Silence of Pregnancy Loss
Warning: This blog contains depictions of miscarriage and pregnancy loss
By Audri Lu-Uhlken
My second pregnancy dissolved in blood and tears in the cold waking hours of a Thursday in January.
In the room next to me, my 18-month old daughter rested soundly as I gripped the toilet seat edge in agony, whispering prayers and whimpering hopelessly. Dark red trails from my bed to the grey-tiled floor were proof of my 10 weeks of nurturing a joy shared by my husband and me when we found out I was pregnant in November 2021.
Outside the bathroom window, a peak of light reflected off the freshly fallen snow blanketing the corner lot of our yellow house bought a few months prior. But the space I was living in felt dark and desolate. “I am so sorry,” I remember repeating, as I said my goodbyes. “I am so, so sorry.”
Nearly one in four pregnancies ends in a miscarriage, or sporadic abortion, in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy in the United States. This does not include stillbirth or infancy mortality rates. Yet, the common devastation from this type of loss is mostly shared by mothers and parents in silence. Our society is not well equipped to show up and walk alongside parents during a pregnancy loss. There is usually no bereavement time, no funerals, no sustained support aside of a brief acknowledgement from loved ones immediately following a miscarriage. Instead, we are encouraged to be discreet and carry on, while our bodies are screaming for comfort and support. Our losses are minimized in a society that values productivity and success.
My Certified Nurse Midwife was matter-of-fact. Treatment options, including medication or surgical interventions, such as dilation and curettage (D&C), were not explained to me. I did not know that my experience was considered expectant management, or a natural miscarriage. I also was never examined to see if my miscarriage was complete, although I bled nonstop for nearly 2 months after. The Midwife saw me for about 15 minutes on the day I miscarried; told me that my loss was “unfortunate, but normal”; and suggested that I “start trying for another baby” soon. I was distraught, but instead of getting outstretched healing hands, I was swamped with platitudes.
For months after my loss, life stood still as the world kept spinning. I attempted to adhere to society’s norms—I showed up to work at my new job, took my daughter to swim lessons, attended birthdays and other celebrations, and made travel plans. I withheld myself from grieving, even as I was still bleeding, leaking, cramping, and struggling emotionally. Needless to say, I was not okay. Meanwhile, my husband felt useless.
“I could not understand what you were going through, physically and emotionally, and I was unsure how to best support you,” he said. “I brought you water. Sat with you when you cried, left you alone when you said you needed space. To this day, I am still unable to grasp the magnitude of the loss for you, for me, for us,” he said.
Processing a miscarriage or a pregnancy loss becomes a major hurdle because of the silence in societies that view death with discomfort, leaving bereaved people lonely and isolated. Maybe some of us who look the other way likely need to see a visible human body in order to empathize. But when we stay quiet, we fail to recognize a parent’s visceral connection to a desired pregnancy. Studies show the bodies of child-bearing people remember their babies on a molecular level, carrying the fetal cells inside of them throughout their own lifespan, creating what biologists call fetal microchimerism. No matter how hard we try to repress our physical and emotional experiences of pregnancy loss, I believe the cells of that human creation integrate into our own tissues so that our bodies never forget.
Early on in my journey of pain, I got lost searching for reasons for my miscarriage, beginning with the day I found out I was pregnant. I remember dropping to my knees in joy and fear. There was so much transition going on in my life at the time. I was grateful, but anxious, because I had not felt ready for another baby. The pregnancy and birth of my first child was incredibly hard on my body, so I dreaded the thought of becoming pregnant again so soon. Then stressors from everyday life overtook my priorities. I put nurturing myself aside and took my second pregnancy for granted.
It was only after much soul-searching in the months later, I came to recognize that when I miscarried, my devastation was coupled with relief. There also was guilt from silently wishing this loss upon myself and having it come true, and even a relief to not be pregnant anymore. Conflicting feelings of a loss that I was not prepared for over a love for what my husband and I looked forward to welcome with love were crushing.
While many societies are becoming more open to parents grieving pregnancy losses, abortions, stillbirths and infant deaths, these occurrences are still widely stigmatized. Research shows most times miscarriages happen when the embryo does not develop properly. Yet our cultures tend to point blame towards the mother. What did you do to cause the loss? Did you lift something heavy? What did you eat? Were you too stressed? What is wrong with you?
Most wounding was when people close to me ignored me altogether as if they were afraid of causing any more sorrow than I was already feeling. After nearly a year of internalized misery and with encouragement from my therapist, I took a leap and decided on an extended break from work and societal expectations. This time period was critical for me to begin healing. I began talking openly about my experience as if I were relating a story about a visible human child, helping me settle my mind to stop seeking answers that I would never find. I embraced the sadness and the guilt, and the road to recovery became easier to travel over time.
I became pregnant again in February 2023, a little over a year after my pregnancy loss. I am due in October 2023, which also happens to be National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. This time around, I feel grounded and more prepared. But I often wonder about my second pregnancy and lost souls. August 2022 would have been the birth month if my fetus had become viable; on that cold Thursday morning in January last year, I joined my mother, grandmother, aunts, friends, and millions of others who have endured a similar loss of their own.
I am now actively working to hold space for the diverse grief experiences of other mothers and parents who have also faced pregnancy losses. Amid the adversity, processing such a momentous experience may involve heartbreak, disbelief, confusion, and even relief, all feelings that deserve consideration and validation. As vilomahs, or bereaved parents, when we are able to mourn openly, we can know peace, because we have carried death. We are able to be more present with life, because we were/are still present with grief. And for that, I am grateful.
This is the first of a four-part blog series exploring the heartache and healing journey of my personal experiences of miscarriage, pregnancy loss, pre-eclampsia, postpartum hemorrhage, and birth after loss to raise awareness about maternal health, as I seek to help others with shared lived experiences or those looking to provide support.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author.