Sincerely, Shantelle

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Lead image for 'The 'M' — Word'

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Seeing Mark Zuckerburg's post this past Friday about his and his wife's struggles with miscarriage brought up mixed feelings for me. I was happy to see another high-profile internet presence who has opened up about the painful experience—even slightly more so, because I don't generally see men speak on the topic. On the other hand, as I read the comments underneath the photo, I was saddened by the amount of people who seem to just now be realizing that miscarriage is a real thing. [readmore] It happens to celebrities, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and common people like myself. It happens everywhere in the world. It happens at all times of the year. It has happened for centuries passed and will continue to. Some of what Zuckerburg said resonated with me and my own experiences: the loneliness, the worrying that you'll be judged—yet, I have my own story, and it pains me to hold it in any longer. These are my own opinions...many of the things that have crossed my mind. I've been writing this for a while, but somehow words have seemed so inadequate to dictate what has weighed heavy on my heart. My greatest hope is that in this moment, words have somehow managed not to fail me.

No one likes to talk about miscarriage. It's almost like it's "the m— word," at least, that's how it feels. Going through my second miscarriage in January this year felt like confirmation of this statement. It forced me to see the world, my friends, and my family through new eyes. It caused me to question and examine these relationships. It made me wonder why people don't talk about it. Why would no one talk to me about it??

One of my initial thoughts was that it almost feels like something to be ashamed of. I will be honest and admit that I felt this for so long. I possessed an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt when having to tell people I was no longer pregnant. I felt like my body failed me. I felt like I was inadequate to carry a child. I felt like I was the reason our baby girl died. I felt that the one cup of coffee I occasionally had in the morning was to blame. I felt like maybe shrimp wasn't safe, after all. Perhaps I had skipped one too many prenatal vitamins. I even believed—possibly, the most irrational thing—that a mean thought I'd had caused my daughter's life to end. Something was wrong with ME! It took reading and reading and reading to finally convince myself that it was not my fault. Six months after losing her, I have finally come to terms with our loss of Zoe. It was not my fault. Now that I know it wasn't my fault, I often wonder if others do.

I also considered that people simply don't understand miscarriage. There is so much debate about abortion and what constitutes life. People's beliefs range from a certain number of weeks in utero until actual birth. I've seen the disheartening "clump of cells" argument and have wondered often if that's how my daughter was viewed by people I know. Despite your own personal views, it is logical how someone who is okay with the termination of a fetus at 10 weeks would have a hard time understanding someone else's pain at losing one. I've even had someone ask me how far along I was when she passed, as though her gestational age somehow amounted to the plausibility that she was, indeed, a "real baby." In that one question, I felt that my loss was somehow discounted. I know she was a real baby—she waved at us and danced during an ultrasound. I believe that some people have a hard time connecting with this form of death that's so out of reach. For them, nothing was seen, so nothing was lost. The baby passes, life goes on, and we don't talk about it anymore.

But miscarriage is a real death and it hurts. If I lost any other family member or even a pet, I feel like more people would identify with my pain. More people would have had compassion. When my dad died unexpectedly in 2011, I had people reaching out to me all the time, even for months afterward, just to know that I was okay. When Zoe died, I got the customary, "sorry for your loss," and then I was left to grieve in solitude. I felt lonely.

Sure, I had her dad, and a few other close family members, but what I wanted most was friends. My greatest comfort came through the support of countless women in online groups who shared in my circumstances—strangers. They spoke openly with me. They told me it was okay to cry and be angry because I didn't understand why God took my baby. They reassured me that it was okay to grieve the loss of my daughter for as long as I wanted to. They recognized our loss as a true loss. It felt good to speak about Zoe and know that so many people understood me. It felt good to hear others use her name, call her an angel baby, and truly understand how that empty room in our house breaks my heart every day. Deep down, I wished this same level of support was coming from those near and dear to me.

I get it—sometimes it's extremely hard to connect or sympathize with someone who has circumstances that are foreign to you. Even if your sister or mom had a miscarriage, that doesn't bring you close to touching that pain that the woman suffers, as her womb is no longer protecting the delicate being that was soon to be in her arms. It doesn't place you any closer to the man whose heart hurts and yearns to hold his baby in his arms and finally get to understand how mama fell in love. There is something that the common person may not understand, but I believe we come closer to understanding through discussion.

Speaking openly about miscarriage changes things. People learn that those who suffer them have lost children, and are in pain and do need support. When we are silent, I believe that others think we are okay. This is not to say that others will immediately understand, but it's a start to helping them do so. We shouldn't be ashamed to speak about our losses. We also shouldn't have to justify their roles in our lives as real.

Every day, we walk past our daughter's cremated remains. Until we decide to scatter them, this is how we are able to hold her whenever we want to. Many people have cremated their babies. Many have buried them. Those were real babies. They existed and will continue to exist forever in the hearts of those who lost them. Please don't shut them—us— out. Speak to your friends and family who have experienced pregnancy loss. If you can't say anything, at least assure them that you are there. I promise, it makes all the difference.