Shhh: The Quiet Fear of Miscarriage

I wrote this for my blog at Psychology Today. I wasn’t going to share it here, because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I still don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I am now convinced by the response to the Psychology Today piece that this really does need to be talked about. 

“Don’t tell everyone just yet.”

“Wait.”

“You haven’t really announced, though, right?”

“It’s so early!”

I was never going to keep from getting my hopes up. I was never going to keep from falling in love with my “baby” even when it was a ball of thirty-odd cells. Something immediately bothered me about the admonitions other women repeated to keep my pregnancy to myself. I tried to consider it.

Several scenarios played out in my imagination. One: I tell everyone as soon as I feel like it & have a healthy, happy pregnancy. The end. Two: I tell everyone “too soon,” have a miscarriage, and friends and family rally around me in support as I grieve. Three: I don’t tell anyone, have a miscarriage, and… what? Suffer in silence?

I have tried to understand the reason behind continuing this tradition where we all keep quiet until after the first trimester ends–just in case. I understand that miscarriage is not a comfy subject to talk about. I understand the fear that, while trying to recover, emotionally, you will have to answer someone’s innocent “So how are you feeling?” (not a single person who knows I am pregnant asks me “How are you?” any more–I find this custom endearing, though) with such terrible news.

Here’s the thing, though: I am terrible at hiding emotions. There is no way I would be able to keep from showing my grief on my face, all the time. I do not see how I could pretend that the pregnancy had not happened. And wouldn’t somebody wonder? I would hope that someone would notice the change in me.

What bothers me most about this tradition, however, is that its roots lie in a long history of shame. Women have long pretended that sexuality, pregnancy, birth and, of course, miscarriage, simply do not exist. For many women, a miscarriage feels like a huge failure. If it remains a secret, if women feel like terrible wives, or if we see it as some sort of “sign” that we aren’t good enough, we can’t give each other the chance to share the burden of grief.

I’m not suggesting that everyone announce every pregnancy the minute the test turns positive. Not every woman who has suffered a loss is going to want to discuss a miscarriage publicly. I would simply like to leave it up to each family.

And yet, I could not escape this advice: don’t go around telling everyone. Wait. The miscarriage rate is still too high. Obviously, I have to have told you if you are giving me this advice. Why didn’t you want to know? Why wouldn’t you want to know that I had lost this dearly wished-for baby? Why couldn’t I turn to you in this joy and, if the worst happened, turn to you in my grief?

I felt shamed. I felt pressure to hide my joy, lest it turn to grief. We did wait–sort of. We told immediate family, and very close friends. But after we saw our little “Bug” at our eight-ish weeks ultrasound, we told everyone. Yes, it’s different for a blogger. My readers were waiting for the news, because I had devoted my entire blog to my preconception journey.

Everything has worked out wonderfully, and everyone is so excited to hear all the news, now that I have begun the second trimester of this healthy pregnancy. And yet, I have trouble forgiving the women (it was always women) who responded to my “I’m pregnant!” with “Don’t tell too many people” and an implied “You might have a miscarriage.” I just cannot believe that that is an appropriate or helpful response. If a woman announces a pregnancy at four weeks, eight weeks or twenty weeks, she is still pregnant. If she feels joy in sharing that fact, no amount of risk to her fetus ought to dampen that joy.

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Comments

  1. says

    This, right here: “Three: I don’t tell anyone, have a miscarriage, and… what? Suffer in silence?” is exactly why I feel totally comfortable announcing my pregnancies before the urine even dries. I don’t think I should have to suffer in silence if something were to happen, or then have to explain that I was pregnant AFTER I’ve lost the pregnancy. That makes no sense, for me personally, and I do agree that this advice is rooted in the “shame” of losing a baby. But then again, I like  transparency. I’m bad at hiding things.

    • says

      I am giggling trying to picture you hiding something. In my head, it looks like a kid holding her breath until she passes out.

      I also think it would be really painful to say “Oh, um, I’m a mess because I was pregnant and now I’m not…” I feel that everyone would be able to help support us through a loss if they didn’t have to process all of that at once. Then again, I’m like you. The internet knows exactly which prescriptions I take and probably even the dosage. Privacy? What’s that?

