I Went To A Birthday Party During My Miscarriage And Realized I Had To Stop Trying To Do It All As A Mom
Six years ago, on anything but a typical Sunday morning, our family of four piled into the car to head to a birthday party two hours away. "Are you sure you want to go?" my husband asked, a look of concern in his eyes.
"Yeah, I'm fine," I replied. "I don't want the kids to miss their cousin's party because of me."
What was problematic was how fine I thought I was. In the matter of three weeks, I found out I was pregnant, which wasn't planned, and then that the pregnancy wasn't viable and I'd be miscarrying. While we couldn't know for sure, my OB-GYN told me that my body had been through a lot, having two babies 15 months apart, and probably wasn't ready for another pregnancy again. I didn't disagree.
In fact, having another child with two already so close and so young was the last thing I was ready for. Like so many moms in the throes of early motherhood, I felt I was barely keeping my head above water. At that time, a world with three babies under 3 sounded like my own version of hell. But then, when we found out I was going to have a miscarriage, I felt a strange sense of shame and the sense that I had somehow willed it to happen.
The doctor told me to stay home and rest, and if the miscarriage didn't happen by Monday, I'd need to come back in. I did not rest.
As we started our drive, I felt the cramps coming on, but I tried to ignore the sensation of pain—ignoring myself was something I had become used to. My husband, trying to honor my choice but clearly concerned, checked in with me throughout the drive. When I couldn't ignore the pain, I doubled over and told him that I thought "it" was happening. At that point we were closer to where we were going than to home, so we pulled over. I grabbed some towels from the backseat and stuffed them under me in case I bled through the massive pad I was wearing.
Having never had a miscarriage before and living in a world that doesn't openly talk about the all-too-common experience of miscarriage, I had no idea of the intensity of what was about to happen, both physically and emotionally. I didn't have a change of clothes with me, and my husband (again) insisted we go home. But no, it was fine, I was fine, and it was all going to be fine. I just needed to run into Walmart (the closest store) and get something else to wear. So I tied his sweatshirt around my waist, tried not to make eye contact with anyone, grabbed the most basic black maxi dress I could find and bought it. I went to the bathroom, cleaned up what I could, and changed.
"Sorry we're late," I said as we pulled up to the birthday party. I made a comment to my sister-in-law about having started my period, bleeding through and needing to stop and change. I wasn't in a place to tell anyone. I was completely disconnected from my body, and had so many emotions I didn't even know where to start.
When I look back at that terrible day in the car, I realize I had lost myself. It wasn't the feeling of sadness, loss, or embarrassment that gets to me; instead, it was the lack of feeling at all. I can now see that I was holding on so tight to my desire to do it all, be a "supermom," that I had squeezed all the life out of myself.
I wish I could say it at that exact second I had an "aha" moment and changed everything immediately, but that was just the start. I knew I needed to work on myself, and to extend the same kind of care to myself that I had been extending to my clients as a therapist. But it felt like there were no margins for me, no room for me to be anything other than mom, therapist, wife.
I had experienced losing myself, and now, I needed to figure out how to find myself again, both for my own well-being and for that of the people I loved the most. How could I give to them when I had nothing left to give? The first steps toward change were small. I started listening to podcasts that interested me, making time to move my body in ways that felt good to me, and giving myself permission to let stuff around the house slide.
From there, I started to see the parts of myself that I used to know emerge again, which gave me the strength to up the ante. I did the wildest thing: I said "yes" to the time and money it would take to go to a weekend retreat for moms. As the plane started to take off, tears of guilt and fear streamed down my eyes. I felt selfish for leaving my kids to go do something just for me, but I got on the plane anyway.
Later that year, I broke the old golden rule of being a "good" therapist, the one that tells us to be a blank slate, and started a podcast where I shared my authentic voice and parts of my life that I hadn't shared before. It made me think: what other "rules" need breaking, what other "shoulds" need ditching? From that place, I decided to really go for it and write the book that was on my heart to write, A Little Less of a Hot Mess.
Changing the narrative that tells us that being a "good" mom means abandoning ourselves, and that our highest value can be found (only) in motherhood, isn't an easy process. For me, finding myself again and stepping into my identity as a mother and more has been a series of little turns inwards. I'm now a mom of three—ages 7, 6, and 4—and the commitment to care for myself is one I take part in daily(ish) and also one I know won't always go as planned. With so much noise around what it takes to be "healthy" and "well," especially as moms, I think the best way to honor ourselves and not get lost in the weeds of expectation is to ask ourselves as often as possible: "Where do I fit into this equation, what do I need to feel seen or whole, and who do I need to involve to help make it happen?"