In this tell-all age, there’s not much we moms won’t share about ourselves and our kids. We’ll talk in detail about our 12-hour labors, the color and consistency of baby poop, our kids’ eating and sleeping habits, their grades, friends, hobbies and cute sayings. We’ll admit to our exhaustion, frustration and boredom as readily as we share our joy and pride.
But there are two topics that even the most candid mother is often reluctant to share: postpartum depression and miscarriage.
According to the American Psychological Association, PPD affects up to 10 to 15 percent of new mothers, and can lead to serious problems for both mother and child if left untreated. Yet despite the increased media coverage of the illness – and the courage of such notable celebs as Alanis Morrisette and Brooke Shields who have shared their stories – the stigma still persists. Perhaps because the ideal of the perfect happy mother is so ingrained in us, women with PPD are afraid or ashamed to tell their loved ones about their symptoms. (Read more about PPD from our wonderful blogger Katherine Stone.)
Miscarriage also affects millions of women (and the men who love them), yet it’s such a devastating and emotional loss that many women can’t bring themselves to talk about it – not even the woman who may become First Lady.
An AP profile of Ann Romney last week revealed that she lost a child in 1991, several months into her fourth pregnancy, a fact confirmed by an anonymous source close to the Romneys. “The couple have never spoken publicly about their loss,” says the reporter.
A follow-up story by CNN confirms that the loss was a miscarriage rather than a stillbirth (miscarriage is defined as the loss of a pregnancy before the 20th week).
Mrs. Romney is hardly close-lipped about her life and health. She has spoken openly about her successful treatment for early-stage breast cancer, and about her multiple sclerosis, an incurable autoimmune disorder that can cause problems with walking, balance, vision, mental acuity and more. She’ll answer questions about her husband’s campaign and their marriage. She also won many hearts when she blasted a critic who said she’d never held a job. Raising five sons at home, she said, was “hard work.”
The fact that this public figure has never talked about her miscarriage illustrates how much of a taboo topic it still is.
Losing a pregnancy means losing the hopes and dreams a mother has for her child. It means losing her sense of security and confidence in her ability to nurture a baby in the womb. It means canceling obstetrician’s appointments and crib deliveries. It means tears, guilt, questions and an endless string of what-ifs. It means having to pause for a moment when asked, “How many children do you have?”
If the pregnancy wasn’t public knowledge, she may feel that she has to keep the loss to herself. If she shares the news, she has to pretend to take comfort from well-meaning comments: There must have been something wrong with it. God has another angel in heaven now. You can try again. Everything works out for the best. Either way, she’s expected to carry on as if nothing had happened.
It’s a heck of a lot easier to talk about the economy or a lumpectomy than it is to describe the pain of miscarriage. I know this personally. And yet, by keeping silent, we perpetuate the taboo.
Fortunately, there are resources and websites that can help women work through their sorrow and feel supported by a larger community. The excellent site Unspoken Grief (run by Babble’s own Devan McGuinness) is one of them.
Perhaps one day Mrs. Romney will choose to share her story and help shatter the stigma. If her husband wins the presidential election in November, it would be one of the most important things she could do in her new White House role.
[Photo: via PacificCoastNews.com]
Read more of Shana’s writing at Momsperiments.
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