and my journey from ignorance to enlightenment
by Lynn M. Griesemer
If miscarriage is the physical passing of life to death and the spiritual passing of life to death to life again for the baby, what kind of passage is it for the couple? Like the babies who pass onto a new realm, their mothers are often profoundly moved by the miscarriage. After sorting through various thoughts and feelings, couples are forever changed, and they too pass into a new "realm." I would like to share the stories about my miscarriages, which began with dependence and ignorance and have led me to independence and enlightenment.
Im not sure where this story begins: with my first miscarriage? Or with my last miscarriage since I would not be writing this if I hadnt experienced an "unassisted miscarriage." Maybe my story begins with my first menstrual period at the age of 13 and will end when Ive traveled through menopause. For my story is like a continuum it involves constant learning and understanding about the female body (mine) and the accompanying emotions that occur during various experiences. Just when I have some things figured out, new questions and concerns arise.
Miscarriages are something of a mystery. Why did it happen to me? Was the baby deformed? Did it have the intuition and power to self-abort, knowing it was not fully wanted or appreciated? Was it Gods will or Natures response? Is there something I did to cause the miscarriage? These questions and others plague women who have had miscarriages.
Each woman grieves differently, but many choose to seek a doctors care for medical healing. I believe that the immediate needs of couples experiencing a miscarriage would be best served by seeking a spiritual healer, such as a pastor, priest, psychologist, God, friend or self. Medical healing is sometimes a necessity, but many people focus too much on the medical aspects of miscarriage at the expense of deeper personal needs.
I've experienced three miscarriages, all of which occured prior to the twelfth week of development. Only recently have I concluded that what I thought were painful menstrual cramps years ago was a miscarriage. For my second miscarriage, I went to the hospital where I was cared for. I was completely at the mercy of the medical establishment and all decisions were made for me. Eleven years and five children later, I experienced my third miscarriage. This time I stayed home, where we were able to have a peaceful and private environment to grieve, think, rejoice, learn, baptize and bury our ten week-old fetus.
I would like to share the stories of my three miscarriages, my emotions and feelings about those miscarriages, as well as some opinions. If there’s anything I would recommend about miscarriages – it would be to stay home. Learn about your body now, become your own expert and get comfortable with yourself. However, I cannot make a recommendation if you miscarry after week 20 (which is classified as a "stillbirth"). Special arrangements may need to be made regarding the remains of your unborn baby.
It is much more dignified to have a miscarriage at home with comfortable surroundings where you can heal emotionally and not be subjected to impersonal surroundings. If you have reason to believe that nature is not doing its job perfectly by passing all of the fetal material, pick up the phone and call a woman who does know about miscarriages to help you. Get medical help if you feel you need it.
(Hospital Miscarriage) February 1987, Ft. Ord, CA
As a 24 year-old woman, I had a lot going for me: I was a Lieutenant in the Army, close to getting my masters degree, and very happily married for almost two years. We were delighted with the results of our home pregnancy test and began to contemplate the significance of being first-time parents.
One week after learning I was expecting, I awakened to bleeding and cramping. I went to work and explained to my boss that I might be having a miscarriage and he said to go ahead to the hospital, which was located one hour from the remote Army base we were assigned to (and two hours from our home).
The ride to the hospital was one of confusion. Certainly I couldnt be having a miscarriage I was in excellent health, we could afford this baby and very much wanted it. There are many women who choose abortion and do not want their kids or think they cannot afford them. Surely I was worthy of having a child. Besides, the world needed more loving, level-headed people like us to bear and rear children, didnt it?
When I got to the hospital I immediately went into the bathroom to change pads since the blood flow was very heavy. When I looked into the toilet, I saw a "shrimp-like thing" and leaned over the toilet bowl crying. I flushed the toilet since I didnt know for sure if that was a fetus. When I signed in at the nurses station I told them that I thought I was having a miscarriage. The receptionist told me I should have retrieved the remains from the toilet so that the lab could analyze it!
