baby loss, community, grief, miscarriage, pregnancy, silence, social mores, speaking out, stigma, support, taboos, talking
Miscarriage is like a secret club – you aren’t supposed to talk about it to anyone who isn’t a member.
There’s a slight problem with that.
If no one talks about their miscarriage, how do you know who you can talk about your miscarriage?
The stigma about talking about miscarriage goes so deep that you aren’t even supposed to tell people that you’re pregnant until the highest risk of miscarriage passes because otherwise you might have to tell them that you had a miscarriage.
And you don’t want to do that… for… some… reason…
Once that dangerous first trimester, which I hate so much, is passed, and your chance of miscarrying goes down drastically, well, then you can risk it.
Here’s the thing – why don’t we want to tell people that we miscarried?
Why should we walk around keeping pregnancy a secret lest we end up having to talk about miscarriage with our neighbours and coworkers?
But the social pressure is strong.
In fact, if you tell a lot of people that you are pregnant before 12 weeks along, people raise their eyebrows. “She’s feeling pretty confident,” they think.
Well, I told a bunch of people. And it wasn’t because I was feeling confident. I knew the risks, and I had my reasons.
First of all, there’s the nature of my work.
I work with xrays and pesticides and vaccines and all kinds of things that are bad news for a developing baby. I could go around making excuses for not helping people with xrays and suddenly pretending to be too busy to help with anesthesia, or I could tell the damn truth.
So I did.
Then there’s the basic rule of “only tell the people who you would also tell if you miscarried.”
Well, hell, that’s a lot of people. After all, I knew that if I miscarried, I would blog about it, so I might as well tell you guys I was pregnant. And since I get, like, 500 hits a day, that’s a lot of people.
And then, of course, I would never hide something as important as a miscarriage from my family, or my friends, so I told all of them, too.
And my daycare ladies, well, they nagged me constantly about giving Owl a sibling, and I knew that if I DID miscarry, I would find that nagging very painful, and I knew that they would never knowingly cause me pain… so I told them I was pregnant, and then I told them when I miscarried.
They won’t tease me about giving Owl a sibling now, and that’s for the best for all of us, I think.
Really, the only people who didn’t know that I was pregnant, or that I had miscarried, were my dog training clients, the clients at my work, and my more distant Facebook friends.
And lately, I’ve been wondering about why I even bothered hiding it from them.
Because now I have to make excuses, and put on a pretence, and I hate it.
I hate getting cheery facebook updates from people who don’t know what I’m going through. I hate having to tell clients that I can’t make their appointment and need to reschedule because I’m going through a “minor surgical procedure”, and do they mind rebooking for next week.
And for what?
Why am I shielding them from my loss? Why is my loss a kind of taboo that one is supposed to consider too private for discussion? Why should I act like everything is fine when it isn’t? Why is their discomfort more important than my grief?
And there’s something else –
If I hadn’t told so many people, then I wouldn’t have received this immense amount of support.
If I hadn’t told the people at my work, I wouldn’t have gotten flowers, and I wouldn’t have been told “take all the time you need!”
In fact, one of my friends got fired for missing so many days after her miscarriage. They didn’t know she miscarried. They just knew she disappeared for a week while still on her first three months probation. So they told her not to come back in.
If I hadn’t blogged about it, my neighbour who reads my blog wouldn’t have known I was pregnant, and we wouldn’t have been able to go knock on the door and hand Owl over so we could go home and cry the day we were told that our baby had died.
If my friends didn’t know, they wouldn’t be texting me offering help, or bringing me baked goods.
And most importantly – if I hadn’t told all these people, none of them would have told me about their miscarriages.
When I went back to work last Friday, three women told me about their miscarriages (and there were only like 8 people there that day).
Even some friends who had never told me about their miscarriages suddenly came out and told me that they had had one, too. If I hadn’t told THEM, they would never have told me, and we would have gone through life neither knowing that the other shared a similar experience.
And I think about two friends of mine, who both miscarried within a short period of time. They both told me, but they didn’t tell each other. And so they both lost a chance to share their grief with a friend, to help each other through a hard time. To this day, they still don’t know that they have this pain in common, and I am bound to secrecy by both of them.
One of these same friends never told her own family. Her grandmother and her mother-in-law both nag her constantly about having children, and can’t understand why she’s touchy about it.
Why cause yourself that kind of pain, and why allow loving family members to unknowingly hurt you again and again? Isn’t that cruel to both yourself and them?
Why do we keep this kind of loss so private?
If someone’s parent dies, they post it on Facebook.
If someone’s cat dies, they post it on Facebook.
But when your baby dies – that’s not something for other people to know?
What are we afraid of?
Is it fear of hearing stupid remarks?
I don’t think so.
Anyone who has lost a pet can tell you that you WILL hear from idiots who have never had a pet saying things like “it was just a cat”, or “just get another one.” And those words are hurtful, because our bonds with our animals are real, and losing a pet can hurt more than losing a relative.
But people still post it on Facebook, even knowing what kind of idiot remarks they might hear.
Is it a feeling of failure?
A lot of women feel guilt after a miscarriage. I thought it too, you can’t help it – your first thought is “what did I do wrong”?
It’s not helped by the fact that assholes have tried to prosecute women for miscarrying.
But the fact is that miscarriage is not the woman’s fault.
The lady at the Early Pregnancy Assessment Centre said something I will never forget:
“We see a lot of women here who are pregnant and don’t want to be. And you wouldn’t believe the crazy stuff they have tried to make themselves not be pregnant… but they still are anyway. Trust me, nothing that happened at your work could have caused this.”
Miscarriage is almost always caused by chromosomal abnormalities, “a mistake of mother nature,” as they called it when I went in for my D&C, or sometimes a structural abnormality with the uterus or cervix or some other medical cause.
It is nothing the woman did wrong.
So why stigmatize it? Why turn it into a silent shame?
Does it sometimes hurt to talk about? Yes. But so does any loss. That’s why people will ask “do you want to talk about it?” when you are grieving. But this is the only one that you’re not supposed to tell people about.
The fact is, I can’t come up with a single reason that really makes miscarriage different from any other loss, except this:
People don’t talk about it.
Because we don’t talk about it, no one knows how to react to it.
Society isn’t set up for it. There are no “sorry for your miscarriage” hallmark cards. There is no accommodation in corporate culture for giving the father-not-to-be time off to grieve and help care for his wife. You can’t get compassionate leave: that only applies to the death of a family member who has already been born, and no one gives you a death certificate after your D&C.
And so we’re trapped in a circle of hurt – we don’t talk about it, so no one knows how much it hurts, so no one gives any accomodation for it, so no one talks about it.
Meanwhile women who work with each other every day may never know that they have both suffered a loss. May never have even spoken of their loss to anyone. May be grieving alone, thinking no one could understand.
Until one day, another woman comes in with the courage to say, “I lost my baby.”
And then the stories come out, and we hug each other, and we cry for our babies… together, as we should be.
I’m going to start using a twitter hashtag: #talkaboutmiscarriage.
Because we need to.