Last month, we spoke about de-stigmatizing pregnancy loss, how to overcome the grief and support those who are grieving; you can read the full article here. But the best way, we felt, to truly understand what a woman goes through during this time, was to speak to someone who has undergone it personally.
Sheryl, a freelance experiential marketing consultant, entrepreneur and advocate for sustainable brands, is someone is all too familiar with the feeling of pregnancy loss. She had experienced a miscarriage 4 times prior to the birth of her son Mateo - her first child. Even though her most recent pregnancy was relatively healthy, her previous losses still linger and she will never fully overcome that grief.
Her brave and intimate story through resilience is incredible. Read more to learn about her journey to motherhood and to have a deeper understanding of both her experience and how we can better support loved ones.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY TO MOTHERHOOD, AND HOW YOU FELT WHEN YOUR SON WAS BORN.
This is a loaded question and I don’t even know where to begin. I feel that motherhood started for me even before my son was born. I would say, that the moment I decided I wanted to be a mother, marked the beginning. When I got pregnant for the first time, 6 years ago, I felt that maternal instinct kick in right away, and I became so conscious of everything I put in my body. Unfortunately, that pregnancy ended in a loss and so did the next 3 pregnancies after that. I spent 5 years being pregnant and losing it. It was a very difficult time for me and my partner. It was a life-altering experience and a real test on my marriage. I took a year off from doing anything pregnancy related and I focused on other aspects of my life - business, marriage, travel and, most importantly, I dedicated time to heal and restore my spirit. I was trying ‘to be ready’ and wanting to be ‘fully healed’ before I even try to get pregnant again. Then I realized that I could never be ready and the grief will never go away, you just learn how to live with it.
Last year I decided to give pregnancy another try. It was a hard choice to make myself vulnerable and find courage to conceive again. But my desire to have a child and start a family with my husband overshadows all the fears and worries. I felt stronger and resilient this time around. I saw a fertility specialists and had undergone treatment. Then I got pregnant within the first round of treatment. I was happy, but I couldn’t be too happy and I didn’t want to be attached to this pregnancy right away, just in case. At 6 weeks pregnant, I woke up in the morning bleeding; I was so sure it’s happening again. Same tune. My husband rushed me to the hospital to see a doctor and they sent me for an ultrasound right away. The technician saw heartbeat. I cried so hard. I was expecting to hear “I’m sorry there’s no heartbeat” because that’s all I’ve been hearing for the past 5 years. However, I was not out of the woods yet. I left the hospital and was told that there’s a 50% chance that this pregnancy will not survive. And there’s nothing I can do about it. My doctor advised me to be on bed rest for several weeks along with weekly ultrasounds to make sure that the baby is doing well. When I finally reached week 12, the ultrasound showed no signs of concern. I went on to have a pretty smooth pregnancy until the birth of my son, Mateo.
When I finally met my son, it felt so surreal. I wish I could say that I heard angels singing when he was born, but the reality is that there was a lot going on at that time - I was in so much pain and so exhausted from labor and delivery. But I remember feeling scared. I spent such a long time trying to have a baby and now that he is here, what do I do now? Nothing in my life has prepared me for motherhood. I am 16 weeks postpartum and it has been an intense, identity altering, chaotic, magical and rewarding journey. I am humbled and deeply transformed and everyday I discover something new about myself and my son. It is truly hard to put into words the juxtapositions of emotions I feel in a day. I feel so much love and pain. Pure joy. Immense struggle. I’m discovering this is what motherhood is all about. I welcome all of it!
The hardest part of that pregnancy, overall, was dealing with anxiety. All I know in pregnancy was losing it, I didn’t know any other way and it was hard to believe my pregnancy was progressing each week. It was a long 9 months!
COULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR MISCARRIAGES? HOW DID YOU AND YOUR PARTNER FEEL?
My first pregnancy in September of 2013 was unexpected. I was engaged to be married, but no wedding plans yet. I had struggled to accept that we were having a baby before wedding and honeymoon, but that quickly changed. My fiance at the time and I always wanted to have a family together so we quickly welcomed the idea that we will become parents soon. We were both very excited. I was feeling all the pregnancy symptoms - nausea, exhaustion and vomiting. We told EVERYONE we’re having a baby! We had no idea you were not supposed to say anything before week 12 and we learned that very quickly. When my Fiance and I went together for my week 12 routine ultrasound we were so naive. It never crossed our minds that anything bad could happen. We were just going to see our baby. Then the technician look at us with a frown and told us in a cold hearted way - “call your doctor, I see no heartbeat”. We were so confused and in denial that something is wrong. This is was the beginning of our 6 year long journey to starting a family. I had 3 more miscarriages after that, all in the first trimester. One loss in 2015 and two more in 2016, both of them taking place in the middle of two major events I organized for my business. Obviously, this impacted the way I ran my business. I developed a love-hate relationship with my work, and was drenched in grief while trying to keep my business afloat.
