The morning of the last day of school, my period started, much to my disappointment.
The day before, I’d just complained to my husband about the number of menstruation cycles I’ve endured since the age of 14. We estimated more than 200. I also described to him a strange holding feeling going on right in the middle of everything—where there are usually cramps—and I was extra weepy. I felt the onset of an eventual cold coming on, a final gift from the public education gods, and slept with my feet elevated that night to ease tension in my back.
Before work, I was doing my typical routine in the shower until I felt a small, soft nub come out into my hand—not blood, not stool. Something wet and brown, with a decidedly arched and curled form. I held and poked it for a moment, holding my hand out of the shower to see it more clearly several times, before registering that this was a miscarriage.
Something hardly begun, but started—and ended—nonetheless.
I set it on the edge of the tub and finished rinsing, dried off, then sat on the toilet, and stared at it for a long minute, thinking about the mid-morning girls’ day out I had just spent with my mother, my sister, and my seven-year-old niece that weekend.
While we were browsing the clothing rack at a thrift store after Sunday brunch, my niece asked me when I was going to have a baby.
“Maybe soon,” I answered gesturing to my belly, “I’ll be able to tell you next time I see you.” I already suspected that I might be pregnant, tapping into some kind of maternal instinct, and knowing that my partner and I had been timing ovulation windows for months. We’d planned on taking the pregnancy test the weekend after.
Nothing had ever come out of me like this, and I wanted to confirm what I was seeing so I set it on a tissue paper, folded over to protect it—as if it was sleeping and needed a cover—while I Googled “three-week-old miscarriage fetus.” Yes, there was a cranial arch, limb buds, the clear primary arch from the notochord, all curled up, ready to unfurl with life into either a chicken, snake, or human child.
By this time, my partner Paul had roused and was begrudgingly commencing his morning routine. He asked how I was doing, and I explained, “I think I just miscarried. I don’t want to gross you out, but I saved it. It’s by the sink.”
He opened the tissue gingerly, and by now, all the mucus and wetness had been absorbed by the tissue, leaving a deep tan, little nugget, on the tissue, resting in his palm. He rolled it around, and looked closely, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
Seeing the definition of the embryo and the folds—the fact that it was contained as a single unit—finally convinced me of what it was I was seeing, even though it was hardly bigger than a thumbnail.
“What do we do with it?” I asked, standing naked on the bathroom rug looking at him with my wet hair still tied up.
I imagined producing a tiny glass vial from my pocket at the doctor’s office as evidence of my health history, and how unwelcome that would likely be. He shrugged, “I guess we either throw it away or flush it. Throwing it in the trash doesn’t seem right.” With that, he folded the tissue again and put it into the toilet bowl.
As we carpooled to work, Paul asked me how I was doing, again. This time, I said, “I’m sad, but also happy. Happy to know we are capable of creating something.” We had been trying for months and he was still banned from hot tub soaks on the patio, though would frequently sit with me in a lounge chair to talk through the day’s events in the evenings. “Maybe we aren’t infertile turtles after all.”
Stage health (putting on a brave face when performing) is a real thing, and I used it like my life depended on it that last day of teaching my high school students. After many farewells to my French students, my last class of the day was Spanish. I’d slowly discovered through class assignments and bits of conversation over the academic year, that freshman Sarah had lost her mother in recent years. She frequently came to me with her tales of teenage victories and frustrations, both personal and academic. Smart as a whip, she was my go-to teacher’s assistant when something needed to get done, and we were fond of each other. She sometimes would shout my name from down the hall to greet me between classes, placing emphasis on the O.
I always make peer compliment word clouds at the end of the year, and started the class by announcing that I had a surprise for them. The kids guessed I was pregnant, which I had to regretfully deny. On her way out of class after the bell rang, Sarah stayed back for a goodbye picture with her favorite teacher, and a hug, explaining, “Miss O, I really thought you were going to tell us that you were pregnant. It would’ve been so cute because we could’ve called your baby, Baby O!” with her typical emphasis on the O.
My cramps took an entirely different form over the next two days—I felt like everything was dropping out from beneath me. The uterine ache of holding turned into a uterine ache of missing, of emptiness. The second day, my lap ached—like my thighs were grieving for the weight they wouldn’t carry, and the silly rhymes they wouldn’t bounce along to, with giggles. My ankles throbbed and ached, and I wondered how bad pregnancy cankles could get.
Teachers were assigned two more workdays, that Thursday and Friday, and instead of routine procedures of closing and cleaning my classroom, my lower body just did not want to function, and I spent most of the time seated at my counter space in a shared office in front of my computer, willing myself to not cry, and be brave.
I read that after a miscarriage, pregnancy-related hormones stay elevated in the body for one to two months. I was occasionally tearful, feeling waves of sadness crashing over me, and on the last day of work, I wanted to tell everyone what had happened, especially colleagues I was close to. Everyone commented that I looked as if I were coming down with something, and it took all I had not to burst out, “I just held my miscarried baby in my hands!”
My husband was sweet and tended to me. He saw I was also coming down with a cold, and put me on bed rest for an entire day, delaying a trip to Kansas City to visit family. I spent most of that day curled in the fetal position on the bed in a dark mental space, surrounded by spent tissues.
In a more lucid moment a day after the miscarriage, I explained to him that I understood what was happening intellectually, but my endocrine system was processing this event in an entirely different way. It was pregnant, then not.
Hormones and chain chemical reactions do not communicate with my intellectual, thinking self—or at least I felt that each bodily system needed to accept this loss on its own terms, at its own pace. I knew from previous trauma and healing that my koshas would digest this experience over a long timeline as well.
