The Women’s March is preparing to mark the one year anniversary of its march in Washington D.C. in Las Vegas on January 21st, but there’s something important missing from the group’s list of eight Unity Principles. This year, the organization is focused on registering voters to obtain “tangible strategies and concrete wins in 2018.”
The march has provided a platform for a national discussion of women’s issues, and to guide this conversation, the march organizers wrote a series of eight Unity Principals that are intended to be the cross section of intersectional feminism. Two of the principals that have been particularly relevant this year — those on ending violence and on reproductive rights.
As we saw in the second half of 2017, it unfortunately still needs to be said that women stand against “all forms of violence against our bodies.” Sexual assault is something we must identify and condemn as a culture, and specifically as women. Reproductive rights also continue to dominate the conversation, although the movement has run into some trouble over the issue of abortion, since pro-life feminists have added their voice to the conversation around the march.
But the conversation around reproductive rights is missing an important issue. There is a large group of women whose problems have been omitted. These are the women and families who have suffered pregnancy loss (and its ugly sisters; stillbirth and infertility, which are deserving of their own time and will not be addressed here).
Why Pregnancy Loss Is a Big Deal
If we are going to talk about women’s issues, and specifically reproduction, it seems negligent not to include pregnancy loss. The statistics regarding pregnancy loss are staggering with as many as 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage. Pregnancy loss hurts women and it does not discriminate. It does not matter if you are pro-choice or pro-life, Catholic or Buddhist, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor. It doesn’t matter if you wanted the baby for years or if you were planning on having an abortion. Women across all demographics have experienced pregnancy loss, yet it is a largely ignored issue, even among women.
One might argue that the Women’s March does not need to focus on pregnancy loss because everyone agrees that it is bad, and because it’s not an injustice caused by society. But treating it as simply a naturally occurring tragedy is an injustice.
In a conversation largely dominated by reproductive choice, we have forgotten those who know all too well that sometimes pregnancy and reproduction cannot be controlled. Too many women don’t have a choice, and their tragedy has been ignored. Women have been robbed of the proper resources to process and grieve their loss and perhaps even the appropriate medical intervention to prevent a future loss. As a culture, we lack empathy, we lack urgency, and we lack the dedicated resources to understand the problem.
We Lack Empathy
Following pregnancy loss, women are expected to survive in a culture that does not have space for their grief. They are often expected to remain silent about their loss, grieve in isolation, and move on as if nothing ever happened.
The common inappropriate attempts at comfort reveal how misunderstood pregnancy loss is in our culture. Let’s take for example any phrase starting with “at least…”
“At least you have other children, at least it was early, at least you are young, at least you know you can get pregnant.”
All of these not only belittle the woman’s experience of grief, but also trivialize the death that has occurred inside her womb. Women deserve better. They deserve to deal with this loss with strength and dignity, not quiet oppression.
We Lack Urgency
If 25 percent of kindergarten-aged children were dying from natural causes, you could bet we would have the urgency to figure out more about why, even if we could only save a few of them.
We do know that statistically most pregnancy loss is a genetic or chromosomal issue that could not be solved with any amount of intervention, but this statistic seems to have created a laissez-faire attitude about the rest. Canadian researchers explain the difficulty of miscarriage in one article from Today’s Parent, noting research suggests “the cruel truth is that for most pregnancy losses, a simple explanation will never be uncovered.”
The current standard method of care requires a woman to have two, or even three, miscarriages before she and the fetal remains might undergo any testing. That means for many women, three of her children must die before she can even begin to explore why. If it can be determined after those losses why her children are dying, and steps can be taken to save the next baby, then we can’t help but wonder — how many of her previous children could have been saved?
In an age when many believe that all things can be answered by science, we seem complacent in our acceptance that most miscarriages happen for unknown reasons. Those of us who are not medical professionals are not asking enough of our doctors and researchers. We take their word and walk away. While immediate intervention might not be the right answer, and while it is possible we may never know what causes miscarriage, we as a culture are failing to even ask the question: What can we do to save more lives? (Imagine if we had been this complacent about cancer research).
We Lack Dedicated Resources
Due to our lack of empathy, and as evidenced by our lack of urgency, the United States lacks the dedicated resources to properly address pregnancy loss care.
As a non-medical professional I cannot speak to the body of pregnancy loss research currently available; but as a concerned woman I can see that pregnancy loss research does not have the preeminence of other medical concerns in our culture. Organizations such as The American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and March of Dimes allow common people (read non-medical professionals) to support efforts to find a cure for cancer, heart disease, and premature birth. While there are many wonderful organizations work to serve women following loss, there is no organization concerned with pregnancy loss that is equal in power, wealth, and prominence, funneling resources to try to solve the problem.
A quick Google search for “Miscarriage Research” returns primarily a number of websites from the United Kingdom. In 2016 the Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research opened as the “UK’s first national centre dedicated to miscarriage research.” Other results include an article from The Guardian headlined, “Miscarriage research: bioengineers taking a fresh look at pregnancy.”
A deeper analysis of the current organizations addressing pregnancy loss reveals it’s addressed by many small to medium sized hardworking organizations around the country that scramble to serve women and make small changes in their sphere of influence. Even the large organizations with a national scope, such as Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, are dedicated to serving women and families, not to providing resources for medical research.
What We Should Do
Perhaps the Women’s March could add the following principal to their unity principals:
We believe that women deserve a world where they can grieve the lives of their children lost in pregnancy. Where no woman or family ever has to suffer the isolating pain of miscarriage alone. Where women are empowered and educated to understand their reproductive system and the reproductive process. And where medical research concerning early pregnancy is conducted with an urgency to save lives.
A conversation about women is incomplete if we continue to overlook the millions of grieving women and dying babies in pregnancy losses.