In a deeply personal and ultimately much-needed, op-ed, Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, has talked about a miscarriage she suffered earlier this year. The essay published in the New York Times talks about the heart-breaking incident, while emphasising the need for empathy and kindness – especially in these tense, and sometimes tragic times.
Meghan Markle Writes Openly About The Trauma Of The Experience And The Power Of An “Are You Ok?”
Titled, “The Losses We Share”, she talks about the mundane July morning when the incident occurred. “After changing his diaper, I felt a sharp cramp. I dropped to the floor with him in my arms, humming a lullaby to keep us both calm, the cheerful tune a stark contrast to my sense that something was not right. I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second,” she writes.
She talks about the intense loss she felt, “sitting in a hospital bed, watching [her] husband’s heart break as he tried to hold the shattered pieces of [hers]”.
Markle explores the power of a simple “Are you OK?”, referring back to an interview where a journalist asked her that very question. In the now viral video she responds honestly, ending with, “Thank you for asking. Not many people have asked if I’m OK.”
She goes on to talk about the taboo around talking about miscarriages. “Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few. In the pain of our loss, my husband and I discovered that in a room of 100 women, 10 to 20 of them will have suffered from miscarriage. Yet despite the staggering commonality of this pain, the conversation remains taboo, riddled with (unwarranted) shame, and perpetuating a cycle of solitary mourning.”
The statistics, and the observation, both hold true.
A miscarriage is a personal experience, but more often has unduly been treated as a private one. Being privy to this intensely painful, and intensely female experience, still inspires more discomfort and disgust than it does empathy.
In the public space, we also saw this most recently in Chrissy Teigen’s case. Teigen lost her baby 20 weeks into her pregnancy, in September. After losing the baby, both she and her husband, John Legend, shared a series of photos of the moment they realised they had suffered a miscarriage, on social media. The two received intense backlash for sharing their grief so publicly.
“I feel those pictures are super personal and should have been kept private,” one user wrote.
Teigen, meanwhile, has explained, “I lived it, I chose to do it, and more than anything, these photos aren’t for anyone but the people who have lived this or are curious enough to wonder what something like this is like. These photos are only for the people who need them. The thoughts of others do not matter to me.”
In the personal space, I remember when I was a child in a room full of women, and a family member spoke of a miscarriage she had suffered, before a quick exchange of startled glances by the other women reminded her that I was in the room. Being the petulant child I was, I insisted the term be explained, and I not be kept out of the secret anymore! Ultimately, I was told of what the family member had suffered in the glossed over manner we explain sex, death, and everything in between to children – but not before it was made clear to me that I was not to talk about this with my friends or cousins, and to keep it to myself.
There is a culture of secrecy, shame, and ultimately silence, that surround pregnancy and miscarriages.
Women are often encouraged to keep their pregnancy private for 12 weeks, after which it’s “safer” to reveal it. Mindy Bergman, professor of psychology at Texas A&M University says, “What that notion means is ‘don’t let people know you’re pregnant until your pregnancy is far enough along that it’s not going to be lost. That’s what we mean when we say ‘safe.’ So there’s already from the very beginning this stigma, this shame for the potential of losing it.”
Women, Miscarriages And The Workplace
In the workplace, women will dread revealing or having a conversation about their pregnancy at all, let alone a miscarriage. Pregnancies, and the health concerns and maternity leaves they result in, still reign supreme as the number one justification given for the gender and wage gap that continues to exist in the workforce – making it a topic of fear for the women who do make it into the workforce.
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Rarely do organisations have provisions or policies regarding miscarriages. The conversation and provisions are even more important, but often even more lacking, in industries where work hours, stress, and conditions may not be safe for pregnant women.
Katy Lucey, in an article with CNN Business, talked about the day she began to miscarry at work. The pain got so bad that she eventually told her boss and called in sick. He failed to be very sympathetic, asking her to remain available through calls and update him when she was back. She says the issue also stemmed in her not being able to reveal what was really happening to her honestly.
“I think a lot of times when women are going through this at work, they don’t want to be seen as lesser-than. They don’t want it to affect their standing in the company or their job performance. That’s also why they don’t say anything,” Lucey says.
Why Talking About Miscarriages Is A Taboo (And Why It Shouldn’t Be)
Bearing the trauma of a miscarriage feels easy to confine to the shoulders of one person – the woman – since its an individual experience, one that can be avoided by the collective. The deep grief of the woman, and the deep discomfort others feel in having to face this grief in someone else, means that miscarriage remains a topic of a taboo. The disgruntled backlash Markle’s article has also received reveals the same.
The grief may be personal but is not in the least bit uncommon. An Indian study reveals that “miscarriage is a frequent natural event occurring in approximately 30% of pregnancies, with as many as 22% lost before pregnancy is clinically recognized”.
For every person disgusted by Teigen’s public display of grief, or disturbed by Markle’s honest writing on a public platform, there is a woman living through a miscarriage; going to experience a miscarriage; or having experienced it, carrying unwarranted guilt or feeling isolated in her grief.
Women speaking up and sharing their stories is not only important for them, but for women like them, everywhere. Just as we have learned to share our wins and celebrate our successes, we must learn to share our grief and support each other through it.
So, taking a note from Markle, we’re asking you – really asking you – “Are you OK?”
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