Recently, when I was around 10 weeks pregnant, I went in for a dating ultrasound.
My midwife wanted to confirm my baby’s due date, because we suspected that I was actually 9 weeks along, or maybe 11 weeks.
The radiologist discovered that my baby was dead – had died at 8 weeks and 4 days… whenever that had been.
We all know that miscarriage is always a risk, but it’s still a shock to go in for a routine ultrasound with a seemingly healthy pregnancy… and then leave in tears talking about getting a D&C.
A week later I was sedated and the remains of my baby were scooped out of me.
I was heartbroken. I was grieving.
But I was also very lucky: I had immense amounts of support.
I had friends texting me constantly asking what they could do to help. My house smelled like roses, because the girls at work sent me a big bouquet of flowers. My neighbours invited our son over for dinner so we wouldn’t have to fake cheerfulness with him, and left cookies in our mailbox.
The love and support I received contrasted violently with the experience of a friend, who was fired from work after her miscarriage, who got no flowers, no cookies, and whose grandmother and mother-in-law both hurt her frequently by nagging her to produce a baby.
But it’s not a fair comparison – you see, I told people about my miscarriage.
My friend did not.
The conventional wisdom – in our part of the world at least – says that you shouldn’t even tell people that you are pregnant, lest you miscarry. Better to wait until the second trimester, when your risk of miscarriage drops dramatically.
The implied assumption is that you don’t want to tell people about your miscarriage, so it’s better keep your pregnancy a secret until that danger has passed.
I want to know: Why don’t we want to talk about miscarriage?
For many women, miscarriage isn’t just a matter of, “Oops, never mind, no baby after all!” While some may feel that way, and that’s fine, others can be devastated.
I wasn’t just mourning the 8 week jellybean inside me. I was weeping for the baby I had been expecting, my Christmas baby, and as I wept, I clutched the little newborn sized Christmas pajamas that I had already bought.
And sometimes these women suffer side by side.
I had two friends who miscarried close to each other. Both told me, neither told the other. They each thought they were alone. Neither knew what the other was going through. Neither knew that they had something in common.
When I announced my loss at work, every woman over 35 had a miscarriage story to share.
Just think – of the ten women at my work, four have had miscarriages. And none of them talked about it… until I announced mine.
They shared their grief with me, and we hugged each other, and listened to each other’s stories.
And I wondered… why aren’t we supposed to do this?
Why do so many women keep miscarriage a secret, often not even telling friends or family members? Why do some women keep their pregnancies a dark secret, just out of fear that the pregnancy might end?
There’s an element of shame that hovers around miscarriage.
People think that talking about their miscarriage somehow addresses a failure, as if they had made a mistake.
It’s natural to blame yourself for your miscarriage. My first thought was, “What did I do wrong?”
The first thing my midwife said to me was, “You did nothing wrong.”
When I spoke to the nurse at the Early Pregnancy Assessment Centre, she told me that 97% of the time, miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities and have nothing to do with the mother’s actions.
When I went on to worry that something I was exposed to at work might have killed my baby – x-rays, or pesticides – she told me, “We see a LOT of women in here who are pregnant, but don’t want to be. You wouldn’t believe the crazy stuff they have tried to end the pregnancy at home. It never works. Trust me – there is nothing you could have done to bring this on yourself.”
My miscarriage was not my fault.
I didn’t fail, and the women who have told me about their miscarriages didn’t fail either. So why do we treat it like a failure?
But even the term “miscarriage” implies some fault on the woman, as if I had dropped the baby in a moment of thoughtlessness. In fact, some women have even been prosecuted for their miscarriages.
So we don’t tell people about it.
In a culture where you aren’t supposed to talk about your miscarriage – or even your first trimester pregnancy lest it end in miscarriage – families grieve for their lost babies in a vacuum of shame and secrecy.
There is no funeral. No compassionate leave. No Hallmark cards. But that doesn’t make it less real of a loss.
Even women who aren’t grieving their miscarriage – perhaps they didn’t even want the baby – feel the need to hide it due to the stigma around it.
And that’s never going to change unless people start talking.
Until we bring miscarriage into the light, it will remain a dark, hidden secret.
Until people start talking about it, people won’t know how to respond to it appropriately. Until we remove the stigma, the shame will continue.
Until we talk about it, people will continue to suffer in silence.
Because if you don’t tell anyone unless they have had a miscarriage too, how does anyone who has miscarried find each other?
It just takes one person to speak out, to announce their loss like it is any other loss, and the stories and support come pouring in.
So we need to speak up.
We need to tell people when we suffer a loss. We owe them that, and we owe ourselves that, because for all we know, they need someone to talk to, too. Don’t assume that they don’t know what you’re going through, because chances are, they do.
I’m asking all of you to be brave.
Talk about it on Facebook.
Tweet it, #talkaboutmiscarriage.
Tell people you don’t know very well.
Tell them if you’re grieving. Tell them if you aren’t.
There’s no reason to hide what has happened, or how you feel about it. Chances are neither the experience, nor your emotions, are unique to you.
Only by opening those doors can we find the support we need, and join together the women who have been suffering in silence for all this time.
Have you or has someone close to you had a miscarriage? How did cultural attitudes toward it affect the grieving process?
Photo credit to Jiri Hordan. This photo has been released into the public domain by its author, Jiri Hordan.