My husband and I were filled with hope. We were pregnant with our first baby, we were on an adventure driving from Southern Oregon with the final destination of Juneau Alaska…For new temporary jobs and a 3 month adventure. We had rented out our Hawaii home and adventure and hope were in front of us.
Driving the famous highway 99, “the Sea to Sky Highway”, we watched scuba Divers jump in the freezing Marine Sanctuary, drove one of the most beautiful landscapes we’d seen in a very long time, and stopped at waterfalls and explored a bit of Whistler. My husband was in heaven and I enjoyed watching his excitement as he took photos every chance he got and gasped in enjoyment as he announced what he was seeing (over and over and over again). His love of nature was expressed and my love for quiet, especially 13 weeks pregnant, was honored. I got a chance to see the little nuances of mountains and waterfalls through his eyes and occasionally took breaks to do yoga as he went running off to another waterfall with our family dog.
I took note of feeling a little sore in my womb, wondering as a midwife and pregnant for her first time if this is what they call “round ligament pain.”
The first bear & the beginning…
As we headed up in elevation, with a long drive ahead that day, a black bear ran in front of our car and across the highway. We drove deeper and deeper into Canada, away from any cell reception, away from any sign of a town or civilization. We saw miles upon miles of trees.
That night, we arrived at our campsite somewhere along the AL-CAN highway, and I started my ritual of building our nest and making our bed for the night. It was at this point that I realized what was happening in my womb was more than just round ligament pain. It was more like menstrual cramps and it was coming every 10-20 min. Here we were, in Canada, in the middle of nowhere, with no cell phone or internet connection and I had sensations in my body that needed to stop. So, I laid down for the night, hydrated, got warm and hoped that rest would set my body at ease. It had been a long day, a long week, a long month, a long year. I had been needing rest for quite a while and my body was telling me it had to happen, starting now. I did not get much rest.
The body sensations, though relatively mild, continued throughout the night. It was cold outside and I tried to stay focused on maintaining warmth in my sleeping bag, relaxing my body with my breath. cuddled with dog and hoped that my husband was getting a good night’s rest as he would likely be doing most of the driving the following day. I trusted that by the morning, it would all be calm, we would be back on the road and off to Juneau.
I thought about letting go, thinking I simply had to let go of tension and these sensations would go away. I thought about letting go of my ideas around mortality/morbidity, the need to be able to let go as a mom, to let go of patterns and routines and time tables and housekeeping. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but now as a mom of three young children, I have definitely learned how true that lesson is. Mothering is a journey of letting go.
I woke at 7:00am with even stronger sensations. This was not a good sign. I got up to do the 100 yard walk to the bathrooms and as I stood, I felt the blood down my leg, an inauspicious sign. Once in the bathroom it seemed I was on a one way road to a place I did not want to go. As I sat on the toilet in pain, I asked the French woman outside the stall if she was part of the family who had camped beside us last night. She was and she was also willing to go find my husband. I had asked her to ask him for extra clothing and to let him know I was having a miscarriage.
Once my husband arrived in the public bathroom, my first tears started. How could this be happening? I was in unfamiliar land, an unfamiliar healthcare system, no access to hot water, no access to phone or familiar resources. I wanted it to stop and stop now. He held me and exposed his bare chest to give me warmth and I cried into his embrace. We were both in a place of disbelief and survival mode. I asked him to pack up the tent and car, find out where the closest hospital was and get ready to move. As he prepped our moving home, I stayed in the cold bathroom, breathing through unwanted sensations and trying to stay warm.
By 9:00am, we were heading north to Williams, a town with a hospital, about an hour North. My husband had set up a bed for me in the back seat and I cuddled with our dog in the back while he drove. We did not feel a need to be in a hospital, but wanted to know there was one close if our sentiment changed. I had a strong longing to be home, where I could call my midwife, be warm, be in the bath, move around our home, make sound freely…. Would our insurance even work here in Canada?
