Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Common Miscarriage

I've certainly taken more than a brief hiatus from writing much over the past few months, and every time I thought to write anything, I kept coming back to the same sore subject. It seemed too personal a thing to write and too full of a sort of hurt I was sure nobody would really understand.

And even when it  happens to other people, nobody talks about it. Not really. It is hushed up and glossed over, and I thought that was how it was supposed to be. My sad story, and many others like it, are common. They are more common than many people realize, and it wasn't until I read of someone else's experiences that I realized it was worth telling.

There is very little comfort to be had when a pregnancy goes awry.

My brother and his wife told the family that they were pregnant exactly two weeks before my husband and I discovered we were pregnant. My entire family was elated, as this would be my brother's first child, and my husband's first child. My mother was over the moon with the idea of having two grandbabies at almost exactly the same time. It was going to be yellow ducks, and tiny socks, bright sunrises, and little people discovering the world in tandem while all the big people watched them. It was going to be just perfect.

I was out of town on business when my brother called me to let me know that they had lost the baby. He was crushed, and I was crushed for him. I felt guilty because I had just announced my own pregnancy, and I felt so much sorrow for him. I realized how common it was, that about twenty percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and that it could just as easily have been me. I remember hoping the best for him and his wife, and feeling impotent to do much else.

Two weeks later, I was six weeks along and at my first doctor's appointment with an excited husband, who had taken the day off work to accompany me. I have a ten year old son, and so I had been through this before. However, it felt so very good to be happy about our pregnancy, and so different now, at the age of thirty, instead of being frightened and alone at nineteen. It felt so different and so joyful with someone I trusted there next to me being just as excited as I was. The doctor wasn't able to hear a heartbeat this early, but there was a faint flicker on the ultrasound and a promising little blob. They printed out pictures, and we sent messages to our parents. We basked in the gestational glow of imagined firsts.

Over the next two weeks, I spotted lightly and worried heavily. My morning sickness was coming and going irregularly and I had the looming sense of wrongness that I kept telling myself was in my head. If I could just get through the first trimester, I would be okay. I would travel for work, and friends at conventions would smile at my rotund shape as mine and my husband's hopes grew to fruition. I tried not to dwell on either of these thoughts as I passed through peaks and valleys of optimism and anxiety.

I had another ultrasound to discern a more definite heartbeat when I was eight weeks along, and the morning of my appointment, I discovered a telling black clot when I went to the bathroom. There was a moment of panic before  leaden resolve settled into my stomach. I won't say I didn't hope. I hoped. I went to my appointment alone and I hoped.

The ultrasound confirmed my worry. There was no heartbeat. I tried not to cry and I held out for two and a half seconds before the wave of despair crashed on me as I sit there in my paper gown. The doctor was very comforting, as was the nurse. They let me slip out of the office quietly, and I did. That is how it goes, I guess. Heartbroken mothers-to-be slipping out quietly and crying their many tears in the car. I hadn't yet begun to actually miscarry, but I had another business trip in a little more than a week and couldn't afford to wait, so we scheduled a D&C, and I got down to wrapping my head around what was happening.

My husband came home early. I told him via email because he can't get calls in the office, and he shed his tears in the car, too. I told everyone what had happened via phone and facebook, and then I took to the mommy boards.

For an atheist, it is enraging to read of so many other mothers giving condolences in the form of celestial images of tiny angels and the will of a supposedly loving deity. I can't even begin to describe the anger I felt at reading all of the misbegotten "meant to be". It felt hollow and bitter, like my seemingly blighted uterus. I turned away from the boards online and read sympathy messages on facebook. They were all very well-meaning, and I know that, but I think I learned more about what not to say to a grieving person in those moments than I ever have before.


1. "You'll get pregnant, again."
Will I? And if I do, what then? In the wake of a miscarriage, recalling how hope turns so easily to grief just reminds me that there are no guarantees.

