Why Can’t We Talk About Miscarriage?

Two days before my 38th birthday a doctor confirmed I was pregnant. I burst into tears, hugged a surprised and stoic nurse and immediately called my husband. There were times in the last few years when I was afraid that pregnancy just wasn’t in the cards for me. We married in our 30’s, delayed trying to conceive a little longer than originally planned and when we were finally ready to have a baby, the process wasn’t quick or easy. Nevertheless, at the “advanced maternal age” of nearly 38 I was pregnant!

I followed the advice of books, pregnancy websites and other women by only telling a handful of friends and family members that I was pregnant. The common line of thinking is that in the first trimester you should “only tell people you are willing to also tell about a miscarriage.”  The problem with this piece of advice is that it also leaves us with the impression that we’re not SUPPOSED to talk about miscarriage. It reinforces the isolation and shame that couples, especially women, feel after losing a pregnancy.

miscarriage

For exactly four weeks I was excited about being pregnant. We experienced the joy of telling our parents that after a long, long wait they would finally be grandparents. I glanced at the clothing in maternity departments and thought, “Oh, this stuff is pretty cute.” I cut way, way back on caffeine, took extra naps, had heartburn at 3am…all the stuff that makes it start to feel like a real pregnancy.  By eight weeks it was all over.

An ultrasound technician with a poor bedside manner dropped the bomb on us, “Okay, there’s the heartbeat! …Oh, I don’t see it now. It’s like it’s going in and out. Oh, this is weird, I’ve never seen this before. This is really weird. Okay – do you see the heartbeat because I don’t?”

Why are you asking me? How the hell do I know what to look for?

The ultrasound tech continued, “Well, there it is again, but it’s like it’s going in and out. Also the heartbeat is really low. It’s 93 beats per minutes.”  She said some other stuff about the size of the fetus and the yolk sack, but at that point my head was swimming. “Do you want me to print a picture of the baby?”  she asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said glancing over at my husband who looked just as shell shocked as I felt.  I didn’t see a point to keeping a picture if we were losing the pregnancy.

Grief

We met with the doctor who was a little more comforting than the ultrasound tech as he explained that sometimes a fetal heartbeat will be low one week and by the next week the baby bounces back, which gave us a glimmer of hope. In my heart of hearts though, I knew it was over and some quick internet research told me that the odds were not in our favor. That night I sobbed and sobbed. My mom came over and I cried on her shoulder, “I let everybody down. I’m sorry. I’m jealous of all those people who can do this so easily. I hate everyone who gets pregnant by accident at 18. I’m jealous of everyone with their cute baby pictures online. I’m jealous of the women my age having twins. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. When is it going to be MY turn?”

It wasn’t a pretty reaction, it wasn’t mature, it wasn’t even how I feel most of the time, but the impending loss was raw and I was heartbroken.

Part of the problem is that cute baby pictures and ultrasound images on Facebook don’t tell the whole story. Many of those mothers have already suffered a pregnancy loss or will suffer one at some point.  I felt as if I was the only woman in the world who’d lost a pregnancy when, in fact, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. My doctor told me that 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. According to an article in The Telegraph, it may even be more like 33%. The lowest statistic I’ve seen is about 20%, which is still one in every five pregnancies. What is certain is that it’s very, very common. Because we don’t openly talk about miscarriage, women don’t always know how many of their friends, colleagues, acquaintances and cousins have been through the same thing.  I’m glad that I didn’t discuss the pregnancy with everyone under the sun and my husband took care of informing friends because right after it happened, I didn’t want to talk about it. However, if more women were open about it,  perhaps the loss would have been easier to accept. I wouldn’t have felt so alone. As my mom said when she was trying to comfort me, “It’s just part of life.”

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Losing the pregnancy was devastating, but it was overshadowed by the death of my father a few days later.  My dad died unexpectedly after a short time in the hospital. The grief from my dad’s death overwhelmed any loss I felt about the miscarriage. Two days after his funeral, a much kinder ultrasound technician confirmed that there was no fetal heartbeat; news that I expected, but was still hard to hear.  It’s likely that the miscarriage was inevitable — a genetic defect.  The doctor reminded us that this was very common and when I was healthy we could try again. I was sad, but already so heartbroken from losing a parent that the pain from the two events just melted together. I knew my dad my whole life, I didn’t know my baby at all. It wasn’t as painful as a stillbirth or an infant loss when mothers have already bonded with the baby. My grief was really for the lost opportunity, the May due date that won’t come, the maternity clothes that I won’t get to buy this winter and the baby shower I won’t have in the spring.  However, losing my dad put things into perspective. I’ll still have a chance to get pregnant again or adopt a child.  I’ll never get my dad back.

