By Rachel Lippolis
The statistics aren’t a secret. Most of us have heard that up to one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. Typically, they’re caused by chromosomal abnormalities; the egg or sperm was damaged, the baby wasn’t going to develop properly, and the body is just protecting itself. It’s no secret that this must happen to a lot of women.
And yet, our own miscarriages ARE secret. We hide our pregnancies from public knowledge until we pass that magical three-month mark, counting the days (10 weeks 1 day, 10 weeks 2 days, 10 weeks 3 days…) until we feel safe (even though we’re never really “safe”). Before then, we pretend we’re not really pregnant. We pretend there’s a different reason we’re not drinking wine or caffeine. There’s a different reason we feel sick and fatigued. And if we lose that developing baby, we don’t have to tell anyone. They don’t console us because they don’t know we’re grieving.
When I miscarried last fall, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. I wanted to cry out, “I was pregnant, and now I’m not!” Typically, I’m an extremely private person; it’s very hard for me to open up and reveal things about myself. But part of me wanted people to know that I felt betrayed by my body. I wasn’t very far along. I’d only spent a few weeks knowing I was pregnant before I lost it.
Still, it was enough time for me to imagine an entire childhood for this spark of a person. Ultimately, I was too scared and embarrassed to shout it from the rooftops. I only told close family and a couple friends, as well as an amazing group of women online who knew exactly what to say.
In June, while this lost child’s due date quietly passed, I also noted slight movements in my belly. As I struggle to make sense of my feelings—my great joy for my son, who will be three in October; my occasional guilt and grief for the child that will never be; my excitement for the next little boy, due in December—a deep level of rage also courses through me. There is a criminalization of women and pregnancy across the country.
- Last month, a young woman in Alabama was charged with manslaughter after she was shot and her five-month old fetus died. Charges were later dropped.
- In 2015, a woman in Indiana was “sentenced to 20 years in prison neglect of a dependent and feticide.” The woman said she miscarried her fetus; the state argued she took abortion-inducing drugs.
- In 2007, a teenage girl was indicted for “depraved heart murder” a year after her daughter was born premature and stillborn. An autopsy of the infant revealed “traces of a cocaine byproduct,” and her death ruled a homicide.
The examples are depressingly numerous. They didn’t begin with the Trump administration, and they won’t end with it. We must create a society that supports and has compassion for women: help them prevent or end unwanted pregnancies; provide excellent maternal care to reduce the United States’ high infant mortality rate; require parental leave so that all new mothers and fathers have the time to bond with and care for their new baby. It seems so simple and somehow so difficult.
Pregnancy is hard. Losing a baby is hard. Being a parent is hard. And yet our government, ostensibly to “protect” a spark of a person, neglects and punishes the bearer of that spark. I want our pregnancy stories—including miscarriages, abortions, and decisions not to have children in the first place—to be more out in the open, not just in hushed conversations or private online groups. I want an army of women from various backgrounds and with a variety of experiences to lead the necessary policy and cultural shifts.
I guess this is my attempt to do my small part. To share a little of my story in order to feel less alone and, maybe, help someone else feel less alone. Because each time I heard another woman say, “I’m sorry – that happened to me, too,” I felt better. Lighter. I think we all ought to be louder with our stories. Each of us, as well as the society at large, would be better off for it.
After ten years working in a library, Rachel currently stays home with her toddler son, returning to the library with him two or three times a week. She hopes he’s as crazy about books as she is.
Editor’s note: Rachel and I have been online friends since 2011, when I discovered her excellent blog. We finally met in May 2016 when I visited her in Cincinnati, her hometown, during a road trip I took to see Major League Baseball games in three Midwest cities. As much as I love Rachel;s writing, I equally admire her progressive values.
Tomorrow: John Knapp | To no one in particular