Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Politics of Miscarriage

The other day, I was reading an article around the topic of miscarriage and the fact that working women stay silent on it. To a degree, it resonated with me. Despite about a fifth of pregnancies ending in miscarriage (a conservative estimate), it is still very much a taboo topic. We don't talk about it openly, women going through it rarely discuss it at work and simply put, despite how common it is, it's very much a "secret".

However, that was about where my identification with the article ended. Why? Because if it is taboo to talk about miscarriage in general, it is even more taboo to talk about it in a way which does not involve grief and failure. If women are going to talk about this issue at all, the only acceptable dialogue is one which is framed around their pain of not becoming a mother, of losing a potential child, of having an "angel baby". You don't believe me? A simple Google search quickly shows that while there are endless memes about grief around miscarriage, there are none saying anything else about the complex experiences a woman can have at this time, if she has them at all.

Nearly 8 years ago, I miscarried. Far from feeling grief, I was actually relieved and strangely thankful. I had just, only three weeks earlier, left an abusive partner and doing so had taken almost everything out of me. I took the morning after pill straight away after leaving him because, as is such a common story for so many women, immediately before his actions turned horrible, he had been loving and attentive. So when my boobs started hurting a couple of weeks later, I started to panic. When I took a test and saw the two blue lines, I dissolved into a puddle on the bathroom floor. The thought that someone who I had just left under such circumstances could be in my life forever was just unbearable. When, just three days after taking that test, I started to bleed, I only felt a sense of relief. On going for an ultrasound and being told it looked like I'd had a complete miscarriage, I felt like I was able to close that chapter of my life and move on.

Alas, it was not to be. Just a few weeks after that ultrasound, I started presenting with extreme pain. A second ultrasound revealed that my miscarriage had in fact been incomplete, and my pain was due to a non-viable ectopic pregnancy. For several months, I entered a holding pattern. Doctors were convinced that this ectopic would be absorbed by my body and things would go back to normal. They never did and eventually, I was booked in for surgery to remove the afflicted Fallopian tube.

I recount all this not for sympathy. I don't want sympathy. Sitting in a hospital waiting room for several months feeling utterly helpless and stressed was enough sorrow. I recount this because I wanted to state plainly that there is not a day that goes by where I look on my past miscarriage with devastation at what could have been. I have never done this. I did not pick a date nine months down the track as a potential birth date to grieve on. In fact, the only thing I do wonder is whether I would have successfully left that ex if a medical emergency had not forced me to focus my attention on myself for the first time in years. God knows, I'd taken him back before. But that time, when he came begging for forgiveness and promising to try harder, I had no capacity left for him and his feelings. I had to work through my own.

Which brings me back to miscarriage. As stated, in the moment, I felt relief. I didn't tell work at the time because I was on leave, but as the rest of my saga became apparent, I was left with no choice but to tell them. I required post-operative sick leave after all. Perhaps I felt relief due to my circumstances, but considering that these circumstances were in the confines of a heterosexual relationship, and considering that this relationship had gone the way whereby I ended up a victim of violence, how is this narrative not valid in the discussion of miscarriage?

The ONLY acceptable dialogue around miscarriage, where there is dialogue at all, is the one about the loving mother who lost her baby. Not the teenager who chanced it one night with a boy, got unlucky and then lucky. Not the abused woman who got a second chance at an independent life. Not the woman who just thought she was having a particularly heavy period that month and did not know she was pregnant in the first place. Just the sad grieving mother who wanted so badly to hold her child in her arms. Women who experience miscarriage in any other way clearly lack humanity and do not possess that deep womanly need to nurture another life. And again we are told what our roles in society are supposed to be and how we fail them.

And don't even start me on the claims that miscarriage "hurts men just as much". It doesn't. Men may grieve a miscarriage, sure, but they will never experience that physical pain attached to it. They will never be on a gynaecological table with their feet in stirrups while an internal ultrasound machine probes away inside of them until it eventually hits an angle, impacts on an ectopic and reduces the patient to agony and tears. The narrative of them as the nurturer just is not there so they will not be seen as a failure if a pregnancy does not come to pass. More assistance with handling the emotional grief is needed, but the belittling of women's experience around this because men suffer too is not. 

