December 8, 2021

From Shame to Freedom: It is Time to Forgive Ourselves.


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“There is no viable baby here.”

Those were the first words I heard as I stared at the ultrasound screen during my obstetrician’s appointment.

I felt the colour drain from my face and the bile rise in my throat.

No. Viable. Baby.

“It is a Blighted Ovum. There never was a baby. Your body simply believed there was, and it implanted a non-viable egg into your uterine lining. You were never truly pregnant.”

The remainder of the appointment was a blur of words and signing paperwork. I would need surgery. It would be a long recovery.

I made my way home and called a friend, the person who I was certain would know what to say. The moment I told her the news, she turned into a pillar of stone-cold silence.

“I thought I’d be seeing the ultrasound pictures,” she said. “I have nothing else to say. So…I have to go.”

No love, no compassion, no empathy. She stayed perched on the edge of the couch for a few more moments, as though her body was itching to get away, but her manners were telling her to stay put and endure this awkwardness. Her fingers were laced through each other and gripped tightly, making her knuckles white with the effort.

She walked out the door, and I did not hear from her for eight weeks. My next conversation with her was a text she sent, asking me to babysit her children so she can go out for an anniversary dinner with her husband. I declined. Our friendship ended there.

My surgery to remove the non-baby was brutal and led to an infection.

I bled for weeks and weeks, not recovering. My skin sagged, and dark rings emerged under my eyes. I became iron-depleted and riddled with fever from the infection. I returned for a second surgery, which was successful, but by that time, I had been bleeding for nearly two months and my uterus was stuck in a permanent cramp. The top of my legs was chafed and raw from wearing pads the size of boats, pieces of oversized and poorly shaped plastic that made an audible crunching sound when I walked.

Over the following weeks, we had to tell everyone that the pregnancy was over. We had been so excited when we first found out about the pregnancy that we naively told everyone. Our families, our friends, my gym instructor.

In all of the painful conversations I had to have informing them all that the baby was gone, I learned a valuable lesson.

Grief is not a subject that anyone wants to discuss.

It is a shameful thing, an emotion that creates a wave of shame for the bearer. It comes with the message: “Don’t tell us your secret shame. It is better for everyone if you keep it to yourself.”

There was no reason for me to feel shame. I had not made any mistakes. But I carried that shame all the same. Others had wanted a different outcome for my pregnancy, and I was ashamed that I had not only let them down but was now deep in a grief I wasn’t sure I could come out of.

I understood pretty quickly to not share the truth of what I was feeling. I stopped speaking about my miscarriage to anyone. At the mere mention of the word, conversations would dry up into an awkward nothingness. So, eventually, I didn’t mention it at all.

It was like the non-baby never existed.

This wasn’t the first time I had felt shame.

When I stole $20 from my mother’s purse and got found out.

When I cheated on my high school boyfriend.

When I failed my first university exam.

All of those times that shame had snuck up on me, I had learned quickly not to share it. Whether it was because it represented failure or just poor judgment, I knew that sharing the secret only made me feel more shame.

As a society, we seem somehow ill-equipped to respond to feelings of shame with compassion.

Instead, shame panics us. But shame is not the enemy we think it is.

Shame brings us contrast. It makes us question our values and ask if they need to be moved or shifted. Shame allows us to see our codes of living, all those we have been instructed to honour, and question whether they are still correct for us.

Are the values I have always lived by correct for me? Should I carve them in stone and hold myself to them? Or were they never correct for me? Did I grow beyond them and need to let them be washed away by the incoming tide? Were these values that I hold so deeply perhaps never even mine to carry? Am I carrying this shame because I have not met others’ expectations?

We do not have to hold onto the values we once carried. We are humans in a human experience, needing to allow ourselves to fall and fail and cry and break. We can make poor choices. We hurt people, and they hurt us. We experience grief and loss and setbacks.

It has been 14 years and three healthy children since the unnecessary shame of my miscarriage.

The distance has made forgiving myself and letting go of that shame easier, but it still had to come deliberately. It took dozens of moments where I gave myself permission to put the shame down, to not pick it back up again.

Freedom from that shame I carried, the shame that was never mine to carry, only came when I opened my mouth and let the secret be free, with time coming to a place where I didn’t care what the response was. I was able to share about my lost baby because it was my truth, my story, and that should always be given the chance to see the light of day.

There is no purpose in me holding it in.

Whatever you are holding in, let it out. Keeping a secret only serves to fester the shame.

It is within your power to hand yourself back the compassion you have been withholding and release the outdated or misaligned values that made you feel ashamed in the first place.

And that’s when shame turns to freedom.

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author: Holly Herbig

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