I was just shy of three months into a pregnancy when I began to bleed heavily and miscarry. It was the day before my 12-week ultrasound, the one that typically serves as the “OK” to tell everyone around you that you are with child. The day before. I remember thinking that Mother Nature could be a real cold-hearted bitch.
It was the third pregnancy loss I had suffered in four years. The first was an early loss — I was only six weeks along. Had I not known I was pregnant, I suppose I would have just thought it was a heavy, late period. But I did know. So it was nothing like a heavy period. It was painful and sad. I only told a few people, convinced that my lifestyle of staying up late working on my feet and having the occasional, weekly cigarette before I knew I was pregnant were my downfall. You don’t take care of yourself! You work too hard. You’re too stressed out. There was a constant loop of explanations playing in my head. I was devastated.
The second was an ectopic pregnancy. I had to make a choice of waiting to see if the pregnancy was viable, or possibly rupturing my uterus. I chose to wait for test results. It wasn’t viable. I had to take a cab to the hospital so they could inject me with methotrexate, a common cancer medication that stops the growth of rapidly dividing cells — like cancer cells… and embryos. Again, I was convinced that somehow it was my fault.
But back to that 12-week miscarriage. I was terrified. I’d never seen so much blood in my life. As my partner helped me strip from my blood-soaked clothes in the ER, I was convinced I was dying. He ran to get a nurse. When she returned and saw the panicked look on my face, she simply said, “Don’t worry, honey. This is totally normal. This is what happens.”
Almost one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage — but that doesn’t stop those of us who’ve gone through one from experiencing a sort of shame. Maybe we want to find someone to blame, and the easiest target is ourselves. After I began to share my story, I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt a sense of failure or blame after each pregnancy loss I suffered. A study published this week in Obstetrics & Gynecology proves that many of us have common misconceptions about the causes of miscarriage — and it may be adding blame and shame to an already horrible experience.
Almost half the 1,084 people surveyed who had experienced a miscarriage or whose partner had gone through one felt guilty. More than a quarter felt shame. About 15 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. The survey respondents who had experienced one believed that percentage to be closer to five or less. Why do we think they are not as common as they are? Probably because we are urged not to tell anyone about our pregnancies until we are “in the clear” — until we’ve reached the 12-week mark, after which miscarriages become less common. But in trying to prevent the discomfort of having to explain a pregnancy loss, we end up isolating ourselves and turning inward. The result: miscarriages become taboo.
Dr Zev Williams, the director of a program for early and recurrent pregnancy loss told The Guardian, “The results of our survey indicate widespread misconceptions about the prevalence and causes of miscarriage. Because miscarriage is very common but rarely discussed, many women and couples feel very isolated and alone after suffering a miscarriage. We need to better educate people about miscarriage, which could help reduce the shame and stigma associated with it.”
Not only are we not grasping how common miscarriages are, we’re also turning the blame on ourselves. In reality, 60% of miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities; in an overwhelming majority of the cases, there is absolutely nothing you could have done to change your outcome. 10% are caused by an incompetent cervix or a uterine abnormality that requires surgery to correct. Other causes include immunologic disorders, untreated illnesses, and PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). In the survey, however, a large majority thought stressful events, lifting heavy objects, or using certain types of contraceptives were responsible for a large percentage of miscarriages. This just isn’t true.
The more we share our stories, the less taboo the subject will become and the more educated we will all be about the causes. If you’ve ever been on a birth board, you are very familiar with how pregnancy loss is treated — you immediately become persona non grata. It’s almost as if people think a miscarriage is something that can be caught. You can’t mention your experience without a plethora of “Trigger Warnings” — as if some women actually believe they can be “jinxed” into experiencing a loss simply because they read about one. It’s mind-boggling.
On the one hand, there are those who insist that anyone can have a baby! This argument is often used to minimize the role of the mother, because anyone with a uterus can get pregnant, right? Wrong. On the other hand, no one allows a woman to really mourn a miscarriage. You’re expected to get over it, like you would any other disappointment. Rarely do people think about the time you may have spent talking to this child you were growing. Rarely do they think about the dreams you had. Rarely do they think about how every minute that you believed that you were pregnant with a child you wanted — you were connecting to that child. You miscarry. It’s gone. Get over it.
Women are quiet because they have to be. Because miscarriage is isolating and lonely and painful. Because it’s hard for people to fully recognize what we’ve lost. And so we turn in — and in doing so we search and search for something that makes sense. For some explanation for a reason why our bodies will not do the thing people insist any woman can do.
Hopefully this new research will reach women who are feeling a sort of blame over the miscarriage or miscarriages they’ve suffered. We go through enough as women — we don’t need to tack that on to our load.
If you’re going through a miscarriage, tell someone. Talk about it. Mourn it. It’s not your fault.