A reader writes:
One of your readers noted the link between experiencing miscarriage and being pro-choice. I want to add another thought to that. I had two early miscarriages and one child who almost died at birth. I obviously don’t speak for all women, but for me, the grief I felt at losing my pregnancies in the first trimester was nothing – and I mean NOTHING – compared to the fear and grief I felt when my daughter lay dead in my arms at birth, before she was revived. It seems to me that losing a pregnancy at two months is different from losing it at seven months is different from losing a born child. The experience of loss changes as that life progresses inside you, and to me that reveals the simplistic thinking behind the idea that an embryo or fetus is no different than a born child.
A PhD in genetics writes:
I don’t mean to minimize the sadness people feel when they lose a pregnancy, but there’s an important issue here that is being ignored in your thread: for the vast majority of early miscarriages, what the couple lost was not, and never could have been, a “baby”. For some reason, maybe because the human genome is full of repetitive junk that mis-pairs easily, the rate of spontaneous abortions (i.e., miscarriages) due to chromosomal abnormalities is quite high. When something is very wrong with the genetic makeup of the embryo, it doesn’t develop properly and the body rejects it, as it should. It is not the case that if, somehow, that fetus could have stayed in the uterus, a healthy baby would have been born. I wish there was more education about this; I think people would have an easier time accepting this outcome if they understood.
I have been reading this thread with great interest and, like another thread you have published, it is “so personal.” I lost my first, very wanted and very planned pregnancy to miscarriage. I had an ultrasound at eight weeks and my husband and I saw the heartbeat. We were assured that our chances of miscarriage were very slim at that point. Nevertheless, unbeknownst to me, the baby died within days. It wasn’t until I was nearly twelve weeks pregnant and had told all of my friends and family that I started to bleed. An ultrasound revealed that I had had a “missed miscarriage,” one where the body fails to detect fetal demise.
The idea of waiting for my body to figure out what had happened was far too painful to bear. I had a D&C the next day. It was truly the saddest period of my entire life thus far. I was deeply depressed. I was quite certain I would never carry a baby to term.
Fast forward four months and I was pregnant again with what would be my first child. One of your readers said of her three early miscarriages: “Those ‘babies’ (mushy bunch of cells, really) were as real to me though as my lively 17-month-old son is now.” My own experience of miscarriage was the opposite. My child (and her younger sister who followed) is a person I know. She has a personality and opinions. Losing her or her sister would destroy me forever. In contrast, I think of my miscarriage only when someone I know is pregnant or when I read a thread like this. I never wonder what that child would have been like. I was never mourning the death of that baby; I was always mourning the demise of that pregnancy at a time when I so desperately wanted to have a child. Carrying a pregnancy to term was all the closure I needed.
I also can’t help but wonder if the early pregnancy tests available now create unnecessary grief. I learned of my pregnancies before I even would have missed my period. Knowing you are pregnant, even for a few days or a few weeks, is impossible to unknow. Losing that pregnancy probably would not have been a known miscarriage for our mothers or our grandmothers. While infertility is its own misery, it is probably of a different kind than repeated miscarriages.
Long-time reader, first-time writer. Your thread on miscarriage has been fascinating and heartbreaking to read, and I wanted to share a bit of my experience and perspective. When my son was 2.5, we decided to try for another baby. I got pregnant quickly, but at the 7-week ultrasound, we discovered that the embryo had not developed at all – a “blighted ovum.” The pregnancy test was positive, but there had never been an embryo or fetus. However, this still requires waiting for the body to miscarry naturally (which can take up to several more weeks), or a D&C. We scheduled the D&C.
On the day of the D&C, we went to the office for the procedure. It was affiliated with a hospital, but was a special maternity office. They rushed me in pretty quickly once I arrived. I like to think they were being conscious of women in the process of miscarrying sitting in the waiting room with very obviously pregnant women, new moms, and newborns, but maybe I was just lucky.
I asked the physician why I had been referred to her for the D&C, and why my regular OB/GYN didn’t do it. She paused, as if trying to figure out the best way to answer me, and then said, “Well, this procedure is basically the same as an abortion. And many OB/GYNs are not trained to do this, because of political issues around abortion – many medical schools don’t provide training in abortion, and so women are referred to the few doctors who can perform the procedure.”
I’ve been active around issues of reproductive health and rights for years – volunteered with Planned Parenthood, attended rallies and marches for choice, I have a master’s degree in public health – so I’m not unfamiliar with the politics and debate around abortion. And I knew that it was the case that many physicians were not trained in abortion procedures and that there is a shortage of qualified physicians to perform abortions in many areas of the country. But I’ve been fortunate – not only did I live in New York at the time, where the politics around reproductive choice are decidedly more liberal than in most other areas of the country – but I’ve also been lucky enough to not experience any of these restrictions, etc., first hand.
And then, as a few days and weeks passed after the D&C procedure, and some of my emotions and feelings about the experience settled a bit, I started getting – angry? Confused? It was crazy to me that at a time when a woman and her family needs comfort, familiarity, support, that it would be necessary to refer her to a brand new physician at a brand new facility for the D&C procedure, based solely on the politics around abortion. Regardless of one’s feelings about abortion, the D&C is a legal medical procedure, done for many reasons, many of which have nothing to do with the choice to remain pregnant or have a child – and the fact that there are OB/GYNs who are not qualified to perform it because of ideological objections to one circumstance in which the procedure is performed (i.e. elective abortion) is INSANE – detrimental to women’s health, detrimental to women’s autonomy, and (maybe least worrisome, but still a problem) logistically ridiculous.
Anyway, please keep sharing others’ stories. One of the most memorable things about my experience was that as I shared it with a select few friends and family members, nearly every woman had a “me too” story. It helped me immensely to feel I wasn’t alone in the experience, but also amazed that so many women I’d felt close to had never shared this particular part of themselves. Silent suffering, indeed.