An eagle as a reminder…
A bald eagle flew in front of the car, reminding me that I am able to live in, and flourish in, both the ethereal and the mundane. Here I was, living out the human life again, in this body, in this painful body, yearning to be in the ethereal but knowing that this journey, in my suffering body, makes me who I am today and prepares me for who I will be tomorrow.
My husband was able to find us a hotel that had space, a wonderful bathtub and allowed our dog. So, we checked in and I wanted to check out. Michael drew a bath and once I got in, the sensations seemed to stop. As I laid there in the warmth, watched the blood dance out my body and weave through the water, some comfort returned to my body, I thought that maybe it was over. Maybe this is all I would need and it was just a wake-up call. Maybe my children were teaching me early the importance of not taking them for granted.
“If you stay, I promise to love you and cherish you and do my best,” I thought.
And, to my husband, “I’m sorry for the times I have been so angry and instilled fear in you that you are not good enough.”
I got a taste of what it might feel like to lose, and I learned in that moment. “I love you, I cherish you, I honor you”.
Please stay… and letting go…
Then, it started again, with strength and intensity. This really was a one way road and it was awful.
My husband became my midwife and I his wife. He fed me. He held me.He played music and kept me hydrated. There were very few words, just an attempt to support together and find our place of acceptance.
Trusting in nature and trusting in what was taking place. What was taking place? An energy and a plan that was much bigger than us, much more powerful than our “plans.”
It was intensity, letting go, bleeding, moaning, crying, opening, letting go, letting go, letting go.
And, at 1:45pm on July 28th, my cervix had opened as far as it needed to, about 5cm, and we gave birth.
I pushed our child out.
Michael held space for us.
We birthed a more connected marriage.
We birthed a difficult journey together, with a new and deeper trust in one another.
We birthed a child that was far from ready to live outside the womb, in a land that was far…. well, it was just far far away, far away from everything.
All we had was one another and that was okay…
We were entering our second year of marriage with a much unexpected twist and turn in this road. We had conceived on Mother’s day and were due on Valentines Day, our “mother’s love” baby was now a Canadian spirit, roaming, flying, hovering other than in my body.
We had a boat already booked from Skagway to Juneau, where we would arrive for our new 3 month jobs. We had to get on the road and by 3:00pm, we were back on the road heading north to an even greater unknown, receiving a rain and lightning blessing to cleanse the experience and start our movement onward; we made it to our next campsite at McLeon lake by 10pm that night.
Our child was wrapped in cloth, staying cool in our cooler. We didn’t know if we would want an autopsy, we knew we would want to do some type of burial or ceremony. I can tell you now that he/she is wrapped in beautiful cloth, buried at the base of a hill, just to the side of Mendenhall Glacier.
How had we gotten here?
I felt lost, in disbelief and still in pain. I had no baby to breastfeed or hold, only the afterpains to remind me of birth. I wanted a heating pad, a familiar home and the comfort of the Hawai’ian seas.
I yearned for a couch to curl up on or a friend to cry with.
That night, I asked for guidance, “What is the lesson for this chapter in parenting?” I asked.
The message was that of Robin Hood, “Give to the underdog, take care of the young and the old, those less fortunate than yourself, while still preserving your own wellbeing.”
I did not understand the relevance and went to sleep. Although I had asked for guidance, I’m not sure I was ready to receive.
My husband was doing it all now as I was moving very slowly. Set up tent, bed and unpack; break down tent, bed and pack; take care, walk, feed dog; feed ourselves, refill water… one step at a time; it all moved so slowly.
He was strong, the supporting rock, but also showed the pain in his eyes with an occasional stop in his step and one or two tears. He would look me in the eyes and say “I want my baby.”
We were depending on one another and supporting one another at the same time. I was afraid to share how deep my sadness was so as to not feed his, yet I also needed to share. I played with the music on my iPod, trying to express myself and tell my story through the music on my computer, trying to lose myself in the lyrics of other’s stories.
We were both in a profound place of acceptance, but also unfathomable sadness.
The journey together…
Our journey continued north, one breath at a time. We were heading to Alaska and now had two days to travel about 1000 miles. I reached a weighty place of suffering, sleepless and painful, both physically and emotionally. That sadness actually ended up lasting months, maybe years. Each additional pregnancy after that, I acknowledged my fear and discomfort until I made it beyond that 13 week mark I had miscarried my first baby.
