I recently had a miscarriage.
Despite the fact that 10 to 25 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage and around 1 in 4 women will have a miscarriage in her lifetime, those five words rarely appear printed or are said out loud.
But this silence has also has an unexplored, urgent political cost.
We already live in an era where there are constant, creeping attempts to politicize and legislate women’s bodies. This impacts many aspects of our medical care and reproductive lives, and goes beyond abortion access. With renewed concern about the fate of Roe v. Wade, the real reproductive stories of real women matter more than ever.
When I found out this spring that I was pregnant with what I thought would become my second child, I was excited but also had some reservations. My husband, toddler and I had just moved to a new city a few weeks before.
I report about working mothers and I was fearful that having another baby might subject me to anti-mom bias in my own career. And after a miserable pregnancy with my first child, I truly dreaded doing it all over again. And yet, I felt like it was our family’s destiny to add one more member. It seemed like everything was going fine after a strong heartbeat was detected at 8½ weeks.
I went for a prenatal appointment just a few days shy of 12 weeks. After some awkward fiddling and very slow data entry, the sonogram tech announced in a too loud voice, “I’m so sorry. There’s no heartbeat and the baby stopped growing at 9 weeks.”
Despite the mixed feelings I’d felt during my pregnancy, I found myself emotional and devastated, feeling like I’d been blindsided by a future vision had that been snatched away. I had a D&C surgical procedure to remove pregnancy tissue from my uterus the next day.
American culture is so devoid of common rituals for grieving a miscarriage, I learned that some turn to a Japanese Buddhist tradition of saying goodbye.
In an era where Instagram celebrates all kinds of shapes and body sizes, I realized I’d never seen a photo of a body after a miscarriage. I asked my doctor if there was a term for the hormonal and physical changes I was going through after the pregnancy loss.
“There’s really no term for it, other than postpartum,” she said apologetically. “And that doesn’t really feel right, does it?”
No, it doesn’t.
I was very fortunate to receive something that many other women in my position don’t get: amazing, deeply kind medical care from my obstetrician-gynecologist and a team at a local hospital where my D&C was performed. But I fumed at the injustice of the bill: It was $2,781 out of pocket, even with fully in-network, employer-provided health insurance.
This silence around miscarriage is actually a surprisingly newer phenomenon. In The Cut, Daniela Blei points out that late 20th century technology for early pregnancy and heartbeat detection has meant many more miscarriages are known about than in previous generations, and at the same time, advancements in prenatal care has led to the false narrative that every pregnancy is or should be successful. This has created more shame and silence when a pregnancy doesn’t come to term. Side by side with this advancing technology, anti-abortion activists have pushed forward the idea that life begins at conception, effectively quieting feminists about the experience and pain of miscarriage for fear that it will give ammunition to those who seek abortion restrictions.
One of the most high profile instances of anti-abortion rights activists politicizing other aspects of women’s reproductive lives was the 2016 law signed by then-Governor Mike Pence in Indiana that requires all fetuses to be buried or cremated, regardless of the wishes of the mother.
But we must change the notion that to say you’ve had a miscarriage and are upset about it plays into black and white world defined by anti-abortion activists.
It is the job of feminists to say that all women, regardless of what has brought us to a point where we aren’t bringing a pregnancy to term, have more in common than society has taught us to think. We all have much to lose with more legislation aimed and limiting our reproductive choices.
There is no clearer example than that of Savita Halappanavar, the dentist living in Ireland who died of sepsis after doctors wouldn’t perform a needed surgery to remove the fetus she was in the process of miscarrying because her unviable baby’s heart was still beating. She was both having a miscarriage and in need of an abortion. Her death galvanized a new generation of activists to fight for the repeal Ireland’s amendment banning abortion.
We are not in two camps, but instead should all be in the “Believe Women” camp in all of the joys, struggles and pain of having a reproductive system. The thread that truly unites us is that we are all fully deserving of compassionate, appropriate medical care, based on our needs and choices, free from political interference.
I am no more deserving of this than anyone else because I’m a white, married mother with health insurance who had a miscarriage. I can feel devastated over the loss of my own pregnancy and still believe passionately that my sisters have the right to end theirs if they so choose.
Psychologist Jessica Zucker started a social media campaign in 2014 called #IHadAMiscarriage in an effort to help women feel less alone. But speaking up can do more than just fight isolation. Since the explosion of the #MeToo movement last year, we are seeing in all corners of society the shifts that come from women speaking up.
One important example of this is from June, when Nicole Arteaga, who, devastated after learning her wanted pregnancy was no longer viable, was then humiliated by a Walgreens pharmacist.
He forced her to explain why she wanted a prescription for misoprostol, which can be used for medically induced abortions, in front of her 7-year-old and five other customers.
He then refused to fill it, which he was legally allowed to do because Arizona, along with five other states have laws that explicitly allow pharmacists to refuse to provide legal prescription medications if they have a moral objection to it. We only know Arteaga’s story because she chose to post about it on Facebook, and it was subsequently picked up by national news outlets.
How many other stories are out there that deserve to heard? All of them, in my opinion.
While no one should be compelled to share something they aren’t comfortable with, I believe this isn’t just about catharsis. In 2018, it’s one of our best shots at uniting women in our shared fight for reproductive freedom, and one of our best weapons against those who seek to legislate against us.