feel like they could talk to the father about their experience.
Furthermore, a study out of Imperial College of London concluded that 4 in 10 women have reported PTSD symptoms three months after pregnancy loss. As well, 1 in 3 admitted it impacted work life.
Pregnancy and infant loss are so deeply complex and personal. You can go from experiencing complete numbness and disbelief, to feeling a tsunami of everything all at once.
You want to scream, shout, be angry, resentful, hurt and distraught. You also want to be brave, calm, collected and even graceful. This dichotomy of emotions is very real and completely normal.
There are things I know now that I wish I had known prior to this loss. To all the mamas out there, please know this:
This wasn’t your fault
You will re-live your every moment. Was it the stress at work? Could it have been the exercise? Did I miss my prenatal vitamins that day? Should I have taken some leave? Should I have relaxed more? Should I have prayed more?
The reality is, this was not your fault. Be gentle with yourself and know that there is nothing that you could have done or not done, that would have prevented this.
Grief has no rule book
It is OK to not be OK. Regardless of how far along into your pregnancy you were, you will experience a range of emotions. These can stay with you for days, weeks, months and sometimes even years. You do not need to diminish your grief to make others feel comfortable. Scream. Shout. Cry. Howl. Throw things. Journal. Walk. Run. Stare at the ceiling. Binge watch Netflix. Eat ice cream all day. We all grieve differently, and that is OK. Take care of your soul. Nourish it with what it needs most and don’t deny your feelings.
Understand your triggers
As hard as it is to admit, watching women around me get pregnant with no trouble at all, hurt. Pregnancy announcements hurt. Baby showers hurt. There is nothing wrong with that. You must honour your feelings and understand your triggers. For a while, these things will hurt. With time, it will hurt less. Take a break from anything that reminds you of your loss. If that means unfollowing your favorite social media account, do it! If that means saying no to social events, do it! It’s OK to do all the things you need to do to heal.
It is OK to ask for help
Have the courage to ask for what you need. This isn’t selfish. This is a necessity. It can be incredibly difficult to ask for help while trying to articulate what exactly it is that you need help with. This is certainly not something that has come naturally to me.
I learnt quickly that survival was deeply rooted in my ability to reach out and ask for what I needed. I remember picking up the phone and calling my Sister-in-law. “Baji, would it be possible if you could send over a few meals?”. She didn’t bat an eyelash. Within a couple of hours, she was at my doorstep with food that would last me the whole week. That small act of picking up the phone and asking for help, relieved me of the stress of nourishing my family so I could focus more on my physical and emotional recovery.
If someone offers food, say YES. If someone offers childcare, say YES. Your loved ones will have different ways to offer you help. Say YES to it all.
Us moms have this universal martyr bone that needs to be broken. You don’t have to soldier through this pain. You don’t have to put on a brave face. Take the time that you need to heal. If you have a job, do not be afraid to advocate for time off.
Talk to your doctor about your physical and mental health. Talk to your HR department about your medical leave benefits. Interestingly, as of 2016, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal classified miscarriage as a disability. This classification has allowed countless women to take paid medical leave in order to appropriately cope with the physical and mental implications of a loss.
Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and ask for what you need!
People will say things, ignore them!
Brace yourself, there will be a myriad of people who inevitably say things that sting. They may have good intentions, but that doesn’t mean it hurts less.
‘This was destiny’
‘You will have another’
‘Be grateful you can get pregnant’
‘You shouldn’t have worked so hard’
‘At least you have your daughter’
Toxic positivity hurts. You will need to ignore them. Create an imaginary bubble wrap that surrounds you. You can’t stop the comments, but you can build the mechanisms to ignore them and focus entirely on healing.
Therapy! Therapy! Therapy!
Loss is extremely complex and undeniably hard to navigate. Don’t do it alone. Seek out professional help. In an era of heightened mental health awareness, do yourself the favour of seeking out an expert. In fact, I love therapy so much, everyone should go! Regardless of loss.
In addition to therapy, there are a plethora of organizations that provide pregnancy loss & mental health support. Just to name a few:
- Pregnancy loss organizations across Canada
- Mental Health Resources in Pakistan (compiled by Womanistan)
- Mann Mukti (a mental health resource for South Asians)
What had started as a day of celebration, ended with loss. “We are pregnant” announcements were replaced by “we lost our baby”.
As I navigate this season of healing, I am left with some powerful reminders.
Honour your loss.
Don’t silence your pain.
Speak your truth, however uncomfortable it may be.
Women are resilient. Not by exception, but as a rule.
I am reminded that with hardship there is certainly ease. I am deeply humbled by my tribe. The unwavering support of my husband, family and friends. The countless flowers, meals, phone calls and messages that comforted me for weeks. I am reminded that grief is a process and healing takes time.
As I sit here penning my thoughts, I want to say to the mother who has lost her baby, I am so deeply sorry. I know this heartache so intimately well. I pray that the social stigma around pregnancy and infant loss starts to break, that we normalize verbalizing our grief and we build a culture of awareness that pivots around supporting women in our lives with unwavering strength at a time they need it the most.
Shesta B. and I will be doing an Instagram Live session on Instagram.com/urdumom on August 20, Thursday, at 7pm Mountain Standard Time, 9pm EST and 6am in the morning in Pakistan (August 21).
Do share any questions you have and we would love to address them.
Sending love and support. A big thank you again to Shesta for sharing her story with courage and grace.