I wish we saw miscarriage exactly how it is. I wish it was seen as a medical condition as common and unremarkable as a cold because considering how many pregnancies end in it, it's a reasonably realistic take. We shouldn't feel we cannot discuss it at work because the sheer idea of miscarrying is taboo. I wish that better emotional support services were available for those who experience a miscarriage and grieve it, whether this is through mental health services, workplaces or society at large. I wish that we could have open and honest discussions about the various physiological symptoms of miscarriage so that women could not only gain better knowledge of the warning signs, but also might develop some knowledge of the complications and recovery times as these can actually go on for months. It's not as simple as someone bleeding then normal biological function resumes. I really could have done with a lot more knowledge about the complications of miscarriage, that's for sure. This is so damn important.

I also wish though that like everything else, we can recognise that women experience miscarriage in many different ways and this is okay. Because at the moment, I feel silenced by the grief narrative and I cannot imagine how many other women might feel the same. And like me, some of those women may have been leaving similar circumstances when they went through this. Miscarriage is our experience too. Ignoring those stories because the patriarchal society demands we fit into the roles of nurturer and life-giver harms us all. We need to open this conversation right up in the process of demystification.


  1. thanks for writing this, i had never considered many of the things that you raised in this post, at least not from the perspective you have written from

  2. Thank you. I find the mother bag restraining, suffocating and alien. Dictum on when and what I should be doing, feeling etc. I recently suffered 2 miscarriages. Pain horrendous, emotional and unforgiving pressure to have to explain. This is after I choose to have 2 abortions in my early 20's 4 very different reasons. 1 wasnt ready: relationship was unhealthy. 2 I was scared of my own parenting skill or lack of due to knowing I had gaps in my own parent/child experience. I didnt believe I could overcome what I didnt know first hand. I took my body 4 granted thinking it would be easy when I was ready. Luckily I had a grandmother who taught me a women nevers loses a child as the spirit belongs to you and will find you or come to you either in form or through another child. In our culture we self terminated based on this spiritual belie: that we do not lose a child spirit. So termination or miscarriage has never meant shame or guilt for me. Its just I could not find voice or similar feelings and be open because the narrative around miscarriage doesn't fit my spiritual beliefs as easily.
    Miscarriage and abortion needs to be discussed with as much variation and diversity as there are women.

    Thank you for your article- it helped.

    1. That's beautiful what your grandmother taught you. And it's borne out by DNA evidence too. Women's knowledges are so important.

  3. I was once a teenager who took a chance and got unlucky and then lucky. And thank fuck because they guy was an ass who would have made my life hell if I'd had to be connected to him forever. As it was he only took the next year and a half.

  4. Thank you for sharing this. I had a miscarriage six years ago, and I was angry. I come from a conservative family who were still operating under the ludicrous assumption that their 24 year old sister/daughter was still a virgin, so I couldn't seek comfort from them when it happened. I was alone for my D&C and left feeling like I had done something wrong. And it's only made worse by men in their anti-abortion rantings who talk about the scraping of an unwanted child, without thought to women who have gone through this. I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't miscarried, and that's where a lot of my anger came from. When it came to me processing what had happened, I realised that there are limited options for women who miscarry to have those discussions with others. Most of the forums tend to be women who are devastated by the loss, and if you articulate that you might have been on the fence, or even ok with the miscarriage, you're seen as a monster.

  5. That coy avoidance of straight forward acknowledgement of women's diverse experiences and circumstances - placing us all in the assumed category of "mother" or would-be mother wrt every random conception - makes its way into other spheres of discourse, too. I will never forget an industrial negotiation where the issue of what maternity leave should apply if a pregnancy ends in other than a live birth (to account for the various physical and emotional issues that may face a woman in those circumstances) led to the men in the room - mostly from the employer side of the table - giggling in embarassment and making jokes about "early termination for unsatisfactory performance". They simply had no vocabulary for discussing real women's real experiences.

  6. Thank you for writing this. I never understood miscarriage this way because the few women that I have spoken to who experienced miscarriage only spoke in terms of loss, but that appears to be precisely your point: that there is no room for women to be open and express any other experience.

    Just a question on what your opinion is when reacting to the story of a miscarriage: mostly, if someone tells me that they have miscarried, I believe the implication is one of loss, and they are silently expecting me to understand that they have experienced grief. But if miscarriage means different things to women in different situations, can we rely on a particular way to react to stories? Is it fair to have a standard inner reaction and to assume other people's experiences?

    Thank you again.