Why I believe in early pregnancy announcements despite the risk (and fear) of miscarriage
NOTE: I’m going to post this piece below, but before I do I need to tell you that since drafting it, we’ve lost our newest child to the beast that is miscarriage. I was eight weeks along—my earliest miscarriage yet—and I had a surgical removal (D&C) on Friday. The only reason I hadn’t published this post sooner was that I was waiting for an opportunity to edit it; I’ve now decided to post it as-is, even though it’s still quite lengthy.
Although I wrote a lot when we lost Scarlett Grace, and then again when we lost Oliver David, I haven’t felt I have much to say this time. I feel quiet, for now, like my words have all been spent. (Because what more is there to add after a third loss other than to say, again, how absolutely wrong it is? I could insert a few swear words here, but I won’t. The ache is real, friends. And yet God’s grace is also very real, so there’s that.)
It’s a shocking reality to discover that one out of every four confirmed pregnancies ends in miscarriage, and yet it’s true. Many in the medical field estimate the actual number is closer to one in three, or even as high as one in two, when you include pregnancies that end before a positive pregnancy test is taken. Any mother who’s lost a child will tell you that the statistics don’t make it any easier, and yet if this is such a “normal” occurrence, then I think we owe it to each other to continue to normalize the conversation surrounding the loss of any baby during pregnancy, but especially during early pregnancy (miscarriage) since the nature of this type of death feels so illusive and hush hush.
Anyway, my introductory “note” is turning into a blog post of it’s own so I’ll just leave it with this for those who are wanting a personal update: My family and I are doing well considering the circumstances. My D&C was straight forward, done by a team that looked after me with wonderful expertise giving professional, compassionate, and sensitive care. (After my first D&C, and then my natural miscarriage, this last one was my “best” experience so far, if I can even put such an ugly thing in those terms, and I’m so relieved that I opted for the surgical route.) I’m grateful to have friends who have rallied, faithfully texting, dropping off flowers, and generally just grieving along with us. It’s nice to know we’re not alone in our shock and disappointment. I’m as certain as ever that we need a village that is willing to both celebrate and suffer with us. Brokenness is not meant to be done alone. So as sad as I am about losing our much-longed-for child, I’m sharing this piece anyway. I’ve left it as I wrote it a few weeks ago, rather than editing it to make is sound like I just wrote it now. By leaving it as written from the perspective of a newly pregnant woman I hope to reinforce the notion that it’s okay to talk openly about this stuff, despite our immediate and very warranted fears, questions, and vulnerabilities. (If you’d like to read more about my experiences with miscarriage, you can go through my pregnancy loss archives here.)
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Barely pregnant but telling you anyway
I’m pregnant with my fifth child.
I never thought I’d be able to make a confession like that. Five kids? No way. Crazy town. It just seemed too big a number, too much of a stretch to my imagination.
And yet now, five pregnancies and two living children later—wait, three! I’m pregnant!—and five feels like such a small number.
It feels small because it only looks like two.
Just this week a friend hailed me as a “hero” because I’ve shared openly online and in person about our pregnancies and miscarriages. She’s not the first to tell me I’m heroic or brave. As much as I appreciate the sentiment, I reject those types of labels because I honestly can’t fathom the concept that talking about the loss of my children and how much it hurts makes me a hero. Doesn’t that just make me human?
How is it heroic to openly share and grieve the loss of a real flesh and blood child? I’ve felt more desperate than brave.
It’s not abnormal for a person to openly grieve the loss of their grandparent or spouse or teenager or even a baby born still. But the loss of a baby who’s not yet fully developed? Let’s call that a “pregnancy loss,” shall we? Because perhaps we’re not sure if they count as a whole person yet? For those of us who believe that an undeveloped child is still a child, that shouldn’t sit right. And yet still we use these terms.
Our language surrounding these issues matters because our words often unknowingly inform our beliefs. Do these little lives count? Or do they only count when we reach some socially, medically, or politically acceptable number of weeks gestation?
Silence breeds silence
It still astounds me that there is no cultural blueprint in most western nations for grieving the loss of babies lost during pregnancy. No doubt it contributes to the stigma surrounding loss. With no formal way to acknowledge such deaths, parents and others feel an open-ended grief and confusion with vague or non-existent protocol to inform their grieving process or help them know how to say goodbye. There’s so much unspoken fear and confusion, so much misplaced blame, and so much awkwardness surrounding the hush.
