Refined by Fire

Refined by Fire | Johanna Mutz


Photo c/o Darby Mush Photography , Styling c/o Sweet Juniper Home

Johanna Mutz is the co-owner of laurelbox, a small shop offering hand-curated gifts to nourish hearts after loss.  Before laurelbox, Johanna worked as a museum fundraiser and educator for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.  She currently lives in Florida with her husband and two boys where she can soak up sun year round.

I was 25 years old and 8 weeks pregnant when the doctor took my hand.  She looked me gently in the eyes, and told me I would not stay pregnant. Her advice on my next steps… come back in two weeks for a follow up appointment, don’t tell anyone you are pregnant, and throw away your ultrasound photo. 

So I went home, and I waited for two weeks.  I kept up normal life, and I hoped beyond my own good judgement for a better outcome, even as the sense of loss grew stronger in my soul.  Two weeks later, on a Thursday, the doctor confirmed what I already knew.  The baby was gone.

The next day I spent 12 hours in a hospital bed, sobbing into my sheets.  On Saturday, I put on a pencil skirt and a brave face and went to work.  On Sunday, I walked into church only to walk back out again at the sight of a baby dedication.  On Monday, I sat in my office, staring numbly at a computer screen.  Three days later on Thanksgiving, I cried at the dinner table.  For months I kept up that dance, frantically trying to hide my grief as I threw myself into normal life and tried to silence my horror by staying busy.

My body didn’t heal for months.  Probably because I gave it very little care.

My heart didn’t heal for longer.  Probably because I gave it even less care.

By the time I miscarried, I had an assortment of random baby things, all small and inconsequential: samples from the doctors office, my ultrasound photo, a pregnancy magazine, a few things from a gift bag given to women at their first OBGYN appointment.

While I was pregnant, the bag of baby things hung on my bedroom door, but after I miscarried the sight of it made me so enraged that I threw it into a shoebox at the back of my closet. It’s a perfect metaphor for how I handled the whole loss.

I normally don’t feel angry or sad when I think about my miscarriage anymore, but I do grieve for how I treated myself:

I treated my broken body like an inconvenience.

I struggled to distract myself with work and plans.

I avoided rest and solitude, fearful of the pain that might visit in the quiet.

My heart stayed so skittish that almost two years later, pregnant with my next child, I avoided setting up the crib until I was almost full term.

When I look back at those months after my miscarriage, I wonder, why didn’t I tuck myself into bed?  Why didn’t I feed myself soup and wine and some tenderness?  Why had I treated myself so cruelly?

I know part of my attitude of self-shaming stemmed from the cultural message that miscarriages are meant to be hidden, but I think the most important work I can do is within myself.  So I decided to learn how to extend kindness to myself.

Don’t get me wrong.  Grieving is not convenient.  It hurts like hell.  There are people who will try and rush grief or rationalize it away.  Grief disrupts normal life.  But shoving my miscarriage further into the recesses of my heart didn’t make it go away.  It didn’t heal my brokenness.  Only when I held up my hurt to be seen by caring souls around me, could someone step in and help me carry the load.

I wish I could say that in the last six years, I never experienced another loss.  But two years ago my life broke in a totally different way.  Because that’s what life does, right?  It breaks and mends and then breaks again.

This time, I tucked myself into bed.  I fed myself soup and poured myself wine and gave myself tenderness.  It took a long time, and it looked messy from the outside, and it was inconvenient.

But when I gave myself grace and time to process my loss and integrate it into my life, I found a sense of peace and worth.  I let others carry me when I couldn’t hold myself up.  Embracing my own human-ness in my brokenness was the most terrible, beautiful and authentic thing I’ve ever done.

So beautiful woman, whatever you’re going through, don’t rush yourself.  Your loss is not a source of shame.  Your heart is worth tender care.  Honoring your grief by pausing to integrate it into your story will be a step on your path of healing.  You are worth the care.


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