  2. says

    While I agree with you, I can also see the other side. Having miscarried at 8 weeks one year and two months ago it was exceptionally hard telling everyone I was no longer pregnant. When (hopefully not ‘if’) I get pregnant again I may choose to wait a little longer to tell people to save myself from some of that horrible pain of explaining if I were to miscarry again. But, I will admit that talking about my miscarriage openly really opened my eyes to how ‘taboo’ the topic still is, which is sad. If I ever miscarry again (and I pray I never do) I will continue to talk about openly in hopes of finding healing, and in hopes of educating others that there is nothing taboo about the topic and the more open we are the more we can support each other during such a tragic time.

    P.S. Thank you for writing this article :)

    • says

      Oh, Marie, I’m not at all suggesting that every woman shout from the rooftops “before the urine is dry.” I just found it really strange and uncomfortable when *I* wanted to shout from the rooftop and people said “shhh!” 

      I meant to start a discussion about how women talk to each other about pregnancy, how we react to each others’ news, good or bad. I do not at all think it’s my business to tell another woman when she should her announce pregnancy, so it puzzles me why anyone else would want to tell me!

      I’m sorry for what you’ve been through. I hope that when you are pregnant again, you’ll reach out for support whenever you’re scared, to whomever you feel comfortable leaning on for that support.

  3. Val says

    Quite honestly, when someone I know makes a huge
    announcement (like posting on facebook) when they are 4 weeks pregnant, I can’t
    help but say a little prayer, cross my fingers, and spit for them. We all know
    the statistics and I cannot imagine what it would be like to have to explain to
    all of those people if (God forbid) something happened. In each of my
    pregnancies, I’ve chosen to share my news right away with the people I’d tell
    if I lost the baby. Fortunately, I’ve never had to do that second part, but, if
    I were in that position, I’d need my support system. On the flip side, I can’t
    imagine how painful it would be to have to repeat the story every time you see
    someone who knew before. For example, my proud father spilled the beans about
    my sister’s 2nd pregnancy at a huge party, then my sister lost the
    baby a few weeks later. In the months that followed, people she didn’t even
    know congratulated her, having no idea what she’d just gone through. Now, when
    I do tell those few people about my own pregnancies, I also ask them to keep it
    to themselves until we know everything is okay. There are many shades of gray
    here.

      • says

        There are many shades of gray, and every woman has to work it out for herself. But I’d rather you say a prayer than that you go and tell a woman she should have kept quiet.

        Now, your dad really should have kept quiet! It’s one thing to announce to the same group (Facebook, individual phone calls, whatever) that you are pregnant and then, later, that you have lost your baby. It’s quite another to have to deal with total strangers!

  4. Ruby Girl says

    I never have had anyone say that to me, though I have really only told very close and family and friends. Still, none of them would say that to me! I can only imagine /hope the women who’ve said that to you perhaps suffered numerous miscarriages and are therefore, jaded. Some women have sadly lost the ‘innocence’ of pregnancy. Maybe they saw it as a favor, a way to help protect you from something they’ve suffered through. I’ve heard the ‘explaining’ of a miscarriage is brutal. I live in a small town, as you know, and I’ve stayed quiet. I can’t imagine everyone in the grocery store asking, as they would, and me having to explain and make them, me, everyone in hearing-distance feel awkward. That is just me, but this is also my first and I can see wanting to shout it from the rooftops. I have only told the people who I would tell about a miscarriage anyway. I would possibly tell that person at the grocery store (as it tends to be something that defines a woman for a bit and compromises all emotions) if I found myself having a glass of wine with them, but the thing with acquaintances is you are more likely to find yourself explaining, not over a glass of wine, but the check- out or post office.
    That said, when I told my best friend (who physically can not bear children) that I was pregnant, the first thing she said to me was ‘You know it’s not a baby, right? Miscarriage is very common and I’d just hate to see you get all emotional over something that is nowhere near human yet.’ At first I took this as sound/scientific advice, but when I hung up I thought, maybe that was actually kind of a fuc*ed up thing to say…

    • says

      Yeah, that was maybe a little bit of an odd thing to say. I told my friends who have struggled with infertility via email. I didn’t want to be impersonal, but I also didn’t want them to have to come up with a reaction on the spot. I think that’s probably what happened with your friend. A family friend who will be like an extra grandmother to our baby doesn’t go to baby showers because she still has such a hard time with her history of miscarriage and infertility. I think that’s a *whole* different minefield.

