The Miscarriage Taboo
March 2, 2016 8:30 PM   Subscribe

Thanks for posting. There was a great essay posted to the Blue in December about miscarriage, feminism, grief, and loss. Two very different pieces, and both worth reading.
posted by duffell at 8:41 PM on March 2, 2016

“and I think part of it is that no one knows what to say.”

And more, people fear they might accidentally say the wrong thing, the thing that marks them out forever as an insensitive clod, the thing they will wake up and remember with shame and horror in the middle of the night thirty years later.
posted by Segundus at 2:07 AM on March 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

"I am terribly sorry for your loss."

"If there is anything I can do - and that absolutely includes being the person you call at 3am to shout at when you need a thing to shout at - I will be there for you."

"Want a beer?"
posted by Combat Wombat at 5:01 AM on March 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

Can we get a new word, too? Because 'miscarriage' is nearly an accusation.
posted by Rat Spatula at 5:32 AM on March 3, 2016 [9 favorites]

Thanks for posting this. I had a miscarriage at 11 weeks that involved a trip to Urgent Care ("just to make sure everything is okay"), being told I was lucky to even have known I was pregnant because most miscarriages happen so early, and then a call two days later as I was on my way home from my D&C that the Urgent Care place had gotten my blood test results back and I was "very pregnant".

I know many women who have miscarried, and I mostly know this because I am open in talking about mine and many friends have chimed in, either publicly or privately, to tell their stories too.

I had a conversation with my best friend about a year and a half after my miscarriage, in which she tearfully apologized for not having been there for me when it happened. I was flabbergasted that she'd been carrying this guilt with her, because she'd been as attentive as distance allowed and I had buried myself in this little cocoon of sadness and hadn't noted any defects in how she'd acted. She had been so confused and uncomfortable that she believed she'd dropped the ball.
posted by SeedStitch at 5:36 AM on March 3, 2016 [8 favorites]

When my now-wife miscarried, after a day of tears and frustration, she looked at me and asked, "would you care if I had a cigarette?'

I responded, "I wouldn't care if you shot up heroin right now."

Going through that together got us married, and mostly happy. Other people's callous bullshit regarding fertility and expectations is a common discussion topic.
posted by DigDoug at 6:25 AM on March 3, 2016 [12 favorites]

I'm sure it doesn't help that suffering a miscarriage is increasingly considered a crime in... well, you know, certain parts of the U.S.
posted by Naberius at 6:26 AM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the 12-week rule seems especially insidious to me. If you are my friend and you are pregnant and therefore having feelings about that, I don't want you to have to go through it without me loving at you, you know? Good feelings or bad, either are okay and I would rather them be shared than hidden, especially if things could go wrong.
posted by lauranesson at 6:39 AM on March 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

This combined with the FPP a few days ago about Irish women being mutilated in hospitals just reminds me of just how brutal the intersection of medicine and patriarchy can be.
posted by emjaybee at 6:56 AM on March 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

"and I think part of it is that no one knows what to say"

I have a VERY simple rule for this:
If you don't know what to say, ask them how they feel.
posted by shesdeadimalive at 7:11 AM on March 3, 2016 [14 favorites]

Rat Spatula: I think "pregnancy loss" would be a better term. At least it evokes the feeling of loss and grief that naturally accompany the event, and is more neutral as to laying blame.

lauranesson: You are sweet and your warm thoughts are so appreciated. As a gentle counterpoint, one of the things that hurt most when I had my first miscarriage (I had two and the second was not as far along/much less dramatic) was that I had told people about the pregnancy fairly early, and then had to tell them about its loss. I felt awful bearing that terrible news to them and knowing they were in pain over it -- to me it hurt more. As it worked out, I had to take several weeks off work, and so keeping it completely secret would not have panned out, but I wish I could have spared people I loved the pain all the same. With the second miscarriage, I was so glad it ended before I had told anyone.

shesdeadimalive: Bang on.

P.S. I had two children (and a stepdaughter) prior to those miscarriages. Their bouncing baby sister is 8 months old now, in case you were concerned for my story's happy ending.
posted by Smells of Detroit at 7:53 AM on March 3, 2016 [11 favorites]

Thank you for sharing this. My wife and I plan to try to have a baby someday soon... and we both come from families with extensive histories of miscarriages.