Every loss has been impactful and heartbreaking in different way, affecting the way I see myself as a woman and my relationship with my husband. Each loss came with messy emotions, intense grief, sadness and guilt. For the longest time, I partly blamed myself for it - ‘If I wasn’t so busy with my work and took care of my health more maybe that pregnancy followed through’. I feel that I failed. My body failed my baby. It took awhile for me to finally say ‘no, It wasn’t my fault’ and no one has a right to judge me including myself.
I resented my partner for not being able to fully empathize with what I was going through, but he was also dealing with his own grief and sadness. We had to learn how to deal with our own grief individually and as a couple. It was a trying time for us, but it also deepened our relationship and brought us closer together. For the longest time, we saw it as this “thing” we are going through. I guess the sadness and grief will never go away, and it manifests in various ways sometimes. Even though my son is here, I still think about my 4 unborn babies. It’s devastating and I learn how to live with it in the best way possible.
HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR BODY AFTER YOUR PREGNANCY?
I have a complicated relationship with my body right now. After birth, It was hard to look at the changes in my body; I almost didn’t recognize myself. My belly looks ‘deflated’, I have so many stretch marks, my skin looks and feels different, my breasts changed - my overall shape is different from what I remembered pre-pregnancy. Not to mention that I feel different from the ‘inside’. My birth wasn’t as ‘smooth’ as I’d hoped and I ended up with a 3rd degree tear. It took at least two months for the wound to fully heal and it will take 6-9 more months for the inside to fully recover. It’s taking me awhile to accept the kind of birth experience I had and its impact on my body.
Nevertheless, when I look beyond what I see in the mirror, I have a deep respect for what my body has gone through and can do . From surviving multiple miscarriages, having full term pregnancy, birthing life to sustaining my baby with breastfeeding - all while I was still healing and recovering. My relationship with my body profoundly changed. Those experiences fully transformed my perception and taught me to be kind to myself. Yes, I have my days of dismay when I see my stretch marks, but I also have days when I see my stretch marks as my battle scars, reminding me of my strength and resilience. I continue to learn to love my body in a different light.
DO YOU HAVE ANY SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO TALK ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AND RECOVER FROM THIS EXPERIENCE AS A WOMAN?
You have to give yourself time to heal and honour what your body needs to recover. For me, part of my healing is to talk about it, and to openly discuss and explore the guilt, grief, sadness and shame of the losses. Keeping it a secret felt more of a burden and the more I talk about the guilt and shame, the less power it has on me. As soon as I shared my story in social media, a lot of women came forward and resonated with my experience. They all have been through the same thing and was suffering in silence. They are afraid to talk about it because of the stigma and shame of pregnancy loss. Of course it took awhile to muster up the courage to speak up and to look shame and guilt in the eyes and say it has no place in you anymore.
WHAT DOES PREGNANCY AND INFANT LOSS AWARENESS DAY MEAN TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY?
One in 4 pregnancies ended in a loss. It is very common and yet women fear of talking about it.
Pregnancy and Infant loss awareness day means normalizing this conversation so women who experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or the loss of an infant or child, don’t feel alone and suffer in silence. We acknowledge and validate their grief and offer a safe space to mourn. We come together as a community and extend a sense of comfort and support to one another. There’s so much secrecy and silence around this topic and I think women are now realizing how breaking their silence can help them and others.
HOW CAN OTHERS SHOW SUPPORT TO SOMEONE WHO IS CURRENTLY EXPERIENCING PREGNANCY LOSS ?
When I was going through my 3rd miscarriage, someone had asked me if I did something to caused it and what did the doctor say? I know that came from a place of concern, but no one should ever ask a woman something like that who chose to be vulnerable at that moment and share a very devastating experience. If there is someone in your life who has experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth or the loss of an infant or child, don’t ask questions or say ‘at least you got pregnant’ or ‘this happened for a reason.’ Your words won't heal her, but your kindness will give her comfort. Let her go through grief and give her time to heal. Be patient because it may take awhile for her to feel normal again or maybe it will never be the same for her. After all, walking the tightrope of grief in a world that often leaves no room for grief is going to take some practice. So be patient. And when she is ready to talk about it, just listen, don’t give your opinion or advice, you don’t need to try to fix it. Just give her space to unravel and reassurance that she is not alone and it’s not her fault.
For more information about pregnancy and infant loss, check out previous article here