By: Autumn Purdy
On a brisk, sunny morning recently, I drove my daughter to her socially distanced ballet performance of “The Nutcracker”. This year will be different than all other years: masks on, dancing within a taped-off box, no parents or audience, and instead of enjoying a matinee showing of the annual Christmas spectacular at the local high school amphitheater, the dance studio is filming all portions of the show and creating a movie-length production we will view at a later date. Despite all the necessary restrictions, my daughter remains unfazed. She was giddy, really, as she changed into her Snowflake costume in the backseat of our Toyota Camry. Once she was transformed into glittery white, she slid her ballet-tight-wearing feet inside her pink, fuzzy boots as I touched up her red lipstick, and snapped a couple of photos by the fence before she replaced her mask and waited for the curtain call. When it was time, she threw on her mint green winter coat, grabbed her dance bag with her COVID Health Assessment and allergy kit, and skipped off toward the stairs to enter the doors and dance her heart out to her favorite score as I remained outside until her time on stage was complete.
In the lull, I decided to take a walk around town. I chugged some water from my Kleen Kanteen, grabbed my hat, gloves, and mask, and bundled up to brace the biting air and explore some of the side roads to marvel at the holiday displays adorning the historic and architecturally unique homes nearby the studio. First, I passed the local library. Its folding table was already set out for reservation pick-up—stacks of books and movies in plastic, Kroger, shopping bags with patrons’ names and a list of their online reserves stapled to the outside for easy retrieval. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over the loss of my weekly trips to the library to peruse bookstacks and accomplish writing tasks. Sighing as I made my way up toward the library park, the scene is familiar now: no child was playing, climbing, nor swinging—no parent was following a toddler around the perimeter, spotting a child in their brave reach, or pushing small backs on the swings.
The desolation of the playground remains an eerie reminder of how long we have to go and embodies the anguish of my infertility years.
A lone, female runner donning sleek, athletic tights, a woolen cap, reflective gloves, and a gray neck gaiter strode by me and, even from quite a distance, I witnessed the smoky formation of her cadenced breaths trailing in front of her nose and mouth. I remained standing clear as she disappeared down the bike path, and stood still for a few heartbeats, taking in the scene around me: a tranquil, crisp, late-fall morning, and utter silence. I was absolutely alone. It dawned on me as I continued my walk how often I have felt this way. No matter the season, no matter the place, I have borne isolation in my miscarriage experience; tolerated being frozen, stranded, and stuck; remained off-put by the space between myself and others; sensed a residual fear remaining within me as, time and time again, I willed myself to get outside and put one foot in front of the other; have grasped for the wherewithal to move past my sorrow and the desperation brought on by my inability to carry children to term; and have far too often faked a smile behind masked grief.
As I exceeded a mile in my walk, I began to make my return to the studio. When I reached the lot, I saw a silver van parked in the spot directly across from my car. The back window of the van had three decals of children’s names associated with dance and sport. In the top right corner, I noticed a prominent sticker—a pink and blue ribbon—with the inscription:
too precious for earth
Lining the border of that telling emblem, the poignancy in the statement was clear:
“Shatter the Silence”
I stood and stared at that decal and realized: this mother knows me—she understands my suffering in experiencing pregnancy loss six times. I felt an urge to see this woman, a strong pull to remark on her statement decal, to share a socially-distanced greeting of sympathy and empathy, to thank her for being so bold in declaring her motherhood story—for outwardly raising awareness and making no apologies for remembering.
And a revelation came to me at that moment: how we go into the new year carrying our stories is by proclaiming our losses, being bold in the telling, and shattering the silence.
Instead of waiting in my car with the heater on and scrolling through my phone as I had planned to do, I leaned against the trunk of my Camry and said a silent prayer for this mother of nine. I hoped I would see her, but realized it was more than likely that her children were teenagers and drove themselves to dance rehearsal in their mother’s van, or perhaps, she was on her own walk around town. If in 2021, I’m blessed to be in close vicinity to this van once again, with the mother waiting inside as her daughters’ dance classes wrap-up, I might boldly walk up to her and, through my mask, express gratitude to her for being a witness to pregnancy loss. If she’ll allow it, I will share my experience of miscarriage, speak of my six children “too precious for earth”, and take an additional step toward normalizing the outward proclamation of miscarriage.
Silence doesn’t serve us—having the courage to share our stories does. Only by finding our voices, discovering new ways to honor our babies, practicing healthy ways to express the grief, and creating solidarity wrapped within the sisterhood of pink and blue ribbons will we “shatter the silence” of pregnancy and infant loss.
I hope in 2021, you will find the strength and the courage to continue carrying your personal stories in ways that feel true to you, and the precious lives you lost, as you endure walking along the path toward deeper healing in the new year.
About Autumn Purdy
Autumn Purdy earned a B.A. in English from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA, and is a Reviews Editor for Literary Mama. Currently writing her first book about the path to motherhood and her experience with recurrent miscarriage, she lives in Westerville, Ohio with her family. You can read more of her writing at https://asadsongbetter.com/ and https://bookjoy.blog/ and find her on Instagram and Twitter at @purdywords.