Perhaps the silence surrounding actual loss is what leaves women (and men) with no helpful ideas for how to deal with the fear of a potential loss. Either anxiety cripples us and our stomach ties in knots each time we take a trip to the bathroom (will I see blood?) or we stuff it down, ashamed of our own vulnerability. Or perhaps we have an irrational fear of admitting the fear out loud because of an unspoken belief that doing so will somehow jinx us. Still others are oblivious to the risk—ignorance is bliss, the old saying goes.
But what about those who’s innocence surrounding pregnancy is lost? And what about those who are determined not to be controlled by fear and yet also refuse to stuff their feelings into a straightjacket?
Thousands (millions?) of expecting moms fit into a description like that on some level or another.
Aware and yet hopeful
I’m overjoyed to be pregnant. Yes! Wonderful! We’re thrilled to add to our family! And yet I am very aware. I’m aware of the vulnerability. Aware of the risk. Aware of the potential heartache. Aware of people around me and what they might think. . . or what I think they might think about how they might be secretly afraid I’ll miscarry again, too. (And, oh! What will they say—or not say—if ‘it’ happens?!)
Is it possible to move joyfully into pregnancy when you know it’s fraught with unknowns? I believe it is. But we do each other a disservice by making the risk, the possibility of life not sustaining, and the reality of high rates of miscarriage something unspoken.
When I experienced my first miscarriage (and shared about it openly) I received several letters from women in their seventies and eighties describing their own experiences of miscarriage and stillbirth. Those many years ago it wasn’t spoken of. At all. People would simply be six months pregnant in church one week and not pregnant the next. It was not something to openly grieve over, nor was it something to fuss over publicly. The expectation was to pull it together and move on. Many of those same women also wrote how 40, 50, even 60 years later they were now learning to grieve the loss of these babies. (And not one of them forgot to mention how they looked forward to meeting them in heaven one day.)
Shedding the stigma (it’s risky)
Things are changing now, thankfully. I know that because every few months I see another friend or acquaintance posting on facebook about miscarrying. I can’t see those announcements without my heart breaking a little more, but I’m glad they’re there. As much as I’d like to shrink back and ignore the pain away, I know the power of empathy and love and sacrificial generosity and what it can do to a grieving parent’s heart. I know the hope and healing that can come when others are committed to walk through the grief right alongside you. I know how the ministry of a hand-written card or a well thought out message or flowers on the doorstep can be a balm to the hurting soul.
But I also know what silence feels like. I know how the world seems to pause with you in the pain (exploding all over your facebook page) and then before you’ve understood what’s happened it’s jumpstarted back to the racing track—speeding on without a glance, no need for a rearview mirror. I know what it feels like to wonder if your pain is too deep or to wonder if the measure of your grief is justified or ‘normal.’ I know what it feels like when friends don’t reach out because they have no idea what to say. I know what it feels like to stare at an empty fridge and wonder why it isn’t full of casseroles when it seems the entire world rallies around other hurting families who are walking through more tangible forms of grief or illness. I even know what it’s like to show up at church and have no one say a word. Not a word.
You see friends, support and “prayers” on facebook don’t always translate to support and prayers in real life. Let’s not get confused about that, dear ones. This is hard stuff. Telling the world about early pregnancy is risky. Telling the world about miscarriage is risky. Because what if you get let down when you need support the most? This is a real risk—be not disillusioned.
I have felt supported and I have also felt let down. And yet for me, the risk is worth it. I can’t imagine bearing the burden of loss in secret. The same reason people wait to “go public” in early pregnancy (what if we miscarry?) is the same reason we don’t (because WHAT IF WE MISCARRY?).
We were never meant to do brokenness alone. I’m utterly convinced of that.
On waiting until it’s “safe”
After I lost my fist baby someone I looked up to said to me, “that’s why I encourage young mothers to keep their news to themselves or among a small group of friends until twelve weeks into the pregnancy.” At the time I didn’t respond because I was still broken and tender (after my loss at thirteen weeks *ahem*) and was in no mood to defend our decision to “go public” about our pregnancy or our miscarriage. (I’ve never once regretted that decision, by the way.)
If that same woman—or someone else—ever says something similar to me in the future I’ll know how to respond. I will ask her: Why? Why would I keep my pregnancy secret until I was “safe” (which we all know isn’t really safe)? Is it because we are incapable of walking with one another when pain comes? Is it because we are so uncomfortable with death that we’d prefer to treat it as a private matter that has no implications within our extended circle and community? Is it because we’re afraid of things that can’t be “fixed”? Is it because suffering and pain and grief are best dealt with in isolation? In secret? In shame?
Surely not. (And I know she doesn’t think so.)
Why then are we obsessed with being secret until we have a greater guarantee of “viability?” Why then do we think we can hold our breath for twelve weeks and then exhale as if some magic number is our ticket to safety?