  5. says

    That is very interesting. Personally I am a very private person and I do not want to explain a miscarriage to other people, besides close friends/family. Very interesting though, ive never thought about the other side of the story. Thanks for this :)

  6. says

    I have often thought and sometimes said these kind of comments out loud. I think (could be wrong) that a lot of women, especially those pregnant for the first time, *don’t* know the stats on miscarriage and don’t understand that they may have to make a 2nd announcement and/or tell people in person, and either of those might be really painful.

    My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage and I had no idea that it was a common thing. But then I was really young; maybe this is something people just figure out at some point, even if they don’t go through it first.

    • says

      That’s a fair point, and something I hadn’t really thought of. In my case, it doesn’t apply, because the people who said this to me know that I do understand the risks. They know that I spent too much time learning about the possibly increased miscarriage rates among women taking psych meds (probably not, but something doctors have to bring up) not to know what the “normal” risk is.

      I do think there is a place for helping a young woman understand that early miscarriage is common. I don’t think the right way to do that is to advise her to keep her news to herself without asking first if she does understand the risks.

  7. Debbie says

    I agree, not celebrating good news in case something bad happens is silly.  Do people not announce engagements coz statistically a certain percentage won’t actually make it to the alter? 

    My first baby Matty was stillborn at 30 weeks, it broke my heart, but I was very grateful to support of friends and family, and a general understanding of those that knew me that I was obviously sad.

    My second pregnancy I only told a few then miscarried at 9 weeks.  By not announcing the pregnancy it was too hard to tell people what happened.  I had people ask me if I was pregnant, and I would just answer no, and they wouldn’t realise that last week I had miscarried. 

    My third pregnancy was after IVF and at 7 weeks after the ultrasound revealed it was twins, I told EVERYONE!  I was so happy, and I was determined to enjoy it, no matter what happened.  My boy/girl twins are now 10 years old.  I think it helped to have people around me hoping, praying, sending good wishes. 

    My fourth pregnancy (a surprise) I also shared before the 12 week mark, coz it’s just so wonderful to be pregnant, yes I know better than most the risks, but I celebrated anyway. Again it resulted in a healthy baby boy (11 months old).

    I too have anxiety and depression issues, but one of the best ways to attempt to counteract the negative thoughts, is to focus on the moment, the bliss of your sweet baby growing inside you today.  Whatever happens tommorow you will deal with then.
    I understand others mean well by trying to get someone to wait to share their news, but for me, I like the sharing option. :-)

    • says

      Debbie, I think you may have said it better than I did! I am sorry for your losses but so happy you shared your story and so happy for your bundles of joy. I needed this today, which was a really hard day. Thank you.

  8. Ami says

    I just stumbled on your blog, and I’m glad I did and eager to explore the rest. I just wrote something very similar in my journal, and it’s so comforting to know other women feel that way too. It’s not like I’m ever going to be able to say, “Well, I’m glad that I didn’t tell anyone about my pregnancy, because now I can be totally blase about this miscarriage”. I had a miscarriage, and it sucked, and the thing that made it suck a lot less were the friends who knew what I was going through and provided comfort and support. I can’t imagine having to go through that alone.

  9. Jenna says

    Thank you so much for writing this. I felt the same way when I discovered I was pregnant. I too felt shamed into keeping it secret. I almost felt as though I had to apologize to the few people I did tell before the end of my first trimester…”I know it’s early still but I wanted to let you know that we’re having a baby and we’re very excited.” Honestly, having to keep this a secret fizzled my initial excitement a bit. Of course I’m still THRILLED to be 12 weeks pregnant (and counting!) but I wish I had just gone with my gut and shouted it from the rooftops when I wanted to. To mommies-to-be who may be facing this same quandary: I say go for it. If you focus too much on the risk, and let fear guide your decisions, it can really dampen your spirits. To those ladies who are private and may disagree: please reserve judgement for those sharing earlier than you may be comfortable. Everyone deals with grief in their own way. If my pregnancy ended prematurely I know I’d want the support of all of the wonderful women in my life who shared in this excitement with me.

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