I participate in a number of on-line discussion groups about childbirth. It has become something of a passion of mine. Most of these groups have some sort of loss forum, set aside to discuss and remember miscarriages, stillbirths, and other children who have passed on. I tend not to hang out in these areas very much, simply because it is heart wrenching. Once in a while, though, questions about miscarriage make it into the main discussions as well. A question was posted recently that I found quite intriguing.
A woman had experienced multiple miscarriages. One had been medically induced. She had experienced terrible pain on each occasion. Now, she is expecting again. She has made it through the treacherous first trimester and she is starting to think about her birthing options.
"What is the pain like?" she asked. "How does birth compare to miscarriage? Do I have any chance of having an unmedicated birth?"
It got me thinking. I've had one unmedicated birth and two early miscarriages. The first miscarriage, I hadn't realized was happening. The second, I was aware throughout.
In my experience, the biggest differences between the two have been time and attitude. Both miscarriages took several hours of sharp pain, but it was only the sharp pain I was aware of. My daughter's birth started out slowly, and more gently. The contractions got harder and stronger, and, yes, quite painful, but not until the end. In the case of the miscarriages, it was as if all I felt was the very end.
My focus was different in each case, as well. During the birth, I was focused on not being in pain anymore, but I was overwhelmed with the sense of giving birth to my child. I'd prepared for months. I'd gone to classes. This was it! I was scared, excited, and (I thought) ready.
During my first miscarriage, I hadn't known I was pregnant. I was expecting my period about that time and was surprised by the strength of the "menstrual cramps" that month. It wasn't until days later that I could look back and recognize what the intense pain had really been. Because of my ignorance, I did not have any emotions attached to the physical pain. It just hurt. I took some Excedrin and curled up in bed.
My second miscarriage came just days after a faintly positive pregnancy test. I was not terribly surprised. I'd been spotting even before I tested, so I knew already miscarriage was a distinct possibility. The physical pain was not as severe as the first time (I was only about half as far along), but emotionally, I knew I was losing my baby.
I try to imagine what it would be like to have experienced this all in reverse. To have only known the pain, but not the joy. I'm not sure I can. My heart goes out to the women for whom pain is their only experience, yet are trying again, believing, hoping in the joy they have yet to know. I wonder, if I'd only had the pain first, would I have the strength to hope?