I am having my second miscarriage in a row. I am waiting for my body to expel a much wanted pregnancy that in our sense of joy and good fortune, my husband and I had already announced to family and friends. My first miscarriage this spring was very early (5.5 weeks) and I recovered from it with relative ease. But this morning, suddenly no longer pregnant at 7.5 weeks, I was flooded by a tidal wave of rage.
I yelled at my 5-year-old daughter who was impaling a potted plant with her light saber. I tried to pick a fight with my husband, who wasn’t in the mood to oblige.
And then, it hit me.
I was angry because I had told so many people about this pregnancy and I was ashamed to have somehow “lost” it. I was angry at the very fact that I was feeling this shame. And angry that there was an expectation that I should have waited until it was a “sure thing” before announcing it, as if there could ever be a sure thing in this world anyway. I was angry that my imprudence might be seen by some as a form of hubris for which I was being punished.
I was angry because I am expected to carry a triple burden: the burden of fertility; the burden of pregnancy itself; and perhaps most of all, the burden of silence if a pregnancy is lost.
After my daughter was born, I was appalled at the lack of information that is readily available to women about their prenatal healthcare and birthing choices. But if there were a way for women to share their real experiences more publicly with one another, rather than sugarcoating or glossing over the more unpleasant aspects of pregnancy and childbirth, wouldn’t we be in a better position to advocate for ourselves and for our families? The same seems to be true of miscarriage.
My anger this morning drove me to post a Facebook status update that read:
“Miscarriages suck, and one of the worst things about them is the silence that surrounds them. As a culture, we are socialized to not talk about them publicly or worse, pretend they never happened. Well, fuck that. Right now, I am going through my second miscarriage in a row: first one at 5.5 weeks; this one at 7.5 weeks. So, Friends, please share your experiences. I’d love to hear your thoughts.”
I posted this not because I wanted pity or sympathy. I did it because I thought it might make me feel better to speak publicly about what I was going through in the hope that other people would share their experiences, too, and that by sharing, we might all feel a bit better in the realization that we aren’t alone.
The outpouring of responses I received both publicly and privately was incredible. Not only did people tell their own stories of loss (some of which I had not known although I thought I knew the tellers quite well), but helpful medical information was also shared. And most importantly, a good deal of anger and resentment about how their losses had been treated was aired.
My friend Robin was the first to comment:
“I don’t understand the tradition of not telling people you are pregnant until after 12 weeks. The sole reason for that tradition is to hold the news back in case you miscarry. That logic seems contrary when a miscarriage is exactly the moment you would want people to know and provide support, yet you are supposed to just suffer a loss as if it never happened. We should change that tradition, starting now.” These words felt like a call to arms.
Marybeth said that “it was worse when the people I did tell told me it was meant to be and it took everything I had not to bitch-slap them. I wound up keeping a lot of it to myself because the you can have others and the baby was deformed comments sent me further into despair.”
And Aldis said:
“I lost my last three pregnancies and the culture of silence is the strangest thing. Some people get so uncomfortable when you tell them because no one ever talks about it. Yet I’ve also found that when you do talk about it, so many people have experienced this. I would say that around 75% of my friends with healthy babies have suffered at least one miscarriage. And most of the time I had no idea until I had my own miscarriage. People end up so isolated in their grief.”
In comment after comment, friends were demonstrating that our feelings about miscarriage are unique, myriad, and diverse, and that the standard responses, whether in the form of platitudes or denial, are not only inadequate, but can even exacerbate feelings of shame, isolation, and anger.
The question remains as to why we as a culture seem so compelled to remain silent on the subject of miscarriage. Echoing my friend Robin’s sentiment, Emily Bazelon wonders in her article “Motherhood Lost” for Slate “why the common assumption is still that it’s better, or in better taste, to grieve for the loss of a pregnancy in private.” Her guess is that it’s to do with the abortion debate and the feminist political position that life begins at viability. “When we miscarry,” she says, “we are disturbed to find ourselves mourning a child rather than a mass of developing cells.” What we lose is so much more.
Women’s health is not simply an issue of women’s rights, but a matter of human rights. I received a number of surprising comments from men whose wives or partners had experienced miscarriages. Their grief and sense of loss were just as real, just as raw, just as palpable as the women’s, as was their rage, and this made it abundantly clear to me that what was happening on this Facebook thread was much more than just friends expressing sympathy for my loss, or people commiserating over shared traumas.
My Facebook thread became something much bigger than myself or my group of friends. What I realized was that: 1. Miscarriage is not only a women’s experience, but a universal experience, and silencing it is harmful to all of us; and 2. We can change things simply by speaking out.
At this time in our history, when debates are resurging over women’s health and reproductive rights, when our bodies are again on the frontline of our constitutional rights as Americans, the personal, as Carol Hanisch famously said, is still political. It has never stopped being political. And the truth is, as ever, a highly valuable and carefully controlled commodity. When people speak the truth to one another, all sorts of amazing things happen.
And you know what? I do feel better.