The naive conversation I had with my friend who miscarried

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My friend, let’s call her Anna, has recently announced she’s pregnant.

She’s done several wees on several sticks, revealing two pink lines each time; bold and clear and true. She’s been to her doctor who has confirmed, yes, she is indeed pregnant. She and her partner are crazy happy. This is very, very welcome news.

So together they took to social media late last week and told everyone they know that Anna is going to have a baby. Well wishes flooded in as the couple’s Facebook pages’ bubbled over with happiness, excitement and (already!) unsolicited advice. The baby is due in May and Anna is six weeks along.

So here’s the big, over-priced-double-pram of a question:

Should she have waited longer?

The magic number

Social norms dictate that women wait until at least 12 weeks to announce that they’re pregnant. Certainly, Anna’s pregnancy sent her friends and family into a flurry of commentary about the timing of the public announcement. Some were shaking their heads, concerned that the worst might happen. Others were fist pumping, scoffing at the old-fashioned, out-dated traditions.

The reason for the widely followed protocol of keeping a pregnancy quiet until 12 weeks is that the likelihood of miscarriage decreases significantly after the first trimester. There are more than 100,000 reported miscarriages in Australia each year. At least one in four pregnancies result in miscarriage. So it’s generally considered safer to wait until after 12 weeks to announce…

Safer for whom?

The first 12 weeks are physically rough for so many women. I think I lasted all of two days at work, pushing through the pain of headaches and the unrelenting nausea, before I told my boss I was pregnant. Letting the people around you in on the secret, gives them the opportunity to be more understanding and helps you breathe a little easier.

Even more importantly, those same people can be there for you in the unfortunate event that you do miscarry. Model and author, Tara Moss spoke recently about her decision to exclude her experience of miscarriage from her memoir, The Fictional Woman. She noted that despite being incredibly common, miscarriage remains a somewhat taboo subject. It’s something we’re not expected to talk about, or cry about; at least not publicly.

To me, that is a great tragedy. When the joy of a pregnancy is shared, it makes that joy all the more glorious. So when the loss of a pregnancy is shared, surely it makes that grief just a little easier to bear.

Our collective public silence around miscarriage has left too many women feeling ashamed of something that warrants no shame. It has also left too many women feeling alone at the very time they shouldn’t be. The expectation that a lost pregnancy be mourned privately, by its very nature is an expectation that miscarriage is ‘not that big a deal’. A proposition that is offensive and hurtful to so many.

 

A photo posted by Jamila Rizvi (@jamilarizvi) on Apr 3, 2015 at 12:45am PDT

 

Too naive?

Anna and I have a mutual friend, Tessa, with whom I was discussing this last week. I argued that changing the unwritten rule of pregnancy announcement timing would help make miscarriage a more talked about and perhaps, better understood subject.

It can only be a good thing, I declared forcefully and naively. She disagreed, forcefully and far less naively. Tessa has experienced miscarriage twice. The first time, nobody knew except her and she managed her emotions inside herself. The second time, she was determined that this wouldn’t happen again. In Tessa’s head, the secrecy around her first pregnancy has become like a jinx, so she broadcast her second loudly and proudly at eight weeks. She miscarried two weeks after that.

Tessa said the next few months were excruciating and awful. Not wanting to broadcast her grief the way she had her initial excitement, Tessa had to have the same painful conversation with people again and again. Some friends didn’t know what to say and were silent or fumbled their way to something resembling, better luck next time! Others responded with an enormous level of support for Tessa and Tessa’s grief that didn’t match the grief itself. Tessa was left feeling like she was doing miscarriage wrong, that she wasn’t sad enough.

A few weeks after Tessa miscarried, two gifts arrived in the letterbox from over-zealous great aunts, for whom the family tree of gossip failed. A furry toy and a carefully knitted set of booties sat on her mantelpiece before eventually being thrown in the rubbish along with ads for lawn mowing services and a letter from the council. For Tessa, announcing early turned out to be far more painful than the alternative.

Which hand is the right one?

Stories about how different women handle pregnancy announcement and pregnancy loss always have me nodding along in fierce agreement. Including when the advice being given or experience being shared entirely contradicts what I’ve heard – and agreed with – before. I find myself thinking ‘on the one hand’ and then ‘but on the other hand’ over and over and over again until my brain is a mutant monster with fifteen hands.

There are very good reasons for announcing a pregnancy at six weeks. Just as there very good reasons for announcing at 12 weeks or at 20 weeks or just whipping out a baby at full term and shouting, surprise!

The reason I can’t rationalise my way to a single answer is because there isn’t one. This isn’t a reasoned or rational issue. Logic doesn’t dictate what is best for someone when it comes to matters of the heart. And what is best for one won’t necessarily be best for another.

There are some moments in life when there simply shouldn’t be any ‘shoulds’. And this is certainly one of those.

 

NB: Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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