There was little time to mourn after an ultrasound confirmed that I had lost the baby. There was another son waiting to be picked up from preschool, there was wine to be bought for the dinner we were attending that night, and there was a writing project due by close of business.
There were protocols to follow. The requisite three-month waiting period before telling anyone I was pregnant had not yet passed, so common courtesy and the avoidance of awkwardness dictated that my mourning was to be private.
There were synagogue services the next day for the Sabbath, where mourners stood and prayed together to publicly grieve, and receive acknowledgment and support from the community in return. I sat.
There was a baby shower for a friend. I held the host’s 6-month-old and deflected questions about whether I was planning to expand my own family. “One keeps me busy enough for now.” Nobody wants to be a downer.
There was an annual Marine Ball to attend. I toasted our servicemen. I smiled and I laughed.
I smiled so much that week that my face hurt. I think I was hoping that if I wore an extra-large grin, nobody would notice the sadness in my eyes. The hypocrisy became too much for me, and I stopped going out when I could avoid it. When I started to venture out of the house again, I made excuses about having been sick, or busy. There were enough other difficulties to point to as excuses for staying out of sight, difficulties that were acceptable to speak about publicly.
For a society that has no shortage of vocal citizens highly concerned about the fate of unborn children in general, there is surprisingly little compassion to go around for the loss of one unborn child in particular. We know how to criticize, but we don’t have a script for consoling.
My almost-3-year-old son was fine without a script. He asked me why I was crying. I told him that Mommy had a baby in her belly and the baby broke. He gave me a hug and asked if I wanted to play with his cement mixer (his prized possession). I did. It was the only thing up until that point that helped.
On a particularly rough day, when an acquaintance with particular kindness in her voice asked how I was doing, I blurted out what had happened, announcing my pregnancy and loss simultaneously. I broke the rules. So did she; she told me about her own experience with miscarriage. She offered her company. She told me it was okay to talk about it, and she told me her story and shared her pain. On that day, that acquaintance became a friend.
I noticed a pattern, and I started to change my approach. I didn’t seek out people to tell, but I didn’t hide it either. Most people weren’t sure how to react, but they all did the best they could. Some of it helped, and some of it made it worse. But all of it was real, honest and human. In a world where our most intimate feelings are summarized with emoji and sent over text messages, hearing friends flounder for words was exactly what I needed.
The “three-month rule” is outdated. Telling women that we should stay silent is outdated.
We’re making progress. Mark Zuckerberg publicly disclosed that he and his wife, Priscilla, went through three miscarriages. Beyoncé and Mariah Carey both spoke about the difficulties of their miscarriages. Still, they’re the exception, not the norm.
During a successful pregnancy, silence forces us to make excuses for being tired, for missing work to go to doctors’ appointments, for running to the bathroom. During an unsuccessful pregnancy, it forces us to suffer alone. In both cases, it causes us to shy away from asking for help when we need it. In a world of Facebook and Snapchat, where oversharing our frivolous news is the norm, under-sharing our more sincere news cheats us out of the connections that make life meaningful, and it cheats others out of the chance to step up and assist.
And so I am telling everyone, shouting it to anyone who will listen. There was a baby in my belly, and it broke. Shout your miscarriage, too. You’ll be surprised how much it helps.
Jessica Levy is a freelance writer focused on parenting, education, technology and the intersection of the three. Follow her on Twitter @jesslevy.
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