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How poetry helped me cope with my miscarriage

One thing that comes over you quickly when you have a miscarriage is that miscarriages are common. According to the American Pregnancy Association, 10 to 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. These are just the ones we know; many more arrive too early to be detected. And the risk increases with age. Your friends, if you tell them about your miscarriage, will confirm how ordinary it is: “I had one,” someone will say. “We had two before we had our son.” “A neighbor’s aunt had four miscarriages and then four children! “Meghan Markle had a miscarriage.” “Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan had three.”

The first time I had a miscarriage, in December 2020, I took pills to make my body expel anything that was not growing inside me. I bled too too fast and returned to the ER, clinging to someone else’s blood, as a lovely young doctor held my hand and told me the facts. It’s nothing you did. It happens so often.

Because I am a poet, I filter my experiences through verses. Usually this is automatic, rather than for convenience. It’s not that I catch them – they’re right there, shaking in my head. When I returned from my night after miscarriage in the hospital the words that resonated were TS Eliot’s Land of waste. In the second part of this poem, Eliot imagines an exchange between two Cockney-sounding women, one of whom has taken pills to terminate a pregnancy. Accused of looking “antique” (at 31) for her returning husband:

I can’t help it, she said with a long face,
These are the pills that I took, to remove it, she said.
(She’s already had five and almost died of young George.)
The chemist said everything would be fine, but I was never the same again.

Weakly, I wandered around the house in sweatpants. It’s the pills that I took, to take it off, I was thinking. I felt disappointed with my doctor, who had been jaded when she sent me home on medication in the first place, noting that if I felt like I was bleeding too much I might want to go to the ER . The doctor said everything would be fine, but I was never the same again. I imagined myself toothless and decrepit at 36 years old.

When I had a second miscarriage nine months later last fall, I skipped the pills for a procedure called D&C, for “dilation and curettage” (a “curette” is a surgical tool for scraping things off. ). This time I fell asleep and woke up when it was over. I didn’t see any blood. Closest thing to physical contact with everything I had miscarried came in the form of an email a few days after the operation, from a company my doctor had used for genetic testing. of “fabric”: “Dear Lindsay Kathleen,” the email read. , “Your sample has been received and our lab is processing it.” I felt vaguely bad, both mentally and physically, but otherwise it almost seemed like nothing had happened. It was especially strange trying to figure out how to grieve as an ongoing and intensive political debate about abortion raged around me, to see people arguing in the news over whether what I had lost was a person. I didn’t believe – I don’t – believe. So what exactly was I crying?

It’s terrible to question your own loss like that. Was it possible that I didn’t have anything, and therefore that I didn’t lose anything? I hadn’t told almost anyone that I was pregnant and hadn’t known it until a short time ago. The relatively high likelihood of the pregnancy going away is indeed why it has long been a norm not to share the good news with anyone until you have reached the end of your first trimester, after 12 weeks, of so you don’t have to. don’t say it if the news turns bad. You just keep quiet about it all. But my miscarriages seemed like major events to me: my life had almost continued in a new way, and then it wasn’t. Somehow I had both life and death in me, or something just a razor sharp between life and death. Walking through a Colorado aspen grove in October, about a week after the second miscarriage, I started craving some sort of miscarriage marker: a tattoo, a sign, a set or two of them. ‘brown striped initials on tall white trees trunks.

This desire for commemoration is part of the origin of poetry. An elegy marks the life of a person who is no more; a sonnet stands, in the words of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, like a “monument of the moment”. I wrote a poem after each miscarriage and, unlike my habit, I dated them so as not to forget their meaning. The beauty of poetry is that it records what is otherwise fleeting.

Poetry also gives us the language of what is both widely shared and highly individual. When you miscarry – this is often the case with grief – you learn that your deepest, most primitive impulses are usually not unique at all. You’re going to feel like it’s your fault, said that first good doctor, but it’s not. Of course, I knew it wasn’t my fault. Of course, I felt like it was my fault. I caught myself thinking of the word miscarriage As mislead Where mislead: miscarriage as in, you wore it wrong and everything went wrong. But online I found similar thoughts on the word. (It has been suggested that I think of pregnancy loss instead.) I wanted to read my specific but ordinary experience, not just on Google but in verse. And, for goodness sake, I didn’t want the only poem ringing in my head to be Eliot’s.

