A Journey Through Miscarriage, Comfort for Women in Grief and an Open Conversation About its Stigma in the African Community
“Sometimes in tragedy, we find out life’s purpose. The eye sheds a tear to find its focus.” – Robert Brault
I’ve had two miscarriages, and even though the lives of those babies felt like they were here one moment and gone the next, my grief didn’t work like that.
It lingered and it pricked at me like tiny pin pricks that assaulted me in a thousand simple ways every single day.
Why couldn’t I get pregnant?
Why couldn’t I stay pregnant?
Why would God do this to me?
Why didn’t this baby get to live and experience a life on this earth?
What was wrong with me?
What was wrong with my body?
Question after question assaulted me.
Every false pregnancy test, every fear at the sight of a positive one—it was like riding a wave that pulled away and crashed into the shore over and over again. Every time the wave receded and I thought I could withdraw into rest, things would pick up force and crash again.
I wasn’t sure that I’d ever talk about the topic of miscarriage but for the last 12 months I’ve told myself that I’d use my voice to speak up and share information about topics that society thinks are taboo, especially within the African community.
I call these chats “uncomfortable conversations,” but in having them, my hope is to open a channel of communication that encourages women and families to have conversations that bring release, relief and eventual healing around their grief after infant loss or a miscarriage.
Like the quote above says, sometimes our tears give us focus and our tragedy a purpose.
The first question that many couples or women ask after experiencing a miscarriage is simple: Why?
Why did this happen?
A miscarriage can be an incredibly devastating event with long-lasting emotional effects. But one of the most difficult aspects of a pregnancy loss is the complete lack of knowledge surrounding the reasons it happened.
In many cases, particularly with early miscarriages, it can be hard to determine exactly what went wrong. But as the experts see it, it’s amazing how often pregnancy actually goes right.
As Elizabeth Nowacki says, “When you think about a pregnancy, and you think about the beginnings of a human being forming and all the things that have to go perfectly, it really and truly is a miracle when it happens. The simplest way to think about it is that (miscarriage) is sort of nature’s way of making sure that a human being is compatible with life.”
It’s really hard to comprehend that the precious life inside of you might not be compatible with life. That for whatever reason, this little baby was just not meant for this world.
In my own mind, I try to imagine it in a little softer way…that, maybe, this world wasn’t meant for this precious life. That there was something so pure, so precious about it, that the world just wasn’t the place for such a remarkable soul.
Although everyone has their own beliefs, believing in heaven and God makes it easier for me to imagine that tiny little spirit soaring right back into the arms of peace and paradise.
But still—the grief exists. And all too often, the shame!
In Africa, people think you can lose a baby because of a curse or witchcraft. Child loss in Africa is surrounded by stigma because some people believe there is something wrong with a woman who has had recurrent losses.
They think she may have been promiscuous, and so the loss is seen as a punishment from God. In most traditional African cultures, these feelings are exacerbated because the worth of a woman is often determined by the children she carries to term.
As a woman of African descent whose homeland is Zambia, having a miscarriage can sometime make you feel that you are not worthy as a woman—that your body is not worthy or that it is your fault as a woman.
It’s painful and my hope is that through education, empathy and conversations just like this, we can start to break that stigma.
To Carry Grief and Gladness in Tandem
I’m a naturally positive person who always finds the silver lining in things, but I also believe that sadness is a part of life. It would make such a difference if we could acknowledge that sadness is a normal emotion and a normal response to hardship. Deep grief after loss is to be expected and everyone processes it and moves through it at their own pace.
After a miscarriage it can be really difficult to hear a pregnancy announcement from someone you know or love and those who have gone through that know that it’s possible to feel happy for someone else and sad for yourself at the same time.
We can carry both grief and gladness in our hands at the same time. And of course when good things happen to us, we can still be empathetic to others going through difficult times without our own happiness being diminished.
By finding room for others’ grief in the middle of our own joy and by finding joy for others in the midst of our own grief, we experience the beautiful paradox of life.
That sadness and happiness can co-exist. That pain and pleasure are often standing shoulder to shoulder.
How Can We Stand Shoulder to Shoulder with Those in Grief After a Misscariage?
For those of us who are fortunate enough to have children, we can help make the experience of pregnancy loss less lonely for the people we care about. If you know someone who is experiencing pregnancy loss, be sensitive when you announce a pregnancy.
Also, make sure your children are not the only topic of conversation and, even if you will be sorry not to see them, try to be understanding when a friend doesn’t feel able to come to your baby shower or meet your new baby.
Send random flowers or cards that make no mention of their situation but are just meant to surround them with a little extra love and unexpectedly brighten their day.
Encouragement For Women Who’ve Had a Miscarriage or Can’t Conceive Despite All Avenues
If you’ve had a miscarriage, it takes a significant amount of courage to try again. For me, it took courage that I didn’t have naturally. To begin my journey with infertility treatments was scary and overwhelming, but I took it one day at a time.
Some days, I could take another step. Other days, I needed to sit down, cry and rest. My journey to having a baby in my arms was a journey of walking a few blocks, finding a bench, sitting and feeling the sun warm my face and getting up to walk a few more blocks when the warmth and rest had penetrated my soul.
That kind of journey is okay. It’s okay to start and stop.
It’s okay to not be okay and needs rest.
I want you to know that you’re not alone and miracles happen! Every day.
I am proof. So many of us women are proof. We may be mostly silent, but we’re here. We’re everywhere and my hope with this post is that more will speak up and those who need to see us and hear from us will find comfort and community.
In the same breath, I also want to acknowledge that there are some woman who unfortunately cannot conceive despite all avenues being explored, and I want to applaud these women. To be a mother doesn’t mean you have to carry a child—think about how many Aunties, Godmothers, Foster Moms and Adoptive Moms nurture and impact lives through their love.
There is always a person and a place that needs your love and impact, and my hope is that you find that person and place.
Resources for Pregnancy Loss and Miscarriage
I’d love to hear from you and offer a word of encouragement to those who need it. Have you experienced a miscarriage? How do you support those who do? If you’re in the African community, what has your experience been with pregnancy loss?
Until next time…
March 14, 2021