Faith not fear
I don’t have a problem with women keeping their pregnancy news private if that’s what they feel comfortable with—fertility and pregnancy are fiercely personal—but I do feel sad that women sometimes don’t feel safe enough within the world, within our communities, and within our churches to know that their baby’s lives will be both celebrated and—if lost—acknowledged, mourned, and remembered. I feel sad that we are welcomed—encouraged—to shout our good news from the rooftops and yet there’s an unspoken rule that pain and suffering be minimized, spurring us to do damage control by focusing on “being strong” and “moving on” should something go drastically wrong.
If women choose not to share publicly during early pregnancy, then let that be from a place of faith, not of fear. May they keep their secret because they want to, not because they feel they need to.
As for me, I want my babies celebrated and widely covered in prayer from the moment we learn of their existence.
A complicated tapestry
So this is me going public again, friends. I’m pregnant and thrilled! But along with my excitement I have a whole slew of other emotions, many of them unpleasant. I have moments of anxiety. I wonder if my body is doing what it should. I’m relieved when I feel a pregnancy symptom and get concerned when I feel “normal” for a few hours or days. I let my imagination go and dream about what our family will look like with four years between our second and third living children and wonder if the gap will make me miss our two lost babies even more. I tell myself I won’t check for blood when I go to the bathroom and then I do anyway. I think about birth, and then pull back—let’s just focus on staying pregnant, don’t get ahead of yourself I tell myself. I trust God and offer my baby to his care and then pull back and want to figure out how to do all the protecting myself. I imagine my youngest with a baby brother or sister and think about how my oldest will want to mother hen our new little one, and then I dismiss my thoughts, not wanting to let my heart wander too free.
Love is so risky.
It’s complicated to be pregnant after loss and this is one area of motherhood I never volunteered to gain more experience in. I have more Big Feelings this time than my last, perhaps because my “one off” miscarriage turned into a repeat occurrence and now I carry with me the question of will this become a pattern or has my body stopped working for good?
But I do know this: my new little baby is worth celebrating. They all were. The one who’s now five born in perfect health, the one who’s now three-and-a-half (remember when we thought he had Down syndrome all throughout the second half of my pregnancy. . . and then he didn’t?), the ones who were lost at 13 weeks and 10.5 weeks pregnant, and the one whom I carry now—six weeks along and working hard to form a beating heart, push out some arm buds, and find a way to grow in the world of my womb.
Can we change the conversation? Can we make it more authentic?
Rejoice with me, friends—I’m pregnant! And here’s what I want in the form of congratulations: a commitment from mothers to be honest with other women about motherhood. Let’s talk about our victories and our shortcomings, our proud moments and our deepest fears. Let’s support each other in vulnerability and applaud one another when we take the supermom capes off. Let’s share the stories of joy and the stories of heartache and strengthen the next generation of daughters to move into womanhood unashamed to love fully in the face of risk, and be wholehearted in our rejoicing and mourning, creating room for both. Let’s stop making apologies for not being strong enough or capable enough or wise enough or brave enough and recognize that it’s not about our ‘enough’ and never will be. God’s ‘enough’ is enough for us—his belief in us, his grace made available for us, and his strength perfected in our most monumental moments of weakness.
I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it a million times again: We’re not perfect mothers but we’re the perfect mothers for our children so let’s just be ourselves, okay? Our brilliant, beautiful, flawed selves.
May we grow these little ones well, including the least of the least, the most fragile, the most undeveloped of children. (Yes, lentil seed-sized babies and all.) Protect them, God, as we give our bodies and hearts on their behalf. And protect us as we choose to be vulnerable with one another, sharing our elation and our fears, our hopes and our concerns.
Here’s to raising babies—a holy and important and wonderful work. And here’s to raising strong mothers who aren’t afraid to sometimes be known in weakness. If that’s what “brave” is, then I guess I’ll take it.
And so should you.
p.s. To read my archives on loss, miscarriage, and grief start here (or read Scarlett’s story or Oliver’s story). I also have a resource board on pinterest here and a collection of other women’s miscarriage and loss stories here.
Update – May 2018
In May 2018 I released an entire book on this subject and I hope it will serve many women and families in their grief—Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope after Miscarriage and Loss. It’s been a labor of love written through the aftermath of my second and third miscarriages as well as the pregnancy and newborn days of our youngest child. Writing it wasn’t easy, but it was a deep privilege. I am filled with belief that it will help others know that we aren’t alone and that it’s possible to grieve with hope.
Photo licensed under Creative Commons (Image Source)