Consider This Your Trigger Warning for “This Is Us”

***trigger: discusses miscarriage and infant loss***

I’ll admit it, I didn’t understand the whole “trigger warning” thing.  I’m not one of those people who made fun of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” or made jokes like “these special snowflakes can’t get their feelings hurt.”  I just didn’t get it.  How could something you read or simply hear about affect your mental health?

After watching This Is Us last week, I get it. I totally get it.

This Is Us is a heavy-handed emotional drama that, although it can stray into the cheese-fest category, I love.  Judging from my friends list, its audience is mostly other women.  Last week we followed one of the characters through a downward spiral into alcohol and drug abuse, which was intense, to say the least.  Then, at the very end, he is just about to ask for help, things are looking up, and BAM. “Kate lost the baby.”  Motherfucker.  Just when I think we’re about to end this crazy rollercoaster ride on a high note, we take a monumentally fucked up turn.  We are confronted with a favorite character’s miscarriage.

It was like getting sucker punched in the gut.  I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t stop thinking about the show, and I couldn’t stop thinking about my own story.  Consider me triggered.  I had such a strong emotional reaction because I’ve had a miscarriage.

It’s happened to 20% of all women who’ve ever been pregnant, but it’s not something we talk about.  We keep pregnancies under wraps until the second trimester specifically so we don’t have to tell people if we miscarry.  Being unexpectedly faced with this subject that carries so much unresolved emotional baggage really rocked me.

I found out I was pregnant when my oldest daughter was about 15 months old.  I was excited, but I was also apprehensive about having two kids so close in age.  I was dreading the terrible hyperemesis that I knew I was in for.  I was planning, wondering, and dreaming all about this new little baby.  I was imagining my older daughter playing with a little brother or sister.

It’s an unwritten rule that pregnant nurses don’t take care of people who are losing babies.  When I got to work a few days later and saw my name assigned to a patient whose baby was not going to survive, I should have asked to be moved.  But I didn’t want to out myself at only five weeks.  I spent the day taking care of an amazing woman who I will never forget.  I helped deliver a baby who lived only briefly before passing away in his mother’s arms.  A room full of care providers all prayed with this mom and her baby, and in his last moments I felt a peace that I’ve never felt before or since.  And I’m not a religious person.  While caring for this woman, I couldn’t help thinking about the tiny baby growing in my own belly.  Then, the situation abruptly became a medical emergency for the woman, and my focus changed from helping to facilitate this bonding and grieving to making sure we had a surviving mother.

The next morning, I woke up and I was bleeding.  I felt sick to my stomach.  Google quickly informed me that odds of carrying a healthy pregnancy after having first trimester bleeding were greatly reduced, so thanks, Google.  My doctor said that I should come to the hospital if I started to hemorrhage but otherwise to be seen in the office on Monday.  This sounds harsh to an outsider but coming from the medical perspective, it really wasn’t.  I knew that if I was miscarrying there wasn’t anything anyone could do.

By Monday, when I went to the office, there was no longer any evidence of a pregnancy.  It was something called a “chemical pregnancy,” where sperm and egg meet and it’s enough to detect on a pregnancy test, but it was never going to develop into a baby.  I was actually told, “We don’t even count this as a miscarriage; years ago before pregnancy tests were so good you wouldn’t have even known.”  I love the doctor who said this, and I know he said this in an attempt to reassure me.  But it didn’t make me feel any better.  I had thought I was pregnant, with all the emotions, hopes, dreams, and fears that go along with it.  But now I felt like I had no right to grieve.

I went out for dinner that night and drank a margarita the size of my head, then I pushed it away and tried not to think about it again.  Soon after I was lucky enough to get pregnant with my younger daughter, and I was catapulted straight into hyperemesis survival mode.

My feelings about my miscarriage were so tied up with my patient’s loss that I actually didn’t begin to grieve it until I returned to work after having my “rainbow baby.” (And yes, she is my rainbow baby, even if my miscarriage didn’t count to the medical world.)  I helped take care of another mother who was having a loss, and I couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t even my patient, I had literally just walked into the room to help another nurse.  I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened to me, and how sad it made me, and how I had never let myself feel that sadness.  I shared about it in my postpartum support group, and I cried some more, and my friends rallied around me with hugs and similar stories.  I talked about it in therapy.  And I realized that, no matter what I was told, that I had the right to feel these feelings.  My chemical pregnancy counted.

This is still hard for me to talk about, and on any given day I’m still dealing with my emotions.  That’s why being confronted with this material unexpectedly sent me into such a tailspin.  But I think it’s a good thing.  We need to talk about it.  This happens to SO MANY WOMEN, and we need to talk about it! We need to know that it isn’t shameful and that we have the right to grieve.  We need to know that it’s okay to tell our friends and our families we lost a pregnancy so that they can support us. We need to know that it is not our fault; it’s a terribly shitty thing that sometimes happens but it’s not anyone’s fault.  Above all, no woman going through this should ever feel alone.

So am I going to tune in to the next episode, which is sure to have me crying my fucking eyeballs out right along with Toby and Kate?  You bet your ass I am.  Now that I’m prepared and expecting the subject of miscarriage, I’m going to tune in with an open mind and watch whatever I can handle.  I’m hoping that relating to the episode will help me along on my journey to catharsis.  Oh yeah, and I’m also booking my next therapy appointment in advance.

image credit: One Love Photography by Lindsay Carlsen

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