I was escorted to a small room with a 50-something-year-old nurse whose attitude and demeanor resembled that of Miss Ratchet from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. She examined me, placed the glob she retrieved from my body in a brown paper bag, handed it to me, and conveniently used me as the courier as I was wheeled up to the OB/Gyn wing on the second floor.
I asked her if she thought I was having a miscarriage and she was vague. I asked her what can cause miscarriages. How about orgasms or rough sex? "Oh, yes dear. You must be careful and avoid that during pregnancy, especially during the first few months of pregnancy." I wondered if I was partially to blame for the miscarriage and I vowed to be cautious (sexually) if I got pregnant in the future at least for the first few months.
As I was wheeled into another room, I was introduced to an intern and a few other staff members who were discussing what drugs to give me for the D&C. Whatever drugs they decided to use did not numb my emotional pain and I certainly felt and heard the sounds of the machinery, and the powerful suctioning going on. I thought my insides were being ripped out. Were my uterus and cervix going to be sucked out too?
Three medical workers were in the room with me and I wanted my husband there, but he was not allowed. I wondered why out loud and they might have responded that it was not appropriate or that it would be too much for him to witness. One of the young female assistants bluntly asked me if I shaved my pubic area! The drugs were taking some effect and I managed a nod. "Yes. Im a swimmer." I pay attention to the bikini and upper thigh hair.
I was escorted to a semi-private room and met a 30-year-old woman who looked very depressed. It was her third miscarriage after trying for over seven years and she was losing hope. My husband was getting ready to leave and would return the next day to pick me up. I desperately needed a change of underwear, some other personal belongings and my contact lens solutions.
When Bob got home, he told me that he made a few phone calls and ended up crying himself to sleep in his pillow. I needed a few days to physically recover from the miscarriage, but the emotional pain lasted for at least a week. Four months later in June of 1987 we conceived our first child, Robby.
(Home Miscarriage) December 30, 1998
Ambivalence. My pregnancy began with conception occurring on October 14th or 15th and I suspected I was pregnant in the beginning of November. My initial reactions were, "I hope its not true .How can I possibly handle a sixth child?" While swimming laps one day, a thought occurred to me to get my hands on a copy of Susun Weeds book that explains how to cause a spontaneous abortion with herbs and natural ingredients.
Although all of my children were conceived within two months of desiring a child, this last pregnancy occurred after a lazy attempt to avoid pregnancy. Our method didn’t fail – we just ignored the signs of fertility and surrendered to physical desires. For the past several years, I had been trying to embrace natural family planning, choosing to accept my fertility and reject man-made barriers to sex and love.
Acceptance. The thought of performing a self-induced abortion was a short lived "fantasy." I doubt I could take the life of another, but instead was reacting to a sense of freedom and entry into a new phase in life. I was able to leave all of my children home alone for an afternoon or evening, since my oldest child was 12. For many years I had arranged my life around the children’s. I did not resent this and was happy with the choices I’ve made. The time I have invested in our family seemed to be paying off.
I had been truly happy since the birth of our fifth child in 1996. In the center of my life was a loving husband and extraordinary children. Another child would seem overwhelming because it would interfere with my goals of doing an adequate and competent job of homeschooling in addition to raising five childen.
I recognized that some of my future writings/advocacy would probably be about large families, marriage and childbirth. Perhaps another child would add a rich, new dimension to my life. And beyond my selfish, human desires, I began to feel honored that another child would be entrusted to our family. A sixth child would not overcrowd our house, but would be very welcome to join our family. However, we would need a vehicle for eight passengers and my life would be "interrupted" by a physically needy newborn.
When my children were under age twelve - and especially with a few toddlers or infant in tow - I seemed to be the target of "strangers negativity." I encountered many negative and pessimistic people who were very disgruntled upon encountering couples who have several children. My energy would drain somewhat when I met up with people who were snobby, angry or dismayed as to why someone would want more than two children. For every 15-20 people who "rolled their eyes" at so many children, there was one or two who were genuinely happy or enthusiastic. I've learned over the years that those who express displeasure about my choices and circumstances is not a reflection of me, but reflect their own views and situation. I make choices consistent with my heart and mind; I shouldn’t allow rude comments to penetrate my personal space.
