This is Why We Need to Talk about Pregnancy Loss
The story of Angela Maier is horrific any way you look at it. Over three years ago, in deep grief after experiencing three miscarriages, she poisoned both her pregnant sister-in-law and friend, causing them to lose their pregnancies. She recently confessed to the crime stating that she couldn’t fathom watching their children grow up while hers were dead. The two women are currently pregnant again, hence the timing of the confession, and Maier has a three-year-old child.
If we want to, we can enter into the somewhat pointless conversation of whether her punishment fits her crime. I personally don’t feel that I have the ability to make a statement, since I know nothing about the Austrian legal system, and the only details I know about the case come from the newspaper and blogs.
What I can comment on is the disservice we do to women, compounding the depression after a loss, by sweeping conversations about miscarriage under the rug.
For a fairly common occurrence — anywhere from 15% to 50% of all pregnancies end in loss — it’s somewhat staggering how many women state that they feel alone in their grief. It’s not just that they weren’t mentally prepared for the possibility, but with 80% of those miscarriages happening within the first three months, pregnancy loss is a very heavy, lonely loss without other people to share the burden. When a person dies, the weight of remembrance is spread out over all the people who knew them and loved them. But when an unborn baby dies, sometimes the only people who even knew that he or she was here were the parents. Pregnancy loss is a death that leaves behind no objects in which to draw comfort, no memories shared with the person to turn to in your grief.
In other words, those who experience pregnancy loss, stillbirth, and neonatal death need to find a new way to mourn because the traditional methods for dealing with grief — speaking about shared memories with others, holding objects, remembering moments — are out of reach for those experiencing this form of loss.
It is our responsibility to talk about this reality as a society and to reach out to those who are experiencing this form of loss in order to ensure that they don’t feel alone in their grief. I wrote several years ago, and I still think it’s true:
I’ve always thought it was a failure by the medical community to not prepare women better for the possibility of pregnancy loss, stillbirth, or neonatal death. That it does women a disservice to imply that all children are born. It’s great if your life follows that continuum: sex = baby = birth = rest of life. But for anyone who doesn’t, I feel like it’s an extra cleaving: not only is your heart split in half from the actual event, but in addition, you were essentially promised via language choices that this could never come to be. And suddenly, it is. How do you trust again after that?
One only needs to look at our language and see the dearth of words that explain loss to realize that we’ve left a lot of people — men and women — walking across family building without a safety net.
For anyone currently going through a loss or who has gone through a loss in their past, I am so incredibly sorry. The Mayo Clinic has a wonderful webpage to serve as a starting point for the mourning process. As they state, you may move through all stages, you may move through only a few, and you may double back and go through certain stages more than once. Every person mourns uniquely, hence why no one can give you a straightforward method for dealing with your grief. And because grief is personal, you are going to need to find your own path through it unfortunately. Just know there are many women out here who have gone through something similar, and many of us are here if you want a willing ear to listen to your story.
For anyone supporting someone who is going through a loss or has went through a loss in their past, take your cues from the person in mourning as to how much they want to speak about their loss. But know that being present, asking questions, and quietly listening can go a long way to help the grieving process. Be mindful of dates that may be difficult for them — holidays, unfulfilled due dates, anniversaries — and check in on those days. Be less concerned with trying to find the perfect words as a response; the truth is, there are no perfect words. But there is perfect listening; just letting the person know you are there, abiding with them, so they don’t have to carry their grief alone.
There is no excuse for what Maier is done, and I’m reluctant to even tie it to infertility because she is no more the face of loss than Nadya Suleman is the face of IVF. I have no clue what sort of resources Maier had to process her losses.
But there is an opportunity to have a conversation that we need to have about pregnancy loss. There is an opportunity to ask people to reach out to those who have suffered a loss rather than treat them as a pariah or dismissively expect them to swallow their grief and “move on,” with the unspoken (or sometimes spoken) message that “there’s always next time.”
Let’s stop focusing on trying again or “next time” and stay for a moment to talk about the immediate situation of pregnancy or infant loss. In doing so, we may save other women out there from processing their grief alone.