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Mom Talk: My Miscarriage & My Mother’s Miscarriage

Written by Jess Trần Boyd

Photography by Jess Trần Boyd

October marks Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. And with 10-20% (or more) of known pregnancies ending in miscarriage, this is a topic that deserves year-round attention, especially as each miscarriage story is unique to the woman suffering it. Below, Seattle-based mother of one Jess Trần Boyd shares her experience, as well as her mother’s experience decades earlier. Jess is the founder of this is for mẹ, a multimedia storytelling platform focused on motherhood, motherlands, mother tongues, and family. She’s also an editor and writer for diaCRITICS, a diasporic Vietnamese platform founded by Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen, where she has a column focused on the same themes. 

I’m about three weeks deep into my first miscarriage, one that took me by surprise, but also didn’t. The miscarriage coincided with my 30th birthday, so the silver lining is that I was able to convince my husband to buy me a kitten. She’s called Moonie and is in fact silver. The not-so-silver lining is that having a miscarriage and simultaneously caring for a toddler is exhausting, tender, and interspersed with moments of unhinged hilarity when I see myself from the outside. 

Four days before I started cramping, I was putting my daughter to bed when she started to cry, really cry. “How are you feeling at the moment, baby?” I asked. “Sad,” she said plainly. “I don’t want the baby to fall out. It’s not ready.” I assured her that wasn’t going to happen, while starting to panic a little.

My mum had a miscarriage when she was in her forties, and to create a false sense of comfort, I wrapped myself in the deluded belief that I would be safe from this experience as long as my pregnancies were in my twenties and thirties. I put the thought out of my mind and tried to rest as much as you can when you’re a full-time stay-at-home parent and the primary caregiver. In other words, there was no resting.

Four days after my daughter’s late-night miscarriage prediction, I started to cramp, and rather disorientatingly, I had no idea what to do. Despite being a birth doula and pretty clued up on periods and hormones, pregnancy loss was a huge blind spot, one that I had subconsciously pushed to my periphery, fearful that thinking about it would jinx me.

As waves of discomfort started to arrive, firmly locating themselves in my lower back (damn you, back labour), my daughter experienced a renewed passion for horseback rides. Either I was the horse, or she was screaming. As I lugged around a heating pad, which my daughter became increasingly interested in “sharing,” reluctantly put on period underwear (thank you, Thinx), and tried to explain to my daughter that “Mummy can’t be a horsey right now, she needs to rest her body like Daniel Tiger’s Mom,” I started to realise that this was definitely a miscarriage. I took a deep breath, and began to type out a very British and apologetic text to my midwife. 

Once my midwife helped my husband and I to determine that I was safe, I let myself sink into my husband. He wrapped me up in a hug that lasted all of three seconds before my daughter started crying and wanted to hug me instead. That evening, I craved my bed, a weighted blanket, bad movies, and a decade’s supply of birthday cake. Instead, I camped out on my daughter’s Nugget, reading her books while I took the type of deep breaths that had carried me through my first labour, ate her snacks, and accepted endless cups of tea from my husband. 

When I first started to bleed, my husband cried, but no tears came for me. The crying only arrived when I realised that I needed help, and that I would have to ask for help. It felt incredibly vulnerable. I was unsure of what kind of help to ask for, and more terrifyingly, if people would say yes. It is only when I started to lean into the loneliness of being a stay-at-home parent and living far away from family that I started to really feel waves of emotion. The sadness surprised me. It truly arrived when my husband took my daughter for a walk. I was suddenly, shockingly, alone. I picked up my phone and asked my closest friends and family to light a candle for the baby that we wouldn’t meet. I then lit a yahrzeit candle, something that is done in memory of the dead in Judaism. I left the candle burning and went out into the garden with a cup of tea, lay in our hammock, and suddenly, it was just me and my thoughts. And then, I was weeping. It felt so sad and cathartic and sad again. And then, I heard the front door open, so I wiped my face and got ready to welcome my husband and daughter home.

Taking care of a toddler whose vocabulary is exploding while their body is yearning to run, climb, and play is all consuming. I’ve struggled with feeling incredibly guilty for letting her watch too much television, keeping her inside for days, in too much pain to venture back out into the world. In the tailend of this miscarriage when I felt ready, I began taking my daughter to the playground again, and as I smiled at fellow stay-at-home parents, I felt overwhelmed by all of the unknown stories and struggles that must have been existing around me; how many pregnancy losses and other types of losses everyone there was carrying around silently.

We are also in the early days of potty training my daughter, and like a dog, she is going through a phase where she likes to pee in/on all of her favourite places, such as the finger puppet theater I made her, or Peppa Pig’s bunk bed. In a moment I won’t soon forget, she decided that a great place to pee was my rice-filled heating pad—it’s not machine washable. I was tired, so I rinsed the heating pad as best as I could, and microwaved a now slightly pungent heating pad.

When I’ve been alone with my thoughts, mostly while peeing (every parent’s secret hideout) or lying next to my daughter at night, I’ve thought about my mother, and how she didn’t allow herself to grieve or be supported during her own miscarriage. To this day, the miscarriage still weighs on her. As a Vietnamese refugee and the hub of our family, she’d felt the need to be “strong.”

I’ve spoken to my mum almost every day over the past few weeks of this miscarriage. We have both cried, for each other, and for ourselves. When my mum had her miscarriage, she told me how she scooped something out of the toilet, and secretly kept it wrapped in toilet paper for a few days before flushing it away. She wasn’t able to ask for help and didn’t allow herself to be soft and sad.

In order to honour my journey and my mum’s experience, I made sure to create space to feel. I found a small cardboard box, filled it with tiny crystals and dried flower petals, and collected pieces that passed through me with plans to bury it in a special pot and plant a flower on top. I put it in the cupboard above the toilet, and told my husband to be careful. I came downstairs two days later to find the contents scattered on the bathroom floor. When I tearily asked my husband what had happened, he said our daughter had pulled it down, and unsure of what to do, he had left it where it was for me to deal with as I wanted. I sat on the floor, collecting everything that had fallen. I felt upset, but also bolstered by my daughter’s toddler energy and the light that she always manages to bring to unexpected places.

Like me, the special box was a little worse for wear, the contents a little dustier, but everything was intact. When I get to bury it and plant a flower above it, the process will be a ritual for myself and my mother, giving our love and losses intertwined roots.

illustrated by Nhung Lê

Illustrated by Nhung Lê

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