There are resources and support groups for women coping with pregnancy and infant loss. For instance, I found discussion threads on sites such as BabyCenter.com, but it would be better if we could just be more open about these things without suffering in silence, feeling guilty or feeling fear of judgement. A few days after the miscarriage was confirmed, I was back enjoying the photos of adorable children on Facebook and feeling a little more hopeful that I’d eventually get my turn to post similar ones. The most helpful thing for me was realizing how common this is. It’s time we end the taboo and start talking to each other about pregnancy and infant loss.

Besides, if it can happen to Jay-Z and Beyonce and they can talk about it, why can’t I?

For further reading check out:

“Should you tell your Facebook friends you’ve had a miscarriage?” on Jezebel.

“We need to talk about miscarriage,” in The Telegraph

“My Miscarriage: The story I will keep telling,” in The Huffington Post.

44 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this Katrina. As we have discussed, I saw this article right away but didn’t realize it was written by you until I had the tab open for several days. I finally made myself finish reading the article today. I’m glad you wrote this and raised awareness for openly discussing the loss of pregnancy. I wish you and Paul the most hope for finding happiness in your lives.

    • Katrina Markel says:

      Hi MM,

      Thank you for your comments. I’ve heard from so many women who have had broken hearts around these issues.

      K

  2. Emma says:

    I am so happy to find this piece. I miscarried last week at 9 weeks and also wrote about it. As a blogger, I had already announced my pregnancy to the world, and I don’t regret it ONE BIT! I was amazed by how much support I got, both online (comments, private notes) and in person (flowers, food, a pedicure gift certificate).

    Thanks for putting your story out there! More of us need to.

    • Katrina Markel says:

      Good for you, Emma! Thank you for your comment. I didn’t even feel comfortable writing about my pregnancy until it was over, so I admire your openness.

  3. Katrina, I want to thank you for your beautiful article. So many of my patients suffer in silence. I will be sharing your article with many, so that an open conversation about miscarriage can begin. By the way, there does not appear to be an online miscarriage support group, like wwww.facesofloss.com (Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope).

    I also want to send you my compassion as you heal from your grief about your father’s death, as well as the miscarriage. I have hope that peace and joy will come to you.

    • Katrina Markel says:

      Hello Dr. Simmons, I will check out facesofloss.com. There isn’t a lot of online support from what I can find, so I’m eager to check it out. Thank you for your support and feedback.

  4. Diana Taylor says:

    Oh Katrina, I am so sorry to hear this news! I do understand what you are feeling, I lost a baby too. It was a really hard time for me but thankfully time helps the pain to fade. And just so you know, men don’t really get the feelings of loss and pain that women have. They can feel some loss but not the maternal side of things. And not all women can get pregnant with just one try. We had to have a little help getting started. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Katrina Markel says:

      HI Diana, Of course I had no idea that you went through this. Probably because I was a little kid, but the fact that I didn’t think about reaching out to a family member really brings home this idea that we don’t talk about it much. I’m so sorry you had a miscarriage,but also happy that you ultimately had three smart and beautiful daughters. Paul says that he wishes men talked about it more because he felt very alone too. Maybe more dialogue around the issue would help men grieve and help them support their wives.

  5. Heidi Hudson says:

    “I miscarried” Have been the words from the mouths of four amazing women in my life this year. Those words tear deep and cause big arms to reach out from my sides to wrap around my girlfriends and attempt to hug away some pain. What can I do…how can I be there?

    Katrina, your piece breaks through a sad silence and crystallizes the emotions so many women carry alone. Thank you.

  6. Kate H says:

    Thanks for sharing this Katrina. I’m only just back at work (part time) this week after losing our baby girl Allegra Jane at 27 weeks 1st October this year (after 5 early losses) and as heart broken as I am, I hoped work would occupy my mind a little. Unfortunately the topic appears so taboo that people weren’t told and I’ve had to manage conversations with people who think my daughter is at home (reason for me being part time), seeing me sitting and assume I’m “looking great for how far along” I am, or confusion over why I’m there as I’d been off for so long. And except for the few supporting friends and colleagues, people now avoid me or say “I’d like to not talk about the elephant in the room”.

    Acknowledgement of a child to be is the most important thing to me. And avoidance of the loss makes it so much harder and makes me feel so incredibly alone.

    Thank you for making me feel like it’s ok to talk about it, coz so often it’s down to what makes others comfortable, not what a grieving mother or father need.

