Embarrassment

Miscarriage: Shame and Silence

Reducing the silence will help reduce the shame

Posted Jul 30, 2019

Pixabay Public Domain
Source: Pixabay Public Domain

It takes courage to break the silence and talk about one’s own miscarriage. There is unfortunately so much personal shame and social taboo attached to what is such a frequent occurrence that it is usually kept secret.

Michelle Obama, in her memoir Becoming, bravely wrote about her own experience with miscarriage. In an opinion piece  in The New York Times,  TV host and commentator Meghan McCain wrote:   “I am not hiding anymore. My miscarriage was a horrendous experience and I would not wish it on anyone,” she wrote. “Miscarriage is a pain too often unacknowledged. Yet it is real, and what we have lost is real. We feel sorrow and we weep because our babies were real.“ Her article had  a ripple effect, stimulating television and online media to bring up the topic of miscarriage more often than was usual for them - at least, for a while. 

The psychological pain of miscarriage affects men as well as women. Here is what Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, bravely wrote about his own experience: “Most people don’t discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect on you – as if you’re defective or did something to cause this. So you struggle on your own.”

The psychological impact of miscarriage

The psychological effects are profound, because miscarriage is so deeply connected to an individual’s sense of identity and self-esteem.

There’s the feeling of being damaged, with intensely painful shame about that. There’s the loss not just of the pregnancy, but of one’s hopes and dreams for that child into the future. There's guilt over inflicting childlessness on the one they love. There’s the feeling you’ve lost control over your life.  

Shame, personal silence and lack of social support

The silence about miscarriage in our media and our conversations increases its social stigma and reinforces a person’s sense that this is indeed something to be ashamed of and should not be shared with others.

Which is unfortunate—because social support from others is a key factor in helping people deal with stressors of all sorts.  Personal silence prevents a woman who has suffered a miscarriage from hearing that so many others she knows personally may have had the same experience. It keeps her from re-framing her experience to realize that she is not a singular example of failed womanhood, but, instead, that she has had a not-uncommon outcome of pregnancy.

How to help reduce the social stigma of miscarriage

Support the media

Support the media when they do publish an open, compassionate account and discussion of pregnancy loss, such as Meghan McCain’s deeply personal article in The New York Times. We need to encourage more of the same. Sharing and commenting online about what we’ve read can have an impact by showing the media that such articles are of interest.

Talk about books that feature miscarriage

It is not only print and social media that can shape the cultural climate about miscarriage. Books, both non-fiction and fiction, can help increase awareness and stimulate conversations about it. 

Here are several such books:

Memoirs

Becoming, by Michelle Obama. In one of the most powerful sections of the book, she frankly describes her emotional distress after a miscarriage, an experience she describes as “lonely, painful, and demoralizing almost on a cellular level."

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, by Elizabeth McCracken, shows how she experienced and struggled to move forward after her child died in utero during her ninth month of pregnancy. Her grief, her embarrassment, her feelings of failure, and her attempts to shift the blame onto others, are vividly described.

Novels

The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman, is about a woman who is deeply depressed after two miscarriages/stillbirths. When a rowboat with a dead man and a live baby appears at their isolated home, she begs her husband to let them keep the child and raise it as their own.

The End of Miracles, which I wrote, portrays a woman whose deep need to bear a child is sabotaged by infertility and miscarriage. A false imagined pregnancy is only one way Margo tries to cope with her grief.

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty features a major character with multiple miscarriages. Alice provides Elizabeth with necessary social support and help during Elizabeth's last chance to become pregnant.

Together with courageous people  speaking out, more print and TV media, more books featuring miscarriage, and more conversations about all of them will increase the likelihood that miscarriage sufferers will reveal their situation to others. And, by doing so, they will receive the understanding and comfort from others that is so helpful for recovery from their psychological trauma.