Pregnancy Test I suspected I was pregnant at the beginning of November. I didn’t feel like I needed science (a home pregnancy test) to verify what I suspected, but I knew that if I wanted to have a smooth, easy time of getting a birth certificate (after an unassisted homebirth), I would have to "verify" pregnancy according to the state’s rules. A signed letter by an M.D. is what the bureaucracy in South Carolina (the state I resided in) was most comfortable.
I had decided to go to the health clinic Tuesday Dec. 29, but on the previous night I started to bleed and thought, "Oh Dear." I had no cramping for two days so I figured I was getting my period.
The Miscarriage Wednesday morning December 30, I went for a swim and ran some errands during the late morning. During lunch with my eight year-old daughter, I felt four sharp cramps. We got home and were all getting ready for a family walk when a rush of blood came out. I told everyone to go on ahead and suspected that I was going to have a miscarriage. I felt fine a few minutes later, so I joined everyone, but I got on my bike in case I needed to make it home in a hurry.
When I got back to the house, I felt a bigger "glob" that was more than a rush of blood and as I made my way to the toilet I was hoping that it would not go completely down the pipe so that I could retrieve it. When I turned around to look there it was, a ten week-old fetus with all the membranes attached. I scooped it up with a cup and showed it to the rest of the family. We were trying to decide what to do as far as baptism, funeral and burial ceremony so Bob called a few priests (who were not in their offices) and he also spoke with his father. Meanwhile, I got my book A Child is Born so that I could compare the photos in the book with the actual fetus. It was fascinating to touch the soft, yet very strong and sturdy fetus. It was a little more than two inches long and curled up in a peaceful, protective position. This was a wonderful learning experience for the children. They didnt take me up on the offer to touch it, but they did look and were curious as I pointed out the arms, toes, eyes, and spine. I read that the sex of the baby is distinguishable at age six weeks, but did not want to poke and prod it to see whether it was a boy or girl. Bob and I wanted to name the baby, so I joked that we should name it Pat or Chris, or some other androgynous name.
Bob and I wanted peace and quiet for those few hours, but life goes on and the children had their needs and made their noise. As Bob dug a hole in the backyard, his need for silence was interrupted by conversation among construction workers who were building a house down the street.
Three hours after the baby passed, we had our ceremony: a baptism, funeral and burial all at once. We named the baby "Teresa" (after a Carmelite nun who spent her life praying for sinners. She established many convents and Oct. 15 is her "feast" day. That was also the approximate day of our conception). We included the children and Bob said a few prayers and was absolutely perfect in explaining to the kids what happened. I was thinking how grateful I am to have five children who made it past the development stage of 10 weeks. I was also struck by the fact that I may not be able to have any more children and that I should not take anything for granted especially the time I have with my kids when they are young.
I was puzzled that I wasnt depressed, angry or sad. I wasnt overjoyed, but in awe that a life was growing inside me a few minutes, hours or days ago, and has now passed onto death. I believe that its soul went straight to heaven without the burden or experience of living an earthly human existence. I felt that Teresa was lucky to have been chosen for such a brief existence, bypassing life as we know it.
Why me? Finding the answer to this question that is frequently asked was very important to me in 1987. Now I feel I am less self-centered. I accept what happened and do not have a need to understand all of the reasons why I had a miscarriage.
My miscarriages triggered an examination of my priorities. I decided that I cannot invest much time with friends, acquaintances or relatives who are negative and pessimistic about my large family. Those who do not accept my openness to children do not accept me and I owe it to myself to limit my contact with certain people.
I am honored that I was entrusted with another child, even though the child only reached 10 weeks development. We treated our dead fetus like no hospital ever would and I felt the presence of many spirits during the burial of Teresa.
