Why does miscarriage often remain a secret?
Well this is a little different from my usual posts!
This is something I've been thinking about writing for a while and wasn't sure where to start...
I'm at the age now in which a lot of people around me have children/ trying to conceive. I think up until this point I was a little naive in the matters of conception. Before you assume the worst- I do understand how sex/ IVF etc works!
I've heard lots of stories about how hard it is for some couples to conceive. I found this quiet interesting... a lot of messages when you are a young sexually active woman is about how easy it is to get pregnant and how you need to be using your contraception absolutely perfectly and if possible use more than one type (yes you should use a barrier protection too for risk of sexually transmitted diseases but for the purpose of this blog post I'm just thinking about conception).
Women choose to have children at all ages, but there does seem to be a common theme of waiting a bit later. A quick google search showed me some stats from 2018 which suggested that the average age for first time mothers was 30.6 yrs. The average age for first time fathers was 33.6 years. A rather pretty graph showed the the average age for both has slowly been rising since the 70s. I imagine there are a lot of factors influencing this; in particular from a women's point of view I have often heard they would like to finish education, establish a career, maybe even buy a house prior to then trying for a baby.
What I find interesting is all this fear in earlier life that its easy to get pregnant, then it comes to the point of trying and I often hear its not always as easy as once thought. I am not a biologist/ doctor etc. but I do wonder is this due to the average age rather than conception itself? "High risk" age for woman to become pregnant is over 35, is it that because biologically it is just a bit more difficult as you get older (eggs older) and so the fear of how easily it is to conceive when younger makes a little more sense?
By sheer determination/ great planning/ ovulation tracking/ divine intervention the woman wees on a stick and finds out she is pregnant. Time for celebration? No...
Another quick google search into "when to tell people you are pregnant" came up with a very mixed results. I've known from friends/ work colleagues etc that most people tend to announce they are pregnant once they have had their 12 week scan. I always thought this must be what the doctors tell you to do? Turns out according to google results, it is advised you wait until the 12 week scan to share your news as the risk of miscarriage drops around then. One website told me that the overall probability of a pregnancy ending in miscarriage in the U.K. was 25% at four weeks; 5% at eight weeks; 1.7% at 12 weeks; and 0.5% at 16 weeks.
So it would appear the reason why people are not sharing prior to 12 weeks is in case they have a miscarriage. Google results seemed to suggest you only tell someone if you feel comfortable telling them that you had a miscarriage. This made me feel a little sad, as if it is a taboo subject. It got me thinking, how many people have had a miscarriage I didn't know about? Turns out, a lot more than I thought.
So why didn't they say something? I wondered if there is a shame associated with not being able to bring a baby to full term?
"Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging" (Brown, 2010 p.39).
I understand maybe not doing a very big social media pregnancy announcement prior to the 12 week scan but I feel a little sad that there has become a culture in which it is strongly suggested that you don't even tell close family/ friends about your pregnancy until the 12 week scan. I feel like this is inadvertently telling women it is not OK to talk about your fears, it is not OK to talk about the grief, loss, confusion around a miscarriage. Woman are then grieving in private... And its such a complex grief, depending on how far into the pregnancy you were. Sometimes the terminology used by the medical professionals isn't maybe helpful- "ball of cells". The thing is, its not just the grief around loosing something physically, its the hope, the as-if future that has gone. In one moment she thought "I'm a mum" then that's gone...
It got me thinking about that shame quote from Brené Brown... Its as if there is this intensely painful feeling "I am not able to bring a child into this world, I am faulty, there is something fundamentally wrong with me" This intense shame could lead to, as she says "therefore unworthy of love and belonging". The more miscarriage is hidden and not spoken about, the more it then feels like something that just happened to that individual. Its actually incredibly common (stats mentioned earlier) but it doesn't feel its in common conversations with close relationships.
So whats the answer? I'm not recommending everyone shares their pregnancy news to the world as soon as they get that positive result. But it would be nice to see women feeling comfortable to lean on others, to be able to be vulnerable and share "I'm really scared of this happening..." Trusting in someone, sharing those vulnerable feelings, the shame that might be triggered allows the opportunity of an empathetic response. Shame needs to be acknowledged and understood before it can be resolved. As a woman, I want to create more spaces for other women to feel they can share these feelings, to take away the power of shame around miscarriage.
Brown, B,. (ed) (2010) The Gifts of Imperfection. Minnesota: Hazeldon Publishing.