A year before my little bundle of joy was born, I had a miscarriage at 14 weeks. To say it was devastating is an understatement. I remember screaming as the doctor told me those unforgettable words: there is no heartbeat. I went through the induction, delivery and subsequent D&C procedures like a zombie.
Self dispossession is the price solidarity exacts
~ M Shawn Copeland
I love asking questions. Most of my life, I have been asking questions, only difference is how and where I ask them as time has passed. I remember when I got employed after college, the secretary at our department was fed up with my questions and one day she raised her voice exasperated and said:
“Joyce! You are like a walking questionnaire!”
One of the questions that has been swirling in my mind for years is the question of solidarity amongst those who claim affinity to the Christian faith. I have suffered a lot in the 37 years I have been on the face of the earth and it is around this suffering that this question arose. I always wondered, sometimes out loud, why are the people of faith unable to fully empathize with those who suffer – physical, emotional, social, mental, spiritual suffering? I always wondered why it is that people of faith seemed lost when in the presence of another suffering human being. For years I asked God this question as well as fellow human beings who proclaim the Christian faith.
I remember when I lost my second child. The most awkward visitors I got were from the church. They looked lost, uncomfortable, out of place. In the end, while nursing my own physical and emotional wounds I cracked jokes to ease the palpable tension. This made them very happy. They ended up extolling my resilience and courage and ability to endure suffering and still laugh. In laughter they easily were enjoined with me, but as soon as my pain showed they coiled into themselves. I found it so odd.
The events of this particular morning, 11 years ago today, are still painful to conjure. I remember the entire morning and early afternoon in my head as if it happened a couple of hours ago. I had begun the practice of recording all my daily expenses to track my spending. So the night before, I wrote down the expenses in my book and put the book on my bedside table then settled into bed with my then husband to watch a movie. For the life of me, I cannot remember what movie we watched. I was around 10-12 weeks pregnant at the time, my first pregnancy and everything was going on well.
Next morning, 3rd March 2011, I wake up and my side of the bed is soaked with blood. I am shook! I do not know what to do or what is happening. I get out of the bed and we are now in panic mode. Blood is not a good thing when you are pregnant. Having a bed that is soaking in blood is baaaaad. So we call my doctor and she says that sounds like a miscarriage. I am trying to process everything all at once. I am scared and at the same time the pain has kicked in. Doctor guides us to get some medicine and my then husband goes to get the medicine. At this point the pain is debilitating, I am literally writhing on the floor. I am screaming in silence, holding my stomach, groaning and bleeding. Doctor says, the miscarriage is on and I just need to let it through.
October is a special month for me, for the reason that it is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. I have suffered the loss of two babies through miscarriages. What is unfortunate and what keeps me spreading awareness about pregnancy and infant loss is that to date I still suffer from shaming, silencing and all types of remarks mostly which revolve around ‘attention seeking. It is quite sad to see and hear debilitating stories of women who have gone through pregnancy and infant loss and the kind of treatment, especially in words (both written and spoken) that is levelled against their legitimate loss and pain.
Pregnancy is a hard journey. Science is still discovering all the effects pregnancy has on a woman’s overall health (mentally, emotionally, socially, physically, spiritually) both short and long term. Now compound those effects with a miscarriage or an infant loss. It really spirals to catastrophic lengths for me.
One of the reasons I actively participate in spreading awareness on pregnancy and infant loss awareness during the month of October as well as consciously talk about my experiences of child loss through miscarriages is that knowledge is power.
Knowledge is power
When I had my first miscarriage in March of 2010, I was lost. I felt alone. I was confused. I was overwhelmed. I really longed for answers, for conversations with kindred spirit but most were silent. Then I read a blog post by Becky Thompson and for the first time I had someone who had vocalised my worst pain. When Wanjiru Kihusa went ahead to share her story and begin Still A Mum, I felt so validated in all the emotions I had been going through. To hear stories of other women and be in a safe space where I did not feel ‘crazy’ or ‘weird’ or ‘something is wrong with me’. Meeting and getting to know Vivian Gaiko and the work she does with Empower Mama was so refreshing. It was such a healing moment to meet women like me, black women, Kenyan women, who shared my pain and my story; who understood my journey.
