I’ll start this post by confessing that I am writing from the perspective of an observer–a well informed observer, perhaps, but an observer nonetheless.
I have never experienced the tragedy and grief that accompanies having a miscarriage.
My husband came home the other night and informed me that the wife of someone he knows recently suffered a miscarriage. The sorrow, relayed from person to person, was evident in the brief announcement he shared with me.
Truth be told, a large percentage of women will experience a miscarriage at some point in their life: fifteen percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage while a full fifty percent of fertilized eggs actually fail implantation–resulting in miscarriages that women aren’t even aware of. The majority of miscarriages occur early in pregnancy–usually within the first trimester (twelve weeks). Only one percent of miscarriages occur after twenty weeks of gestation–the event is then referred to as a stillbirth.
Now, it’s all fine and dandy for me to talk about these issues in such a practical, emotionally-removed way, but for the woman who has experienced the grief of losing a baby–even if that baby is still smaller than a dime–statistics are likely unhelpful at the very least, and callous at the very best.
In our culture, it is common practice to keep a pregnancy–even a much wanted pregnancy–a secret until passing that magical 12 week mark. Why? All of the above.
As far as I can discern it, women (and their partners) want to keep their pregnancies under wraps so that if they fall into that fifteen percent–if they lose the pregnancy–they won’t have already told the world about it.
But really, at a micro level, I still have to ask the question–why?
I have a few theories about this, and hope to receive feedback from others to expand this list of theories.
1) For practical, work-related reasons, a woman may choose to delay announcing a pregnancy to her employer/co-workers until she has:
a. figured out what she will do, work-wise, after the baby is born.
b. figured out how her employer will handle her as an employee with an assumed, up-coming maternity leave.
c. figured out the likelihood of her job security in the event that she opts for an extra-long maternity leave. (In our country, 6-8 weeks is pathetically considered a “typical” maternity leave. If you’ve already had children and are reading this post, you will know how small and vulnerable; how needy and young a six-week-old infant is. I can’t wait for the day when a “typical” maternity leave in the good ol’ US of A is three-six months, and a “long” maternity leave is a year.)
2. Social/emotional reasons
Let’s face it: only fifty percent of pregnancies are planned. And when the unplanned fifty percent of pregnancies occur, there tends to be some consideration to undertake. If the pregnancy occurs outside of a committed relationship or (God-forbid) as the result of an act of violence, the woman likely has a lot of soul-searching to do before she starts announcing to her partner, friends and family members that she is “in the family way.” Perhaps a pregnancy occurs between two people who are in a committed relationship–but the pregnancy is still very much a surprise: a drastic change from whatever set of plans the two people had arranged between themselves. This too may require soul searching: how do we get our minds around this drastically different path on our mutual road map?
3. A woman’s ( or couple’s) fear of emotional vulnerability:
“If we tell everyone about our pregnancy, and we end up miscarrying–then we’ll have to tell all those same people about losing the baby. There will be questions, unsolicited comments and well-meant pieces of advice that will cause us to re-live our agony again and again.”
This is the part of the equation I find so perplexing.
In other scenarios, when we experience the loss of a loved one, it is socially acceptable to immerse ourselves in the comfort of others; to wear our grief on our sleeves and accept the nurturing that others willfully offer us. It’s OK, expected and encouraged to talk through the details of that person’s death–moments spent in the hospital with him or her. Details of a sudden or prolonged illness. Difficult, peaceful or comforting good-byes.
But when it comes to the loss of a not-yet-born baby (I know, I know…I’m sounding very Right Wing, here) we expect ourselves to bear our grief in relative silence…disallowing friends and family the opportunity to know about our loss and comfort us.
Is this emotional holding others at arm’s length about stoicism? Or is it just about protecting oneself from the unfortunately idiotic things that (well-meaning) people end up saying in what they feel is an awkward situation? Conversely, is it about protecting oneself from the isolating silence that may arise from the friends, family and colleagues that would have known about the pregnancy–evidence that members of that particular woman’s support system is poorly qualified to walk with her in her time of grief and loss.
From friends of mine who have had miscarriages, these are the types of comments/suggestions they had been in receipt of in the days/weeks/months following their miscarriage(s):
“I’m sorry for your loss–are you going to start trying again soon?”
“You know, it’s for the best: there was probably something wrong with the baby to begin with.”
“It must have been God’s plan…”
“Good thing it happened so early on in the pregnancy…”
My suspicion, in the face of a miscarriage, is it’s probably better to start with simply acknowledging the person/couple’s loss by saying something like,
“I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you…”
and offer your emotional availability,
“I really want you to know that I’m here for you…anytime, day or night. If you want to talk, or if you want someone to be with in silence, please know you can call anytime. Is there anything I can do for you right now?”
Another interesting twist to this whole dilemma is how parents who’ve already birthed one or more children handle their pregnancies. Call it feeling cavalier, relaxed or (can you even believe it?) confident in the body’s ability to carry a child…some women/couples announce subsequent pregnancies from the moment the woman has peed on the stick and come up with a positive result.
We certainly found this to be true with our second and third pregnancies. Perhaps this has to do with trusting that if the woman’s body had successfully carried a baby to a healthy birth in the past, that there’s no reason to doubt that same course again and, therefore, announcing the good news feels safer. Statistically, this doesn’t necessarily make sense, but the point here is that something shifts in this woman’s/couple’s psyche–allowing her to open herself up to sharing her good news with friends and loved ones.
I am thankful to have never suffered the deep grief that accompanies the loss of a much-wanted baby. I am thankful to have carried to near-term all three of our children (albeit with a few glitches along the way). I’m also thankful for the gift several of my friends have given me in sharing their experiences with miscarriage. Not because I’m interested in voyeurism. But because I believe their naked honesty has allowed me to be more compassionate and, when suitable, more willing to listen rather than talk in the face of someone else’s personal tragedy.
What are your experiences with miscarriage? What do you have to add to this topic?
Lastly, here are some links for you:
From the Cleveland Clinic