I'm already scared. It terrifies me because as the article discusses, dealing with the pain (physical and emotional) and the grief of the experience is difficult enough... but you also may have to deal with incompetence or insensitivity from medical professionals, and so many women have to deal with a horrible sense of uncertainty as well.

A close friend's recent example pains me to think about. After a very physically painful miscarriage process, she went to her doctor to get a D&C with local anesthesia. The insensitive idiot, during the procedure, made an audible comment about "getting this thing disposed of." She then took on a chastising tone with my friend in follow-up visits, seemingly trying to target or find my friend's supposed mistakes or behaviors that had made the miscarriage more likely.

This article reminds me that my friend is not alone in experiencing pain, grief, uncertainty, and poor medical treatment like that.

I just hope I can be the best support for my wife that I can, no matter what happens. I know that we will probably be religiously following the "12 week rule," or maybe even more of a 4-5 month rule, in the sense that after all we've both experienced in our own families, neither of us will be ready to celebrate an early pregnancy with acquaintances/workmates or other folks we don't know well. In fact, that probably will extend to our good friends as well, and maybe even to family.

On preview, while I appreciate lauranesson's point, I totally understand how Smells of Detroit feels... having to share that painful news with others might make you feel responsible for the pain and grief they are now feeling. It's hard enough in a situation like this for a woman or a couple to deal with feelings of responsibility and uncertainty as it is. And while you are foregoing support they might offer, you are also escaping any questions they may ask or any things they might say or do that will just fuel your feelings of responsibility and uncertainty.

OK, enough blathering on. Time to look for where I can donate money to medical research in this area.
posted by Old Man McKay at 8:12 AM on March 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Smells of Detroit, that is super fair, and thank you for it. I guess I still would rather know I was sharing the pain than someone having to do it alone. But your point makes sense, not wanting to hurt anyone. I guess that's the whole thing, right? If people knew how common this painful, awful thing is, then we could all help more. In a world where so much dumb stuff is laid on the woman who miscarried, maybe it is fair to wait until the pregnancy probably is gonna happen. I wish the world were better, then, I guess.
posted by lauranesson at 8:15 AM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Smells of Detroit, "pregnancy loss" is also the term I use. It's more inclusive and compassionate.

I seem to always recommend the same book, "Ended Beginnings: Healing Childbearing Losses" by Claudia Panuthos & Catherine Romeo. Examining the whole spectrum of pregnancy loss from abortion to stillbirth to having a special needs child, it's a great book for parents and caregivers.

As our world gets dirtier & more chaotic, it becomes more and more necessary to take a hard look in the US at how we support (or fail to support) pregnant people and their families, both in "successful" pregnancies - where we still drop the ball on c-section + induction/circumcision of baby boys/breastfeeding/maternity leave/postpartum depression/tethered oral tissues/special needs babies - and in loss of pregnancy. The literally infinite combinations and intersections of environmental, genetic/epigenetic, and anatomic/physiologic factors that can result in pregnancy loss still leave the burden of judgment, of proof, of blame - increasingly, shockingly, criminal blame - so unjustly on the shoulders of the person suffering the loss most acutely.

While the article's possibility of diagnostic tests is fine, and the idea of possible treatment in the pipeline better, there are more fundamental reproductive justice issues in play here.
posted by sutureselves at 8:50 AM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Twain Device and I didn't tell anyone but very close friends until I was 12 weeks pregnant with King Baby. We're intensely private people, and while I would have liked the support of close friends and family (though honestly friends found out long before family) if miscarriage had occurred, I didn't want the world at large to pity me without my permission if something happened. The majority of my coworkers didn't know I was pregnant until I was like five months along because I'm not friends with them all on Facebook.

I don't know how I would have responded to people who didn't know if we'd lost him though. I would have been devastated and I assume it would have been intensely hard to hide my devastation and continue daily life. We just got so incredibly lucky and I recognize that wholeheartedly. I hope we're as lucky next time around, but we'll just have to see.
posted by The Juche Idea at 9:57 AM on March 3, 2016

I forgot!
Old Man McKay, it might be helpful to suggest to your wife the potential benefit of retaining a doula's services. Doulas, sometimes called childbirth attendants, act as advocate and support for a pregnant person & family, & their role begins (ideally) long before an anticipated birth. Many doulas have training - & some specialize - in supporting all types of pregnancy loss. has lots of information & a directory.
posted by sutureselves at 10:09 AM on March 3, 2016

When we lost a pregnancy at 12 weeks, my husband and I told pretty much everyone: neighbours, friends, family, workmates. I teach at a university and I told my students there (mostly to explain why I had to reschedule a lot of things).

