By Allison McDonald
Allison is the owner of September Project. In her own words, it’s “all about unique and honest messaging (i.e., stuff you actually think and want say to the people you care about) delivered simply and beautifully in a way that lets the words do the talking.” Today she’s using the power of words to share her personal experience of miscarriage which we all agree should be an on-going and open-hearted conversation instead of a secret.
“I knew how common miscarriage was—1 in 5 of known pregnancies end in miscarriage—but I never thought it would happen to me and had always been terrified that if it did, I would never be the same. Nearly 3 months ago, I was 5 months pregnant with my second child, a baby girl, when the unimaginable happened and we discovered she no longer had a heartbeat. To add insult to injury, due to complications with my placenta, I had to undergo a C-section to deliver her. Despite the sadness and devastation, and the fact that I would have given anything to change what was, the thing that surprised me was that, I was, in fact, still me, and my world hadn’t gone completely dark.
I could still laugh—like when I told my husband I needed a pair of his shorts to wear as post-surgery underwear, and rather than bringing me his boxers he showed up with a pair of knee-length silk basketball shorts. I could still feel happy—like when my son laid down beside me for a cuddle on my hospital bed, a rare thing from my fiercely independent little boy. I could still breathe, even when every part of me was saying that I shouldn’t be able to do that. And the fact that I could still do these things told me that I could go on—that I would go on. At first I felt guilty about this, as though I was betraying my daughter in trying to be okay. But I knew I owed it to myself and my family to find a way.
There was a moment in the hospital when a knowing came over me and I understood to get through this I was going to have to lean into the experience, rather than turn away from it. Through, not around.
So that’s what I did.
LEANING INTO GRATITUDE
After my surgery, as I lay there feeling the emptiness in my belly where my daughter had only just been, gratitude unexpectedly washed over me like a healing balm. Rather than fight it, I allowed it to come. I let myself be grateful that I was alive, and that I had a healthy child already. I let myself be grateful that I could still have more children. That I had a husband who hadn’t left my side and never faltered, even though I knew he was terrified and grieving his own loss.
When I got home from the hospital 3 days later, I couldn’t do much more than lie on the couch. So I wrote thank you notes. I wrote to my doctor and told her how grateful I was for her kindness and humanity towards me. I wrote to each nurse who had cared for me and told them how much their love and support had helped me through. Before my miscarriage, I had begun facilitating healing writing workshops based on the research of Dr. James Pennebaker who’s proven that expressive writing can produce measurable health benefits. The irony not lost on me, I began to practice what I preach. I wrote letters every day to my daughter and told her how much I missed her. I thanked her for choosing me to be her mama for the short time that I was, and told her how grateful I was because I now knew love in a way I’d never before experienced.
With each note, with each page, with each ounce of gratitude I let through, my heart began to heal. I knew it was healing because I felt lighter. Not all the time—I still had my moments—but each day, the more I recognized I had to be grateful for, the less I had to be sorry for.
LEANING INTO HOPE
When people experience too much loss and tragedy, they don’t let themselves have hope. It’s a defence mechanism to prevent being hurt again when they’ve already borne too much. I understand this desire to stop hoping, but I knew that if I did that, it would be a very dark road.
At first, the sense of loss I felt was so acute that it literally brought me to my knees. I wanted my baby back so badly. I had irrational thoughts, that if I reached out hard enough or wide enough maybe I could get her back. The questions rolled over in my mind—what had I done wrong to cause this? What could I have done to save her? What I always came back to was the simple truth that, for whatever reason, the baby’s body wasn’t healthy and this was nature’s way of taking care of things.
In letting myself believe this truth, instead of guilt and anguish taking over, hope found its way to me. And through hope I found a deep knowing that what I had lost was the body, and that my baby, the little girl I still felt such a strong connection to even after she was gone, was out there waiting for me in the ether. My job now was to get healthy and strong again so that I could give her another chance. I know this is a hope, not a certainty, and that it might not come true. But maybe it will. And I choose to hold on to the hope that she is out there somewhere, just in a different way, for a different time.
LEANING INTO MY TRIBE
Being stoic in difficult times is something that comes naturally to me but being stoic was not going to get me through this one. I needed every ounce of love and support I could get and so I leaned into every person who reached out to me. My father called when we were in hospital before the surgery and asked if I wanted him to come by. Normally, I would have told him I was fine, but this time I told him I needed him. He arrived with an open heart and held me as I cried like the child I haven’t been for so long. When I was back home from the hospital, I had long conversations with my mother almost every night, going over what happened and expressing all of my feelings. Where before I would have felt guilty for taking up so much of her time, I let her give me that time because I needed it, and she needed to give it to me, because she had lost just as much as I had.
When my dearest friends called, visited or texted to ask how I was doing, I told them exactly how I felt and didn’t hide a thing. If I couldn’t stop crying, I told them. If I was missing my baby, I told them. If I felt empty and eviscerated, I told them. If I was confused and scared about what the future held, I told them. And the beautiful thing I found in opening up was that it allowed them to really be there for me. They didn’t have to guess at how I was doing or dance around my complex feelings. By allowing myself to lean on them, they could sit comfortably in the company of my vulnerability.
LEANING INTO MYSELF
There is an episode of Sex and The City when Charlotte is devastated by a miscarriage but summons the courage to go to Miranda’s son’s 1st Birthday party. She gets dressed, channeling Elizabeth Taylor, and the camera focuses on her strutting down the street in a pink strapless dress, deep breath, shoulders straight, head held high. I never quite understood what she was doing there. But 3 weeks after the surgery, when I had leaned into everything—the pain, the gratitude, the loss—I was on a long walk, all on my own without my husband or a friend to talk to on the phone, and I thought of that scene and finally got it: She was leaning into herself. She was leaning into the fact that she could be broken, or broken open, rather, and that she could find a way to put herself back together. There is a strength and a courage that comes from knowing you can be broken open and still go on. I didn’t have on a pink dress and looked nothing like Elizabeth Taylor in my black beanie and hoodie, but I took a picture of myself on that walk so that down the road, no matter what came, I could remind myself of that moment when I, too, leaned into myself and found a way to put the pieces back together.
LEANING INTO THE FUTURE
I’m not sure what the future will hold. But I do know that giving back is one way of putting one foot in front of the other. I’m paying forward my gratitude and experience so that I might help someone else while bringing greater meaning to this little life that I lost too soon. In honour of my baby and of all mothers who need extra TLC, I am donating $1 from each greeting card sold in my Etsy shop, September Project, to Sunnybrook Women & Babies Program and the important work they do for high risk mothers and babies. If you are buying a card for the mom in your life this year, please consider buying one from my shop or donating directly to Sunnybrook Foundation.
For any mom reading this, if you are in the midst of your own miscarriage, please know that you are not alone. The Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) Network in particular was helpful to me as a place for resources and support. If you’re someone who prefers to grieve on your own, consider turning to writing. Write to yourself, write to your baby, write letters, write out your emotions, and use it as an outlet on the days when even talking seems too painful. Above all, know that you will be okay. And that you are enough.”
ALLISON’S MOTHER’S DAY CARDS THAT GIVE BACK
P.S. All her cards are made from 100% recycled and FSC-certified material