I had been moving through the world with a secret. I dreamed of this secret as a little girl, through adolescence and even more regularly once I was married. But I had to keep this secret close in case it slipped away. I couldn’t let it out until I knew for certain that my secret was here to stay.
My entire being changed the moment I found out that I was pregnant. I felt new light inside of me. Now it was my time to gripe about the struggles of new motherhood—grievances I’d been aching to have. My new narrative would be anchored in sleep deprivation, cracked nipples and hair loss. I couldn’t wait to be a part of that world, part of The Club.
When you are trying to conceive you want nothing more than to experience those struggles, as opposed to the monthly cramps, tampons and ovulation monitors that remind you of your lack of fertility. A combination of working in healthcare and wanting a baby for as long as I can remember equipped me with extensive knowledge on pregnancy, childbirth, and new motherhood.
I knew the risks of miscarriage and how common this tragedy occurs. I knew that one in four women will lose their baby in the first trimester. Knowing this, I resisted letting myself speak too freely about my excitement. Even when I let people in on the secret of my pregnancy I reiterated the facts about miscarriage.
Several days after multiple positive pregnancy tests I announced my secret to my immediate family, and then to some very close friends a few weeks later. But I was still just out of reach of the supposed safety of 12 weeks. ‘Stay silent until then.’ That way no one will ever know that you were even pregnant.
Why do we do this? Miscarriages happen all the time. We know that they are random physiological errors that can happen to anyone and not the result of poor care. Going to work was tasking. I was nauseous, exhausted and foggy. Perhaps if I had not kept my secret so close for so long, my employers would have had more empathy and compassion for what I was experiencing. Perhaps they would even have shared in my excitement and offered support. Perhaps they would have supported me when I experienced my loss.
I miscarried the day of my first ultrasound. I noticed blood between my legs that night and as I stood up, I knew. My secret was leaving my body, and I felt like I was being wrung from the inside out. I couldn’t control my tears as I tried to wake up from this nightmare. My husband was pale, completely helpless. We drove to the hospital where it was confirmed that I was actively miscarrying. There’s no shortage of first person accounts of miscarriage, but they do nothing to dull or ease the rawness of the experience.
And that’s the thing. We live in a culture that encourages withholding news during the first trimester, but this is the time when pregnant mothers might need the most support. The range of physical, emotional, and psychological adjustments that accompany early pregnancy can be debilitating even though the source of these symptoms is incredibly powerful and should be celebrated. As a community, we need to start reframing the way we respond to pregnancy. Knowing about it earlier could prevent lost work, protect the quality of work by creating new accommodations, prepare employers for a maternity leave further in advance, and support people if they do miscarry.
My own experience demonstrated the lack of understanding of the catastrophic void that this loss leaves in its wake. Losing a long awaited pregnancy can feel like a bomb detonating from your deepest core, shattering through each layer of your being. You will never get the dreams of that baby back. You will never get back the announcement to your friends, family and partner. I hated the task of deleting the pregnancy app from my phone and returning it to “menstruation” mode.
We don’t talk about miscarriage nearly enough. When we do, the discussion is focused on rates and statistics, as if that provides any comfort. Perhaps it does to some, but we rarely talk about all the aspects of loss that can occur when you miscarry and the ripple effects they can have. Miscarriage is not an isolated moment in time that has a start and a finish.
Body and mind need time to adjust to the loss and often they don’t heal in tandem. Hormones take longer to level out, and the telltale signs of pregnancy don’t just disappear. Your body is still pregnant but there is no baby. Emotionally, you don’t know how to make sense of this new normal. You shared your body and now you don’t. The nature of your secret is now very, very different.
It is not the bleeding that’s so significant—it’s the time afterwards, the telling people and watching their faces as they struggle to understand, or cancelling preparations for a new nursery. Ironically, when I divulged this new secret no one wanted to talk about it. It was too uncomfortable for them, but I want to talk about it, I need to, I’m begging you to ask me about it. I need to talk about it as a part of my journey, my experience, and the scars that I am left with.
Stepping into the uncomfortable and asking hard questions can provide someone with the opportunity to grieve and celebrate something that was. Avoiding the topic in the hope that you don’t upset them isn’t doing them a favor. It’s not protecting them, though it may be protecting you.
The overwhelming anger I feel comes from the people close to me who were aware of my loss but didn’t want to broach it. Maybe they were trying to get my mind off the pain, but my mind and my heart wanted to be exactly focused on that lost baby, on my secret. Friends who did reach out and inquire allowed me to address the fact that I was not okay. Providing the space to do that was a gift.
My anger is also rooted in the environment we’ve created that governs when we can and cannot talk about pregnancy A colleague at work advised me not to let people in on my secret because it would be “career suicide.” What have we done to create this narrative? Are we so afraid that employers will become aware that we hope to be pregnant, or that we have miscarried?
Others who have experienced such loss tell me that there’s no space to talk about it, even though the need for such spaces is intense—not just to heal from the loss but also to keep spirits alive, cherished and celebrated. I want everyone to know that I was pregnant and I want everyone to know that I had a miscarriage. It was not my fault. It was not my husband’s fault. There was nothing we could have done to guarantee a different outcome. But what can be done is to help those around me to understand that I am heartbroken. I feel like less of a woman, unworthy of another pregnancy.
I don’t think that we all need to talk about our pregnancies. If you are more comfortable keeping it to yourself then that’s the best decision for you. But 12 weeks of secrecy makes no sense. We all have a responsibility to lift each other up during these times. Our norms and systems need to shift in order to focus on support for the human beings involved, not for the benefit of a business bottom line or administrative convenience. Support should be available at each step of the family planning process.
I’ve learned a lot from my own miscarriage, especially the value and importance of disclosing pregnancy early on, and then being asked about it, again and again and again. The internal scars don’t heal overnight. Healing takes a very long time, physically, emotionally and spiritually. So don’t be afraid to ask: you never know, people may have secrets of their own they need to talk about.