The '12-Week Rule' And Carrying Miscarriage Grief Alone
I knew you were there before the strip turned blue. Days, even a week before I bought that test, I felt you. I recognized the twinge in my abdomen, the butterflies, the soreness in my breasts, and the ever so slight nausea that greeted me in the morning. A physical feeling that I can’t describe in words except to say that I “just felt off” came upon me, and I knew you were there, and I loved you. You were loved.
You didn’t stay very long, but it doesn’t take long to become part of a family. And for the short time you were with us, you made us a family of four. You made us so, so happy.
I am sorry you didn’t get to stay longer. I am sorry my body betrayed you. I am sorry that you did not get to grow. I grieve for the future that I had planned for you in that short amount of time. But I am so glad that I knew you, even for the briefest of times. And I will never forget you, little one, not ever.
Miscarriage is not the most popular topic of conversation. I’m still struggling to understand why, given that around 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. That is not an unsubstantial number.
Perhaps it is due to the general misinformation and misconceptions about miscarriage. Perhaps it is too uncomfortable knowing we have absolutely no medical intervention that can prevent or treat a miscarriage. Or perhaps people just don’t know what to say.
We know the protocol when a person dies. There is a funeral service; the life of the deceased is talked about and celebrated. Condolences are offered as well as meals brought to the home of the survivors; support is offered in any way that is helpful. Death, while sad, is a part of life, and is recognized as such.
Miscarriage is death before life.
Often times, it is death that only one person feels or even knows about, and carries alone. That would be thanks to the 12-week rule our culture embraces. That is, women are advised and encouraged to keep their pregnancy a secret for the first twelve weeks until they’ve reached the “safe zone” (the chance of miscarrying plummets after the 12th week).
This is problematic for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is sometimes impossible to hide a pregnancy, even in the early weeks. Crippling nausea, debilitating exhaustion, and a myriad of other physical symptoms may manifest. I worked in a small office during my first pregnancy, I told my bosses around week 6 because nausea had me running to the bathroom every half hour. I was perpetually exhausted and relied heavily on my spouse and parents for help. And let’s not forget the emotional circus pregnant women are now the star of. Waves of torrential hormonal shifts are rocking a woman’s body, and every aspect of their physiological self is being affected.
Secondly, if that pregnancy is lost, women still need support. Imagine what happens when a pregnancy that no one knew about — but still has altered her in so many ways — suddenly ends? Imagine having to carry the burden of that grief all on your own while the rest of the world exists in blissful ignorance of the loss you suffered.
After my miscarriage, I felt many things: sadness, anger, isolation, and even some depression brought on by a substantial downswing of hormones. I was lucky that those very closest to me knew, and I had their support. But the rest of the world just kept turning. And I had to keep turning with it.
And so I took my daughter to her regularly scheduled playdates and made small talk with other moms and sang the silly songs. I was a silent bystander in my own body, as it purged any evidence of this life from me.
I also felt something I did not expect: foolish. I felt foolish for being sad. I felt I did not have the right to grieve, because, as people would point out to me, “It was really early.”
And again, there is the problem with the 12-week rule. Because we are encouraged not to disclose our pregnancy until the twelfth week, there is an unfair assumption that we can’t really be excited about our pregnancy until then.
Let me make one thing very clear: You are allowed to feel however you want or need to feel when you find out you have a human life growing inside of you, no matter when you find out.
And while words like “viable” and “sustainable” are thrown at you in regards to the progression of your pregnancy, there is no line graph where the love you feel for life inside you increases with the number of weeks it gestates. Pregnant is pregnant. Loss is loss.
Miscarriage isn’t just a loss we feel emotionally. It happens to our bodies, inside of us. We experience it physically. To expect a predetermined level of grief from a woman who has lost a pregnancy is absurd and presumptuous.
So, as a society, let’s do better. Let’s be more honest, open, and empathetic (this remains true for all aspects of our humanity).
Needing to talk to someone, anyone, I turned to an online community. Upon sharing my story, I was overwhelmed by the love and support that was offered. Most of all, I was shocked at the number of women who had similar stories. If this online community is but a sample of all the women you know, imagine how many of them have lost a pregnancy, and how many are aching to talk about it.
If you are unsure of what to say to someone who has lost a pregnancy, it’s actually really simple. Just tell them that it is okay to feel whatever they are feeling. It is okay to grieve, and that you are there for them. Dr. Jessica Zucker, a psychologist who specializes in women’s health, created a line of pregnancy loss cards. My favorite reads as follows:
“Grief knows no timeline. Take all the time you need.
If you want to rest, do. If you want to scream, do. If you want to distract yourself, do. If you want to cry, stuff your face, hibernate, go on an adventure, call me morning noon and night, do.
Be gentle with yourself.”
While I have physically and emotionally healed from my miscarriage, I will always remember the life that could have been. I will never forget his due date nor the future I had imagined.
Hopefully, I’ll get to plan a new future with a new life. We’ll keep trying and living. And if there’s one thing I have learned, it is just how precious my life and the lives of those I love are, and to never take them for granted.
I hope you heal too.
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