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Talking, And Not Talking, About Miscarriage

When I became pregnant I told most people within weeks. My colleagues knew before the first trimester was over, before the amnio had been done to make sure everything was “OK.” Most people shared in my excitement, but a few instantly admonished me for coming out “too soon.”

Miscarriage was still a very real possibility; as many as 1-5  pregnancies end in miscarriage and most within the first trimester. But my feeling at the time was: Look, a lot of women miscarry. It’s happening right now to someone. It’s probably happened to a quarter of the women working in the building. If it’s so common, maybe we should talk about it more. It’s hard enough without all the secrecy.

But what did I know? I had never had a miscarriage. I had never been touched by pregnancy loss. I understood when friends kept their pregnancy news under wraps for a few months, feeling that a loss would be better suffered without an audience of middle-level friends and colleagues. I could see the point. Maybe I’m just an over-sharer, I thought [though at the time the term over-sharing had yet to go into circulation].

I just read Jody Pratt’s candid essay on her miscarriages and all these questions came up again. Pratt chose to keep her early pregnancies and miscarriages a secret. She used the vague excuse of “lady” troubles to explain her absence from work. Now, looking back, she wonders if all that privacy was really doing her, or other people who’ve lost babies, any good.

“Years later, I still think about that miserable afternoon at work and how much easier it would have been if I’d just exhaled the truth. If I could have let people say, ‘I’m so sorry.’ If I hadn’t had to pretend that it was a normal day even as I was in the grips of soul-swallowing grief. Because the only thing worse than losing something that meant the world to you is pretending that you lost nothing.”

I never really got just how awful pregnancy loss can be until I had children. Even then, it took talking to women who’d miscarried and attending several workshops on pregnancy loss for me to start to understand the grief parents can feel. I still don’t know what it’s really like. But I’ve had some training. I know that, for example, I don’t need to give a woman who has just had a miscarriage a pep talk. Nor do I need to emphasize how early it was in the pregnancy. “I ultimately had two miscarriages, both at about 10 weeks,” writes Pratt. “Both times, I knew I was pregnant for nearly two months. That’s a lot of mornings to wake up enchanted that there’s a child growing inside you. It’s many long afternoons of fatigue, strange cravings, and nausea. It’s countless cups of decaf coffee and glasses of wine declined. It’s 60 prenatal vitamins.”

One of the best ways to work through a loss (that never entirely goes away–before she died, my mother-in-law acknowledged the birthday of her stillborn daughter every year) is to be able to talk about it. Of course most people stumble when they try to help a grieving friend. We’re not great at talking about death in general. But as Pratt points out: there are millions of women out there who have miscarried, millions. If you mention a miscarriage, chances are pretty good that soon enough another mother will tell her story and understand yours.

The fact that we’re so quiet about miscarriage might send the message that it’s not that big of a deal. I have heard people talk about friends who have miscarried with not a little surprise in their voices, “she took it really hard.” And there’s some more normal way to take it?

What do you think? Does keeping miscarriage on the down low always have to mean ‘suffering in silence’? Perhaps there’s a middle ground? Reaching out for support from a slightly wider circle of friends than just your partner, perhaps? But not announcing it in a mass email? Maybe openly acknowledging the loss in places like your office, but seeking real support from other parents who’ve lost babies. There are lots of places online and in various communities to help parents grieve. Last year, miscarriage made the papers numerous times, with celebrities opening up about their losses. Lisa Ling started a website for women to share more personal stories in a supportive and anonymous setting. Maybe times are changing. Maybe the taboo is not as strong as it was even a few years back.

In the end, talking about miscarriage is a highly personal choice. There so many different women dealing with such a huge range of circumstances, there are bound to be as many variations on how to talk about it and grieve. What makes me sad is when women feel they need to hold back due to cultural stigma and a widespread lack of understanding. Or when their feelings are invalidated by a culture that (maybe not purposefully) seems to be saying, hey, you’ll get over it.

photo: pennajoe123/flickr

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