  7. Katie says:

    Two weeks and many positive pregnancy tests into my first pregnancy I went to the ER with spotting, and the doctor with no bedside manner came in to tell me that the pregnancy test they gave me was negative. His words, as the pieces of my heart fell into my stomach, were “well are you even sure you were pregnant?” Later, blood tests would confirm that yes, I was miscarrying and not some simpleton who doesn’t understand the difference between a plus or minus sign.

    He was callous but thankfully the nurse that day did have a bedside manner. She came in, hugged me, told me that it had also happened to her and she went on to have four beautiful children.

    That was about four years ago, and I have two beautiful children now, the result of two normal, healthy pregnancies. As my cousin, who also suffered, always says: “if it were not for my miscarriage, then [child 1] would never have come in to our lives!” Someday that will be you. <3

  8. Daylee says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, and I am so sorry for your loss. Simply talking about your experience with losing an early term baby really helps to break the taboo regarding pregnancy loss.

    I lost my precious Kennedi Rose September 19, 2013 at 31 weeks. We knew something was wrong at 20 weeks and got her fatal diagnosis at 25 weeks so we were expecting it, which was both a blessing and a curse. We had some time to prepare emotionally but had to grieve for our daughter twice–once for our loss of the joy and naïveté of pregnancy, and again after she was really gone.

    Something that I’ve learned while on this journey is that a large part of grief, the really hard part, is mourning the loss of a future. Not having one last chance to say “I love you” or “I’m sorry,” no more family vacations, no more lazy Sundays. In a “traditional” loss, where a loved one has died after having some time to develop a relationship, memories, etc–whether it be months, years, or decades–there is likely to be some positivity and comfort for survivors to lean on through the mourning process. They may not have a future with their loved one, but at least they have some memories, had a relationship, had opportunities to enjoy them. At least they have *something*. In so many ways, a pregnancy loss is the devastating loss of a future without the comfort of a past to help parents through. There were never any “I love yous,” no family vacations, no memories at all.

    While most people are not tasteless enough to come out and say it, when it comes to pregnancy loss, I think most of society has thoughts along the lines of “it’s not a very sad loss because she didn’t even know her baby,” or “they shouldn’t be THAT upset, they never even saw their baby alive and couldn’t get attached.” And in reality, they’re right. That’s exactly the point. Never having had that opportunity hurts. It hurts a lot.

    I haven’t written what I have to advocate that a pregnancy loss is more difficult to navigate than a traditional loss. To the contrary, actually. A loss is ALWAYS a loss. There shouldn’t be a differentiation among different types of loss based on the age of the deceased, just like there shouldn’t be a differentiation in the importance of a loss based on the relationship of the survivor to the deceased. A spouse, friend, coworker, classmate–the loss of any of these individuals will be felt by varying to degrees by anyone unfortunate enough to experience the loss.

    Death is a difficult topic to discuss even when it’s a more “traditional” loss. But child and pregnancy loss is even more so, because people really, really don’t want to think about losing their own babies. When confronted with it, people want to label it and put it in a box, one that makes it feel far away and distant from themselves, and not think about it again. But pregnancy loss shouldn’t be treated any differently than any other loss. Because a loss is a loss, no matter the circumstances.

    Thanks again for writing this. <3

  9. Angie says:

    I am so sorry for the loss of your baby.

    One thing that I wanted to point out, though clearly completely unintentionally on your part, is that when you say things like, “I knew my dad my whole life, I didn’t know my baby at all. It wasn’t as painful as a stillbirth or an infant loss when mothers have already bonded with the baby.” it kind of takes away from the pain that women experience in first trimester loss.

    I was in a support group with a woman who experienced a stillbirth and a miscarriage, and she said that in many ways the miscarriage was harder to deal with for her because no one acknowledged that it was okay to be sad. No one saw it as “real” and she didn’t get any support.

    As someone who has experienced two first trimester losses, I don’t think that they should be compared to anything else. They are awful and tragic. Period.

    • Katrina Markel says:

      Angie, I think that’s a fair point and I appreciate your very thoughtful feedback. I don’t want women to think that miscarriage isn’t a legitimate tragedy or that it’s not okay to grieve. It’s a terrible loss. The truth of my experience is that losing my dad will have a greater impact on my daily life and for me it overshadowed the miscarriage. Since the two things happened concurrently I couldn’t fully separate them. Everyone’s story and experience is different and this just happened to be mine. It’s also been less than a month, so I’m still processing both losses.

      Your point that miscarriage can be harder than stillbirth because other people don’t see it as ‘real’ grief is very interesting. It’s why I definitely want women to talk to each other about it. If you’ve been through it, you know it’s a very real loss. Some people (mothers, doctors) told me that stillbirth is harder because you’ve already bonded with the baby, but I haven’t been through it so I really don’t know. I imagine that stillbirth or the death of an infant would be more painful for me, but I love that you shared another perspective.

