I didn’t know when I was younger, when the future seemed to hold so much promise and possibility, that the same future would also bring with it heartbreaking grief. Of course, no one stops you in the midst of your wedding plans as a bright and shiny twenty-three-year-old and says, “Just so you know, when you get pregnant you might have a miscarriage.” It never dawns on you, when you imagine your life down the road with the person you love that sometime in the promised forever you will spend a night (and the whole next year) holding each other in tears mourning the loss of your born-too-soon baby boy. I never thought to think about something like that. And for good reason, really. It would be horrifying if someone genuinely quipped to a newlywed couple, “I hope you get to carry all of your babies to term.” We would have looked at them and scoffed, incredulous with contempt at their audacity to speak. But now, here I am, 35, married for 12 years, and I find myself in the middle of all this grief.
My husband and I waited for five years after getting married to start having children. I felt ready in my heart right away, but he wasn’t. He wanted time to just be married, to be young, to make some money before blowing it all on vast amounts of oversized brightly colored plastic toys. I was bummed initially, but slowly came to see his wisdom as I waitressed nights and weekends and started graduate school. Once I completed my master’s degree I thought, okay, now we’re ready! But he said, “you just got a master’s degree, way to go! Don’t you want a job?” But I didn’t want a job, I wanted babies. I have always wanted to stay home and rock babies to sleep at night, to go on play dates and spend long days at the park catching toddlers from slides.
So, I stayed patient while I dreamed of being pregnant and thought about baby names and eyed baby clothes at Target imagining someone to put them on. Never did I imagine that having a football team worth of children wouldn’t be perfect. And to be honest my first pregnancy was. My second as well. When I became pregnant for a third time, I didn’t know I could be fifteen weeks along and one moment sitting at dinner with friends laughing and twenty minutes later be hemorrhaging and having a miscarriage. Maybe I was incredibly naïve. Maybe all the other women knew this, had been prepared for this sort of thing. But I wasn’t. My husband said it was the worst sound he ever heard, my scream from the bathroom upstairs.
The night we lost our baby the doctor on-call did an ultrasound and told us our baby no longer had a heartbeat. We sobbed together, the doctor with us, and then I asked her to check again, just in case. She is still one of the kindest people I have ever met. I delivered our unbreathing baby the next morning and got to hold him in my arms the whole day. We couldn’t touch him directly because at only 15 weeks his skin, so paper fine, would have torn. He had ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes. We named him Ciaran. Our parents visited us in the hospital and they probably thought we were crazy. There I sat, all puffy-eyed and blotchy from hours of crying, holding my dead baby wrapped sweetly in a tiny hand-knit stocking. But I couldn’t let him go. He was a whole human life and he was mine.
Later that day we eventually had to say goodbye to him and we were alone again. My husband and I knew then how important we were to each other. How important it is to marry someone who will hold you up even when they are falling apart. Who will let you hold them while you crumble. We learned about taking turns and talking and being silent and we learned it all in about one day. Part of each of us was gone and a part of our family was gone. Forever. It is an amazing thing when you have a child made up of two people. It is a tragedy when something you made together dies. The grief settled in my bones and in my heart where it lasted for a very long time. My children cried for days after they lost their brother. My son drew a picture of him and told our neighbors that our baby died and it broke my heart and made the grief that much more solid. It was not just my own I realized, but it was my sons, my daughters, my husbands, all of us together who lost this person, this boy. It has been three years and my son still tells people about his brother, our baby Ciaran in Heaven. If he ever fails to mention him my daughter reminds him. They will never let him not exist. In this way, he will always be ours.
But so will the grief. There is no cure, no quick relinquishment of such a powerful thing. I never tried to push it away, or carry on without it I guess. I had to hold it tight for a while and then slowly, I set it all down. Of course, it never goes away completely. I have learned to let the grief come and go as it does, and try not to settle into it as it tries to settle into me. But then a friend loses a baby. And I sit with her and we cry. We gather with more women, so many women who have had miscarriages, and we share our stories again. At lunch with two friends just the other day, six babies between us we had lost. Six. How is that possible? The grief is big and heavy and we go on with our lives, taking care of each other and ourselves. We share our stories to keep moving away from the grief. And it helps.
I think there is beauty in knowing the similar paths others have walked before me, and after me. The grief they have borne in holding their little babies just as briefly or not at all, in having to set them down from their strong arms forever, feeling weak and broken. Then in being filled back up with hope and love over time. Grief has become not just a part of my story but a part of my marriage, of our beautiful family with all its flaws. It is a part of the bonds of some of my closest friendships, a small ingredient that glues us so swiftly together. Before my own miscarriage, I didn’t know it was such a common thread. Now the thread is dark and thick and pulls us all into this place together, so we are not alone with it.
When I was younger I didn’t know there would be so much grief. But I didn’t know there would be so much courage and love and friendship either. I am humbled and blessed to have both.
About the Author
Krissy Dieruf is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has always loved working with kids, especially the ones with crazy hair and a rebellious streak. She often finds herself singing and dancing around the house and tries not to embarrass her three children too much. Her work has been published in Hello Dearest Magazine, Mamalode, and Parent.co.