When it comes to miscarriage we kind of have it all wrong.
Rachel Lewis has had five miscarriages.
They were painful and heartbreaking for her and her family. On top of the intense grief and inner turmoil she was feeling, Rachel was met with a mixture of awkwardness and expectation to move on — and to do so quickly. There can also be an assumption that miscarriage is someone's fault. Rachel found herself scouring her own behavior to find a reason why it happened.
"We blame ourselves because we need to blame something," Rachel explains. "It was our body's one job to make a baby and keep it safe."
Miscarriage holds a stigma in our culture, but many of the things women attribute miscarriage to are old wives' tales.
That jog you took? A stressful day at work? Not going to cause a miscarriage, says Dr. Zev Williams, director of the Program for Early and Recurrent Pregnancy Loss at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Irrational as it seems now, Rachel thought not drinking enough water led to her miscarriage.
“Historically, medical professionals have played a role in perpetuating society’s hush-hush treatment of miscarriage,” says Williams. He doesn’t even like to use the term "miscarriage" because of the blame it places on the mother. “It implies not carrying properly," he says. "The woman did nothing wrong.”
When women become pregnant, they are often told not to tell anyone for three months. "The implication behind that is you want to avoid talking about a miscarriage if you have one,” Williams says.
But gun-shy behavior around miscarriage is odd because it is the most common complication associated with pregnancy, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
High incidents of miscarriage in early pregnancy isn’t actually a bad thing either. It’s a body doing its job.
In those first few weeks of pregnancy, the body evaluates the embryo to determine if it is viable; if it is not, the body will naturally abort the pregnancy. The vast majority of miscarriages are due to chromosomal abnormality, and according to Williams, there is absolutely nothing a mother or even a doctor, can do to prevent a chromosomally unviable pregnancy.
To put it simply: With miscarriage, your body is not failing and neither are you.
But we are failing in our hesitancy to discuss it.
Why is it so awkward to openly talk about miscarriage at work? Why are we told to keep our pregnancies private until we're "sure" they will go to full-term? Why isn’t miscarriage a more prominent part of sex education and health courses? Perhaps if we, as a society, were more educated in the prevalence and often unpreventable nature of miscarriage, we would be better able to cope with miscarriages and provide better support systems to women who are going through them.
“My routine OB-GYN care in no way prepared me for the mental onslaught of grief, anxiety, depression and numbness that accompanied my pregnancy losses,” Rachel says. Her miscarriages were early, within the first eight weeks, and she felt that her doctor didn’t take her needs seriously given that miscarriages are so common early on.
"Miscarriage can be scary, overwhelming, and heartbreaking — not to mention extremely painful," she elaborates. "Knowing that our OB sees this all the time does not save us from experiencing all the rawness of the pain and grief.”
Rachel now spends her time writing about her experience with miscarriage in the hopes that she can provide comfort to anyone struggling in silence.
Rachel wants to bring the universal experience of miscarriage out of hiding. "Sure, we've broken the taboo about discussing birth control and preventing pregnancies. But admitting that we've endured a loss is still difficult. Secrecy and shame shroud this event, starving both women and men of the support they desperately need."
Rachel is bravely taking the step to start the conversation. We should all follow her lead.