  10. Beth says:

    I am so sorry to hear of your loss, and truly empathize. I found out I was pregnant in early September, my father died September 24, and I started miscarrying the first week of October. I am so glad you have a supportive family: My husband is an MD, so, despite claiming to be prolife, he has the medical system mentality (and had the nerve to say this to me) of “it’s not a baby, it never was a baby, and never was going to be a baby”. I just kept asking myself, “If it happens to everyone, why do I have to do this alone?” That was five years ago, and I now have two healthy children. Thank you for your courage in sharing your experience.

  11. Jenny Goos says:

    Beautifully written, Katrina. As usual, you are so right. This is something that really should be talked about more. I admire your strength and bravery to be able to discuss this in a public setting. My thoughts are definitely with you and your family as you continue to grieve.

  12. Leslie Speck says:

    I understand your great loss. We were in the 60% range while trying to have our family. I never equated absence of menses with being pregnant after the first one. I eventually carried 4 pregnancies to term. My ob/gyn gave us the old saw that something was probably wrong and it was “natures” way of preventing children with abnormalities. I didn’t find that helpful at all! I felt guilty for the unknown causes. I now think it is normal to search for answers when there aren’t any and especially when there is no discussion of the subject. Thank you for providing a forum for women to share and not be ashamed.

  13. Tanya Brodsky says:

    Katrina, sorry,I’ve been there ,done that.
    I do talk about it, as I have children after and between many miscarriages, so I want to encourage women and to tell them it’s OK.

    Almost every woman miscarries, but it happens most of the time at the very early stages of pregnancy. So one may be not even sure if she is pregnant and after being slightly late for her period, get one heavier than usual.
    I had a privilege to work with a brilliant pediatrician-geneticist and he told us that miscarriage rate is about 10-15 per cent of a clinically recognizable pregnancy because of mistakes of conception.

    It is still sad to be a part of the natural selection. But be brave and try again, don’t look back, because each pregnancy is different. Good luck.

    • Katrina Markel says:

      Thank you, Tanya. You are right – we don’t really know how many miscarriages because some are so early they seem like a heavy period. I think that might have happened to me a few years ago. I’m glad to hear you’ve had successful pregnancies as well.

  14. Nancy Wright says:

    Katrina — I am so sorry for your loss. It is a tough experience to go through. Several family members, including our daughter, have had miscarriages. It is a heartache, a very real loss. Thank you for sharing your experience and bringing the topic to light.

  15. Laura C says:

    Hi Katrina, fair play to you talking about this topic openly. I’m sorry that that’s what happened but also glad that you brought this topic to the public. I haven’t experienced anything like this but once I got older I realised and found out (in hushed whispers) that many members of my extended family had miscarriages. As a result I know that it is always a possibility but am hopeful it won’t be when the time comes. But I still don’t hear about it enough. More often than not it seems that women are left to cope with the situation practically alone because of the taboo around it.

    I do hope children happen for you in the future in some way or other.

  16. Joylynne Tronson says:

    Thank you for this, Kat. I can only imagine how much courage this took to write. I admire your bravery. I have around 700 friends on FB, so I’m sharing this in hopes that it can console a few. God bless ❤️

  17. Mira says:

    Katrina, thanks for being so brave about this. This is an amazing article and I appreciate you sharing it on L&P. xo

  18. Bridget Penick says:

    Thanks for writing what too many of us have experienced, Katrina! Mine was 4 years ago now, and it still is fresh in my mind and on my heart, even after having a baby 2 years later. I’m so very sorry for your losses. Perhaps your dad and your angel baby are united now.

  19. Anne Wrider says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you so much.

  20. Ree says:

    I watched my mother have numerous miscarriages when I was a kid. She finally got pregnant with my brother, but it was definitely heartwrenching to watch her go through it 11 times. It was always a private thing that she didn’t talk to people who weren’t immediate family or close friends. Watching her go through that so many times made the decision to adopt that much easier.

    Thanks for sharing your story. Take some time to grieve and when you are ready you can try again or adopt. There are many options that are available for you and you have a great support network and a husband that will be there for you no matter which road you take. You will never be alone, so never feel that way.

  21. Nikki V. says:

    Wow. I have not had this experience, but I can only imagine that I would have the same feelings you have about it. I had early bleeding with both of my pregnancies and it scared the hell out of me, but I have no idea why I got so lucky and didn’t lose them. My heart goes out to you.

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