From Quit Blame and Shame

The Blame and the Shame of Miscarriages

I had my first miscarriage when I was 37. When I found out I was pregnant, I felt so intensely special. I was proud of myself for getting pregnant  so easily after 35. Less than two months into the pregnancy, I started spotting, and when I went to get my HCG levels tested for a second time, I learned that I was miscarrying.

That weekend, I was supposed to travel a few hours east to my hometown to celebrate my mom’s birthday. My mom, who developed a degenerative brain disease at 60, was turning 64.  I felt too fragile to go. I couldn’t imagine hiding my sadness and it didn’t occur to me that I could tell people. I had internalized the commandments of womanhood: you shall not divulge that you are pregnant before you and your fetus have made it through the first three months. I’ve never been good at hiding my emotions, so I made up an excuse and skipped my mom’s birthday party.

In a recent interview on this site, a 57-year-old woman describes her miscarriage to her daughter. When her daughter, a millennial, curious about her mother’s reproductive history, asks her what she thinks caused the miscarriage, she responds, “It was not my fault.” When we were ready to publish the interview, this mom of two successful daughters asked that we use a pseudonym.

Why did this mom feel the need, twenty years later, to say that her miscarriage wasn’t her fault? Why did she insist we use a pseudonym? Why did I feel like I couldn’t just call my family and say, “I had a miscarriage. I’m sad. I’m coming to mom’s party.”

Here are some synonyms of the word miscarriage: failure, foundering, ruin, ruination, collapse, breakdown, thwarting.

She miscarried; she carried it wrong. She lost the baby. How reckless.

I guess it’s pretty easy to see why she felt she needed to explain, twenty years later, that it wasn’t her fault. I guess it’s pretty clear why I hid out after my miscarriage. Paula Knight, a graphic illustrator and writer, captures all the shame and blame associated with miscarriage in her powerful comics and drawings, which explore miscarriage and childlessness:

“Failed” by Paula Knight, 2012

What if men had miscarriages? Would they be called miscarriages? My guess is that the word for miscarriage would imply less blame. The fetus died? Spontaneous abortion?

We are taught from a young age to whisper and hide: we whisper about our first periods; we hide our tampons, shoving them in a pocket as we walk to the bathroom. I remember a salesperson at CVS being appalled when I didn’t want a bag to carry my tampon box out of the store. I was a twenty-something-year-old woman. Yes, I menstruated. Why should I hide it?

Maybe it shouldn’t be the woman who is pregnant and then not pregnant who is so responsible for everything, for the secrecy, for the carrying the burden of a loss, etc. Maybe others can learn how to respond to the loss of a fetus. Maybe people could just agree not to grill pregnant women or women who are in their childbearing years, not  to ask so many questions, and if someone has a miscarriage they can tell you or not tell you, and you can respond by saying, “I’m sorry. How are you feeling?”

It wasn’t until I had a miscarriage that the miscarriage narratives came pouring in. Hearing about others’ miscarriages made me feel less doomed, less broken, less of a failure. This is why it’s so important that 57-year-old mom shared her experiences with her daughter, even if she was not comfortable associating herself publicly with miscarriage. By sharing her miscarriage narrative, she normalized miscarriage for her daughter. Hearing others’ stories and knowing that miscarriage is fairly common (as many as 50% of all pregnancies) does not eliminate the pain that accompanies miscarriages, especially for women who’ve undergone multiple, but it does  go a long way in helping women feel less isolated, less ashamed, and less guilty.

The miserable feelings that accompanied my first miscarriage were compounded by my age at the time (37), by my childlessness, and by the fact that I didn’t know miscarriages were extremely common. What a relief it would’ve been for me to hear the miscarriage narratives before I miscarried. Maybe I would’ve been able to go to my mom’s birthday party.

Have a miscarriage narrative? A better term for miscarriage?  Share with us in the comments, write an essay, or be interviewed.

Read previous MotherShould? essays about miscarriage here.

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