What We Carry: Some Thoughts on Miscarriage

I have composed iterations of this little essay in my head at least a hundred times over the past month, but somehow, I haven’t been able to bring myself to sit down and write it out loud. To make it real. I feel, now, that it is finally time to come clean.

For me, writer’s block is a bodily sensation – Sometimes, I literally cannot physically bring myself to sit down in front of my computer and release the words that are tangled up inside of me. I want to. I am loath to. I need to. But I just … can’t. Like, at all.


Usually, the physical stuckness that leads to me avoiding writing is the result of some emotional or mental turmoil at play in my life, and this time is no different. It’s been one heck of a month, my friends. One heck of a three months, to be exact.

For the first two of those months, I was pregnant. For the last one – the one that’s just now ending – I was not pregnant. And this little essay, the one I’ve been longing to write and dreading to write in equal measure, is about precisely that: how I came to be no longer pregnant. And I want to share it with you.

The facts of my sad story are pretty standard, and many of you may see shades of your own tiny tragedies within them: on Valentine’s Day, I peed on a stick and the whisper of a blue line appeared. Emiliano and I were delighted, nervous, giddy, amazed. We’d only just started trying for a baby. It happened so quickly, so easily. In the following weeks, I abided surges of joy and fear, nausea and exhaustion. We talked about names. We told our parents. We bought a little green wool sweater from Peru. We started to dream of the family we’d make together, out of our love.

From the start, though, something felt … off. The best way – the only way – I can describe it is this: the life force inside of me did not feel strong. It was unmistakably there, and it was sweet beyond measure, but it was quiet. Faint. I blamed myself, wondering why I didn’t feel more of a connection to this little one when I was so thrilled, when my partner was so thrilled, when the future and the children I’d dreamed of for so long was being handed to me in such a flawless, blissed out fashion, after years of disappointment and searching: a positive pregnancy test on Valentine’s Day, after just a month of trying? Come on. That shit is too perfect to even question, right?

But I did. Question, I mean. What the lack of connection might indicate. Would I not be a good mother? Was I secretly not ready? Wasn’t this the baby that was truly meant for us, and if so, why hadn’t my heart opened up to welcome her quite yet?

Yes, her. It was a girl baby. Of that, at least, I am fairly certain.

At six-and-a-half weeks came mild cramping and spotting. I panicked. I Googled like it was my job and began to consider the possibility of disaster. Panic turned to terror. The cramping got worse.

I kept saying, to everyone who would listen, “I just feel like something’s wrong.”

It was a vague, dirty, awful sensation, and one that wouldn’t leave me alone. I dreamed that through some feat of acrobatics, I was able to peer up inside of myself, and I found only an empty womb where the baby should have been. I dreamed of her falling out of me without warning. I dreamed of translucent little fetuses dancing jigs across the foot of my bed, their wide eyes blinking up at me.

The cramps continued. I felt exhausted and ill at ease. I went in for an it’s-probably-not-an-emergency-emergency ultrasound, with my worried mother, because we didn’t want to wait and Emiliano was at work, and the doctor stuck a gooey wand inside of me and swirled it around, and there she was, my little sprout: her heart pumping away, strong and fast, as safe and cozy as could be.

“See?” the doctor asked me. “Do you see? Everything’s fine.”


But. It still didn’t feel fine. The odd dreams kept up. In the dreams, my little one was kicking me in the stomach, or her heartbeat was swallowed up by mine until it disappeared completely and she faded into nothing.

I told myself to relax. There’s no map for motherhood, after all, and I was doing what I could. I was healthy. I hadn’t had so much as a sip of booze or artificially sweetened soda since finding out. I’d started prenatal vitamins three months before. I’d been eating well, exercising regularly. My health history was immaculate – no surgeries, no hospitalizations, no allergies, no STDs. I wasn’t young, but I was young enough. So was my husband. We loved each other immoderately and overwhelmingly. We had insurance, some cash on hand, a nursery, a plan. We were set up for success in all the ways that counted.

All the same. All the same. At the eight-week ultrasound, the nightmare scenario: her tiny heart had stopped its beating. Are details necessary? I guess you’ll be curious about them. It was like a bad TV movie: the happy young couple together in the exam room, holding hands. Me with my legs up in stirrups, Emiliano at my side, doting on me, our sweet, gruff midwife chitchatting with us about morning sickness, weight gain and the other requisite first-trimester woes. She’d stuck the gooey Doppler up inside of me again and switched on the screen.

“There’s our little resident,” she said, passing over my bladder to bring into view my swelling uterus, and the little raspberry-sized creature nestled inside it. Then, her voice changed. It went flat and sad. She was muttering: “But, I can’t … I can’t.”

You can fill in the rest. Or, I will: the baby was dead. After a shitty, awful hour slouched over in the radiology waiting room, both of us cracking bad jokes and trying not to gape at all the luckier mothers and their babies seated in the chairs around us, an ultrasound confirmed that our little girl had stopped growing about a week before. When, exactly, did I lose her? There’s no way to know, but probably, it was just after that first, harrowing visit to the doctor with my mother. When the heart beat crazy fast and strong. When everything was still fine, but not really. When the dreams got scary.

