Literary Hub

Kim Hooper on the Heavy Toll of Miscarriage on a Marriage

grief

The day after losing our first baby, my husband went to a hockey game with his brother. I was in bed, woozy from the pain pills they’d given me after the emergency surgery to remove the embryo from my fallopian tube, a poor choice of residence. The word for this type of pregnancy, “ectopic,” is Greek for “out of place.” That’s how it felt—out of place in so many ways. After all, we’d done everything right, we loved each other, we had so much love to give a child. This didn’t make sense. I was left with the unsettling realization that so much in life doesn’t make sense. So much is “out of place.”

My husband couldn’t stand being around me. He is a classic fixer; if he can’t fix it, he gets frustrated and angry. He usually works from home, but he left the house for client meetings when I was home recovering. “Being in this house raises my blood pressure,” he said. It took him weeks before he admitted it was just too hard for him to see me cry.

My grief became not just about the baby, but about this chasm in my marriage. He wanted to move on, not dwell on it; I wanted to indulge the sadness. I imagined us on different sides of a vast canyon, him yelling, “Come here. Come to the bright side.” But I was so trapped in clouds and darkness, I couldn’t even see him.

The ectopic pregnancy was followed by an early miscarriage, and that was followed by the loss of a baby boy about halfway through a pregnancy that appeared to have no problems. When my fourth pregnancy was ectopic, again, my husband said, “Would it be so bad if we didn’t have a child?” and I wanted to slap him.

I went to therapy. I dragged him to therapy. None of it worked as well as writing. I had to write—about the grief, the losses, what it does to a couple who promised “for better or worse” while having no idea what “worse” could entail.

My new novel, Tiny, started with a single scene: A couple lying in bed, next to each other, but not touching, each pretending to be asleep. This couple was trying to find their way back to life (and each other) after every parent’s worst nightmare: the death of their 3-year-old daughter.

My therapist once said that tragedies can’t be “ranked.” She said this to give me permission to be devastated by my losses, even though I kept questioning my pain and saying things like, “It’s not like I lost an actual child.” That—the death of a living, breathing child—has always been the worst-case scenario tragedy in my mind. The deaths of my almost-children brought me to my knees, and as I started to hobble around again, I wondered how anyone survived losing a child they’d touched and known. As a writer, I’m interested in exploring extremes; I put characters in dramatic situations to make sense of the smaller-scale dramas in my own life. As an aspiring mother, this meant confronting the worst-case-scenario loss. I needed to see if that kind of grief was survivable. If it was, then how?

When I started Tiny, in the midst of my own losses, I didn’t know what would become of my main characters, individually or as a couple. I started by allowing the wife to grieve like I grieved, and the husband to grieve like my husband had. As I predicted, this created immediate tension in the story. As every writer knows, stories need conflict. It wasn’t until I went through my own losses that I realized that grief is conflict—with one’s self, with loved ones, with God or the universe. In my own life and in the book, I didn’t know what would become of this conflict. I had to write to find out.

It wasn’t difficult or dull or even depressing to write about grieving. Grief is such a dynamic experience—there is so much movement and depth. There is sadness, of course, but a story about grief does not just feature characters lying in bed, crying. With grief comes anger—so much anger, often misplaced and confusing. All kinds of coping mechanisms rear their sometimes-ugly heads—non-runners become runners, cautious people become adrenaline junkies, happy-go-lucky types find themselves stuck in contemplation of their own mortality. That’s the thing about grief—it demands thinking about death. And thinking about death demands reassessing life—what matters, what should matter.

Some may say people aren’t themselves while grieving; but they are exactly themselves, stripped of all the illusions of control and safety they had before their loss. In this way, grieving exposes us; it gets to the heart of universal fears and hopes that make us human. In other words, for a writer, grief is a goldmine.

I could not write my way out of grief. But writing Tiny did take away some of its mystery and power. I got to know grief by writing. It was no longer the scary monster hiding in the closet. Through my characters, I realized that people grieve differently. Some people seem “fine,” putting one proverbial foot in front of the other. Some distract themselves with time-consuming tasks, hobbies, obsessions. Some sob. Some drink too much. Some eat too little. With grief, there is no right or wrong—it just is. So much of life just is.

After my husband read Tiny, we talked about how we’d grieved, separately while together. We’d never talked about it formally until he read the book. He said, “What should I have done differently?” and I said, “Nothing. You had to do exactly what you had to do.” What we could have done differently, as a couple, was respect each other’s ways of grieving, instead of stewing in resentment, frustrated with the other person for not doing it our way. We could have been more compassionate with each other, and with ourselves. Grief is the ultimate “the only way out is through” experience; it would have helped to accept it instead of fighting it (and each other) every step of the way.

In lieu of sharing the ending to Tiny, I’ll share the ending to my own saga. My husband and I welcomed a baby girl in October of 2017. All of the clichés and song lyrics and tired phrases have proven true: She is the light of my life, she is my sunshine, she is the best part of my day. I’ve dedicated the book to her. It’s my hope that she’ll read it one day and understand a little more about the grief her parents were willing to endure for the sometimes-terrifying pleasure of knowing her.

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Tiny by Kim Hooper will be out June 11, 2019 via Turner Publishing.

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