By Tracy G. Cassels
30% can mean nothing or it can mean a lot. 3 out of 10. 30 out of 100. In the Pitcairn Islands, the world’s least populous country, 30% of the population is approximately 15 people. In China, the world’s most populous country, 30% is just under 402 million people. 30% would be considered a high alcohol content for beers and wine, but low for spirits. In sports, 30% success is good for a hitter, but bad for a goalie. If you fall ill and the disease has a 30% death rate, the prognosis is bad. If it has a 30% success rate, it gives you hope. 30% is a weird number – it’s not as clean as 25%, but cleaner than 29%, and really represents the 27-33% range. As I said, 30% can mean nothing or it can mean a lot. In my case, it was a non-entity, a number I never gave much thought to until June of 2009.
My husband and I had started trying to get pregnant in April of 2009. In an effort to reduce the stress around the whole thing, we blocked off a week and every night we had a romantic dinner, wine included, and then had a very nice time in the bedroom, so to speak. I think secretly my husband hoped it wouldn’t take for a while and we could continue doing this month after month, but after just one shot, I found myself pregnant with what was to be our first child. I was shocked – most of my friends had tried for quite a while before succeeding, but I figured that the lack of stress and not limiting things to 2 or 3 days probably helped. If I’m totally honest, I took it as a sign of my good fertility too. I went to a doctor at my university clinic just to get the confirmation (I never have trusted home pregnancy tests 100%) and while I was there the doctor warned me that 30% of pregnancies end in a miscarriage. Being young and healthy and only knowing a couple people (my mom and friend) who had miscarried later in life, I dismissed it. I also thought the number had to be a huge exaggeration – after all, I knew lots of people with kids, and no one had talked about having miscarried! We were already due to go back to Toronto in May and so was able to share the news with the family very early on. Everyone was excited and as I started to feel the first pangs of morning sickness (at night), I welcomed them. Back in Vancouver, we lined up our midwives, had our first appointment with them, and booked our first ultrasound for around 12 weeks. I would never make it.
One Saturday in June, I woke up and was getting ready to meet two girls who had been working on a project with me for lunch. I was taking them out as a way to say thank you for all their hard work during the year (though they also got credit and an A+). An hour before I was supposed to go, I went to the bathroom to discover I’d started bleeding. Not too heavily, but enough that I started panicking. My husband started looking up reasons why this might be happening (other than a miscarriage) online and found that it can happen during implantation (“But I’m further along than that surely”), and it can happen anyway for seemingly no apparent reason. He told me not to worry so I did my best not to as I got myself together and to lunch. During lunch, I was distracted and I took frequent trips to the bathroom, each time hoping that the bleeding would have stopped and I could calm down, but that never happened. By the time I got back home, I told my husband I wanted to go to the hospital. We had his son with us at the time so we had to find someone to watch him and then we were on our way.
The wait at the hospital was awful – I wasn’t in any real danger so we were at the end of the queue. After a couple hours we were finally seen by what would turn out to be the biggest asshole of a doctor I’ve ever encountered. He did his job – a physical exam and blood work (which, incidentally they lost and had to redo, meaning we were waiting another couple hours for that) – and came in to inform me in a clinical, cold voice that based on what he saw, I was having a “spontaneous abortion” and that was that. No big deal. I was just one of 30% of pregnancies to end this way – too common to be worthy of any real concern. On the way home I called my midwives (they work as a team) and Julia got back to me very quickly. I told her about the doctor, she called him some choice words that made me feel much better, and she told me to book an appointment at a clinic at the hospital for a fuller assessment.
Over the next week I would go to that clinic, endure another idiot doctor who refused to tell me anything of what was going on except would insist I needed more ultrasounds and more blood work, despite my having been bleeding heavily for days and passed large “clots” (as they were called). All I wanted to do was go home, but he kept saying they just had to do “routine” follow ups. I was finally told by a receptionist when I lost my temper that the reason for the tests was that my initial ultrasound suggested that the pregnancy may be ectopic and so, at the very least, my future ability to have kids depended on me staying the route and dealing with more doctors. (It wasn’t, thank goodness.) During this time, Julia, who took my first call, called daily to see how I was and allowed me to vent while sharing other horror stories that made me feel better – these doctors weren’t just being rude and uncaring to me. It was this act that solidified the choice of midwife over doctor for my husband (his son was born in a hospital with an OBGyn and though he had agreed to a midwife earlier, this experience just highlighted the vast difference in patient care each provided). But it wasn’t the response of the doctors or the midwives that left the largest impression, it was that of other people.