2. A pregnant women suggesting that I'll be just fine.
Wow.

3. Asking me if there is something medically wrong with me.
Assuring people that my plumbing is probably just fine over and over again to parents, friends, and acquaintances was incredibly strange, especially when people who knew me told me that they regarded me as very "fertile". It made me feel like livestock.

4. Suggesting how long to wait, or not to wait, to try to get pregnant again.
I'm still carrying my dead fetus. Can we just deal with the feelings I am having right now?

5. "At least you know you can get pregnant."
Brilliant. Yes. Proof. Eureka! I feel so much better. Not.
Pointing out the accomplishments of my body, as far as gestation goes, is not going to help, because this pregnancy has just ended in a gut-wrenching failure.

I do understand how it feels to want to say the right thing. I had been consoling my brother over his own loss just weeks before. I know how hard it can be, to want to say something that helps, but unsolicited advice, questions, or generalized statements about what may or may not happen are all hard pills to swallow at a time like this. I don't hold on to any resentment or negativity toward people that unwittingly said something that stung at a hard time. I just want us all to get better, together.


I waited for the day of my D&C, lamenting the loss of this pregnancy and reliving all of the hopes I had. The day of my procedure, I unabashedly asked for all of the drugs, which helped take the edge off both before and after the procedure. I even asked my doctor for a small supply of anti-anxiety medicine to help me get through the next week or two at the insistence of my husband, who knows my dysfunction as well as I do and is less embarrassed of it.

I awoke to the sound of my very rad anesthesiologist talking to the nurse about video games, and in my semi-lucid state I was sure it was Skyrim because he mentioned dragons.  I went with it and blurted out something regarding the ineffectiveness of boob armor and babbled on as the nurse fetched my husband. It wasn't a bad day, actually, thanks largely to the pre-op relaxation drug they gave me. The hubby ushered me to the pharmacy, where I complimented every single person I saw on one article of clothing or another, and then home. Nestled into a nest of blankets on the couch, I napped into reality.

The next two days were agony, but not emotional agony. I had months for that. There was some kind of complication involving my pain meds. It seemed like my entire G.I. tract was swelling and roiling about inside of me while my uterus began to contract painfully back down to normal. After the second day, I could no longer stand it and went back to see the doctor, who prescribed something different and gave me some antibiotics. I don't know what did it, but I felt better the next day and improved well enough over the next week to make my convention.

The months that followed were very hard for me. When you are pregnant, and then become not pregnant, hormones dropping can cause feelings of deep melancholy, also known as baby blues or postpartum depression. When you have a baby, nursing and even just proximity to your baby releases calming hormones. I remember holding Johnny when he was little, and even in the whirlwind clusterfuck that was my life way back when, I felt so happy. There was no biological solace to be had, this time.

The depression settled in for the Fall and stayed for the holidays, and I coped well enough. Every day, waiting to stop bleeding, and then waiting for my cycle to start back up again, I was reminded that my body could malfunction at any time. I thought, if I could just get pregnant again, I would feel better. And we tried. We tried through two erratic and untimely cycles. All those empty consolations rang in my ears and the depression sat in anew when my period came early and then late. My rhythm was off. I was living in a body that was a wretched reminder of failure.

The holidays came, and I was reminded again. My beloved bump was absent amidst all of the people that had been so happy about the possibility. We went out of town and visited my husband's family. I greeted one of his sisters, swollen with her own baby and due in just a few months, and knocked back all the beer I had insisted we bring as small children stampeded about and a new baby fussed and cooed. It should have been happy, but it was agonizing, and I felt guilty for being miserable while in the company of people I love and seldom see. I cried all the way back to where we were staying, glad that my son was passed out in the back seat. It was an hour long ride, and when we got back, I slipped quietly into the house, like I had slipped quietly out of the OB's office a few months before.

That had been the beginning of the end of the worst of it, but the worst of it had lasted months, and in that time, I often wondered about other moms. I couldn't bring myself to look online for fear of seeing further invocations of a silly god. I thought, maybe, I was just more sad, for some reason. Not only was my fetus gone, but perhaps a piece of my sanity was gone with it, and other moms bore this sorrow more gracefully than I. It is most certainly a sad topic, and yet so common that I think it isn't discussed because it could happen to literally anyone, and nobody wants to be reminded that luck is a fickle mistress. So many of us, living in developed nations, are partial to our bliss and our ignorance.

