"So what happened last week?" my co-worker asked, wondering why I'd disappeared for several days in the middle of the week. "Did you have the flu?" “It was..." I trailed off, trying to decide how much I wanted to share with someone who was really more of a professional contact than a friend. "It was...woman stuff."
Just like that, I slapped a vague label on the most excruciating loss of my life.
Mere days before this conversation took place, I was chipper and dreamy and carrying a baby. Then, in the course of one horrid day, it all unraveled. Now, I found myself sitting back in my office chair, stunned, grieving, and facing an urgent mountain of work.
I pawed my pile listlessly, wondering how the world could go on when mine had surely ended. All around me, keyboards chattered and telephones rang. Coworkers eyed me suspiciously, clearly not buying my excuse that I was just under the weather. I'd just lost a baby. And it had dropped me into a hell of despair so deep that it hurt just to breathe.
So, why was I keeping it a secret?
Miscarriage is death. It brings with it all the agonizing grief that comes with losing a loved one. But miscarriage is also a taboo topic. It's the very reason that we hide our pregnancies during those first dicey months, fretfully waiting for the danger to abate before making any announcements.
When bad news comes, couples that lose a pregnancy tend to mourn in secret, telling only close friends and family about their loss. There are no funerals. No memorials. You don't get sympathy cards and bereavement time. Instead, routines go on, and you take sick days.
In fact, the only tradition our society does have regarding miscarriage is that you're not supposed to talk about it. We expect grieving couples to buck up and pretend that the little life lost never existed in the first place.
We reduce a miracle to a topic not fit for polite conversation.
An estimated one in seven pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Each year in the U.S. alone, over 700,000 babies don't survive to be born. Millions of people must be mourning them. So, where are they? “The only tradition our society does have regarding miscarriage is that you're not supposed to talk about it.”
As a society, we let ourselves believe the lie that miscarriage is a minor event in a woman's life. "It happens all the time," people tell you, as if knowledge of its frequency will put the loss in perspective. (Imagine giving that same line to someone who just lost a grandparent.) "It really wasn't a baby yet" is another line people glibly offer. Or, "You hardly even knew you were pregnant."
I have had four miscarriages, one at 19 weeks, one at 13 weeks, and two at about 10 weeks. Every time, I knew I was pregnant right away. That's a lot of mornings to wake up enchanted that there's a child growing inside you. It's many long afternoons of fatigue, strange cravings, and nausea. It's countless cups of decaf coffee and glasses of wine declined. It's hundreds prenatal vitamins.
I don't blame society for being so callous about pregnancy loss. If nobody ever tells people how much it hurts, how are they to know that miscarriage is such a big deal? Why shouldn't they think that it is no worse than blowing a job interview or having your team lose the big game?
As with so many taboo topics, perhaps the answer is simply for people to be more open: To stop pretending that if we ignore a miscarriage, it won't hurt.
I still think about that miserable afternoon at work and how much easier it would have been if I'd just exhaled the truth. If I could have let people say, "I'm so sorry." If I hadn't had to pretend that it was a normal day even as I was in the grips of soul-swallowing grief.
Because the only thing worse than losing something that meant the world to you is pretending that you lost nothing.