Losing a Part of Yourself: Breaking the Silence Around Pregnancy Loss
One in five.
One in five women have experienced pregnancy loss. This means, when I sit around with my friends, family and colleagues, chances are a bunch of them have gone through what I have. These statistics suggest shared experiences and commonality amongst women. And yet, as I have recently learned, this is one of the most isolating and lonely things a woman can experience. How did we get here?
In my private confessions and consolations, "I've had one, too" is something I heard many women admit to me. Others, just like me, have suffered alone, silently, and with a crushing heaviness. And yet, this is the first time I am hearing of their loss? From some of the women I am closest to? Why? Why aren't we talking? Why are we silenced in our suffering? So here I am - talking about it. Partly because this is part of my healing journey, but mostly because I hope this can help to reduce stigma surrounding pregnancy loss for other people, helping them to feel less isolated in their healing journey. We keep talking about the fact that we don't talk about it - so let's start talking.
Being pregnant is crazy. Brene Brown has carefully categorised every human emotion and experience into eighty-seven (and I'm pretty sure I experienced every single one of those emotions within a week of being pregnant!) For me, something changed as soon as I saw those two little pink lines, confirming what my body and heart had already known. My mind was instantly shifted from 'me' to 'us'. Suddenly, I saw a future with this little person who I already loved more than anything.
To love someone so much and then have them taken from you (before you even got a chance to hold them) is a pain I wish I never knew. I didn’t just lose my baby; I lost a part of me. I lost a future and a dream I had been holding for as long as I can remember. I lost everything that could have been. I lost the person I was before this happened; the ‘me’ who was optimistic, carefree, funny even. The ‘me’ who didn’t know she could feel so earth-shatteringly broken. I not only lost an imagined future, I also lost my past self because I will never get to be that girl again. I have felt deep, anguishing grief and it has changed my world as I know it.
Tashel Bordere talks about ‘disenfranchised grief’ as a grief that is ‘invisible’ or harder to see. The complexity of pregnancy loss and infertility is all tied up in this idea that it’s not always viewed as a tangible loss. For people who experience disenfranchised grief, the loss is often not openly acknowledged or supported with rituals or sympathy. It remains unseen and hidden.
We all know about the ‘12 week announcement’, when people feel its ‘safe’ to share their private joy publicly. This unspoken and unwritten ‘norm’ of keeping early pregnancy private is rationalised as something we do in case there is a loss. And in the worst cases, when there actually is a loss, this ‘rule’ keeps us in a pattern of hiding our grief. It’s difficult for people to acknowledge and support the loss of a pregnancy that they never knew existed in the first place. So, women are left with a choice, to suffer alone in silence or feel the guilt of burdening others with their pain.
Grief in general can make people uncomfortable, and grief that is invisible or has blurry boundaries such as pregnancy loss, often means people don’t know how to react or react insensitively. Well-meaning but devastating words of encouragement hit us like bullets.
“At least it happened early”
“You’ll have another baby”
“Everything happens for a reason”
Are these things true? Maybe. But saying the truth and saying something meaningful and supportive are often two different things.
It’s hard to imagine any other circumstance where responses such as these after a loss are acceptable. But when it comes to pregnancy loss, it’s somehow common place.
Grief is complicated and it’s uncomfortable to sit in people’s sadness with them. We want to make people feel better, so we try to focus on the ‘bright side’ and talk about what there is to be grateful for. Unfortunately, that’s not how grief works. Are there still reasons for us to be grateful? Of course. Does that make our pain go away? Not in the slightest.
The grief of pregnancy loss, like all grief, needs to be acknowledged and validated. The more people try to bring up ‘silver linings’ the heavier this grief feels and the more isolated you can become. You start to follow the narrative – just stay positive! You go to work (in my case, with children) while you’re grieving and you pretend you’re ok while your world is crumbling around you. But we still don’t talk about it.
It’s important to remember that two things can always be true; we can understand that there are things to be grateful for AND we can be feeling so hurt and defeated that we can’t see a way out.
I’m grateful I was able to get pregnant AND I’m devastated by what happened to us.
I’m so happy for all my friends who are sharing their pregnancy news with me AND I find it really hard to hear right now. My response is genuine, ‘I’m so happy for you!’ AND my mind wonders to what could have been.
To simultaneously experience these conflicting emotions is what it means to be human. The two don’t cancel each other out and one is not better than the other. All these feelings are there to be felt and acknowledged.
To all the people out there who know this feeling, whether it be a pregnancy loss or struggles with infertility—you are not alone. Some days it feels like there is no way through. It feels hard because it is. It’s impossibly hard. I hope you understand that you’re stronger than you know. Your journey is your own and there is no ‘right way’ to get through it.
To those who don’t know this feeling, chances are you know someone who does. This is your reminder to check in with them. It’s ok if they’re not ok. Be in it with them, it can be as simple as ‘I’m here for you’.
The truth is we need each other, to share the joys yes, but also the heartache. Talking, sharing and connecting with one another is a pathway to healing. Let’s keep this conversation open and safe so we can all find comfort and support in our deepest, darkest and shared heartache.
Needing somewhere to start?
Try SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Support Australia).
SANDS is an organisation who can help with supporting women and their partners who have had a pregnancy loss at any gestation, including during the loss and afterwards. All their counsellors are trained and have experienced pregnancy loss or stillbirth. If you feel you cannot contact SANDS yourself, ask your midwife to refer you.
Phone: 1300 072 637
Online Live Chat: go to www.sands.org.au and click on support
Words: Nicola Vozzo
Originally published in Connected Caregiving Spring 2022