Recently, Mark Zuckerberg made headlines for opening up about his family’s experience with miscarriage. Hearing one of the most powerful couples in the world talk about their struggle with pregnancy and pregnancy loss was honest and eye opening. Regardless of who you are, or where you come from, or how much you wished for and loved your baby, pregnancy loss can blindside anyone.
We aren’t supposed to talk about miscarriage. It’s as if we’re all supposed to believe the pregnancy never really happened, as if it never really existed. Every word used to describe the way you feel after a miscarriage epitomizes everything you are in that moment... empty, hollow, exposed — but none of those words describe what you really are...overwhelmed, devastated, and incredibly sad. Stripped of every expectation and left without an answer to a single question spilling out of your head, you don’t know much. But you know you are no longer pregnant.
As a labor and delivery nurse, I don’t often take care of women who are experiencing a miscarriage because they don’t normally come to a labor and delivery unit. Even as I type that, it sounds strange. Many women experience their miscarriage at home, and don’t require any hospital care. When they do, they are usually discharged home as soon as possible, or sent to any other unit besides labor and delivery. It’s as if it isn’t even a real pregnancy, or a real birth. And although I have never had a miscarriage, I have taken care of a handful of women who miscarried and somehow ended up in labor and delivery.
Fresh out of nursing school, I found myself caring for a woman who miscarried early in her pregnancy. She had come to triage for cramping, and although at this particular facility we didn’t normally take care of women who weren’t at least 20 weeks pregnant, she had slipped through the emergency room and ended up in front me and my preceptor.
When she didn’t come out of the bathroom, I opened the door to see her standing there, her panties bunched around her ankles. Blood dripped down her legs and splattered on the floor, like raindrops on a window. Her eyes were squeezed so tightly shut, as if she didn’t want to open them and see everything so evident beneath her.
I didn’t know what to do. I had never taken care of someone who was only 12 weeks pregnant. In my mind, I tried to think back to nursing school and tried to remember what a 12 week fetus would look like. Would I know? Or would I help her back to the bed and wipe up tissue from the floor that would have been her baby?
While thoughts like these ran through my mind, I grabbed her hand as hard as I could and guided her back to the bed, her eyes still tightly shut. I sat on the bed next to her, hugging her as tightly as I could, and let her cry into my shoulder until her partner arrived. And then I got her ready just like I would any other pregnant woman giving birth. She signed consents. I started an IV. I placed pillows behind her back and all around her. And before I knew it, she had delivered and was no longer pregnant.
I remember the way she held her stomach afterwards. I remember the blank expression on her face. I remember the way she laid in bed, seeming to suffocate in disappointment and disbelief. And from one minute to the next, it was all over.
Women experience loss differently from men. Women feel broken, not quite whole. Men tend to feel as if they have to be the source of strength for their partner, their helplessness silencing many of their words. Maybe women don’t want to talk about it with other women because they don’t know if their feelings are founded. Maybe they didn’t have an actual baby to hold, and maybe they don’t know that that doesn’t matter. Maybe they somehow feel responsible for the inability to keep their baby secure inside of them. Maybe all of this contributes to the quiet culture we have cultivated as a society.
Now, years later, I still often think of that woman and wonder if she remembers that I was there to witness her miscarriage. I wonder if she ever has an opportunity to talk about the pregnancy that ended so surprisingly, shattering the early formation of any dreams for that baby.
And the one thing I can say without hesitation, the one thing I can say with absolute certainty, is that miscarriages matter. They are a birth. It’s the birth of a baby, of your baby, a baby that no one will speak of, may not think of, and might not remember. But I remember that day. I was there and saw your face, shocked that you were suddenly alone, and I remember the way you held your abdomen, unexpectedly empty of another life.
For any family out there that has experienced the loss of a pregnancy, I understand that it is so much more than that. And although I can’t give you an answer of why things happen, or change the experience you had, I hope you find some sort of peace knowing that so many people out there have experienced the same loneliness and suffocated on the same disappointment of losing what could have been. And if we can learn anything from one of the most influential couples speaking out about pregnancy loss, it’s that it’s okay to talk about it: miscarriages matter.