"The Worlds First Live Internet Unassisted Birth." Along with a gestating baby was a new idea: the opportunity to share an unassisted birth, live - on the internet. The idea popped into my head after viewing the world’s first live delivery on the internet on June 17, 1998 – a very clinical (and therefore pathetic) hospital birth that was far from joyous. Although I advocate that birth should be approached as a private love encounter and not a performance or medical event, the public might benefit from being introduced to a way of birth that is much more private, sensual and spiritual. Most couples don’t have a clue that the experience of birth can be much more pleasurable than they are led to believe.
I began to read Thomas Kuhns book "The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions" and wondered if showing my birth was a sacrifice I would make for the greater good of society. I also have three strong and opposing thoughts: (1) I visualize my next birth at or on the beach; (2) I do not want cameras at my birth and (3) I do not want to make prior commitments or put restrictions on any of my births.
I already had four performance births in my life when I chose to give birth in the hospital. I began considering only having the camera capture some labor and the post-birth scenario. But I also know that silence afterward is necessary for a satisfying birth. Besides, neglecting the actual birth would be unfair and a "tease" to the public.
The questions that I struggled with were: Am I a candidate for this? How can I strive for humility and at the same time draw attention to an important issue? Would most Americans tune in for curiosity and sensationalism (spectator-voyeurs) or would their hearts and minds be open to considering an unassisted birth in their lives (intelligent-participants)? My guess is that less than 10% of viewers would be genuinely interested and I am not willing to serve as an exhibitionist for voyeurs looking for thrills or cheap entertainment.
At the end of December, I began a 9-day prayer in search of an answer to my "internet" dilemma. Two days later I had the miscarriage.
Dreams: I began keeping a dream journal at the beginning of November. While my enthusiasm for writing came to a halt when I suspected I was pregnant, my dreamlife became very active.
Many themes emerged in my dreams, most of which revealed that I should not prostitute myself to a live internet birth. In one dream I disregarded my intuition and made a poor decision. As I tied up a trash bag in another dream, fleas and bugs scurried to the top. Other dreams involved the following scenes: I climbed to the top of a statue (located on my undergraduate college campus) and I was surprised to see four other students there (perhaps that means that some other couple is better suited for a live internet birth)…I was very uncomfortable when I didn’t have privacy while in the bathroom…I expressed my distaste for the television show "Ellen" because I thought the main character was coy, sarcastic, and an "in-your-face" lesbian. The show portrayed stereotypes and extremism and I thought it was crass. In my dream, I told the other person that sometimes it’s necessary to exaggerate a point so that you can get people thinking and sort of pull them a little farther from the ideas they cling to.
In at least three dreams, my husband rescued me from difficult or emotionally uncomfortable situations. A few dreams involved feelings of loneliness or people refusing to help me when I needed it. In one dream, I was the only person who was showing compassionate support for a miniature, disfigured child without arms or legs and I was nonverbally mocked by emotionally cold businesspeople and executives. I relaxed when my husband showed up to verbally present my case. In the many situations where all eyes were on me, I was either a witness, protector, leader, or public speaker.
The most graphic dream that clearly revealed that I should not broadcast my birth on the internet occurred on the night of November 28th. I was 28 weeks pregnant in this dream and if you were to look at my abdomen and see the inside of my womb, you would see a skinny baby-fetus hanging low with its arms and legs wrapped tightly around me. Its as if the baby was asking me to protect him or her from an outside threat.
During the evening following our miscarriage, Bob had a dream that he was at work and was going to have sex, live on the internet with a prostitute. One of his coworkers had been counseling him on the pros and cons of broadcasting such an act. On the day of the event, his coworkers were huddled around a computer waiting to observe the performance. At the last minute, Bob decided against it, realizing there were many more disadvantages to going through with it. The coworkers were not disappointed they simply returned to their workplaces without any comments or opinions.
Boston 1983 / 1984, Senior Year of College
I awakened at 6:00am to discover that I was bleeding heavily. I was two or three days into my menstrual cycle and decided to call my mother for advice, knowing that she had a history of severe cramping and bleeding. She reminded me that she spent many hours sitting on the toilet with severe cramps and heavy bleeding over the years. After I hung up the phone, I wondered if this is what was in store for me for the next 20 years.
