Why We Don’t Talk About Miscarriage—And How To Start

Why We Don’t Talk About Miscarriage—And How To Start

To accept abortion, we’ve had to divide personhood from the unborn. Yet in miscarriage, that false divide comes back to haunt us.
Gracy Olmstead
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Is there a “taboo” around the subject of miscarriage? Holly Cave has written a haunting and thoughtful piece about her own miscarriage for Mosaic magazine, arguing that we don’t talk enough about this sensitive subject:

Breaking the silence is crucial. Research has shown that one-third of women attending specialist clinics as a result of their miscarriage are clinically depressed. As well as depression and grief, it’s been reported that both women and their partners experience increased anxiety for several months after a miscarriage. Post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorders and panic disorders have also been observed in research studies.

Once, this would have surprised me. Not now. Three months after my own miscarriage, I still struggle to see my experience in perspective. There are still days when I feel a shadow over me and a sadness in the pit of my stomach that won’t go away. There are still days when a strange emotion surprises me with its stranglehold.

It’s only after my conversation with Lowrie that I realize this emotion is grief. She, too, was confused, until a counselor demystified what she was going through.

‘I thought to grieve you had to have lost something you’d met—like a person that you had talked to—or you could grieve over a baby that maybe you’d held,’ she tells me. ‘I didn’t know anything about grief … I didn’t know whether I should leave that to people who had lost actual people, not a very, very tiny baby that you’ve never met.’

Cave’s story has now been shared both over at The New Republic and The Atlantic. The former speaks of “breaking a silence” around the subject of miscarriage—and it’s true, this is not a topic we often see discussed. But it also isn’t the first time miscarriage has become a topic of media attention. Back in 2013, Ariel Levy wrote a story about her miscarriage for The New Yorker:

He was translucent and pink and very, very small, but he was flawless. His lovely lips were opening and closing, opening and closing, swallowing the new world. For a length of time I cannot delineate, I sat there, awestruck, transfixed. Every finger, every toenail, the golden shadow of his eyebrows coming in, the elegance of his shoulders—all of it was miraculous, astonishing.

Andrew Sullivan blogged about Levy’s story on SullyDish, and it quickly spun into a thread of posts, as readers responded with their own stories of miscarriage and loss. One mother wrote on Modern Loss,

I never heard of the ‘silent sorrow’ until a few months later. Learning that a phrase existed for women who’ve miscarried made me even sadder. Its presence means that there are untold armies of women marching grimly through life, carrying their silent sorrow like a wound patched up with duct tape, and no one even knows what they’re suffering. Pain will always accompany losing a pregnancy. But silence — that part is optional.

Here, again, we begin to confront the horrors and hurts of miscarriage—to acknowledge its haunting presence in the lives of as many as one in five women who experience pregnancy. I’m glad to see this topic coming up again through Cave’s story, and hope it will foster another conversation—but I also wonder how much good it can do as long as people refuse to recognize the personhood of the unborn child, and thus refuse to fully recognize the grief a mother who suffers miscarriage faces.

We Grieve Because the Unborn Are People

In Cave’s story, her friend says, “I didn’t know anything about grief … I didn’t know whether I should leave that to people who had lost actual people, not a very, very tiny baby that you’ve never met.” Why does she make this differentiation between “actual people” and “a very very tiny baby”? Can’t a very, very tiny baby be a person?

We cannot fully explore the narrative of grief and sorrow surrounding miscarriage if we are so decidedly determined to call a baby a fetus.

Back in 2013, I responded to Andrew Sullivan’s posts with the story of a woman I know who went through multiple miscarriages, a couple of them very late in her pregnancy. As a pro-life woman, Katie believed she had lost children, children whose lives were as precious to her as if they had been born alive. Her story reflects the loss and fear surrounding miscarriage, while also showing that grief—when fully recognized for what it is—can eventually lead to peace, even if that grief never fully goes away.

We cannot fully explore the narrative of grief and sorrow surrounding miscarriage if we are so decidedly determined to call a baby a fetus, or to separate the concept of a “very very tiny baby” from personhood.

“One tiny life has ended, but mine goes on,” writes Cave. Life: She uses this word to describe the baby she’s lost. Yet if this baby—miscarried at nine weeks—had been aborted, would she still use that word? Nothing has changed in the nature of the baby itself—the only thing that is truly different is the woman’s choice. An abortion is chosen, while miscarriage is not.

It seems that we have to separate the idea of a “baby” from that of “personhood” in order to live with legalized abortion. But to do so leaves us with an impoverished narrative around miscarriage, and a severely hurting population of mothers, who can’t explain why miscarriage hurts so much.

Gracy Olmstead is a senior writer for The American Conservative, a senior contributor for The Federalist and Humane Pursuits, and the Thursday editor of BRIGHT, a weekly newsletter for women. Her writings can also be found at The Week, Christianity Today, Acculturated, The University Bookman, and Catholic Rural Life.

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