It’s been a public fact for as long as I can remember that on the way to having my brother and me my mother had 5 miscarriages (plus an abortion over two decades earlier).
Much like most of the information I have about sex, this was another fact that was just that, just another fact, all my life. No strong feelings about it. My mother never complained about it to me. She never bemoaned how difficult it was beyond a strong “You were very much wanted” when I (like every other kid who tells their little sibling that they were a mistake) asked if I myself was an unintended pregnancy.
I think my aunt was the first person who said the word miscarriage like it was something to survive, a trial that should increase my respect for my mother.
According to a 2013 study by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, most people believe that miscarriage is a rare occurrence that happens to only 5 percent of women. In reality, miscarriage ends up to 20 percent of known pregnancies—roughly 750,000 to 1,000,000 every year in the United States. The true percentage is almost certainly higher considering the number of women who miscarry so early that they may never recognize the pregnancy as anything more than a late period.
Let’s talk for a moment about the term “miscarriage.” It’s objectively terrible. Think of the words that begin with the same prefix: mistake, misstep, misplaced, misspelled. “Mis” seems to imply not only that something is wrong, but that you have an active role in making it so. Forty percent of the women surveyed who have experienced a miscarriage said they felt they had done something wrong to cause their miscarriage, and 47 percent expressed feeling guilty.
Scientists know that the majority of pregnancy losses are caused by aneuploidy—chromosomal abnormalities that, for reasons we don’t totally understand, result in forms of life that are incapable of being carried to term. Fetuses with other chromosomal irregularities, such as Down syndrome and Klinefelter’s syndrome, can still grow into healthy, full-term babies.
Yet the same 2013 survey found that the most commonly believed causes of miscarriages are things like stressful life events, lifting something heavy, and having previously used a contraceptive intrauterine device (IUD). These all suggest some responsibility on the part of women.
And they all are unrelated to miscarriage.
~[x] Emphasis mine.
I got a call a few years ago. A friend (who had no intention of getting pregnant) called me up. She didn’t even realize she was late until she was pushing out huge clots in the middle of the night. And then of course in true don’t-let-your-parents-know-you’re-having-sex-in-highschool fashion sitting over a 5 gallon bucket in her bedroom.
My husband recently reminded me of something I’d forgotten. He said that the next day, the day after I lay on the carpet crying for an hour, when I was bleeding the heaviest, I had called him into the bathroom. I was sitting on the toilet passing large blood clots. I wiped them away and held out the piece of toilet paper to show him. I hadn’t remembered doing that. I apologized because apologizing seemed like the polite thing to do, but I didn’t mean it. I was glad that I had done it. That he had seen it too.
It was gelatinous, the texture of snot, and the deepest shade of red I’ve ever seen—nearly black. As it fell out of me, I looked closely, both hoping and fearing that I would see something recognizable—a tadpole, a cashew-shaped alien, a tiny eye the size of a poppy seed on something that vaguely resembled a head. I was fascinated by the stuff. It may not have been a baby, but it was part of me—something I grew with my own body. And now it was leaving me. I rolled it in my fingers. It was warm. It was not alive.
It often feels like being a woman today is defined by slut-shaming and cat-calling. But sometimes it can be helpful to be reminded of my actual heritage, my birthright is being the riverbed that birth and death and life flow through.
Swanson wondered aloud at one point. “Women were made for birth and life and death,” she added. “In the moment of miscarriage, birth and life and death come through us.”
That is much cooler than being called crazy or wondering whether voting for Bernie makes you a bad feminist.