During the next two hours, I passed large clots of blood and experienced severe cramping. I couldnt believe the amount of hemorrhaging that was going on every ten to twenty minutes, I had soaked two super plus tampons and two menstrual pads. Id never had a period like that before or since.
After my miscarriage in 1987, I always wondered if that was a miscarriage. After my 1998 miscarriage, I am convinced that it was!
Had I even suspected a pregnancy in college, I would have had an abortion, no questions asked. There was no room in my life for any obstacles to receiving my B.A., getting my commission as an Army officer, or my career. I fully agreed with a womans right to abortion at that time. Now I view the unborn as having a right to life equal to all living people regardless of age and health.
From my 1987 miscarriage:
1. I placed a lot of blind faith in the medical folks. The nurse who told me to avoid orgasms and rough sex had a strong impact on me. I internalized the "necessity" for caution. That might have caused some inhibitions or withholding of ultimate sexual pleasure. As a dutiful postpartum patient after the birth of my first four children, I followed my doctors orders and refrained from sex until my six-week appointment in which the male obstetricians gave me the "go ahead" to resume sexual activity. Years later, one OB said that they recommend abstinence because of the ease of getting pregnant so soon. Is this one way that doctors act as social gods or do they truly believe there is a medical reason for abstaining?
2. I learned to bond with the medical people rather than my husband. I remember the name of the intern who performed the D&C.
3. The medical system saved me and solved my problem. What did my husband or I know about miscarriages?
From my 1998 miscarriage:
1. By staying home, couples can contemplate the deeper meaning of the miscarriage and the parents are not confined to a medical institution during an intensely emtional event.
2. The family is able to express (and not repress or suppress) their true feelings in the comforts of their home.
3. Children are able to see and touch the fetus and are included in the grief and burial ceremony. In the hospital, the remains are taken away and the full experience of life and death are removed from the family unit.
4. Knowledge, trust and curiosity replace fear, discomfort and mystery.
Most people consider a successful pregnancy as one that results in the birth of a full-term healthy newborn. But as I scooped up the remains of my strong, tiny fetus, I was struck by the perfection of life this 2-3 inch form was awesome. It rushed out of my body so forcefully, so deliberately. God and nature had a plan for me and I wasnt about to interrupt or interfere with it!
I was also struck by the miracle of life and death. When left to nature, the exact time of birth and death are unknown miracles and mysteries. We should not tamper with the making and taking of life; we must let nature / God predominate over these functions.
Looking inward rather than outward
The less I knew about my body, the more I turned to others for advice. All along, I could have taken the time to learn things on my own. Throughout my life, doctors and physician assistants told me that the pill was "God’s gift to women." At one point, I was four days away from having a tubal ligation after my fourth child was born, but I was fortunate to finally find a few people who reported physical, sexual and marital difficulties because of tubal ligations. I have since found dozens of unhappy people who have been sterilized and I suspect there are hundreds, or perhaps thousands who are experiencing physical problems and mental anguish because of sterilization.
Ive come a long way during all these years and Im sure I have a long way to go as far as learning about my bodys responses as I enter new stages of my life. For the first decade of my sexual life, I was like most women: I turned to doctors for birth control education and annual appointments as a sign of responsible healthcare. As I began to learn about natural family planning, I learned about my body and the many proactive things I could do without a doctors assistance.
From ignorance to independence
Ive lived in ignorance for so many years about my fertility and the inner workings of my feminine body. I didnt even know what a fetus looked like until my late twenties or early thirties. I shudder to think that millions of women are walking around in ignorant bliss while their doctors prescribe birth control and manage pregnancy, birth and menopause.
By prostituting our bodies to unnecessary chemicals and surgeries, we are not conquering nature, but enslaving our bodies, minds and souls to big business. If you are faced with a miscarriage, know that you can make decisions about what to do before you automatically pick up the phone and head to the hospital for a D&C.
Ó Lynn M. Griesemer, 2000, 2007
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Fairfax, VA 22033