After the holidays were over, after I had faced my entire family and many of my friends empty and sullen, the dire urgency to become pregnant again dissipated, and I was able to enjoy my life without counting down the days to the beginning of my next cycle. I took up hunting deer, having practiced with my bow while we were out of town, shifting my aspiration from one of creating life to one of taking it. Sitting out in the snow covered woods allowed me to clear my head and fully process my thoughts without an emotional filter. Silent and still, the forest forgot I was there, and I felt myself becoming smaller and smaller until my sadness became a trivial thing in a beautiful place where creatures ate other creatures to survive.

It is still like that, now. I read the news and see people being forced out of their homes by flooding and violence. Small tasks and large goals take up my time. My son is almost as tall as I am and he loves me, even before I've had my coffee. I realize how lucky I am, and at the same time, I can remember when my luck ran dry. All the well wishes in the world aren't enough to defy biology. I wish I could say that I'm not sad about it, anymore, but I don't think this is a sadness that goes away, and it is odd to me that so many other women might also carry this sadness and never really speak of it.

The irony of having an uncomplicated unintended pregnancy and losing an intended one is not lost on me. The catch twenty-two of having babies young, when your body can best hold them, and having them when you are older and more stable is also not lost on me. Being a mother is a beautiful, terrible experience, but so is living, and I wouldn't change either of those things. I'm hoping that I am able to become pregnant again, but I know anything and nothing is possible, and that even if it does happen, that it will never be the same. I will always worry just a little bit more because I know that life isn't a promise at all. It is a chance.


It is a chance that I will have to take. 

37 comments:

  1. Shanon (and Mark),

    Unfortunately, I've been through this twice with my wife (and she had been through it 6 times prior). We've always spoken about it openly but never blogged about it.

    If a person has not gone through this, they could not possibly understand. I know I didn't when my wife had told me about the prior miscarriages. We, too, had all types of consolations from friends and relatives and while we always tried to put the most positive spin on their attempts, there were a few that really hurt; the most offensive was my wife's Baptist grandfather explaining to us that God knows the bad seeds, so it was really a blessing. REALLY????

    I am not atheist, as you are (I spend my time teetering between belief in something greater than us and agnostic; and I'm surprisingly ok with that), but what my wife's grandfather said certainly does not reflect anything close to what I would consider to be a loving god.

    The impact, though, of the miscarriages, was what I found surprising. We hadn't even gotten to anything beyond the stick that showed "positive" (no heart beat, no doctor visits) and yet, when they were lost, it was devastating; and we even knew there was a good chance since she had never been able to carry to full term.

    Now, you may not be really in the mood to hear this yet, so I apologize if it's premature, but the experiences did prompt us to see an endocrinologist, and through some tests (and another pregnancy) we were able to determine the cause of the issue and have since carried two awesome kids to full term. It does not take the sting away from the lost ones, but it does make us more grateful for the two we've got.

    Anyway, I know that I don't really know you (and only barely know your husband), but thought I'd share our experience since we've been through something similar. If you guys would like to know more about our experience (especially with the successful part), Mark knows where to find me on Facebook. :)

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    1. Thank you so much! I've started to take notes in case we have further complications, but right now I'm just sort of floating along. I'm so sorry to hear about your own challenges. That particular roller coaster ride is a very tough one to endure, and anyone that has had to go through this repeatedly has all of my sympathy. Divine justifications for what is actually just the reality of being alive never sit well with me in times of misery. I'll keep you in mind, if I need a resource for more information, and I'm very glad that you were able to arrive at a solution. It must have been such an immense relief when you got to hold your little ones.

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  2. My deepest condolences to you and your family. I'm so sorry you've all had to go through this heartbreaking experience.

