Sunday, July 26, 2015

Piercing the Silence: Chemical Pregnancies, Miscarriage, and the 12-Week Wait

Last week I was pregnant. This week I am not.

I had what is called a "chemical pregnancy," or a pregnancy that reads positive on a test, but fails to develop or fully implant. Apparently, this is extremely common and accounts for up to 75% of all miscarriages. ACOG reports that up to 15% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and I've seen speculation that up to 40% of all pregnancies end this way (with many women never knowing they were pregnant).  

I hadn't told many people that I was pregnant, just a few close friends and my husband. My four-year-old daughter found out because she heard my husband and I talking about it, and I didn't want her to feel left in the dark.  I was able to explain the miscarriage to her without any apparent sadness--though she was quick to inform me she expects the "lost" baby brother or sister to find its way to her later.

I hadn't told many people because there's an expected 12-week wait for pregnancy news. You're not "supposed" to announce it before then because the chances of a miscarriage are so high in the early weeks. It is this phenomenon and the stigma surrounding miscarriage that I want to talk about today.

Who is the 12-week wait for? I don't feel like it's for me: the recently-pregnant woman who is now no longer pregnant. I don't think that not telling people when I was happy made it easier for me today, when I am sad. I do realize that some of the conversations surrounding this loss could have been awkward, but I'd rather have awkward conversations than feel like I'm forced into hiding.

I know that I'm more open than a lot of people and that plenty of people would not want to share this experience with others (let alone in a public blog post), and that's fine. I think people are allowed to choose what moments of their life they let others glimpse. If waiting 12 weeks to share pregnancy news makes the pregnant person happy, then it's no concern of mine.

However, waiting for me is awful. I feel like I'm lying to everyone by omission. When people ask me about my plans for the upcoming semester and I don't tell them that I will probably be on leave for part of it, I feel like I'm hiding something. When people ask me why I'm not drinking at a party, my tongue gets tangled and I feel ashamed. For me, secrets don't feel exciting; they feel heavy.

And that required silence, that window of waiting, is reinforced by the stigma of miscarriage. We're not supposed to talk about it. We're not supposed to share it except in invisible acronyms on a web forum (and the heavy presence of these sites suggests I'm not the only one who feels the crushing weight of silence).  

Several people have written about how the stigma surrounding miscarriage has caused them pain. 

Kate Merry explains how emotionally vulnerable she was after her own miscarriage 9 weeks into her pregnancy and gives this advice for those who suffer one (and those who hear about it): 
If I could say anything to a woman who has recently miscarried, it would be one word: talk. I still talk openly about how traumatic the whole experience was, even though I have a child, because it cannot be removed from the dialogue of my life. 
For every person reading this who says, “Ew, that’s disgusting, too much information! Keep it to yourself!” there will be a woman lying in a hospital bed (or not) somewhere, bewildered and in pain, as the new life she held inside of her—that pure magic—bleeds away. And for anyone who thinks these things shouldn’t be talked about on a public platform, there is a woman carrying the guilt, shame, and confusion of losing a baby around her neck like an anvil, who might want to relay the story, blow-by-blow, so she isn’t just reliving it in her head, alone.
A recent study found that there is widespread misunderstanding about how common miscarriages are.  This creates a cycle where people feel like there is something wrong with them for having one and they don't want to talk about it for fear of feeling shamed. As an NPR follow-up to the report explains:
Because early pregnancy loss is so common, women are often advised not to share their pregnancy news with friends and family until the start of the second trimester. At that point the chance of miscarriage has drastically declined. But that secrecy means women who do miscarry in the first trimester may not get the support they need.
Other women have come forward to talk about how the stigma surrounding miscarriage has professional consequences as well. When Emelyn Thomas found herself needing time off work to deal with her miscarriage, she risked losing her job.

Everyday Feminism has an important article that talks about the necessity of removing the stigma of miscarriage from a reproductive justice standpoint. This is particularly important because a slew of conservative policies aimed at preventing abortions have caused an increase in criminalized treatment of miscarriage.

Taken to its extreme, this particularly insidious brand of miscarriage stigma reinforces the idea that a miscarriage is the previously-pregnant's woman fault. We have obviously done (or not done) something that made us lose our babies. We're at best negligent and at worst murderers.

I did everything right. I've been taking prenatal vitamins for months. I haven't touched alcohol, caffeine, or over the counter cold medicine. My husband changed the litter box, and I stopped eating feta. I drank plenty of water and ate fresh fruit. I wanted to be pregnant, and I wanted to do everything I could to ensure that the pregnancy was healthy and resulted in a strong, loved baby.

But it didn't.

My miscarriage was early enough that the emotional response is strange. I am disappointed, but the loss I feel is not that of losing a baby. It's the loss of a possibility. It's the loss of the feeling of excitement and newness and anticipation. I had those feelings just a few short days ago, and now they're replaced with an emptiness.

I didn't feel allowed to share it with you when I felt happy and sparkling and full of potential. So the best I can do is share it with you now and hope that it will help break down the stigma that surrounds something that happens a lot--possibly a lot more than you knew.  

Photos: Plbmak, Anthony


  1. Kristin FitzsimmonsJuly 26, 2015 at 9:50 AM

    I think these ideas and feelings you've shared are so important. When we stigmatize something or encourage someone to hide trauma (or gloss over it) because it might make others uncomfortable, it really hurts the person who experienced it. Lots of love to you in this difficult time.

  2. I'm sorry to read both this news, as well as the loss of your father-in-law.

    I lost a pregnancy at 10 weeks back in 2006. I started bleeding on a Friday night, and after a series of hospital and doctor visits, I had a D&C the following Thursday. So much of that week, all of these years later, stands in high relief in my memory.

    I had told everyone, including 3yo Hannah, that we were expecting. I'm terrible at secrets, and I'd never had a fertility issue, I was only 28, I thought everything would be totally fine. I didn't think I knew anyone who had ever had a miscarriage before. I was so embarrassed to have to tell everyone afterward. At least Hannah seemed to understand it at the time.

    I had to take a full week off from work. Since I had to wait to get an appointment for the D&C, I was scared to go to work and lose the baby there. Or on the train. So I stayed home. I told my (male) boss, and he had his assistant send a plant. I threw it away. My best friend sent me the first season of The OC to pass the time. I never opened the shrink wrap. What I did do was to search the Internet relentlessly for blogs and articles on miscarriage. I needed to know that others were like me. And that somehow, life would go on.

    I started my blog a few months later. I haven't ever really written much about my miscarriage, though there are references to it here and there. But I wanted to give something back to the forum that had given so much to me when I was so shattered.

    I got pregnant again a month later. Had I not lost that baby, the one that was born would never had been possible. I still wonder about the baby due on 7/7/07. I always will. But the kid born the following New Year's Day is really awesome.

    I guess all of this is to say what you already know, which is that you're not alone. It's a club far too many of us become members of along the way. I applaud you for sharing it like this, and you should know that some day, someone might be looking for an article just like this one, and she'll be very glad that it's there.