Life After Loss: Healing After Miscarriage
“Moving forward doesn’t mean that you are forgetting your baby,” says Renee Yan* who suffered three miscarriages. In commemoration of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day every October, she shares her courageous journey about learning to embrace life more fully
I was 29 when we got married. We were delighted when we discovered that we were expecting our first child soon after that. I was young and carefree, and the thought of miscarriage never crossed my mind. I guess I took things for granted because I had conceived so easily.
Eleven weeks into my first pregnancy, I noticed some bleeding. A check-up revealed that the baby had stopped growing. There was no heartbeat, no signs of life. I was scheduled for a D&C (dilation and curettage) within the same week. The process was extremely painful, both physically and mentally. The cramps came hard and fast and I continued bleeding heavily for days. Emotionally, I felt like my baby’s remains were being flushed unceremoniously out of my body. All I could do was keep telling myself to stay strong and look towards the future. This was just bad luck, and things would improve.
Months later, I was delighted to discover that I had conceived again. This time round, I was more careful and made the effort to read up and educate myself on all the dos and don’ts of pregnancy. Unlike the previous time, I did not inform any of my friends for fear of jinxing it. I intended to tell them after making it safely pass my first trimester – but I never did.
The red spots appeared again
I was in my eighth week when it happened for the second time. Deep in my heart, I knew that I was losing my baby. An anxious visit to the gynaecologist confirmed it. But this time, I was in denial. I wanted the tiny person inside me to stay and I wanted everything to be okay. I seeked a second opinion and was given the same news. Once again, I had to undergo a D&C.
By now, a lot of questions and uncertainty ran through my head. “Why me? What did I do wrong? Am I being punished for something?” Friends around me were already raising kids successfully, while I was still unable to carry a child to full term. Self-doubt and jealousy started to creep in. I looked for something to blame. Subconsciously, I took my frustration out on my husband. It was a very difficult time for us. So when we received news that my husband would be posted to Vietnam for work, we jumped at the chance, thinking that a less stressful lifestyle would be more favourable for conceiving. I quit my job and moved there with him. When I got pregnant for the third time, I was confident that my body would not let me down this time.
I was wrong.
The third time it happened, my lower abdomen was wrecked with intense cramps and continuous spasms of pain. I rushed to the toilet thinking that I was having a really bad stomachache. Instead, what passed out of my body was my seven-week-old foetus.
I looked at the bloody little lump of flesh I held in my palms. It was barely two centimetres long. In my hands, I held my baby – or what should have grown into my baby, had I been able to carry it to full term. I was horrified. I stared in disbelief at the bloody swirl in the toilet bowl. Without hesitation, I bent down and scooped it out with my bare hands.
I sat there on the cold, wet toilet floor, crying in anguish as I held my dead baby against my chest – it really did feel like my baby. I had already started to name it… Nicholas, if it was a boy, I hadn’t yet thought of a girl’s name.
Sorrow slapped me hard in the face as realisation dawned – I had lost my baby for the third time. As the blood streaked down my arms, my first instinct was to push aside all the gooey mess – I desperately wanted to protect the fragile little foetus I held.
I washed off the blood from what remained of my dead foetus, put it in a glass jar,
and kept it in the freezer. It may sound gross to others but to me, it was all I had left of the baby I never got to know.
Within days of my miscarriage, I flew back to Singapore. After my first two miscarriages, my husband and I had decided to uproot to Vietnam, thinking that a change in environment would be good for us. Unfortunately, things didn’t panned out the way we planned.
I packed my dead foetus with dry ice. “You’re coming home with mama,” I told it.
My husband had to stay back in Vietnam due to work commitments, but he flew back to Singapore every few weeks to be with me. For the next few months, I grieved. I couldn’t bear to participate in joyous occasions. When Chinese New Year came around, I refused to join my family for our traditional reunion dinner. I chased everyone out of my bedroom and locked myself in. I was sure my relatives would have lots of questions but I had no desire to see the pity in their eyes. I just wanted to be left alone… I fell into inconsolable depression. How could I let life continue after my babies had died?
Closure came gradually
Through it all, my husband was there for me. He endured the loss of our three babies calmly and allowed me the space I needed to grief. He held me close when the tears came, and waited patiently when I needed time alone. He never gave up hope, “Everything will be okay,” he assured me, “We’re still young. Time is on our side. We can try again.” His positivity gave me strength.
One day, my husband commented rather pragmatically that it was disgusting to keep a dead foetus in the freezer together with the groceries. He was adamant in putting the past behind us and moving on with our lives.
I had friends who told me to seek professional help for my depression. “It’s a hormonal imbalance that can be cured,” they said. But I never attended professional counselling. I’ve always believed that we have a choice to embrace health – with or without medication.
So perhaps it was because I’d had enough of mucking around in sadness, or maybe, I had grown numb to it all. But my husband’s comment happened when the time was ripe – I knew at that point that I was done grieving. By then, I was aware that isolating myself and spending all day crying in bed was no longer a “luxury” that I could afford because long term isolation has its price. It creates a dark space for depressive thoughts to thrive, and I was done allowing it to set up house within me. I was ready to close the chapter.
