You can survive the loss of a dream that didn’t.
I was finally pregnant again after surviving two soul-pummeling miscarriages. I held my breath through the first trimester, having twice learned the hard way that I couldn’t afford to be even vaguely hopeful until at least the three-month mark.
Finally, I was safely in the second trimester.
I took quick, happy breaths and let myself begin to fantasize about tiny toes and names and midnight snuggles.
I remember humming – actually fucking humming! – as I drove downtown for my second-trimester checkup.
I jumped up on the examination table, eager to hear the baby’s heartbeat.
The midwife knew my miscarriage history. She grinned, said “Let’s hear this little one,” and put the heartbeat-amplifier-thingamabob on my belly.
But there was nothing. Silence.
The midwife lost the grin. I shifted on the table. I told her to press harder. She did. Still nothing. I begged God and the universe and my body to let me, please, hear my baby. The only sound was the muffled crinkle of the paper on the table.
“Let’s get you to the hospital,” said the midwife, stoic.
There, an ultrasound confirmed that my baby had died.
Darkness followed, and I followed it down. I stopped speaking to the two gals I’d met who were also pregnant. I secretly hated them and wished them pain. I started smoking again. I lit a butt every time I remembered how stupid I’d been to imagine that I could give birth to a healthy baby.
“You idiot,” I said to myself.
The midwife suggested I go to a local support group for grieving parents. I drove myself to the hospital where they had their meeting. I arrived late, shaking from fear that I might have to smile or make small talk. I sat just inside the door and listened to three women tell their stories: two who’d had full-term stillbirths, and one whose baby had died at three days old.
When the facilitator finally got to me, I wanted to die on the spot. I thought, ‘these gals had lost full-term babies. My baby was only as big as a clementine. Their pain is huge. Mine is nothing in comparison.’
The details of our losses were different, but fundamentally the same: we’d lost the hope, enthusiasm, and sense of peace we had when we thought we could see the future and we liked what we saw.
The pain you feel right now – it’s miscarried hope. A vision for the future that didn’t take. A dream that, for any one of a million reasons, didn’t survive.
Don’t waste time trying to compare your pain to anyone else’s. Just hold space for the fact that everyone is carrying some.
We have all survived the loss of a dream that didn’t.
Don’t pretend your pain doesn’t exist. The pain you’re in right now is a physical reality. It deserves to be acknowledged, not pushed down or ignored.
But don’t feed the pain, either. Too often you nurture pain by abusing or neglecting yourself and your body. You eat trash, you drink poison, and you consume bullshit until you can barely open your eyes, move your body, or string together a coherent sentence. This may feel like taking revenge against a cruel universe, but all it hurts is you.
Don’t kid yourself. This feels like the end, but it’s a beginning. You are human. Resilience and adaptation are writ on every rung and spiral of your DNA. Not only are you capable of surviving this pain, surviving this pain will make you more human:
- Where you lacked the ability to connect authentically with the people around you, empathy will rush in like a river.
- Where you lacked perspective on what’s important, clarity will seep into the cracks.
- Where you lacked belief in your ability to survive, evidence of your strength will accumulate.
Poetry is born of heartbreak. Revolution is born of rage. Power is born of pain. I honor the heartbreak, the rage, and the pain in you – it’s in me, too – and I challenge you, after a period of madness, to stand up and let new strength be born.
Do something significant to mark this moment. I planted a tree for the last baby I lost. I visited the tree often when my pain felt too big. Instead of judging myself or the depth of my grief, I’d let it wash over me. I’d have myself a solid, snot-dripping cry, and go back to the rest of my life feeling different. Eventually, feeling better.
After a while, I started noticing other people again. I stopped wanting them to suffer because I was suffering. I got clearer on what I wanted. In my case, in that moment, it was a family.
Soon, I was more frequently grabbing a pen than a cigarette. Care took root and edged out self-destruction. I got stronger, slowly, inside and out.
I’ve since given birth to two healthy baby girls. My losses have given me the empathy, the clarity, and the strength I need to take good care of myself, and to show up – for my kids, my country, and my life – even when it’s hard.
And right now, today, showing up feels hard. I know it feels hard for you, too. And this is what we do. Life breaks us, and if we don’t give up, we come back together, stronger.
Honor your loss.
Let yourself break apart.
Let humanity rush in.
Come back, stronger.