“I don’t know when I’ll stop feeling like crying, but I know that eventually, I will.”
In polite society, and even with my own family, all I knew about miscarriage was that one should simply hold space for another’s grief and not ask for questions or details. Or, better yet, don’t even bring it up. It’s the M-word that you just don’t discuss. Having never spoken to another woman about the specifics of their miscarriages, this definite miscarriage with physical proof, shed light on one that happened to me the year prior.
The previous July, I had experienced abnormal amounts of bleeding and cramping late in my cycle, that persisted much longer than usual. There was no distinguishable fetus expired, but I experienced the same hopeful anticipation of counting days to pee on a stick and the sinking deflation of not realizing plans for a baby nursery. I was the only witness to this loss and questioned whether it had even happened. There was no health record, after all, just an extra difficult cycle noted in my period tracker app.
Later that summer, I unintentionally worked through my grief in a visceral way while at a silent meditation weekend retreat. During one afternoon sit, instruction was given for cemetery contemplations, when you are encouraged to consider your own mortality and impermanence of the physical self, a practice of Maranasati, inspired by Theraveda Buddhism.
I began that 60-minute session standing in the back of the room, as we had a few positions we could opt for, and began to imagine the desiccation of the fluid body, the unraveling of the sinews of muscle, and the brittleness of dry bone turning to dust, as we were instructed to do.
I could practice this for myself but found I kept visualizing a small, pinkish-red fluid sack at the center of my body, that was separate and solid, and I just could not bring myself to apply the practice there. It seemed so unfair, so cruel, so cold-hearted. I could not fathom such complete and absolute rejection of something I so greatly wished.
My knees went from this realization, and I crumpled to the floor like a rag doll, and wept quietly in Child’s pose for the remainder of the session. We had the option of meeting for 15 minutes to talk through our practice with the retreat leader and I signed simply to explain that I was okay and it was the first time I’d admitted to anyone that I thought I had miscarried. It felt better to be seen, even though I felt entirely helpless in my ocean of personal, unarticulated grief. I felt so conflicted about gaslighting my own experience.
Owning the fact that the previous July I miscarried even earlier, I decided to call this one Baby B. With any luck, the next one, whether adopted or biological, Baby C will stand for Baby Cavan, a name my partner and I agreed upon years ago.
While this personal tragedy was unfolding, the efforts of years of work were coming to fruition—everything was ready for me to host my first international yoga retreat in France. I was earning my final hours for my 500 RYT, and I got my passport in the mail that same afternoon.
Having held both my ticket for travel the next 10 years and my three-week-old fetus in my hands the same day, was a stark reminder of the choices I’ve made, and my lifestyle preferences.
I am plowing ahead with my international travel plans, and hold that as a desire, as much as building a home and family with my husband. These are not incompatible paths, though conventional wisdom would disagree.
In the time since, I have found myself wanting to speak more and more about these secretive and furtive experiences most women and their partners undergo. Colleagues, students, friends, and family still ask frequently after our natal plans as a couple, and I’m tired of pretending I have concrete answers, that I haven’t already mothered beings in my body, that pregnancy, and abortion, and miscarriage, are separate topics, and that only certain sanitary female experiences should be spoken of in public.
Some days, I wish I already had children in elementary school and had spent a good part of this February, fretting about creating homemade Valentine’s Day boxes with aluminum foil and hot glue in the kitchen. Some days, I am so grateful for enjoying a child-free lifestyle where my own creative, intellectual, and professional goals take precedent. I don’t take for granted that I can decide to read a book in one sitting all afternoon and devote a considerable portion of my home to both yoga studio and my yoga practice.
In an attempt to understand my experience, my body, the nuances of motherhood, and find my own peace with it, after my second miscarriage, I searched for blogs and videos and found primarily pro-natal and Christian narratives. Even after a recent Reiki session (my first), the Reiki practitioner who was aware of my miscarriage felt the need to say she sensed my baby was waiting for me in the sky. This brought me no additional relief or closure, I simply felt I again had to be disingenuous about my experience.
The terminology of miscarriage itself is problematic, in that it assumes a missed opportunity, poor management, a mistake on the part of the woman, the latter implied to simply be nothing more than a vessel to carry forth a new being. Honestly, it sounds like a dreadful reason to miss your 18th-century tea party at the neighboring estate. We need more narratives and better vocabulary for such a common experience that does not imply any wrongdoing or guilt on the part of the woman, something that honors her experience.
I often cue an asana with detailed imagery describing the movement of intention and energy during my yoga classes: feel the heat of your palms radiate above your head as if you’re holding your own sun; notice the primacy of movement at the navel, the strong insistence of the breath; settle your sit bones between your hips as if nesting into your own safe, grounded shelter.
Like the intense visualization that came to me on that silent retreat, I prefer to think of each instance as a passing of collected energy, that simply didn’t manifest into personhood in this plane. In the practice of my life, I briefly held the asana of pregnancy for a short glimpse into it, instead of maintaining the pose for the traditional nine months. I’ve come to understand my experience through this view. It arose, and has been let go. And that’s entirely okay.
Loving-kindness is the theme that drives my meditation, yoga, and teaching practices, both in the studio and in the classroom.
Through loving-kindness, I have found some solace and comfort after these losses, reminding myself to be kind to myself, within my marriage, with my own story and experience, and those of others.
May the world be filled with the nuanced narratives of women, regardless of their beliefs, backgrounds, and maternal status.
May we continue to evolve our language to better bring our experiences to light.
May the beings I held, be at ease, be happy, and be loved.