Category Archives: miscarriage

Washington Post op-ed: What Michelle Obama’s Miscarriage Teaches Us About Modern Pregnancy

“In her new book, “Becoming,” Michelle Obama reveals that she miscarried her first pregnancy, and went on to conceive her two daughters by in vitro fertilization. In an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, the former first lady described feeling “lost and alone” and like a failure after she miscarried. She didn’t realize that early miscarriages are very common, ending about 20 percent of confirmed pregnancies.

“Obama’s revelation underscores a striking irony. Although the past two centuries have witnessed dramatic growth in knowledge and control of reproductive processes, that wealth of knowledge has simultaneously obscured what used to be commonly understood: Many pregnancies simply do not work out.”

read the rest at the Washington Post

Church Discipline and Miscarriage Mismanagement at Catholic Hospitals

Quick — is your nearest hospital affiliated with the Catholic Church?

This is a question I would not have been able to answer during my two pregnancies. It never occurred to me that it was relevant. But in fact, for a woman who has a pregnancy complication that sends her to the emergency room, it can make the difference between timely, effective care and callous treatment that leaves her with permanent damage to her health and fertility…

Read the rest at Nursing Clio

 

Enforcing Death Rituals after Miscarriage is Just Plain Cruel

The Indiana legislature claims it wants to protect unborn children and their parents. Last week Governor Mike Pence gave his blessing to a new bill aimed primarily at restricting abortion but also addressing miscarriage, explaining, “I sign this legislation with a prayer that God would continue to bless these precious children, mothers and families.” But knowing what I do about pregnancy and miscarriage, all I can see is increased pain and confusion in store for women who lose pregnancies in Indiana…

Read the rest at Nursing Clio

Yes, We Should Tell about our Miscarriages on Facebook

Recently, Mark Zuckerberg joyfully announced on Facebook that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are expecting a daughter. More solemnly, he added that Chan had experienced three miscarriages before this pregnancy. He shared this personal story as a gesture of support and solidarity with other couples facing similar difficulties. It had meant a lot to him when his friends who had struggled to have children shared their experiences, and now it was his turn.

Zuckerberg’s Facebook post sparked an outpouring of tens of thousands of congratulatory messages, including a remarkable number of miscarriage stories. There is a real hunger for this kind of sharing.

Why are we eager for new ways to commiserate over our experiences of early pregnancy loss? Is this an expression of a long-suppressed need? Or has something about the experience of pregnancy changed?

As a historian, I see many ways in which dramatic, mostly-positive social changes of the past two centuries have had unintended consequences when it comes to early pregnancy loss…

Read the rest at Nursing Clio

Misunderstanding Miscarriage

Miscarriage rarely makes the news, except in tabloids. But last year, Virginia state Senator Mark Obenshain’s ill-advised attempt to require Virginia women to report all miscarriages to the police contributed to his failure to become Virginia’s state attorney general. The bill, introduced in 2009, haunted his race for the position.

Obenshain was trying to demonstrate his moral outrage over the case of a frightened teenager who had given birth to a premature stillborn baby, and disposed of it in a dumpster.  It was a tragic case, to all observers.  But instead of asking how his state could better provide sex education and contraception, or provide support to teens who get pregnant, he wrote a bill aimed at surveillance and punishment.  On penalty of up to a year in prison, women would be required to report all incidences of fetal demise occurring outside a physician’s supervision to the police.  They were to report the pregnant woman’s name and the location of the remains, and would not be allowed to dispose of them without police supervision.

This would be an alarming proposal even if miscarriage were a rare occurrence.  It smacks of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, or eighteenth century English laws, under which a woman was presumed to have committed infanticide if she had an unattended stillbirth.

But miscarriage is not rare.  About 20% of confirmed pregnancies miscarry.  And that is only the tip of the iceberg.  Only about a third of fertilized eggs actually become babies; the rest fail to implant in the uterus, or begin to develop but are not genetically compatible with life, or stop developing for reasons still mysterious to researchers.

Obenshein’s bill was promptly ridiculed.  Obenshein was forced to reach out to Planned Parenthood to try to fix his gaffe, and was rebuffed; in the end, he himself withdrew the bill.

What remains interesting to me, as the episode resurfaced in the news, is how exactly Obenshein was taken to task.  I see two major threads.  One, in a subtle way, reinforces Obenshein’s perspective.  The other is perhaps more counter-cultural.

Some of Obenshein’s critics emphasized the emotional burden the reporting requirement would place on women who are presumed to already be mourning a grave loss.  It is true that today in the United States, many women experience miscarriages, even very early ones, as akin to losing a child.  Even Obenshein’s supporters surely were aghast at the idea of emotionally torturing women who were devastated to lose their pregnancies.

The more counter-cultural perspective is that, as obstetrician Carrie Terrell has explained, miscarriage is “a completely normal and natural event. It would be sort of like having to report every time you had intercourse or your period. It’s a normal part of a woman’s reproductive life.”  If we wanted to be sure to report every single miscarriage, we’d need to report every single menstrual period as a possible miscarriage.  Many of those early losses look exactly like regular periods.  None of us who have been heterosexually active, fertile women in fact know how many early pregnancy losses we have had.

I would like to see both of these perspectives taken into account, not only in preventing ridiculous laws like that proposed by Obenshain, but in understanding miscarriage more generally.  Many women today need emotional support and understanding when they lose pregnancies, and they deserve that support.  At the same time, it could help us a great deal to learn to regard miscarriage as common, natural, and normal.  Miscarriages are a regular part of a healthy women’s reproductive life, just like intercourse, menstruation and pregnancies that go to term.