In an era that almost demands that you share everything from minutiae to the deeply intimate it’s one of the only things you aren’t supposed to say:
I was six weeks pregnant and I had a miscarriage.
It is one of the most life-altering, painful, and devastating things I have ever endured. And because of some strange social protocol, I felt like I had to keep it a secret.
It’s 2014 and we’ve come so far in talking about our bodies, our feelings, and our lives and yet there is a giant taboo about mentioning you are pregnant for three whole months.
If you had the flu you would tell your boss, your coworkers. But if you are growing a human being inside your body which makes you tired/moody/nauseous/sore/dizzy and changes what you can eat and drink how you move, you are expected to go to elaborate lengths to hide it from everyone.
If your grandmother dies you tell people at work, take a couple of days off, tell your friends, express how sad you are. But if you lose a baby you have to find a way to hide your tears in the office and make excuses for doctor’s appointments and canceling plans.
I was so happy (and overwhelmed) when I found out I was pregnant, it’s been something we’ve been hoping and trying for a long time. And while my mom and a few of my close friends knew that we were trying, the fear of a miscarriage is so deeply instilled in our culture that I knew I was “supposed to” hold off sharing the biggest most life-altering news of my life. Because if something went wrong…well, that is just something you don’t talk about.
The advice to hide your pregnancy for three months is so universally excepted for a reason: there is a one in five chance that you will lose the baby.
Twenty percent of women who get pregnant will have a miscarriage. This statistic is supposed to be comforting when you are one of them, but I can only focus on the 80% that don’t. And feel sad and ashamed and like a failure. Which I think is part of the reason women and their partners keep their pregnancies and miscarriages a secret.
My doctor told me, my husband told me, and I know: there is nothing I did to cause this. Having a miscarriage isn’t anyone’s fault. It isn’t something to be ashamed of.
But I don’t know if the world really believes that. We have such a penchant for judging women’s bodies and choices in general and especially when it comes to anything related to pregnancy or parenting that its perhaps inevitable that we also get unjust judgement thrust upon us for something so out of our control.
Aside from the judgement and the shame, the biggest reason so many women suffer in silence is because it’s so horrible and you don’t want to burden people with your grief or deal with their awkward or insensitive reactions. (see the spot on blog “Things People Said After My Miscarriage“)
But that’s just the problem. When no one talks about it, everyone who endures it feels alone. Hiding it at work and lying to my friends and coworkers was/has been excruciating. I called my mom crying multiple times a day and cried every night at home. But my mom lives 600 miles away and my husband is grieving too.
So I turned to the internet and scoured support forums and medical websites. So many of the feelings that people expressed were exactly what I was going though, and sometimes reading their stories made me feel less alone. Other times it made me even more sad. But I didn’t want to turn to strangers for comfort while lying to nearly everyone in my life. What does it say about us that this is the most acceptable option?
In my searching I came across this article: Why We Shouldn’t Have to Keep Pregnancy A Secret For the First Trimester by Wendy Zamora. In it she recounts her similar experience with having (and hiding) a miscarriage and articulates a lot of what I’ve been feeling:
There were so many women — so so many women — who had kept their first trimester pregnancies and subsequent miscarriages a secret, and now felt disconnected from the people in their everyday lives. So they turned to the Internet for a sense of community that they could not achieve with the people they would normally tell anything.I knew how they felt. My life felt like a giant lie. For two weeks while I waited for results and then learned that my baby had never developed properly, I walked among my friends and co-workers as a fairly functioning person.
But a thin veil had been drawn between me and the people who didn’t know, and each time I saw a visibly pregnant woman, or read about a new baby on Facebook, the veil thickened, darkening my view. I wanted to scream, I wanted to stew in sour thoughts. Most of all, despite believing I didn’t want to deal with people’s I’m-sorry-for-your-loss sympathy faces, I just wanted a world where it was OK for me feel this way — out in the open.
After the worst week, the week of wondering and bleeding and being scared and going to the doctor every other day and crying in the waiting room next to happy hugely pregnant women and cooing newborns I got the confirmation that I knew was coming: I was having a miscarriage.
When we cancelled all of our social plans and essentially when into hiding with our grief, I decided that we might as well tell our friends what was going on rather than giving some lame excuse that I wasn’t “feeling well.” Once we told a couple of people I realized that I’d have to tell all of my close friends, and the prospect of retelling the story over and over again over the course of several weeks whenever I saw them sounded excruciating and the alternative of keeping it a secret seemed silly. So we sent a simple email.
I don’t know what I expected the outcome to be. Really, I had no expectation. I just needed to say it, or at least type it. To try to feel a little less alone.
Of course I got a few short “sorry to hear that” messages but mostly a lot of genuine sympathy and empathy — some of it from the most unexpected people and places. A few women in my life shared with me their own stories of miscarriage, stories I had never heard before because it’s something we are expected to carry silently. Hearing those helped the most.
I know telling people likely made them uncomfortable. No one knows what to say in times of grief and loss and pain. The truth is there isn’t anything that anyone can do or say that will fix this or make this hurt go away but I don’t think that means we should pretend it’s not there. We can’t only say what’s easy to say.
From Zamora’s article:
Most moms love to recount their birthing stories. It’s their badge of honor; proof that they are, in fact, heroes who suffer through great pain to bring new life to the world. But not so many women like to come forward with their other war stories, the ones that don’t have happy endings.These stories are important, too. Important because, when you’re going through a miscarriage, you can look to other women and know that you will survive.
Dealing with a miscarriage is likely the hardest thing most people will ever have to endure and how you cope with something so horrible is the last thing anyone should dictate. If you want to keep it to yourself that’s a completely valid feeling (I still haven’t explained what’s going on to anyone at work).
But I think it’s time that women and their partners feel like they have a choice — to share the exciting news of a pregnancy as soon as they want to and to not be ashamed and have to suffer alone the pain of a miscarriage.
One in five means it’s something that several people you know have had to deal with. Likely in secret.