There was no fanfare, no “burial” ritual, and no tears. I threw the foetus jar into the rubbish chute. It was a symbolic act of closure…
My grief had run its course.
Grief comes in waves
Grieving is healthy. It allows us to process sad feelings and let go of them. But it is also equally necessary to give yourself a sort of “timeline”, because if you allow yourself to languish endlessly in the arms of grief, that turns into an unhealthy “indulgence”. Know when it’s time to say, enough is enough. Moving on is not a simple process, but it is necessary to keep moving. And that’s exactly what I did.
I returned to Vietnam and busied myself as a volunteer with World Vision. Waves of grief would crash over me at unexpected moments, but I was determined to become a parent, no matter what it would take. I embraced the humdrum of everyday living and told myself I would keep trying until my body physically gave up – and if and when that happened, I would be open to adoption. Working with World Vision had opened my eyes to a whole other world of kids born into poverty. I knew I had the capacity to love and care for a child even if he was not of my own blood.
Weeks turned into months, and months turned into years. Three years later, our dream of becoming parents finally came true! Our rainbow baby was a healthy boy. I had a difficult pregnancy and was put on bed rest for eight months. I didn’t mind it one bit of course, I was willing to do anything to ensure my baby’s survival. I’ll never forget the joy and immense relief I felt when I finally held him in my arms for the first time!
Today, we are proud parents of not just one, but three healthy boys. It’s no walk in the park bringing up three raucous kids, and I admit that there’re days when they drive me up the wall! But after all the heartache, trials and tribulations that I went through to bring them into this world, there isn’t a thing I would change. Our boys are teens now, and there isn’t a day that passes when I’m not thankful for them.
Life has many tough lessons – some of which will hurt, but we just have to keep moving. Movement is therapy. The very act of moving is evidence that we can go on.
I’ve learned to accept grief as part and parcel of life. And with that acceptance comes the understanding that it is okay to let go of the pain without letting go of the love. I’ve learned that it’s possible to still live a full life and pursue my passions even if the sadness creeps back in now and then. I know, because I’ve been there. They say that time heals all wounds, and the scars on my heart safe-keep my memories of the three babies I lost.
Every living moment we have is an opportunity to live a fuller life, to love the people around us, and to give more selflessly. The pain of loss often blinds us to the bigger picture, but life’s struggles can help us to grow, if we only allow them to. My journey of loss has led me to unearth an inner strength and resilience I wasn’t aware of before. Ironic as it may sound, there is a silver lining in truly discovering the depth of your own strength. I know now that I can get through anything else that life throws at me. And that knowledge is empowering.
Rather than lament the lost of my babies, I have chosen to honour the strength that they have given me by sharing my story. I am choosing to let go of the pain, and choosing to focus on love.
The experience of miscarriage can totally throw you off and leave you questioning your very existence. The grief can feel profoundly painful and intense. To anyone who has experienced loss, my heart goes out to you. Know that you’re not alone in this journey, and there is no need to suffer in silence. An estimated 15 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriages. Yet, the physical and emotional realities of losing a baby early are rarely discussed, making this an isolating and crippling experience. In many societies, it’s often taboo to tell others about your pregnancy until you’re past your first trimester, “just in case”. So how do you even begin to explain that you’re mourning the loss of a baby whose existence was kept a secret in the first place? Women need to be supported through this vulnerable period, so let’s talk about it. Let’s support each other with empathy and compassion.
*Names changed to protect privacy.
Coping with grief
“Everyone is different, and no two people experience grief in the same way,” says psychologist Violet Lee, a Psychology Lecturer and Member of the British Psychology Society. “Besides gender differences arising from cultural and societal expectations, the personality of the individual plays an important part in how people react to grief.”
Sometimes, men may come across as indifferent, hence giving the impression that they don’t care as much. But is this a fair assumption? “Research has found introversion and neuroticism to be positively correlated with grief. Different people have different coping mechanisms to deal with grief, but this is not an indication of whether an individual cares more or cares less about the loss,” explains Violet. “Individuals who are high on introversion – and this includes both genders – tend to internalise grief. However, it is important to express it rather than avoid dealing with the issue. Avoidance will only make coping with other stresses that come later, more difficult.”
She adds, “The external expression of grief is not limited to just crying or talking. Engaging in physical activities like music, painting, drawing, writing, praying and even story telling… these are all avenues of grief expression.”
Is someone you know dealing with grief? Here’s what you can do:
• Let them know that you care and want to help – acknowledge their loss and what it means to them.
• Be there to listen when they want to talk. Let them know that it’s okay to express their grief.
• Include them in activities. Be patient as they may behave out of character.
• Never minimise their loss by saying something like, “You’ll get over it.”
• Don’t assume you can take away their pain, and avoid saying, “I know how you feel” – everyone is different.
People grieve in many different ways, but the value of a good support network is enormous. For help, contact the following counselling centres (they are open to anyone, regardless of race or religion, and offer bereavement counselling):
• Help Every Lone Parent (HELP) Rainbow Programme. Tel: 6457 5188.
• Family Works Pte Ltd, Tel: 6235 3341.