Perhaps selfishly, we found a lot of comfort in spreading our grief around. I can't imagine stuffing all that sadness down inside (though of course I understand that others take different approaches and it works for them).

People were, on the whole, really sympathetic. A surprising number (to me) also had miscarriage stories. I wonder how much of the reactions we got were cultural - we live in the Czech Republic and people here tend to be very matter-of-fact and there isn't nearly as much of the cultural pressure to be positive and happy as there is in the US. There are downsides to such a relentlessly honest culture, but it was definitely a relief to have so many people say, 'I'm so sorry. That sucks.' with no pressure to find the positive angle.

(The exception was my mother-in-law who told me a month after the miscarriage that I 'mustn't be sad! This is a perfectly natural thing to happen.' Bless her. She means well - I think - but sometimes struggles to understand other's emotions. Regardless, I would not recommend saying that to anyone who has had a pregnancy loss).
posted by brambory at 11:19 AM on March 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

A helpful thing you can do if a friend has a pregnancy loss is make note of the due date, and get in touch around that time with a card or phone call to see how they're doing. It's pretty common, I think, for grief to recur at that time. The friends I've done this with have been glad to be remembered.

Both my biological kids were born early, and I remember being home with a baby when there were still little notations on my calendar: 37 weeks. 38 weeks. 39 weeks. Due date!!!

When friends have lost babies during pregnancy, I think of the notes on their calendars reminding them, and I try to remember too. Some people don't take an early miscarriage very hard, and in their case, it doesn't hurt to check in. But it can really help a person who is still grieving when the loss has faded into ancient history for their friends and family.
posted by not that girl at 12:00 PM on March 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

July 15, 2016 is mine.

Miscarriage has been the worst medical system experience I've ever had. I was bleeding clots for 2 months off and on (if it is indeed finished now, I'm not entirely trusting yet). I rely on and hate the callous misinformed nurse who insists on telling me why it isn't sad, ignoring the very sad patient in her office. Someone needs to teach emotional labour in medical school, and maybe someday they could teach about miscarriage too.

This whole time I keep thinking, they don't care because I'm not technically sick. Our "health" care is only interested in disease, not health.
posted by sadmadglad at 3:30 PM on March 3, 2016

And more, people fear they might accidentally say the wrong thing, the thing that marks them out forever as an insensitive clod,

This is why we have cultural conventions for expressing sympathy for another's grief. I never understand why people think they enter into some high-stakes game to say just the right, personally customized, thing to a person who is grieving. We have these conventions because NOBODY WOULD KNOW WHAT TO SAY OTHERWISE.
posted by praemunire at 5:41 PM on March 3, 2016

My first pregnancy was last year and I lost identical twins at 20 weeks due to a condition that can only arise with twins sharing a placenta. We were just far along enough for them to be considered stillborn.

Everyone around us were so. very. kind. The nurses at the hospital took very good care of us. I thought it was kind of morbid at the time that they brought us itty bitty little newborn clothes, hats and blankets and took some pictures for mementos, and gave us a box for each of them for their things. But I understand the thought behind it better now, and appreciate that we did it. My family drove down 5 hours from their city as soon as they heard. My work was ready and willing to give me the doctor-recommended 6 weeks medical leave, though I ended up only taking 2, and then a few mental health days after that as needed. Because everyone knew we were expecting, word spread quickly that we'd lost them... and frankly it was nice to not be bombarded with people contacting me. But several sent flowers. My neighbour dropped off lasagna and apple crisp. Over the next several months, people close to me took the time to share their own experiences with pregnancy losses, not making it about them but simply helping me feel like we've been through something scarily common.

People might not talk about pregnancy losses like it's the most common thing in the world. It's not something you're going to talk to a still-pregnant woman about and scare the crap out of her either. Frankly the whole pregnancy experience is something people won't commonly know or talk a lot about unless they or someone very close to them has gone through it fairly recently. But I certainly didn't feel like any of this was a taboo subject when going through it. Uncomfortable like any death, yes, but any general notion I had on the taboo-ness beforehand was entirely a "society at large, old ways of thinking" general attitude... in reality I found it didn't exist at all for my community.
posted by lizbunny at 5:03 PM on March 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

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