Michelle Brafman, award-winning author of We Named Them All discusses the taboo of pregnancy loss and how writing helped her heal.
I recently made a promise to my husband that I don’t know I can keep. I told him that I would no longer DVR The Young and the Restless. I am as addicted to Victor and Nikki Newman, matriarch and patriarch of Genoa City, Wisconsin, as they are to each other. What lures even more, though, is watching my television family pull together during their times of need. They put aside their feuds over affairs, blackmail, arson, and various forms of public humiliation to show up at hospitals and cemeteries with tissues and hugs.
I am at the age where I’ve lost friends and relatives, people whom I’ve loved deeply. In the aftermath of each passing, I’ve received flowers, notes, or phone calls. But I’ve also endured losses in which no cards arrived, no funeral was held, and people avoided me completely because they didn’t know what to say.
The loneliest grief I’ve experienced was when I suffered miscarriages. I was far from alone, according to the March of Dimes, as many as 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriages. 80% of these miscarriages occur within the first three months of pregnancy, before the couples have announced their news. But it doesn’t mean that we haven’t picked out baby names or imagined our kids’ first steps or wondered if they would inherit our grandmother’s pretty blue yes.
I found this loss difficult to share with my closest friends and family members, particularly the ones who were procreating with ease. Sometimes I’d unload my sorrow on perfect strangers.
I was told that this was “God’s way of correcting His mistake” and to buck up and get right back on that horse. I was asked if I thought that the miscarriage had perhaps somehow been my fault. While in my first trimester, did I travel? ski? have sex?
I don’t blame them. It’s almost impossible to say the right thing to someone who has lost a pregnancy. I certainly did not know how to comfort my friends before my own “spontaneous abortions” —who on earth came up with that term?
My isolation led me to write. I burned to tell the story of this special brand of crazy that my infertility was making me, so I wrote a story called “Sylvia’s Spoon,” about a woman who steals a family fertility totem from her barren aunt. I rewrote this piece maybe a hundred times, partially because I was learning the form, and partially because I needed to tell the story over and over to understand the scope of what I’d lost. When Lilith Magazine published a version, I discovered that there were droves of women who had shared my silence and shame about their fertility issues. This inspired me to write “Shhh,” the second story in We Named Them All, to give voice to the father and baby and to understand my own husband’s sadness.
My story had a happy ending. My husband and I have two children. My experience did, however, teach me that a sincere “I’m sorry for your loss” can go a long way in providing comfort to someone who is grieving. I also know that with any kind of loss, even if pretty handkerchiefs and hugs are dispensed, as they are so freely on The Young and the Restless, we are all left to experience our own brand of crazy. And in so doing, we heal.