A brief discussion about statistics, grief support, and the reproductive injustices surrounding pregnancy loss
By: Mary McCune
Pipeline Program Director
I remember the day I finally got a positive pregnancy test. I swear I must have peed on over 50 tests throughout this year before getting the magical positive one. I had to eventually switch to the cheap tests that look like pH test strips for pools because it got expensive pretty fast. The day it happened, we splurged and bought a digital pregnancy test that boldly displayed the word "pregnant" on the screen to eliminate any doubt my husband and I had.
Getting pregnant was frustrating. Each month was a painful week-long reminder that I wasn’t there yet. And each month when I ended my cycle, I felt like my newsfeed always displayed a friend’s pregnancy or birth announcement. Since we started to try, these announcements meant more to me – a potential glimpse into the future and deeper empathy for the excitement my friends’ families were feeling.
I decided to tell friends, family, and even coworkers about my pregnancy quite early, around 6 weeks, for a couple of reasons. First, my morning sickness was oftentimes hard to hide. But secondly, I felt comfortable sharing my experiences with others, no matter the ultimate outcome.
I worked at Planned Parenthood for many years and had become familiar with the statistics related to U.S. pregnancies. I already knew that approximately 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. The instance of miscarriage with black women is even higher due to several reasons, including lack of prenatal care. That means approximately one out of every four pregnant women experience pregnancy loss.
Sharing the news was exciting. We spent hours with friends and family discussing baby names. We would peruse Pinterest looking at nursery decor and search Yelp and Nextdoor for neighborhood daycares. We couldn’t wait to meet our little one and counted the days until our first ultrasound. When I woke up on the morning of the appointment, I picked out the magnet I would use to pin up the ultrasound picture on the fridge.
The silence was deafening. I stared at the ceiling for an eternity as the doctor squirted more and more gel, trying different angles, and digging deeper into my abdomen to try and find signs of life. The ultrasound appointment was the opposite of what I expected. I left the appointment with a diagnosed UTI, a surprise pap smear, and an everlasting memory. I went back two days later for another hour of continued silent ultrasounds and a call later that evening confirming my fear.
I was given three treatment options: expectant management (sit and wait), medical management (induced through misoprostol pills), or surgical evacuation. There was no clear option for me, as each option had their own pros and cons. Ultimately, I chose medical management because I did not want to spend hours in hospital triage waiting for a surgery room on a Friday night.
However, I ended up waiting almost an hour at the hospital pharmacy. Misoprostol, more commonly known as the “abortion pill,” is sometimes hard to obtain at commercial pharmacies because under California law, pharmacists can refuse to fill these prescriptions based on their own ethical, moral, or religious objections.
I went home and took my medication that evening. I saw medical management as a way of closing a chapter and a conclusive end to the pregnancy. I had pizza ordered, ice cream in the freezer, and my favorite TV shows queued up. A couple of hours later, I started feeling contractions and eventually started to pass a majority of the tissue. The most painful part of the process lasted approximately 12 hours, although extreme cramping, tissue passage, and bleeding can last up to two weeks.
Grief manifests itself differently in everyone. What worked for me might not be helpful for others. I found that the following types of support from friends were helpful in my own grieving and recovery processes:
Sharing personal stories
I was shocked by the number of women I knew who had experienced similar procedures and miscarriages. Hearing their stories was therapeutic, normalized my experience, and made me feel less alone.
Serving as a sounding board
Depending on the person, spouting off statistics might not be the best way to heal. While many of my friends tried to comfort me (with the best of intentions) by reassuring me statistically “next time it will be fine,” or “at least you weren’t further along,” other women might find those comments to be minimizing their experience. Sometimes, simply letting your grieving friend talk it out can be helpful.
Helping to find resources
If you have not personally experienced a miscarriage, asking if your grieving friend is able to connect with others with similar experiences is a thoughtful way to provide support. If she doesn’t feel comfortable or doesn’t know anyone with these shared experiences, there are plenty of support groups in Sacramento for grieving women and families like Sharing Parents or local Meetup groups.
Spending time on distractions
Sometimes I didn’t want to talk. The night the doctor confirmed the miscarriage, my best friend came over with sushi and we drank wine for the entire night without barely mentioning the miscarriage. It was a needed respite from the previous three days of limbo.
Despite everything, I consider myself fortunate. I have supportive family, friends, and coworkers. I also have a doctor that educated me on all of my options with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, other women are not afforded this type of care. Some states, including Indiana and Georgia, have laws requiring burial or cremation for abortions, miscarriages, and stillbirths. Other states, like Iowa, have debated laws eliminating medical options for women experiencing miscarriages, forcing them to either carry to term or experience expectant management. Similar barriers on access to care for women seeking abortions can be seen across the country. These discussions and decisions should always be left to a woman and her medical provider, not the legislature.
Why am I sharing my story? I want to help change our whisper culture surrounding pregnancy loss. I want my girlfriends who experience this type of loss to know to come to me for support if they need it. I want to share appropriate support strategies to friends of women who experience miscarriage. And I want to shed light on the reproductive injustices and barriers to care women experience based on their race or where they live.
Because after all, I am one in four.