THE MISCARRIAGE TABOO
The expectant mother experiences weeks or months of elation at the thought of meeting her child at the end of 9 months. The heartbeat is seen and heard and for many, names are picked – and friends and family are told. Then in one devastating moment and without a reason to be pinpointed, the child in the womb is taken away from her, never to become the baby girl or boy that she would raise. It’s heartbreaking for everyone — and though social mores and practices, it’s guilt and shame inducing for the mother. This mother becomes silenced due to the miscarriage taboo – but to her, the child and experience are never forgotten.
The causes of miscarriages are scientific and biological – whether it be genetic or a symptom of hormonal problems, infections, medical conditions or an immune system response. Regardless of this being no fault of the mother, we still stigmatize this “M” word. Conversations or confessions surrounding it are still to this day, hushed.
As many as 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage.
My dear friend Mary was brave enough to tell us her story on suffering two miscarriages. Her aim is for women to not feel what she felt. Shame, guilt, embarrassment, loss, loneliness. She wants women to be and feel validated for their loss and anger. She wants a dialogue and she wants a support system.
Parents who lose children through miscarriage feel excruciatingly alone. Once their physical symptoms have subsided, treatment ends by health practitioners – and friends and family don’t know how to help.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month — and we invite you to please start talking about it. Don’t tiptoe around miscarriage if someone you know is suffering. And don’t feel shame if you’re a parent who has suffered from it in the past. Help other women create awareness and alleviate their tendencies toward silence and shame.
Mary, thank you so much again for being so bold to do this. Please say a little about your two experiences. How did they differ?
My husband Steve and I had been trying to get pregnant for a few months. After learning when I was ovulating — I got pregnant right away and we were so excited. We found out before Thanksgiving — and we went to the doctor and they did an ultrasound. The technician was a bit hesitant at the time — but I didn’t pick up on the signs that something was wrong. Steve and I traveled to Rhode Island for Thanksgiving when I was 8 weeks pregnant and we surprised my family with the news.
When we returned back to LA, I went in for another ultrasound and the baby hadn’t grown as much as it should have and we learned there wasn’t a strong heartbeat either. I wasn’t convinced this baby wouldn’t make it — but I was insistent that as long as there was a heartbeat, I wasn’t giving up. The following week, I went in and there was no heartbeat. The pregnancy had to be terminated.
The doctor scheduled me for a D and C (Dilation and Curettage procedure) in her office for the next day and I couldn’t sleep all night. I begged them to give me another ultrasound just to be doubly sure there was no heartbeat because I knew I couldn’t forgive myself if there was a shred of life in this little baby inside me. There wasn’t.
I had the procedure and it was the worse time of my life.
I was told that my uterus was clean — and it was perfect to try again after a month. So I did. I barely made it through Christmas in one piece – but then in February, I found out I was pregnant again.
I had an ultrasound and the doctor said everything looked fine. I was 6 weeks pregnant when I woke up from a dream that I was bleeding — and I went into the bathroom. There was blood everywhere. I screamed for Steve to come to the bathroom — and without saying a word, we both knew what happened. I couldn’t look in the toilet because I was scared to see my baby in there. Now I wish I looked back.
We called the doctor’s office at 4:00 am. They advised us to come back at 7:30 when the office opened so they could do an ultrasound. I never went back to sleep. We drove to the doctor’s office and had the ultrasound. Nothing was there, my uterus was empty.
I didn’t want to go home so I made Steve drive me to work. Miscarriage #2.
Since I was 34 with 2 miscarriages, the doctor wanted to take blood from both Steve and me to make sure we were compatible. The blood results came in and illustrated that there was nothing abnormal with us so we were free to try again.
What were the primary scares going through your head?
I was scared I’d never be a mother. I was scared I’d never be able to have the experience of growing a child inside me. Then the questions: Why is this happening to me and why twice? Is motherhood not in my future? Did I wait until I was too old? Is there something wrong with me?
I was taking fish oil pills during my first pregnancy and thought there was mercury in the fish oil pills that killed my first baby. I would constantly apologize to Steve thinking it was my fault since I couldn’t stay pregnant. I could get pregnant so there was nothing wrong with him but I couldn’t do my job of staying pregnant.
What emotions overwhelmed you then and now?
I wanted to get my story out so the conversation about miscarriage becomes safe and not taboo. You tell someone you’ve had a miscarriage and everyone does the same thing. They tilt their heads and say, “I’m so sorry, what can I do?” You of course want to respond, “I want a baby!” and slap that person in their face; but in actuality, you say “There isn’t anything you can do but thank you for offering.”
