After a Miscarriage, the Shame Invades

As a filmmaker focused on miscarriage and stillbirth, I've made a study of pregnancy loss announcements. I strongly believe that the only way to banish the stigma surrounding loss is to share our stories openly, and show our friends and family how common it is.

When I see these heartbreaking announcements, I'm glad to see notes of love and support. That's what a person needs during such a difficult time.

Too frequently, I find something else.

I recently saw an announcement of a loss that had happened months earlier, along the lines of "I was too embarrassed to admit it before, but our first pregnancy was a miscarriage." And then came the comment, "I had no idea people were ashamed of something like that."

That's a problem. In order to move past the shame, we need to acknowledge that it's there, it's pervasive, and it's rooted in very deep cultural traditions.

When a woman loses a pregnancy, regardless of how far along she is, these are some of the things that go through her head in the days and weeks after.

"My body failed me."
Our society pushes a very traditional narrative of pregnancy on women- first you get pregnant, then you build a nursery and eat bacon brownies, and nine months later you come home with a baby.

When that narrative is upended, a woman suddenly finds herself in unknown territory. She realizes she has no control over her body, or the fate of her baby. She feels broken, and very few people will be able to convince her that she isn't.

"I failed my partner."
Many women feel like it's their duty in a relationship to bear children, and that's not an outlandish idea. For years, cultural traditions and even doctors placed the blame on a woman when a couple failed to conceive or a pregnancy was lost.

When a woman can't pinpoint the reason for a loss, she often shoulders the blame herself, and feels responsible for not being able to carry a baby to term.

Add to this the communication gap that often occurs between partners, and you've got a recipe for silence. Men often feel they need to "be strong" for their partner, and bury whatever feelings they may have, which leaves a woman feeling even more isolated.

"I'm sadder than I should be."
If a loss occurs early enough, you probably wouldn't even be able to tell the woman was pregnant. This makes it hard empathize with the intense feelings of sadness she may have.

Losing a pregnancy is more than just a medical occurrence to most women. It's the loss of hopes and dreams and vivid plans for the future.

If a woman has friends and family telling her to "just move on" or "at least it was early", it can be incredibly confusing to nonetheless be overwhelmed with sadness.

Miscarriages are sad. Stillbirths are devastating. It's an intense disservice to a woman and a couple to deny them the right to grieve publicly.

"There's a lot of blood."
Miscarriages aren't pretty, and can involve intense cramping and blood. A woman often can't deal with the results of a miscarriage in the way that she deals with a monthly period, and that can leave her uncomfortable and in pain. Meanwhile, she's often expected to navigate her regular daily life.

Few women would feel comfortable calling out of work because she had a miscarriage, or sharing with her boss that she's in pain because she lost a pregnancy. These things are often labeled as TMI, or dirty laundry.

If there's one thing women learn early in our culture, it's not to air our dirty laundry.

"What kind of a woman can't have a baby?"
There are countless conscious and unconscious messages in our culture that place value on a woman as a mother, and these messages race through a woman's mind after a loss.

Compounding these thoughts is a crippling fear that she may not ever have a healthy pregnancy again, and a reminder that she has no power to change that.

Fear. Pain. Doubt. Sadness. Shame.

These are the unwanted baggage that come with a pregnancy loss, and they're too often buried under a deep layer of silence. They have the power haunt a woman for years, even after she appears whole and healed on the outside.

To truly acknowledge the powerful loss of a pregnancy to a woman and her partner, it's critical to remember what she's going through. The best way to combat the shame and stigma is by letting her know that you're there for her.

Let her know it's not her fault. Let her talk about her dreams for that baby. Help her see that her partner is likely grieving, too. Tell her she's not wrong if she's sad.

But mostly be willing to talk about it. The shame remains because of years and years of silence, yet it takes just one brave conversation to break the cycle and shatter the stigma.