I realized then and even now that for many women going through pregnancy and infant loss, seclusion is the worst thing that can happen to you. Being along in your pain, unable to process it, put it into words, being misunderstood and sidelined, being hushed only adds salt to an open wound. That is why I write about my pain, my story and speak about it as well.
This morning I woke up to a retweet by Njoki Ngumi which had a trigger warning of a thread by Prof. Kate Antonova on miscarriage and all the complexity that is that word. I was not able to read past the first few tweets mostly because it was a description to the T of both my miscarriage experiences. It is a great awareness description of what really happens before, during and after a miscarriage, I encourage you to read it if you can.
I am convinced that if more women knew about pregnancy and infant loss, it would really ease all the pain that comes with this horrible experience. When I look back on both my miscarriage losses, knowing what I know now, I feel that things would definitely have been different. To know is to possess the power to make informed decisions and to grieve with awareness.
. . .
Shout out to my gynae of the last decade and counting. A woman who has cared and continues to care for my reproductive wellbeing. Me and mine are forever indebted to you Dr. Angela Chekoko Muliro. God eternally bless you for us.
Today the 15th of October is PAILRD2018 -Pregnancy And Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I attended a Parenting Class by the legendary Dr. Stanley Mukolwe. At the time we were pregnant with our second child and were excited and eager to learn everything we could on how to raise them up well. Unfortunately while still undertaking the Parenting Class we lost our son Thayu Kiheo through a miscarriage. We however decided to continue with the class to completion.
During this class we learnt maaany things from how our upbringing greatly influences our parenting to disciplining the children. One word from my encounter with Dr. Mukolwe however has been seared into my mind and I always refer to it in my parenting : EXTRAPOLATE
A few months ago we lost an angel in our ‘family’. I say family in quotes because this family is one though we are not related by blood has become more than blood family to me, to us. You know those people you meet and something happens, a connection that you cannot explain that binds you for life – yes – that is my ‘family’. There was a meme doing rounds a few moons back that said if you have been my friend for more than five years, you’re my cousin – you are officially my family. During the mourning period lots of words meant to comfort I presume were being said left right and center. But I felt most of these were not helpful at all, took me back to my loss of children and it would seem some of these phrases are standard – sadly so ???
As happens when a loved one, a friend, a colleague, a parishioner or a neighbor has lost life appropriate words are not easy to come by. Many people feel the urge to break the silence and in so doing end up saying such injurious things to the bereaved that it would have been better if they kept quiet. There is something in us humans that deceives us that we are only consoling the bereaved when we are talking: that was me until I was on the receiving end of such talk. I learnt the hard way, silence is golden!
Here are the 7 things to never tell a grieving parent.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
A couple of years ago (2011) I had my second miscarriage. To say that I was devastated is an understatement: I was a wreck, emotionally and physically. I had fought so hard to keep that baby and still lost. Walked in the hospital pregnant, left unpregnant (is that even an English word) and without a child ???
When I was young I always wanted to be a part of the Kenya judicial system. I will not get into the real reasons for this desire, but I will say this, the fact that I like expressing myself was among the least of them. As time went by, this desire evolved from wanting to become the first female chief justice in Kenya to settling on being a lawyer (nothing bad about being a lawyer ?).
To date some of my family members and close friends still refer to me as chief justice or lawyer. One of the people who fondly called me lawyer was my late grandmother Sarah Wanjiku: she had actually saved my phone number under that name, may she continue to rest in peace.
So, after my not very successful performance at the end of primary school I realized that I could not be a judge leave alone be the first female chief justice in Kenya. I began to pursue law as a career option and so in high school history become my favourite subject. English and Christian Education also featured prominently. However, blame it on the foolishness of youth, I did not perform as expected in the final high school exams and so did not qualify for public university. I paid dearly for my foolishness, spent the next five years of my life ‘slaving away’ at home and feeling very miserable about it.
On 28th November 2011, I went under the knife to remove the numerous fibroids in my uterus that had caused me two painful miscarriages and endless visits to the doctor. It had been a journey of 10 solid months to convince me to finally undergo the myomectomy: Or should I be more honest and say it was actually 2 years into marriage without children and growing pressure from all around.