Last month, I miscarried. I was 8½ weeks pregnant when we found out the fetus wasn’t viable. As chance would have it, I had the Dilation and Curettage (D&C) procedure on my birthday. Happy 33rd.
Miscarriage is a universal and timeless truth of childbearing—the outcome for somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of all pregnancies. What’s also true is that despite its commonness, miscarriage is incredibly isolating.
I simply couldn’t find the words to adequately express my brokenness. Hoping to find some, I read. I read a lot. Instead of providing solace, most of what I read annoyed me. Too clinical. Too faux spiritual. Too polite.
Then, a friend sent me a Slate piece from 2003—a series of letters between Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick. The exchange is a uniquely honest conversation about the pain of miscarriage and our society’s awkward inability to address the wounds it leaves behind. A Lot of Hush—the first letter’s title—says it all. In this piece, I finally found the vocabulary to articulate my sadness.
Humans need community, particularly when we are in pain. The nasty hush that comes rushing in after a miscarriage blocks our path to the people we rely on in all other aspects of life.
Certainly, because many miscarriages occur in the first trimester (before women have shared their pregnancy news), they often go unnoted by our otherwise close friends and family. The common wisdom of waiting, of course, is that miscarriage is most likely during this period. By zealously holding fast to this custom that is intended to protect our feelings, we women ironically dig the moat that ultimately leads to our isolation. The Jewish Pregnancy Book—in its aptly titled chapter: From this Narrow Place, I Call to You—names this phenomenon the “Sorority of Silence.”
But, notably, the hush sticks around even when a miscarriage is a known quantity. The word itself is often whispered for fear that some prehistoric pox might be awakened by its mere mention. And even when it is audibly discussed, people don’t really know what to say to a woman who just lost a wanted pregnancy. As I talked about my miscarriage with others who had been in my shoes, the tally of (quasi) well-intentioned, “I can’t believe someone said that to you!?” comments recounted to me were astonishing.
While the list of what not to say is very lengthy (no, I don’t want to hear about your friend whose cousin had six miscarriages but miraculously went on to have a healthy baby; no, I don’t feel better knowing that at least I’ll fit into my dress for that big event coming up; and no, I’m not interested in hearing that this was God’s plan), the list of what to say is pretty short: “This sucks.” “I’m here for you.”
It isn’t exactly fair to lay blame, though. Responding to news of a miscarriage is the Wild West of interpersonal communication. As Lithwick observed in one of her letters, “[t]here are no rituals, no expectations, no Hallmark cards for miscarriage—as there are in abundance for illness, death, or the loss of a pet. For a lack of such scripts, women who miscarry endure most of it in silence and solitude.”
Undergoing a D&C on one’s birthday is an instructive data point on this cultural observation. When I came back from the hospital after my procedure, I received hundreds of texts, Facebook messages, and calls wishing me a “Happy Birthday!” It is such an easy, kind, embracing gesture. Needless to say, I did not get this stream of communication regarding the D&C. Let me be clear: I didn’t, and wouldn’t, expect that. Still, the stark contrast highlighted how our cultural norms impact the very possibility of communication.
Americans purchase approximately 6.5 billion greeting cards each year. That’s a lot of cards, including rather obscure ones celebrating half-birthdays, kindergarten graduations, and even successful colonoscopies. Shouldn’t there be at least one for miscarriage? Not a sympathy card, not a “get well soon” card, but a card that names this incredibly painful, common phenomenon right on the front.
I joked with my husband about disrupting the Hallmark aisle with a good miscarriage card. The joke turned into a fixation. I was infatuated with the idea that the existence of such a card could pierce the deafening hush. Feeling activated for the first time since that heartbreaking, beatless ultrasound, I called a graphic designer.
I would be too bold to assert that this card—this little gesture—could change a conversation so engrained. Nor do I declare that this card would be appropriate to send to every woman who miscarried; for some, to be certain, it would be an unwelcome act. But my deepest hope is that this humble card might unhush the miscarriage experience for someone, somewhere. Let’s call it my way of letting the Sorority of Silence know that I am not accepting their bid. Emily Kane Miller is an attorney in Los Angeles.