What you want to hear is that you’re not alone and that they have had one themselves or know someone who has. I’m not the only one of my friends or family to have a miscarriage but no one seems to talk about it or their experience. Why not talk about it? I’ve had two different miscarriages and I’m sure there are other types. And to be clear, hearing about someone else’s misfortune doesn’t really help — but it opens up the conversation so you can really talk about what and how you’re feeling. Don’t fool yourself or others, you aren’t “fine” but if you tell them you are “fine” you give them an out to not dig deep and ask follow up questions.
I don’t take anything for granted. Growing up when I did – you were told you would fall in love, get married and have kids. No one talks of struggles and heartbreak and everything that happens in between all the happy times.
All people want to talk about is the positive stuff. Maybe I’m more jaded now – but now I just tell it like it is.
A friend recently told me something unfortunate going on with her, instead of the head tilt, sad face and “I’m so sorry, what can I do?” response, I just pounded my fist against the table and said “That fucking sucks!” Isn’t that what we all want to hear in response when you tell someone a hard truth?
Well I said what I said and she said ‘Thank you” — and it made her stop crying. I don’t want my friends to not get everything they want and to have pain — but at that moment my friend knew I understood her pain. It’s hard for us as women to admit we aren’t perfect and things aren’t always happily ever-after, so when we admit it to ourselves and others we should unite!
By the way, I was the “I’m so sorry, what can I do for you” person. Now I’m the ‘What the fuck, we are going to fix this” person.
What’s the worst thing someone has said to you in response to your miscarriage and/or your reaction to the suffering? How did you respond?
The responses weren’t so much bad – but they were very vanilla. “It will be ok'” or “You can try again” or different responses like “What happened, do the doctors know the cause'”or “There must have been something wrong with the baby and God took another angel so you didn’t have to make that decision.” Some of these are the responses people will give when they don’t know what to say or do, it’s almost better to not say anything at all — and just give that person a hug. The hug will allow the person to release whatever bodily tensions they’ve been storing up to hold themselves together and the moment of the hug a lot of the emotions will release and the BIG cry and healing will begin.
I know it’s so simple. During my second pregnancy, my best friend was pregnant with her second child. She also sat next to me at work so you can imagine that equation. I couldn’t look at her or talk to her and I know she felt bad because she knew there was nothing she could do for me.
It’s bad enough for a woman going through a miscarriage — but then seeing a pregnant woman on every corner and to have your best friend pregnant and work right next to you is torture.
One day a co-worker who had no idea about my situation came up to my best friend and started talking about babies. My best friend was trying to be polite to her but also not talk too much to be sensitive to me. I got up from my desk and said “I can’t do this” and ran out of our office and took the elevator down to the ground floor. My best friend came down there moments later and just held me as I sobbed uncontrollably. I had a release that I realize now I needed immensely. Steve also would find me crouched down in the shower just crying uncontrollably and he’d get in with me and just hold me.
You’ll never forget that baby, so don’t worry that when you get pregnant you won’t remember the child you lost. You will feel elated about being pregnant and then guilty thinking the child you lost gave up their life for this new child inside of you. I truly believe now that the children I gave birth to were meant to be in my life. This is not to say the other two children weren’t — but I believe the children I lost live inside the living children and they all share a special bond.
How should women break the silence on miscarriage?
That’s a good question. I wish I knew the key to unlock the silence. I don’t think celebrities who talk about their experiences really ‘help’ because people will think that celebrities have so much money they can do other things like IVF or surrogacy or adoption to get a baby that a lot of families can’t afford. I believe if someone like me speaks out on my experience in a bare and truthful way, I will make it safe for someone else to open up about their experience. I don’t mind talking about it, but no one asks.
I don’t keep my miscarriage a secret. If it comes up in conversation organically, I’ll tell people. When someone asks me how many children I have I do say 2 because I don’t think people are ready for me to say 4 children, but 2 were miscarriages. I think the more comfortable you are talking about your miscarriage, then it will make others more comfortable. Hopefully, the ripple effect will continue.
How has religion/spirituality played a part, if any?
I am Catholic so I did keep asking God the WHY question. I trusted him to place me with the children I was meant to raise but to please allow me such a gift. I don’t remember praying for help or to give me children I just remember asking him a lot of questions and to trust me to be a good mother and allow me to have a chance. I hate asking him for things for myself. When I couldn’t sleep at night I would just have a conversation with him, one sided of course, but it always made me feel better.
Yes I will. I have two girls — and who knows if they will have the same struggles I did. Not only do I want them to know my medical history — but if it happens to them, then they will know I’ve gone through it and find comfort knowing that I understand the emotions they are going through. They’ll have me as a support.
Mary, thank you so much for all of this. You’re an incredible force, inspiring mother and selfless woman. I stand with you in the march to eradicate the stigma.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance month — and October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance day.
If you or someone you know has suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss due to SIDS, please join in the national tribute by lighting a candle on October 15th at 7:00 pm and leave the candle burning for an hour. Please join us in eradicating the miscarriage taboo Thank you.