More details? Ugh. This part’s dirty and bloody and hard. Several painful, exhausting, surreal weeks of waiting for the fetus to pass naturally. Acupuncture that relaxed me but did little else. Horrible pills to make the bleeding start that did nothing but make me puke and spin. Even after I’d swallowed a full nine of them. I told my sprout she could stay inside as long as she needed, but I’d underestimated the great psychic weight that carrying a dead thing inside of me would entail. I couldn’t bear it, so we went back to the doctor, and I consented to an in-office procedure to remove her from me. No anesthesia, no pain pills.

“I need this to be done,” I told the doctor. “Today.”

I consented to what the doc called a “middle ages” style means of ending my baby’s short existence on this earth. A manual vacuum aspiration. You can look it up. It hurt. I cried out and moaned and wriggled around like a bug stuck under a pin as they pulled her from me. It was over quick. It wasn’t terrible. I felt little, in truth, except relief. A thousand pounds’ worth.

Since then, I’ve been doing quiet battle with all the gooey emotional bits that come along with miscarriage. The physical discomfort was, in a sense, the easy part, even though I have a notoriously low pain tolerance. My animal nature took over, and I let it. I bowed my head, gritted my molars, and submitted to the pain dutifully, like a cow or a horse or some old, sick animal put to pasture. Because there was no choice. Because we can and must endure pain to live in these bodies of ours. I have never felt more like a creature of the earth than I did in those hard, dirty moments. More tiny and vulnerable and pegged to the earth by blood and guts and gravity.

After that, this: a crisis of feeling, huge and limitless, that brought back to me my humanness. I’ve cried me a river, of course. A big, big muddy one. I’ve felt pissed off and sad and jealous and protective and lonely and overcrowded. I’ve felt peaceful and joyful and hopeful and accepting. I’ve seen my relationship with Emiliano blossom and deepen in ways I could never have imagined.

I’ve also come to view the world as a tremulous, tenuous, infinitely dangerous kind of place – one in which anything can be lost to you at every possible moment. I’ve felt the intense desire to cling to those I love, especially my husband. At night, I can’t hardly sleep unless some part of me is touching some part of him. Just so he won’t disappear without my knowing it. I’ve been afraid to leave my house – so much conspires to injure us in the huge and indifferent world: collapsing buildings and crashing airplanes and bankruptcies and dread diseases. I’ve left my house anyway – we risk just as much in secreting ourselves away inside of doors – carbon monoxide poisoning, cigarette fires, tainted water, the flight of our precious little ones irretrievably far from us, as we sleep, as we dream, to places they’ll never return from.

But the old platitudes endure. Time softens the sharp edges of loss. We can be strong when we have to be. Life goes on, either with or without us. I’ve lately felt suitably recovered to emerge from my little fallout shelter and start putting this story down on paper. For posterity. For therapy. For me. For her. It’s just a first draft, really, written quick and without thinking too much. There’ll be so much more to say, and more artful ways to say it, soon.

For now, though, it’s pure and simple springtime, which arrived without my really noticing these past dull weeks. I lay in bed and cried and slept and ached and bled and dreamed, and when I finally awoke, there it was before me: red flowers and green shoots and a riot of sturdy little fruit buds on the pear tree out back. All of it a miracle, begging to be watered and loved and admired and cared for.

The world is waking up before my eyes, and I am waking up, too. Stepping back into my own human-animal life of pleasures and trials. Running. Wine. Friends. Alarm clocks. Work. Play. And, stitched through it all, the hope that what comes next will be easier than what came before. I put the little green sweater away, on a high shelf. I forgave my sprout her leaving. And I’ve begun to cultivate within this slowly healing body of mine a feeling of lightness, or, at the very least, a sense that I can ably bear the portion of joy and pain that’s mine to shoulder, for as long as will be required. What choice do I have?

I’ve carried so much. I’ve let so much go.



14 thoughts on “What We Carry: Some Thoughts on Miscarriage

    • erinjbernard says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. A plurality of women, fortunately, won’t experience this, but it’s common enough that many will, and I am writing for both kinds of mamas. xoxo

  1. marilee says:

    thank you for writing this. so many woman have been through this, like myself and you expertly put words to the confusing emotions that come with miscarriage. i’m sending you big hugs as you heal and your words were like a hug, for me.

    • erinjbernard says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It really does help to know there are others who have been through this and come out the other side still thinking life is pretty alright.

  2. Danielle says:

    Your story is eerily familiar; the joy, the fear, the reassurance, the heartbreak, wanting to not let go, needing to move on so badly… These words are the hardest for any mother to come by and you did a beautiful job for your sprout. My hands are trembling typing this because of the flower photo. Just today I had the phrase ‘a person’s a person no matter how small’ in my head and I Googled pictures of Horton’s speck on a clover. Your flower looks like the ‘clover’ I want to tattoo on my body. Love and hugs to you both.

    • erinjbernard says:

      The synchronicity in all of this is pretty uncanny in some moments. I was researching Buddhist approaches to miscarriage and learned about a Bodhisattva (enlightened being) called Jizo who is the protector of lost children. I found myself drawn to him and was searching everywhere for a little Jizo statue to put in my garden, but he’s rather obscure. Then by chance I was invited to visit a Zen temple a few blocks from my house earlier this week and it turns out Jizo is their patron Bodhisattva … his likeness was everywhere! Statues, paintings, carvings, books. It felt like a hug from the universe, for sure.

  3. sabemajeen says:

    Erin, I am so sorry for your pain and suffering, and I don’t know what else to say. I think you have expertly and thoughtfully expressed your feelings and the events in a way that makes me think it will be cathartic. I wish you well and much love….Jim

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