By asking “what does it mean to be a dangerous woman?” this year of stories has evoked narratives from all kinds of women who must negotiate a difficult relationship with social expectations. When it comes to having children, there is a litany of expectations that are placed on women. In today’s post, one woman shares her experience of navigating these expectations during an early-term miscarriage.
Giving up drinking wasn’t the challenge, it was coming up with excuses for my prolonged preference for sobriety that became tedious. We told our immediate family and good friends by about week ten, partly because it was easier than fabricating increasingly unbelievable excuses for passing up a glass of wine while out, and partly because we told ourselves that we could face telling them bad news should it come.
When I had a miscarriage at eleven weeks, we were forced to confront that choice.
“One in three” became the common refrain during our contact with medical services throughout the experience. Occasionally we would hear the harmony “one in five”. The overwhelming message was that this was not uncommon, even for those of us who had no reason to expect anything other than good news. The pervasiveness of failed pregnancy only becomes a common narrative once you live it yourself. In the weeks after, women from across my life told me quietly of their own miscarriages, the ones that came and went quietly between their now-adult children, the cycle of heartbreak that drove them to IFV, the ones where a pregnancy came immediately after, not cancelling the sorrow, but providing a counter-point.
Our culture of keeping pregnancy a secret until the twelfth week is not so much predicated on the possibility of miscarriage before this date, but the discomfort of having to share the news. Once you are safely through those invisible weeks, people are happy to ask you the most personal questions, share their advice, and invade your personal space – but the same people do not want to be confronted with the reality that not all pregnancies end in cute baby photos.
The silence around the early stages of pregnancy exists because we become dangerous women when we no longer carry a child, but carry grief instead. If we keep that grief to ourselves and our immediate family, we are required to perform a lie that everything in our lives is unchanged. Sharing the experience makes us a dangerous reminder of the frailty of human life – that in a world where people try to take control of women’s bodies away from them, there are some bodies at some times that will not perform the role that comes with a hefty set of society expectations.
The sadness felt is not that for a life lost, but the promise of a life that will now never be. I will never get to meet the early spring child for whom we had made a space in our hearts and our spare room. Gone is the promise of a child whose birthday would sit nicely in the family zodiac, and who would be saved the discomfort their mother faced of being the youngest in her class.
The actual, physical experience of miscarriage is surely different from person to person, but for me it was somewhat reminiscent of the first few times I had my period, a reminder of the hazy memories of my teenage years. Suddenly I was the owner of a body that was not in my control, and was constantly left pondering just how strange the human body can be. The two weeks that my body spent rejecting what it had spent almost three months growing, and the unbearable pain that came and went with it, made the medical term for miscarriage – ‘spontaneous abortion’ – seem like a cruel joke.
I have not written this anonymously out of shame or fear. I leave this in the name of the world’s most prolific author because I have already extended my personal circle of sadness as far as I am willing to bear. Let it also serve as a reminder that we are many, we are your colleagues, your girlfriend, your barista, your mother, your lawmakers. We are women who, at other times in our lives, have had abortions, who may already have children, or who may never carry a pregnancy to term. We may choose to share these stories with you, or we may not, but we carry them with us.