I felt anger and I felt regret, I retold stories in my mind of “what if’s,” and I judged the decisions that had been made. I beat myself up over and over again; even judging the degree of suffering I was feeling.
How is it that I had spent time with people who seem to be living a much more difficult life overall than I, and yet they seem to be in a place of peace and joy?
And yet over and over again, I found myself feeling bottomless suffering. The Buddhists say that suffering is part of the human experience.
An elder once told me the way around this is “divine indifference,” but I was in a place of anger.
I did not want to accept or be indifferent to what had just gone on. I wanted to be a Mom, I wanted my husband to be a Dad, end of story. Sure, I now had more empathy as a midwife when patients check the box on their health history that they have had a miscarriage, but I just experienced it and my body and emotional state was writhing with discomfort.
The next day we moved forward, in our safety bubble of our car, still processing within our nuclear marriage. I did not want to consider what it would be like to resurface into our familiar lives, having to explain and retell this story. But, I also did not want to be in this remote land any longer.
As my husband drove, I lost myself a bit in the clouds and watched the form of our child’s face created in the billows. There he/she was so beautiful, so healthy, looking to the right, with a strong face and eyes, looking very directly. I watched for quite a while, amazed at how real the face was.
Then, it transformed, to a bear, once again so real, the ears, the snout, and head. It was a precious moment and then the wind came and the bear was gone. I was thankful.
Ten minutes later, a bear was on the right side of the car, watching us, and we were watching it. We pulled over and rolled the window down to take a photo. As the bear ran into the bushes, I had a strong understanding.
Our child’s spirit became the bear.
Of course! What a beautiful land for a free spirit to roam and what better body form to choose than a bear. Whether or not this was true, I was grateful to have been given that vision and found one more layer of acceptance.
And a ceremony…
Once in Teslin, the distance didn’t seem so daunting, we were going to make it on time to Skagway. So, we stopped for dinner and happened to hear of the annual Tlingit Tribe celebration that was going on in town until midnight.
Our exposure to the tribal culture started here as we watched a dance and drumming performance.This performance had the elders in a circle and all of the children in the center, the elders in their clan’s garb and the children in leather, beads and animal hide.
The elders spoke of the importance of creating sacred circle to impart gifts to the children of the clan, to open the container and pour it out for the children.
“The children will be the keepers of the knowledge and the ancestral traditions,” an elder said. “These children will be surrounded and danced around, the children will be sung to and taught over and over again the clan’s stories.”
As I watched the children playfully dance in their safe place of receiving, I poured out too.
I poured out my tears for my child; I want my child!
I want to pour out my knowledge and my love and my wisdom and my body to my child….but he/she is gone…..maybe in the Spirit of the bear….maybe in this place.
Of course, if it is possible for the spirit of our child to stay, this would be a powerful choice, where the culture is strong, the community has held on to traditions, and the honor of the children and elders is at the forefront.
So, another layer of acceptance and we were on the road.
Into the unknown… together…
We made it to Skagway in time, slept in the car and headed to Juneau. I was still bleeding and cramping. We were no longer the excited expecting parents, telling our story of a baby due in Feb. We were instead not telling any story. We were quiet and in a new and very unknown chapter.
There were so many unknowns, into a new land, new jobs and many unknowns around how we would move through the emotional journey of loss.
Would we hold back the tears or let them flow?
How, when, where and to what degree?
How deep would the acceptance have to go?
We did not expect to arrive in Juneau only to find out our jobs had fallen through and instead of all the hope unfolding, we were jobless, homeless, uninsured, in dept and no longer pregnant…but that’s an entirely different story….
This is the story of our journey from Southern Oregon to Juneau Alaska.
This is the story of one woman’s experience through miscarriage.
This is a story of shared pregnancy experiences, from our excitement from that first positive pregnancy test to the bitter end.
This is not only my story, but the story of many mothers.
May those who need it find strength, solace, and community in shared experience.