    I lost at least 1 pregnancy before I finally had a successful one. During the whole of the 9 months I was pregnant, I worried every single day. So I can't give you any comfort that the little nagging concerns aren't always going to be there. I hope that you will be able to get pregnant again and that all will go well. Best wishes to you!

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    1. Thank you! I keep hoping the worst is behind me, but I know those first few months of any subsequent pregnancies will be a bumpy ride.

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  4. I had my first baby at 21, my second at 25. Both perfectly healthy pregnancies and deliveries. I became pregnant again at 30. Started crocheting a baby blanket, painted the nursery, argued with my husband whether it was going to be University of Michigan themed or rainbows and butterflies. I went in for a scan at 13 weeks and everything was great. At 16 weeks, I started cramping. Went into the doctor, fully formed baby, at about 15 weeks gestation, no heartbeat. I didnt slip quietly out of the office, I sobbed and ranted and raved. Intellectually I know that miscarraiges happened, but not to me. I had two beautiful and healthy boys. THe day I went in for my D and E was the worst day of my life until that point and the months of depression afterwards dont bear remembering. I still pull out the box with the half finished baby blanket and the ultrasound pictures both on the day I lost him/her and on the day he/she was due. The pain never goes away, yet somehow it becomes part of your new normal. I grieve with you, sister. As an atheist, myself, I know the struggle of WANTING to know Ill see my baby again, I want to know that he/she is in a better place. But its just not so, and somehow I think it makes the emptyness harder to bear.

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    1. It seems like, for me, all of the realizations of things that happen (but not to me), never really happened until they did happen to me. Being sad over what is actually very mundane has allowed me to see other people more clearly, to empathize better, and I fill up my emptiness with other people's stories that are like my own. So, thank you.

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  5. I don't even know what to say, but I feel like I should say something. Shanon, that is one of the most beautiful, terrible, real, life affirming things I've read. I cried at work, and now my coworkers think something is horribly wrong.

    Thank you so much for being so vulnerable. If your piece moved this voluntarily childless man, I can only imagine how helpful it must be for women who've also been through the same thing as you.

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    1. Thank you! As much as I hate feeling sad, I know how important it is to really feel through the events of my life, and to connect with others that are doing the exact same thing. Being emotional is a part of the ride.

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  6. I lost my first pregnancy. Since then I had one uncomplicated pregnancy and a healthy son and one pregnancy through fertility treatment with complications that is at 30 weeks now. I coped by deciding that it was just as logical to assume that I will be lucky than to assume I won't be. Then I just tried to stay busy with totally unrelated stuff. I found that time was the best healer. And I can relate to hearing a lot of unhelpful stuff when it first happened. Maybe that is why women don't talk about miscarriage. Thanks for being brave enough to share your story.

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    1. Thank you very much for reading. I believe in time, too, and I believe in relationships and communication. I hope the best for you. You are right about assuming luck to be just as easily good as it could be bad. I'll keep that in mind.

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    2. All the best to you too. It isn't easy to talk about, but I hope putting it out there has helped you as much as it helps the test of us reading your work.

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  7. I do wish more people would be able to talk about miscarriages. I've had 7, or 8, or 9... I lost count because I don't want to really remember. All I remember is people telling me exactly what you said, with the extra bonus of "it's god's will, god this, god that, it's what he wanted". So, a 'being' wanted me to hurt this much? I've got 3 boys now but it's been a struggle. Like you, my first was unintentional and uneventful. Well, no, not really my first. I believe I had an undiagnosed pregnancy/miscarriage before that based on subsequent ones. My last one was in vitro, one of triplets. One didn't take, I miscarried one and then was able to carry one to term.
    Fortunately, I had great docs for almost all of the pregnancies/miscarriages, so that helps immensely.
    All I can tell you is what I told myself "if it happens, it happens" Just keep trying, that's the fun part anyway!

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    1. Having a good doctor can really make such a huge difference, and I'm glad to hear that yours is helpful. I'll always hope it doesn't happen, again, but you're right about not being able to do much about it. I'm sorry you've had to go through so many, but glad to hear your struggles have resulted in three boys. My own son is such a source of strength for me.

