We were sent underground.
Silence has even become encoded in medical recommendations. It’s common practice in the medical community to suggest women wait to share their pregnancy news until they are “out of the woods.” In obstetric terms, that generally means waiting until after the first trimester, or around twelve weeks, when the likelihood of miscarriage is statistically lower and screenings that help determine the chance of a fetal abnormality have been conducted. Once the first trimester passes, the conventional wisdom goes, you’ve reached an ostensible safe zone—a time to celebrate and let your baby bump show. When you begin to unpack the messaging of “wait until the second trimester,” the logic goes something like this: “Don’t share your good news until you are in the clear. This way, if your good news becomes bad news, then you won’t have to share your bad news.”
Stop and think about this—really think. By suggesting that women stay mum during these preliminary weeks and in the event of an early miscarriage, we essentially remove from the conversation—and in so doing, stigmatize—any woman who doesn’t experience multiple trimesters of pregnancy. It implies that you probably won’t want to or shouldn’t share news of a miscarriage, so you shouldn’t say anything until the risk of that happening is lower.
To be clear, it’s completely understandable if you’d like to keep news of your pregnancy to yourself for however long, and for whatever reason. Miscarriages are undoubtedly hard and, for some women, they can be difficult to discuss. But it’s worth reflecting on whether you’re consciously choosing not to share the details of your personal medical history or reflexively avoiding these conversations because it’s so ingrained in us not to talk about loss. Not to talk about grief. Or worse, if you are going underground with your feelings based on self-blame or guilt.
The reality is, a miscarriage at any stage might require support, and when we encourage women to be hush-hush in the early weeks of pregnancy, we’re potentially robbing them of that support should they need it. Opening up about loss and expressing grief candidly and unabashedly—or any reaction, for that matter—can create a sense of community and connectedness during an otherwise isolating time. It also might inspire others to do the same. Grief, like all emotions, affects everyone differently, and sometimes we don’t have a clue what we need in the throes of our despair until we are forced to survive it. We cannot assume the stage of gestation will automatically determine the potential impact of a pregnancy loss—it does not. The pain of sharing or not sharing a loss that does evoke feelings of grief, mourning, longing, or self-hate, whether it happens at five weeks or forty, is poignant and individual.
I was raised as a culturally Jewish woman and taught to believe that life begins at birth—that birth is the moment when a fetus is deemed a person. Because of that teaching, I found some comfort in the idea that I didn’t lose a life, but the promise of one. And as such, I didn’t initially relate to women who, for example, upon seeing a positive pregnancy test, immediately felt spiritually connected to the idea of who this future baby might be. Over time and after exposure to various perspectives and women’s stories, I’ve come to appreciate the myriad ways people feel about pregnancy and their connection to it. No matter how we interpret what is growing in our bodies, pregnancy, and/or its personhood, we have the right to grieve upon losing it and the boundless possibilities of a future that did not come to fruition. We also have the right to feel relieved, or even indifferent, about a loss without feeling judged. We have the right to mourn the milestones reached only in the most hopeful recesses of our minds—the first steps that were never walked, the first words that were never spoken. And we deserve to do so without assigning blame to ourselves or downplaying our emotional reactions, whatever they may be, as the result of society’s inability to sit uncomfortably in grief, or any other response to miscarriage discussed in hushed, whispered tones. We need to remind one another of this very fact—the fact that there is no one at fault here, and no one is defined by the ways in which they navigate the aftermath—by refusing to sit in silence.