As I mentioned, I had only known of two people – my mom and friend – who had miscarried prior to my experience. Because I had been open and excited about the pregnancy, I was also forced to be open about the miscarriage. During this time, stories started creeping in. “My sister-in-law had two miscarriages before her first daughter.” “I actually had a miscarriage years ago.” “My mom miscarried too you know.” Suddenly I knew where the other members of this 30% group were – everywhere. So why hadn’t I heard of them before?
The topic of miscarriage has become incredibly taboo in our culture; it’s not something you talk about to others. When you read pregnancy books, they tell you that you may not want to tell other people you’re pregnant until after the first trimester “just in case”. I hate that advice. Perhaps it should read: “Just in case you lose your baby as you don’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable by talking about it”. You see, the most benign reason I can think of as to why we’re asked to be so silent on the topic of miscarriage is that it makes other people feel awkward. They don’t know what to do – a baby wasn’t born so technically there wasn’t a death. And if you mourn a miscarriage, does it mean you have to mourn an abortion? The two, whether we like it or not, are inextricably linked. There’s so much tied in to what a fetus is and is not in our society that we seem to have lost the sense of what a miscarriage means to the family who is enduring it. In our haste to keep things politically correct, we just prefer to ignore the whole shebang and hope we don’t have to talk about it. We – those going through hell – notice the cues that tell us this topic isn’t welcome and we keep our mouths shut. We smile and say we’re fine when in reality we’re dying inside.
The second, and less kind, possibility is that we are quiet not out of fear of making other people uncomfortable, but out of fear of judgment. The pregnancy book could read: “Just in case you lose your baby because you did something wrong”. Let’s face is, we are a condemnatory society. Look at this site – there’s no denying that I am definitely judging certain practices (and definitely judging society as a whole for the mess we’re in), but I believe that if everyone were properly educated they would follow the elements of Evolutionary Parenting that work for them for the benefit of their children and themselves. Judgments can work to help promote change, but the problem is that, as a society we don’t seem to know when to stop with the judgments and condemnations. Grief and loss mean nothing to a blood thirsty culture that wants to pin the blame on someone, anyone, even if it is the person suffering the most. As a woman who miscarried, I couldn’t help but go back and question each and every decision I made during my brief 8 weeks of pregnancy, but the truth is I didn’t drink, I don’t smoke, I’d already cut out caffeine a year earlier, I didn’t eat any questionable foods, I exercised, etc. As far as I could tell, I didn’t do anything to deserve this and had no control over it either. (In fact it was this experience that led me to be much more relaxed when I got pregnant again with my daughter.) The thing is, shit happens, and shit happens to good people. The world isn’t fair or kind all the time and it takes a lot to accept that we simply don’t have control over everything. But we live in a society that doesn’t believe that, so when a woman miscarries, I don’t think it’s impossible to think that everyone is questioning what she did to lead to losing her baby. No one wants to feel that way, so we keep quiet and don’t share our pain because chances are we may end up feeling even worse if we do.
Perhaps there are other personal reasons people are quiet, but I truly believe that a mix of these two plays a large part in this epidemic of silence. People judge and they feel odd talking about the loss of someone they never met. So we’re silent. So much so that people have no idea how common it is to lose your baby. Only when someone else has gone through it are we comfortable sharing our stories, as if it’s a dirty secret we keep hidden. Our stories carry a warning: For crying eyes only. The problem is that by keeping quiet and by buying into the notion that we shouldn’t celebrate our joy of a pregnancy “just in case”, we give power to everyone else and we force ourselves to suffer even more.
The greatest thing I did was share my pregnancy news when it happened. Yes, I had to tell people about the miscarriage, but the amazing thing was, my friends and family were there for me. Maybe there were judgments from others, but (pardon the language) fuck ‘em. I had people I loved visit me at home when I couldn’t stand to go out. I had those who had gone through it share what was to come physically and emotionally, allowing me to better prepare. I also had a break; I got to postpone my comprehensive exams and didn’t have to suffer the indignity of going through school and work, trying to pretend everything was okay when all I wanted to do was cry every time I saw a child (hard to do when you study in a developmental psychology lab where babies come and go all day long). I wonder how women do it. By keeping it quiet they are forced to act as if nothing is wrong, to continue with things that suddenly seem irrelevant at best, and suppress their grief, letting it out only in the privacy of their own home. I would think that would make home a bit like a prison, and no one should feel that way.
This isn’t to say sharing is for everyone. There will always be women who simply are that private by nature and would prefer to keep quiet. But there’s power and healing in numbers and 30% is a pretty big number when it comes to grief. You know the old adage: Misery loves company. In this case it’s true in the best possible sense – no one will know what you have gone through like someone who’s been there themselves. No judgment, no awkwardness, just compassion. But if we’re all quiet, who is there to talk to?
Have you had a miscarriage? How did you handle talking about it? Did you take time off or continue on as if nothing was wrong? How did others react?