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Pregnancy And Childbirth: Breaking The Silence

Pregnancy And Childbirth: Breaking The Silence

Since the birth of my son, Jackson, I have been asked the same question a nauseating number of times: “What has been the most surprising part of becoming a mother?” I often reply with something of a truism: “It really is harder than you think.” But honestly, the most shocking parts of motherhood have been the misfortunes I faced along the way — namely, my early stage miscarriage and postpartum hemorrhage — and how compelled I felt to navigate these setbacks in reticent solitude.

I spent the 72 hours following my first positive pregnancy test in baby-giddy bliss, consciously choosing to ignore the nagging twinges of pain in my belly. But as my cramping sharpened and my bleeding intensified, I began to frantically console myself: There is nothing to be worried about. Miscarriages are uncommon, and why would I miscarry this early, right? Right? But in my gut, I already knew the truth — I was having a miscarriage, and my hopes and dreams for what this baby would be were gently circling the drain in my bloodstained shower.

It was not just the miscarriage itself that was surprising, but also the obligation I felt to not discuss it or, if I did, to somehow trivialize and qualify my experience. I had suffered a chemical pregnancy, or a miscarriage that occurs within the first five weeks following conception. These types of miscarriages are exceedingly common — the outcome of up to 50% of all conceptions.

The author and Tom after their first positive pregnancy test, which resulted in a miscarriage a few days later.
The author and Tom after their first positive pregnancy test, which resulted in a miscarriage a few days later.

In many ways, I felt lucky: I had gotten pregnant quickly and I had lost the baby quickly. To top it off, I conceived my son startlingly soon after the incident. I did not suffer another pregnancy loss, or the pain of waiting to know if my desire to become a mother would actualize. Because of all this good fortune, I told myself that my grief was not worthy of empathy or discussion — those were reserved for people with “real” traumatic losses.

While I felt that my miscarriage was not severe enough to warrant conversation, I quickly learned that too traumatic of an experience is to be similarly suppressed. Minutes after I had delivered my baby boy, I began to feel lightheaded as my vitals forcefully plummeted. Despite having successfully expelled both my son and what the doctors mistakenly thought was the entirety of my placenta, I was continuing to hemorrhage at an alarming pace.

I looked over to see my husband performing the requisite skin-to-skin with my newborn that I was incapable of participating in. The whites of my husband’s eyes were red. He later relayed that he was trying to wrap his head around how he could possibly cope with becoming a single parent.

Once again, I was shocked by the incident. I had gone into labor fearless — deluded into thinking that childbirth is routine and, therefore, safe with the advent of modern medicine. We shared with friends and family that we’d had complications during my delivery and that the situation had become “dicey” at points, but that all was well. With the exception of a few close friends, we kept the discussion to a minimum, fearing that the story would encumber our loved ones with unwanted anxieties.

The author and her family in the hospital a few days after the birth of baby Jackson.
The author and her family in the hospital a few days after the birth of baby Jackson.

Ironically, in the midst of my self-imposed silence, I found myself bewildered, repeatedly wondering why I had never heard an anecdote involving a chemical pregnancy or postpartum hemorrhage.

The answer I have arrived at is twofold. First, silence surrounding miscarriage and complications during delivery is actually urged by the medical community and, consequently, has become entrenched as the societal norm. Most physicians dictate that you should not share your pregnancy with others until you are past the 12-week “danger zone” in which miscarriages most frequently occur.

In practice, this obliterates the potential for dialogue around early pregnancy loss almost entirely. What is there to talk about when there was no baby discussed in the first place? Similarly, many doctors temper patients’ labor and delivery concerns by reciting a script about how these tragic outcomes are rare. In turn, women who experience early miscarriages or traumatic births are made to feel that they are anomalies whose stories are chilling anecdotes that should not be revealed.

Second, society has actually demanded that women navigate their despair in secrecy and proceed with life as usual, so that they can continue to fulfill their various roles in service of others. The startling outrage directed at model Chrissy Teigen after she shared photos of the birth of her deceased son, prompting accusations of attention-seeking, illustrates just how strongly these expectations are ingrained in today’s culture. Instead of being taught to ask our communities for the support we need during these times of mourning and grief, we are told that to do so would be an unwanted disruption that might scare other women and preexisting children. Instead, we should accept the trauma in isolation and move on.

Jackson, Tom, the author and their Bernedoodle, Winnie, celebrate Tom's birthday in Park City, Utah. "Jackson is thriving," the author writes.
Jackson, Tom, the author and their Bernedoodle, Winnie, celebrate Tom’s birthday in Park City, Utah. “Jackson is thriving,” the author writes.

However, in maintaining our silence, we are not shielding the world around us from the burden of having to suffer our pain with us, or even necessarily helping to alleviate our own distress. To the contrary, we are failing to provide much needed guidance, assurance, compassion and camaraderie to one another. As such, we are complicit in perpetuating a harmful misconception that miscarriage and labor complications are abnormalities that should be endured in solitude. We are participants in encouraging our own ignorance and neglect.

I am sharing my miscarriage and postpartum hemorrhage to heal my pain as an individual and, more significantly, in hopes that doing so will in some way assuage the pain of the women around me, to let them know they are not alone. While I feel certain that the trauma attached to pregnancy loss and labor complications varies in degree, I am also fairly certain that this trauma is, at least in part, a collective one — one that we can guide and heal each other through. And while the obligation to dismantle the phenomenon in which women are lauded for suffering in silence falls not only on aggrieved women but also on doctors, partners, public figures and society writ large, I aim to be a part of the solution. I tell everyone about my miscarriage and postpartum hemorrhage in hopes that I embolden others to do the same.

Lia M. Higgins is a graduate of Barnard College and New York University’s School of Law. She is currently a litigation associate in New York City and proud mother to baby Jackson. Follow Lia’s TikTok account, @Onelitmama_, for honest insights into all things baby and balancing life as a working mom.

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