The Misery of Miscarriage

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Several readers tell their story:

I miscarried many years ago at age 25. I wasn’t even aware I was pregnant, but I instantly understood something was very, very wrong. Fortunately, the physical pain subsided quickly, but the emotional distress took much longer to fade, especially in the absence of an explanation. Pregnancy loss is fairly common but no less devastating because of its frequency.

Another reader uses that same word:

I lost two babies en route to my daughter and it was emotionally devastating. It was hard to talk about, and the fertility clinic was totally inured to it. Even my mother was just like “try again, at least you know you can get pregnant,” which was true in hindsight.

A reader in Brooklyn felt her doctor was far too inured:

I had seven miscarriages in two years (during which time 9/11 happened and my mother died). Suffice to say I was a basket case.

After the last miscarriage (stayed home on bed rest, progesterone and heparin), I went to a follow-up appointment with my doctor—in my mind to discuss that I needed help for depression and impending mental breakdown. He casually informed me that they had tested the tissue/embryo from the D&C and determined that it had been a boy and “nothing was wrong with him.”

I told him I could not try again. He tried giving me a RAH RAH speech about women who had nine miscarriages and then had a successful delivery. I really felt like I was a Project to him; my successful pregnancy was for HIS ego; it had nothing to do with me.

I walked out of his office and straight to a psychiatrist.

One more email for now:

I’m writing in response to the reader who wrote in to say that an early miscarriage is “no big deal” for herself and other women. I have had two miscarriages at the eight-week mark. Both pregnancies were very much wanted, and the second was after undergoing IVF. My husband and I don’t have any children and will likely be going through IVF again.

I don’t think it makes any sense to compare one person’s grief to another’s, nor to say that it is correct to grieve for a 20+ week loss but not for an early loss. I am still grieving my losses, and it’s less about that specific group of cells than for the idea they represented—a future in which my husband and I are parents.

After the second loss, I’m not sure that future exists for us at all, so a large part of my deep sadness is grieving for a dream that may not come true. For me, this is not the same at all as grieving for a specific person, and it’s not helpful or meaningful to try to judge one as worse than the other.

None of my experiences have changed my pro-choice stance for a second. The way I felt upon learning in my second pregnancy that the baby’s heart was beating too slowly to be viable and the baby would likely die in the next few days was indescribably agonizing, but it bears no weight on how a different woman would feel about a different pregnancy. She should have the choice to end her pregnancy just as I wish I’d had the choice to continue mine. The idea that I would want to prevent someone else from ending a pregnancy just because I was devastated when mine ended—that makes no sense to me.

Also, I’ve had two D&Cs. Both were quick, easy, and in a doctor’s office. The idea that laws need to be passed to “protect” women by requiring admitting rights, surgery center requirements, etc., is completely laughable, if it weren’t such a terrifying step towards limiting reproductive rights in this country.

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