On Miscarriages and Butterflies: How I Found Hope After Loss

by M. Nicole Pryor

I am one of the 1 in 4 women who have suffered, survived, lived and loved through the loss or miscarriage of an unborn child. Unlike many women, my first miscarriage came after three successful live births: three beautiful, bubbly, smart, happy babies. It never occurred to me that I could miscarry. Indeed, after bringing forth all of my children naturally, two of them at home, I internally considered myself a birthing superhero. As an expectant mother, I thought myself invincible, until the day that my body began to experience something incredibly foreign: the loss of life.

My baby, still a tiny fetus, only 10 weeks along, had died. I still count myself lucky as I faced each of my losses in the first trimester. However, discovering that I was in the process of miscarrying or spontaneously aborting a life I presumed was coming without question or doubt, was devastating.

Moreover, the miscarriage was abnormal: unusually painful with excessive bleeding and a long recovery time. Then I developed ovarian cysts that at times, grew to the size of baseballs and grapefruit. No matter how desperately I wanted to forget that my body had seemingly given up on my baby, I was constantly reminded for months.

I also developed an aversion to butterflies. You see, during my fourth pregnancy, I was followed, stalked almost, by butterflies. They fluttered about my head, rested on my shoulder, and flew across my windshield at stop signs. They were everywhere. In my mother's front yard, at the zoo, and in my friend's garden. Folks who knew I was expecting would remark what a special soul I must be carrying, that butterflies would be so preoccupied with me. I would smile. I liked butterflies well enough, I supposed.

When I finally started moving about, a few days after the dilation and curettage procedure to complete my miscarriage, my delicate winged paparazzi had all but vanished. I have to admit their near constant presence during my pregnancy, at my nose or on my rear view mirror, was a bit strange and even bothersome at times but now I longed for them. I was desperate for a monarch, hell, a moth to land on my hand and rest in my palm again. I sat close to the bushes that lined my mother's porch but nothing happened. I would see them in the distance but to the butterflies, I was invisible now. They had never really come to visit with me, after all. I felt as if my body and the butterflies had betrayed me.

A few years passed and life moved on. However, I found myself pregnant and frightened but before I could grow too attached or too scared, it was gone. Another little life, gone. This time in 6 weeks. The midwife suggested that my husband and I not worry. She said miscarriages are more common than we realized. It seemed like minutes had gone by before I was pregnant once more. Then at 4 weeks… another loss. This time I released the expired little embryo whole - into my hand. I held it there for a time, frozen and unsure of what to do next.

I just sat there, trying not to consider what could have been, or what I could have done to save her. Then, in a moment of clarity, I realized how foolish I was to ever think that I was the one giving life, as if I'd ever consciously or intentionally formed an ear or a brain cell. I was a vessel for a timeless work that I could never fully comprehend. A special vessel, yes but a mere conduit nonetheless. I cried. There was a part of me that still felt as though I'd failed again even though, I knew better.

Months passed and I made peace with my broken uterus. After all, I had been blessed with three inquisitive, loving, awesome children. They'd all be off to college and I would still be under 50. That was hot. Who was I to complain? In spite of the void that each loss created in the pit of me, I was quiet about it. Acceptance led to gratitude and gratitude filled some of the empty space with the joy that comes from living in the present.

I began to exercise and for the first time I did it for my personhood and not for my vanity. I cried and sweat. I'd talk out loud as I ran, revealing deep truths I'd previously been afraid to speak, even to myself - about love, regret, and forgiveness. I ran until I was sore. I felt hungry and nauseous at the same time. Then I missed my cycle and that raised an eyebrow. I mentioned it to my husband and he also raised his eyebrows. I then sent him on the dreaded mission of buying a pregnancy test. We had been down this road before. It had ended sadly as often as it had ended joyfully. A less pragmatic version of me would have preferred to continue running hungry and nauseous and in the dark. But I was entirely too practical for such Lifetime-worthy antics. The test confirmed my worst fear: I was indeed, pregnant.

I had come to expect that my body would reject the baby. This was a dance that would end in death, I thought. "Let's not get our hopes up," I'd say. I could tell that my husband was excited, in spite of himself. He told his family. I did not tell mine. I hadn't mentioned the previous two either. Having to recount a death that occurs inside your body is one of the least pleasant stories to tell over and over again.

After four weeks, and no death, my husband and I agreed I should see an OBGYN. It couldn't hurt to be prepared for life - just in case. Then six weeks passed. These were the markers and it was torture. Every pain was an indictment. The inevitable was on its way. My fourth, I thought. I would lose more babies than I had managed to love into life. Beyond the constant questioning came the constant cramping and even spotting. Then 10 weeks. A heart beat instead of heartbreak. I cried tears of joy but I was still too afraid to love this baby yet. What if we didn't make it to the second trimester? What if I had a stillbirth? What if this was all just a cruel game my body was playing with me?

Then there was week 12 and another trimester. I noticed butterflies. They were arriving more frequently at the edge of my front gate, never landing, just hovering nearby. As I'd open the car door to get in, they'd float in the vicinity of my ever-widening belly. I would shoo them away. My husband would look at me, awkwardly. The third trimester arrived. I was still afraid but now very much in love. It was a painful pregnancy, a short and incredibly intense labor - all natural but this time without any water or candles or midwives. This time it was in a hospital although if we'd waited another 10 minutes to leave the house, it would have been in the Land Rover.

I held out until the very last minute to name her. My then youngest daughter had settled on "Hope." I agreed. The meaning of this baby's name could not have been more right. Little Hope came and breathed and cried and changed everything, the way new babies change everything. This time was different, though. I didn't hold her with the confidence that comes from a confirmed expectation. I held her with relief that I was allowed to keep her.

I lost faith in my anatomy, only to discover that I was pregnant again. Then I had to rely on something more - faith in the unseen and in the possibility of restoration. I had suffered through so many miscarriages that I didn't think I could have another baby. And yet here I was, holding onto Hope. Seeing her renewed my belief that dark days eventually give way to light, that life can come, even after death. Faith in little winged creatures that flutter both in and occasionally, around the belly. Yes. Hope restored my faith in butterflies.

Photo: Shutterstock

M. Nicole is a transplant to the islands of The Bahamas but she hails from the D (Detroit, MI.). A lawyer by trade, she is a non-profit consultant and social entrepreneur by choice. A wife and mother of 4, she writes for the love of it.

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