And so I went looking for the miscarriage poems that I knew had to be there. From the 17th century I found “At the sight of my aborted birth, December 31, 1657», Which deplores the loss of a« small Embrio; voyd of life, and feature ”and alludes to the peril of childbirth at the time: The loss, Carey notes, is the end of her seventh pregnancy, but only two of her children are still alive. In Carey’s poem, I caught a glimpse of the long and heart-wrenching tradition of poetry that I could be a part of.

I was also struck by Lucille Clifton, “The Lost Baby Poem” of 1987, a dark and icy lament, a record of racial poverty and a steadfast commitment to keep on living. In it, Clifton addresses the titular “lost baby” as a way to talk about his current experience, drawing strength from the connection:

you would be born in winter
the year of unplugged gas
and no car
if you were there i could tell you that
and a few other things

And reading Sharon Olds’ 1984 poem “Miscarriage,” I felt deeply satisfied with its inclusion of the grainy material details. It begins:

When I was a month pregnant, the big
blood clots have appeared in the pale
green water dangling from the toilet.
Dark red like black in salty
translucent brine, like life forms
appearing, clearcut jellyfish
mushroom shapes.

Later, Olds wrote two more poems on miscarriage: “When we miscarried thirty years now” and “When we miscarried fifty years now.” She still thought about what she had lost, but in these poems the visceral realism is erased, replaced by softer and more melancholy addresses to the adult that this child would have become and that she will never meet.

While these and other poems on miscarriages exist, readers might turn to the contemporary work of Dorothy Lasky Where Douglas kearney– the poet and critic Sandeep Parmar argued in a Poetry magazine essay that miscarriage remains a “private and invisible loss, almost invisible or taboo” and that the poems about miscarriage represent only a “minor note in the canon of female writing”. I share his suspicions, but my own interpretation goes beyond this: I think the taboo is only part of the story, and another part is this strange invisibility of the experience of falsehood. layer, even for yourself. You tell yourself these things are happening, and you come back to your life. Part of you wants to remember; part of you wants to let the waste dissolve like blood in water.

“Parliament Hill Fields,” a poem by Sylvia Plath from 1961, speaks exactly of this tension between commemorating and moving on. She addresses it to “you”, the miscarriage that she lost between her two children:

On this bald hill, the new year is sharpening its edge.
Faceless and pale like China
The Round Sky continues to mind its business.
Your absence is discreet;
No one can say what I’m missing.

But in the course of the poem, she adopts a compromise: in order to return to her living child and her current family life – the “lighted house” – she must turn away from her loss, must let it disappear from her consciousness. .

Your cry fades like the cry of a gnat.
I lose sight of you on your blind trip,
As the heather grass sparkles and the stringy streams
Unwind and spend your time. My mind runs with them,

Pooling in the heel, groping roller and rod indentations.
The day empties its images
Like a cup or a coin. The hook of the moon turns white,
Thin as the skin sewing a scar.
Now on the nursery wall

The blue plants of the night, the small pale blue hill
In your sister’s birthday photo, start to shine.
Orange pompoms, Egyptian papyrus
Light up. Each eared bunny
Blue shrub behind the glass

Exhale an indigo nimbus,
A sort of cellophane balloon.
The old lie, the old difficulties take me for a wife.
The gulls stiffen in their cold vigil in the half-light and the drafts;
I enter the lighted house.

At the heart of Plath’s poem – and Clifton and Olds’ two poems “To Our Miscarried One” – is the impulse to speak to the lost person even as the loss fades. And for that they use the perfect poetic tool: the “apostrophe”, or an address to a non-present entity. (It’s not the same as punctuation.) I realized, reading these poems, that this was what I wanted in the first place – a way of asking: who are you, who were you , who could you have been? Does it even exist?

At the start using you because my loss did not seem fair to me, personally or politically. But poetry allowed me to reach an ambiguous “you”, if only to let go. And in doing so, like the authors of miscarriage poems before me, I could feel this loss as real and significant.

Saying “you” to something lost in a poem is recognizing it, keeping it as long as it needs to be there, and saying goodbye to it when you are ready, even if you have no idea what it is. thing is, or if it never existed at all.

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