When I was pregnant with my first child, I waited until 12 weeks to tell almost everyone (my husband knew, of course, and I think we told my parents). This is fairly standard procedure, since around 1 in 5 pregnancies is lost to miscarriage, most in the first trimester. So, the logic goes, if you don’t tell anybody that you’re pregnant, then you don’t have to go around announcing the miscarriage to everyone if the baby is lost. Pregnancy books are replete with horror stories about the woman who immediately told everyone she was pregnant, then suffered a miscarriage, and for months had people asking after the baby, not having heard that it was lost.
In May 2013, we lost our second baby at about 8 weeks. Just like the first time, we had told no one about it. Even my close family didn’t know I was pregnant until we told them that the baby was lost. After that experience, my thoughts about announcing early pregnancy have really changed.
What, really, are the benefits to keeping early pregnancies and miscarriages secret?
1) Some people prefer to grieve in private. Having announced a pregnancy, a subsequent loss must also be announced. Grieving parents often don’t want to talk about it, and having to remember everyone who knows and who must now be informed is too much to deal with.
2) Some people don’t want to cause other people grief. Common or not, pregnancy loss is a sad thing. Some parents don’t want to spread around the grief of losing the baby to everyone they know, especially to other pregnant women. Speaking of which…
3) Pregnant women are almost superstitiously opposed to hearing about miscarriages and other pregnancy loss. Pregnancy forums have many stories from pregnant women who were emotionally traumatized by hearing stories of other women’s pregnancy losses. There is almost the belief that merely hearing about a baby’s death could harm the pregnant woman’s baby, and some people are very emotional about it.
If I may, I would like to submit some reasons why early pregnancies and pregnancy loss should not be a taboo subject.
1) Private grief is grief without support. Many women who have lost babies say they felt very isolated in their grief, as if they were the only one that this had happened to and that no one else could relate to what they were feeling. Given that pregnancy loss is so common (about 1 in 5 pregnancies, or 20%), it is nearly statistically guaranteed that everyone knows multiple people who have lost babies. But as long as those babies and losses are kept secret (outside of the miscarriage community), public awareness and acceptance of the statistics will never occur.
2) A baby’s loss that is never grieved is a baby’s life that was never celebrated. Yes, it is hard to know what to say when someone you know has lost a baby. If you are a relative, you may mourn yourself for the little grandchild/niece/nephew/cousin you never got to know. After my miscarriage, I was sad that during my baby’s 8 weeks of life, no one knew he was there or was happy that he existed. The fact that he lived was only associated with his death. Next time around, I will be shouting my baby’s existence from the rooftops; even if it dies, it won’t have died unnoticed.
3) I understand that while you’re pregnant, the last thing you want to hear about is babies dying. You are completely invested in your baby’s well-being, and even thinking about miscarriage can seem dangerous. But it’s not. Let’s face it: merely hearing stories can not harm a baby in utero. Ignoring pregnancy loss statistics and shunning women who have miscarried doesn’t help the pregnant woman at all, and it can cause significant harm to the woman who has miscarried. Your pregnancy can not be jinxed by sitting near a woman who has recently lost a baby in the doctor’s waiting room. Helping a friend grieve a lost baby will not hurt the one inside of you. And given the numbers, someday you may be grateful for sympathy in your own grief.
Those who are historically minded will recall that up until a few decades ago, breast cancer was an absolutely taboo subject. Women who had breast cancer certainly did not talk about it, and even treatment and surgery were kept secret. That is, until a few well-known women decided to go public with their experiences with breast cancer. Now, while a breast cancer diagnosis is still a scary thing, no woman needs to feel like she has to go through it alone. She understands that she is one of many, and that there is support if she needs it.
The percentage of women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer is about 12%. The percentage of women who will undergo a pregnancy loss is about 30%. I believe that it is time to stop hiding pregnancy loss. It is not shameful; it doesn’t mean that you are not a woman. If you have lost a pregnancy, you have joined an enormous group of women, and their families, who have undergone the same thing, many whom you probably know.
It is not easy to be open about a miscarriage. In addition to having lost a beloved child, you may also be experiencing guilt, depression and hopelessness. You may not want to talk about the baby, but you may be overwhelmed every time you see a pregnant woman or a new baby. Uninformed people may ask you if you did something wrong to cause the miscarriage, or say other hurtful things.
Despite the pain, the only way for the public to become informed is for informed people to spread knowledge. Be open about your pregnancy loss. You do not have to go into medical details, but inform yourself about the reasons (or lack of) for miscarriage. Be able to tell people what the risk factors are, and the statistics. Celebrate your baby’s short life. Help other women grieve.
Because most miscarriages are due to factors beyond our control, awareness can’t lead to reduced incidences of miscarriage. But what it can do is provide support and acceptance for women and families who have lost babies, letting them know that they are not alone, and reducing the stigma attached to pregnancy loss.
I’ve written this about three weeks after we lost our baby. I don’t know when I’ll publish it. But I do want to mention some pregnancy loss resources, as well as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness, which occurs in October and specifically on October 15. A website that I found helpful is pregnancyloss.info.
To the mothers and families: You are not alone.
To the babies: You are not forgotten.
Baby Sell, May 2013