30 Nov How to Break the Miscarriage Stigma
I remember when I knew was pregnant for the first time. I had this strange pulling sensation in my uterus, my boobs were beyond PMS-sore and suddenly the smell of my husband’s cologne made my stomach roil. The test confirmed what my body was shouting at me. I was brewing a baby, and I was ecstatic.
But, as anyone who struggles with anxiety knows, I couldn’t help but fixate on every possible worst case scenario. I was terrified of miscarrying, and got into this obsessive habit of squeezing the sides of my breasts multiple times a day to make sure they still hurt. I constantly checked for evidence of blood on the toilet paper and I carefully evaluated my level of nausea throughout the day. I called my father, an OB/GYN, repeatedly, asking a million questions about hormone levels and symptoms and the incidence of miscarriage with each passing week.
When the cramping started a short time later, I knew that my worst fears had materialized before the bleeding even began.
As the pain intensified, I was overwhelmed by grief and a desolating sense of failure. I sat on the toilet for hours, sobbing.This was my punishment, I kept thinking, for my anxious, negative thoughts.
Blood tests and an ultrasound followed the next day. My hormone levels had dropped. There was no evidence of “tissue” left behind. My doctor, a female OB/GYN, told me it sucked but that I was lucky I wouldn’t have to have a D&C. She sent us home and told us to wait at least one cycle before trying again.
I went home and numbed my thoughts and feelings with Crash Bandicoot on our original PlayStation. I didn’t talk to anyone because aside from our parents, I hadn’t told anyone I was pregnant. I had carefully adhered to the 12 week rule. Don’t tell anyone you’re pregnant before three months just in case you miscarry. I didn’t, and I did.
A few months later, I knew I was pregnant again when I walked into Tim Hortons and the smell of the doughnuts made me puke in a very dirty public bathroom stall. I waited for my husband to get home from work, peed on the stick, and smiled at two dark blue lines. It’s going to be ok this time, he assured me. My dad reassured me. I switched doctors. I tried to avoid the rituals that had consumed me the last time. I tried to be positive. I tried to tell myself that the odds of miscarrying again were small. How many women actually miscarry twice in a row?
The incidence is 2%, actually. Two out of 100 women miscarry twice in a row, and I was one of them. It started the same way, at about the same time, with gradual cramping that became brutally painful. Hours of weeping on the toilet. I called my father from the bathroom and he was angry that I was making a big deal of it. People miscarry every day, he said. I was devastated by his callousness. Angry that he had told me it would be ok this time. I didn’t think it would ever be ok.
I went on to miscarry a third time, now among the 1% of women who experience recurrent pregnancy loss. The shame I felt was suffocating. I was a failure as a woman. Inadequate. A hot, raging jealousy compounded my anguish every time I saw a pregnant woman. I would never have a family, I was certain. My dreams and hopes for the future shattered into a million sharp pieces.
People always tell me that my story of habitual miscarriage has a happy ending. I had three losses and went on to have three healthy children. But if you’ve experienced pregnancy loss, you know that the pain and heartache never completely goes away. I still remember all three due dates from those first three pregnancies.
I remember the physical and emotional pain, the desperation and the guilt. And I remember, very clearly, that I didn’t talk about it because then everyone would know what a failure I was.
The first time I asked my husband how he felt during that awful time was a couple of days ago, when I let him know I was writing a blog about it. When we were in that dark place, I couldn’t see beyond my own grief to consider that he was suffering too. It felt like it was happening only to me; my sorrow singular. What I didn’t know was that he felt entirely helpless. There was nothing he could do or say to make it better. He was crushed by the losses and frustrated by his complete lack of control. He was desperately sad and concerned we’d never have a family.
In retrospect, I know that my father wasn’t angry at me either. He was frustrated and sad too. His job was to take care of pregnant women and deliver their babies, but there was nothing he could do to help me, his daughter, whose embryos just wouldn’t stick.
I also know, now, that there are things we can do to break the miscarriage stigma; to help the women and men who experience the devastating loss of not just their pregnancies, but the hopes and dreams that come along with a positive test:
- Talk about it! I was ashamed of my losses because I felt like I was somehow at fault. But there are many reasons why women miscarry, and we are not responsible for them. Having these conversations goes a long way in eliminating the guilt and self-blame.
- Acknowledge that the loss affects both partners.
- Accept that a pregnancy loss, no matter how early, is devastating. Comments like “At least you know you can conceive”, or “Just move on”, or “You can try again” minimizes the pain and sadness that are very real. If you don’t know what to say, “I’m sorry” goes a long way.
- Know that the sadness one feels after a miscarriage does not correlate with the number of weeks of pregnancy.
- Consider abandoning the 12 week “rule”. Share the excitement of that positive test with your best friends and family. The first 3 months are a legitimate part of your pregnancy- and why shouldn’t you share your joy, worries and morning sickness stories with the people you love?
- If you’re a medical professional, dismiss the idea that first trimester losses are no big deal. Recognize that miscarriage is an emotionally traumatic event that demands compassion and empathy.
I count the blessings of my three healthy children every day, but those three babies that never were are never far from my mind. If you’ve experienced the trauma of pregnancy loss, consider sharing your story too. The more we talk about it, the more we normalize the experience and give the miscarriage stigma the kick in the ass it deserves.