When I was at my obstetrician’s office for my 10-week checkup, I was scrolling on my phone, distracted, as the doctor rolled the ultrasound wand over my still-flat belly. We’d already seen the baby’s heartbeat at six weeks, so I didn’t bother to ask my husband to come with me for this routine appointment.
I wasn’t even paying attention when the doctor said in a flat voice, “There’s no heartbeat.” For it to sink in, she had to show me that there was no thump thump thump from the fetus on the monitor, a sound that had given us so much joy the previous visit.
Those feelings — and the three miscarriages that followed — all came rushing over me in giant tears when I read Chrissy Teigen’s post about losing her third pregnancy, a son with husband John Legend.
Even though my husband and I had a healthy daughter five years ago, my flood of feelings upon learning of Chrissy and John’s loss made me realize I’ve never gotten over those four miscarriages. In part, that’s because I kept silent about them, like so many parents-to-be. That denied me any preparation for handling it, as well as a healthy way to cope with the tremendous grief.
I hope that Chrissy and John’s openness will lead more people to share their experiences and get the help and comfort they need — and contribute to a greater understanding of just how traumatic and painful miscarriage is.
My doctor certainly didn’t seem to understand that. After she delivered the heart-wrenching news, I pulled on my clothes while explaining to my husband in heaving sobs over the phone what had just befallen us. He rushed over to the office, where we were then both confronted with a cold, uncaring face behind a desk. The doctor mechanically listed our options for dealing with our nonviable pregnancy: We could let it bleed out naturally, take medicine to induce a miscarriage or have it surgically removed.
Not once did she say she was sorry for our loss. In fact, with nearly 1 in 5 early pregnancies ending in miscarriage, many doctors view it as routine and say to “just try again” next time, like it’s buying a lottery ticket.
Because I didn’t want to go to an abortion clinic for the procedure as my obstetrician recommended, I spent the next few days frantically trying to find a different doctor who would perform the surgery on a new patient. I did this in the dark, because I didn’t know anyone who had had a miscarriage to ask for a referral (or so I thought).
Then again, I also had decided to keep my miscarriage a secret. We hadn’t told anyone we were pregnant, and I didn’t want to deal with all the questions after it ended. But I think the real reason I swore my husband to secrecy — not realizing it was his loss, too — was that I felt ashamed.
I was ashamed my body had failed me. I thought it was my fault. I thought that at 41 I was too old, that it was too late for me to be trying. I was afraid I had done something wrong. I had gone running, eaten leftovers, maybe even lifted a package. Had I caused my own miscarriage?
“Miscarriage remains shrouded in shame and silence, even amongst friends and family, and its emotional impact has not been sufficiently investigated,” begins the National Survey on Public Perceptions of Miscarriage. In the survey of over 1,000 men and women, 47 percent of those who had miscarried felt guilty, 28 percent felt ashamed, and 41 percent felt that they had done something wrong.
It took more miscarriages and the help of specialist in repeated pregnancy loss to understand that it wasn’t my fault; it wasn’t anything I had done. I also came to understand that I wasn’t alone, after all. I’d thought I didn’t know anyone who’d had a miscarriage, but once I started to discuss my own, friends began casually tossing off their own experiences. “Oh, I had a miscarriage between each of my children,” one of my best friends told me. True, we were living in different countries, but why hadn’t she ever mentioned it?
Indeed, why doesn’t everyone mention such a profound loss, when we know the best way to work through grief is to share our stories with others and get love and understanding in return? Instead, I was unprepared for the sense of loss — of a baby (we were already planning names), of a future family (maybe we’d have two or three kids!) and of my happiness.
I was also unprepared for the physical effects of miscarriage: pain in my womb from the surgery, a precipitous hormonal drop that can lead to depression and weight gain, and a general lethargy that might have resulted from not mourning all of these things.
Grief researcher Kenneth Doka terms this phenomenon “disenfranchised grief”: grief that people experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.
Now, maybe, Chrissy Teigen and John Legend can help change that. Chrissy is one of the first people I have seen document a pregnancy loss in real time. I am so, so sad for her. I am also grateful and in awe that this celebrity shared her experience with us in the moment.
Sadly, their courageous example only underscores how fraught these moments are for distraught parents and how much work our society has to do in offering those suffering miscarriages the support they need.
Despite the outpouring of support and commiseration from other celebrities and moms and dads who have experienced loss, Chrissy and John also got a lot of hate. “Never a bad time for a photo opportunity,” one person wrote on John’s page. A few politicized it, saying they should reconsider their stance on abortion. (Never mind that abortion and miscarriage are completely unrelated, one being optional and the other against your will.)
Many thought they shouldn’t have shared the news at all, which is only likely to compound the dangerous tendency for silence. “Why on earth would you share it in such a disconnected and disaffected manner with complete strangers? Get some help” one poster of many (men) wrote. Others said how common it was and that she should just “get over it.”
Well, I never got over my early miscarriages. I know most women experiencing such losses haven’t gotten over them, either — no matter how many children they go on to have. And we shouldn’t. People need to mourn the loss of their pregnancies — and they can’t do that if it’s a secret.
I wish I had been as brave as Chrissy, that I had dealt openly with my losses when they happened, that I had talked about them, even tweeted about them, and shared them with others. If I had, I could have been comforted by the love and support I so needed — just like after any other deep and painful loss.