[Originally posted on my old blog April 16, 2008.]
I have experienced what I believed to be two [now three] very early miscarriages in my past, both while actively trying to conceive. How do I know they were very early miscarriages and not just late periods? The truth is, I have no concrete scientific evidence. The only evidence I have is my own intuition that I was pregnant and beginning to experience my body’s pregnancy cues. I did not have positive home pregnancy tests to back-up my hunches. There are some who want to exclude me (and others who lack concrete proof of pregnancy) from the club of “true miscarriages.” They would dismiss our experiences as insignificant, make light of our anecdotal “proof” of pregnancy, or chuckle to themselves at our apparent “wishful thinking.” Unfortunately, for those experiencing very early miscarriages, finding understanding and comfort is no easy task.
Look up “miscarriage” in any pregnancy book or website and nearly all of them tell you the same thing: “If you suspect you are having a miscarriage, call your care provider immediately!” When I had my first miscarriage, I was frightened and a little panicked. Everything I had read led me to consider it a sort of emergency. So I called my health clinic to speak to a nurse for guidance. After waiting on hold, I explained that I thought I was having a miscarriage and wanted to know if I should come in. She asked me a few clarifying questions and concluded, “It sounds like it was probably just a late period.” I explained why I disagreed, and she said, “Well, if you want to do a pregnancy test, we can see if you were pregnant or not.” What good would a pregnancy test be now that the pregnancy was over? I was a bit rattled by her callous and abrupt manner. “Ok, um… so I don’t need to come in? Is there anything I need to do?” She seemed impatient to end the conversation and move on to a patient with a real crisis, “No, there’s nothing we can do for you.” Ouch. “Okay, bye.” Ouch.
The day my second miscarriage began, I stumbled upon a website with information and comfort for women experiencing pregnancy loss. I felt initially fortunate to have found the site and plunged right in expecting it to quell some of the ache in my heart. Ultimately, I left the site feeling worse than before (and angry to boot). In the section with answers for those who aren’t sure whether they were pregnant, I was bombarded with statements implying I was wrong to think I had experienced a miscarriage, that my “evidence” was only proof of my ignorance of female reproductive cycles and their quirkiness. A positive pregnancy test was the only valid ticket into the club. I felt ill as I read it. Comments sections of the site are filled with “Thank you so much” statements. I am certain this website has brought countless women comfort in times of great pain and loss. However, it was the opposite for me–a twisting knife in a wound that had only just begun to bleed. I was not welcome. Once again, the baby I was mourning the loss of was “just a late period.”
Speaking for myself, I can say that I know my body very well. I know my menstrual cycle very well. I’ve had late periods. And I know my body’s “pregnant” cues. I feel confident that my intuition was correct for both of my miscarriages. I have found that far too many in the medical community are slow to trust women’s intuition about their own bodies, particularly when it comes to pregnancy and birth. Ultimately, for a woman who believes she is experiencing a miscarriage after trying to conceive, whether or not it was an “actual pregnancy” is completely irrelevant. She believes she was pregnant, and that belief alone is all it takes to make that pregnancy real enough to be mourned when it is taken away. Telling this woman that her loss is not a real miscarriage will not be helpful to her.
In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Linda Layne, author of Motherhood Lost, describes the “breathtaking insensitivity” toward miscarriage in western society. She says, “[T]he additional hurt that bereaved parents feel when their losses are dismissed and diminished by others is needless and cruel”(source). That is exactly how it felt to me–needless and cruel–when I was cast aside by those I looked to for comfort.
Fortunately, there are groups like M.E.N.D. where all varieties of pregnancy and infant loss are acknowledged. M.E.N.D. (Mommies Enduring Neonatal Death) is a Christian non-profit organization offering resources to families experiencing miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. In a 1998 M.E.N.D. newsletter addressing miscarriage, Rebekah Mitchell explains:
I have found that society drastically minimizes early pregnancy loss. . . . As mothers, we are attached to our babies the moment conception is confirmed and sometimes even before fertilization occurs if the pregnancy was planned in advance. . . . Most of the parents who attend our M.E.N.D. share groups have either suffered a late term stillbirth or a neonatal death. But there is always at least one set of parents who have lost their baby to an early miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy. The grief is no different for any of the parents. . . . Occasionally, a mother who has miscarried will attempt to apologize for being there as if she didn’t belong. We never compare grief! Every parent who has lost a child deserves to mourn and have their grief validated. (source).
Reading these words was extraordinarily comforting as I mourned my second miscarriage, particularly after reeling from the exclusionary and insensitive words I had read elsewhere.
I want all women experiencing any form of pregnancy loss to feel validated. My heart goes out to all parents whose hopes and dreams slip away from them with each drop of blood, regardless of when that blood appears or whether it had a prelude of a positive pregnancy test. I honor your pain. I have known the loss you feel. It is not “just” anything. It is real. I hope to see a day when peace will be easier for us to find because compassion is easier to find as well.
“Understanding Miscarriage” from Baby Center
“Mourning My Miscarriage,” by Peggy Orenstein
“The Hourglass Theory,” from Segullah
The Miscarriage Association