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    2. I think one of the best things one of the docs told me "humans are really lousy at duplicating". More women miscarry than they realize because it happens so early.
      My last pregnancy, I pretty much was on denial I was even pregnant. Even as I was getting wheeled into the OR (c-section). I checked the heart beat almost daily (I'm a RN). When/if you get pregnant again, it will be OK to be paranoid. It's normal, so allow yourself to relax and enjoy it and not let the paranoia to take over your psyche. Easier said than done, by the way!

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  8. This was a beautiful piece. Your strength is inspiring.

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  9. Thanks for sharing. I too had a miscarriage. It was physically and emotionally exhausting. Had to cancel my trip to an SSA conference because it happened the day before I was supposed to leave. But, I took heart in the fact that I was now a statistic and that these things happen and there was nothing that would insulate me from it happening to me and tried again. then we lost our daughter in the 8th month of pregnancy, to something that just doesn't happen. We are literally one of only 2 known instances of it happening. Devastated, but again, took heart in the fact that - late term still births happen and again, there is nothing about us that would immunize us from being a statistic. We didn't do anything, these things just happen sometimes. We were fortunate that we got really good advice from our lawn guy (who was also a Humanist). He and his wife had lost a child and their biggest regret was not trying again. So, when we recovered emotionally (as much as one can from these things), we started enjoying ourselves without protection once again. So glad we did. Being a statistic sucks. On the other hand, there is comfort in being a statistic. We never had to ask why us. Especially with the miscarriage since the rate of miscarriage is astonishingly high. I think the thing that helped us the most as a couple was agreeing that with or without a child, we still wanted to spend our lives together and that if we were childless, that was ok too. I think without that mindset, we would have driven ourselves crazy. but yeah - it's amazing how physically taxing a miscarriage really is.

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    1. I'm so sorry about your miscarriage, and about your daughter. The impact of that loss must have been very hard. My husband and I have had discussions about what we would do if trying availed us subsequent nothings, as well, and having someone there in the thick of it with me has been invaluable. I do have a son, so the feeling is different, but we've resolved ourselves similarly: to live well and happily to the best of our ability.

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  10. I agree, so much, that this should be talked about more. All infant loss should. I was completely healthy and had no risk factors, yet my placenta abrupted and my son was born at 24 weeks and died at 28 due to the prematurity of his lungs and heart. I didn't even believe this could happen to young, healthy people - and I'm so grateful for all those who tell their stories to remind us all we're not alone.

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    1. I'm so sorry. Reproductive health issues in all of their aspects do not get the attention they should. I think too many people don't understand everything that happens and that can so easily and suddenly go wrong without warning in healthy people.

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  11. To all,
    How I remember sitting in that car An ultrasound had confirmed the death of my baby girl.. I sat in the parking lot crying and feeling so very desperate as people came and went.
    My last baby was gone at 17 weeks. My only daughter had died and I already knew that there would be no others.

    The door shut out the light and in my darkness I could not find the walls or doors or windows for a very long time.

    That was 24 years ago, and it was yesterday.
    Anita

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    1. What a horrible thing to happen, and I'm so very sorry. Such a loss truly takes all of the light out of life for quite some time.

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  12. Shanon, thank you for writing this. When my wife had a miscarriage (many years ago), I had no clue what she was experiencing--especially emotionally. Reading your detailed story helped me relate at least a little bit.

    I also appreciate your kind responses to the commenters. I think that's an admirable practice and a great way to acknowledge the contributions of your readers.

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    1. Thank you very much, Joel! I'm so sorry that happened to your wife, and I hope the pain of it has lessened over time. It is a topic that, I think, needs to be discussed more openly. The topic of mental health, as a mother, is very important, and it seems like women are just expected to shoulder the hormonal burden as though nothing happened.

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  13. I've been there, twice. Part of what makes it hard is that we don't really have any official recognition, no social customs for mourning a miscarriage. No funeral, no family gathering, no memorial markers, nothing. Maybe someone sends you flowers, but that's it. We're often each on our own to figure out how to cope with the loss, and we're surrounded with people who are saying all these completely non-helpful things.

    I did spend some time on some miscarriage websites, tried to mentally filter out all the goddiness, and did find some measure of help there. Some other things that were helpful for me personally: Naming each lost child, buying a small figurine as a personal memorial for each, and listening to really sad songs until I had done all the crying I could do. I hope you can find what works to help you.

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    1. I'm sorry to hear about your losses, and part of what was hard was that grieving, for me, has felt like loops. As much as I wanted to get it all done, I just couldn't, and I flip-flopped between happy, sad, and fine quite a bit and with very little warning when things would change. I blamed the hormones for a lot of it. I do not understand why women that lose pregnancies aren't given the option of some kind of anti-depressant to help them cope over the following months.

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  14. I feel your frustration with the well-intentioned but angering, 'God needed another angel.' etc. My wife and I lost our daughter at 26 weeks, Sept. 3, 2008. She was our first, and while at the time we were certain we would try again, and that any children would know about their older sister, we aren't yet able to try again.

    Our experience was different because we knew she had a condition (alobar holoprosencephaly) and so, although we had to decide whether to abort (via inducing), we were lucky in that there actually *was* a right choice to make.

    For me as an atheist, there is no afterlife. I'll never be *with* my daughter again. But when I die I'll no longer be separated from her, and that has some comfort for me.

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    1. I'm so sorry about your loss, and I, too, feel fortunate in that my choices as a parent as intact. The more time that exists between the present and the miscarriage, the less frequently those sad moments occur, but those moments, I believe are just a part of my life, now, and I am okay with that. I hope the best for you and your wife, and that there will be many, many more happy moments for you both than sad ones.

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  15. I only vaguely remember my mother's second miscarriage. It was one of those rare, third-trimester miscarriages, after the baby's room had been all set up and the clothes had been readied and the name had been picked out, and suddenly she died in utero. My parents were crushed, but I didn't process it as a mere six-year-old-- I understood they were sad, and I understood that there was a baby and then there wasn't one anymore, but my insensitive self didn't understand the pain my mother was going through. I think I can imagine it somewhat now, and I thank you for the insight. I'm sorry for your loss.

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    1. I think it can be very hard for people that haven't experienced miscarriage to understand what it feels like, and I'm very glad to offer some insight into that struggle. I know that my son was a huge comfort to me when my miscarriage occurred, and I think it may be very possible that you were a comfort to your mother at that time, as well.

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  16. I am sorry that this occurred and as an Atheist woman who experienced this many years ago all I can offer is that I have learned that my quota on child bearing has no relevance to the measure of my quality of life. It might sound cold but it is the similar lesson that you learned in that forest while hunting! My only purpose in this life is a wonderful journey to learn and see all that this vast planet has to offer, To do what I can to make my interactions with other living beings pleasureable and gainful for both parties. Even if it is the simple act of feeding a hungry bird, then I have made a positive impact on another living creature and left a tiny footprint on this planet. The best advice that one could offer is find your bigger purpose for wanting to live on this planet. Look at the big picture and know that many things happens to living organisms. Ii chose to believe that anything that had life goes back into the eco-system and continues to feed this planet!!

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    1. Focusing on the bigger purpose is exactly how I managed to get through it all. Since I've written this post, I had another miscarriage, which I was able to navigate easier. Gardening was very cathartic for me. Thanks for reading!

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  17. I just want to say, I understand..........everything, everything, everything...except my family, as in mother etc just acted like nothing happened..........still wont acknowledge it...the fact that it is unspeakable, is wrong............so wrong...so heartbreakingly wrong.....

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    1. I'm sorry that happened to you and more, that you can't even talk about it. I really hate how "women's problems" are so often something that isn't supposed to be talked about, but then as soon as someone speaks out, there are so many women chiming in about how they feel the same or that they've had the same problem. Reaching out to other women that have suffered from the same kind of issues really helped me a lot. It is never too late to reach out.

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