Monday, January 27, 2014

1 in 5 should not be taboo.

For my readers who are friends or family, you're likely already aware of why my big push forward with the Growing Up After 30 blog fizzled after Christmas, but those who only know me by my blog couldn't be aware.  Shortly before Christmas, I announced that my wife and I were expecting our first child, and I'm sad to say that in the early morning hours of New Year's Eve, at 3 months along, we lost the baby.

Over the week or two following, I recorded some of my thoughts and experiences, which may eventually become a post of their own, but now just isn't the time for that. The short and simple version is that it was a terrible experience for both of us, but we're moving forward, dealing with the medical complications as they come, and looking forward to when we can physically, and emotionally, start again.

One thing that I really want to talk about right now, is the way that miscarriage is treated as taboo in this country.  So often, people are advised not to tell their friends and family that they are expecting until they hit 3 or 4 months along, with the unspoken implication that if things don't go well, you won't have to go through the agonizing process of telling people that you lost the child.

Now, on some levels, I completely understand that.  One of the most awkward and uncomfortable situations I've ever found myself in, happened on my second day back to work after we lost the baby. I had just arrived at work, and was walking in from the employee parking lot when I ran into a former co-worker from the last department I worked in.  The gossip mill, while thorough, is sometimes a little behind the times, and in this case, my former co-worker had just heard that my wife and I were expecting, but hadn't heard that it had ended early and tragically.  I looked up to see her coming from 30 feet away, and the first words out of her mouth were, "Hey, Stephen, congratulations!  I just heard you're going to be a dad!"

It's difficult describe the thoughts and feelings that went though my mind in that moment.  Part of me just wanted to lie to her; to tell her that she'd heard wrong. Part of me wanted to collapse on the ground and cry, since as far as I was concerned, my son had passed away just few days earlier. The reality was that nothing in my 30+ years of experience as a human being had prepared me for this. How do you, while grieving, explain to a pseudo-friend at work that you appreciate their excitement, but that it's misdirected because your hopes of fatherhood have been crushed by forces outside of human control for the time being? Ultimately, I told her the truth in as few words as basic civility would allow because I wasn't ready to talk about it at the time.

For a variety of reasons, people just don't seem to talk about miscarriage. Certainly a part of that is due to the fact that it is both tragic and traumatic, and I understand that all too well. However, I think there's more to it than that.  Any time we lose a loved one, it is tragic and traumatic, yet many people will talk about other losses incessantly.  I work with one woman who has probably spent 10+ hours in the last year telling me, from a variety of perspectives, about the passing of her grandfather, but probably less than 10 minutes talking about the miscarriage that took her second child. I'm not judging her, but I think that this simple example says a lot about us as a society.

Part of it is undoubtedly the fact that we live in a society, which as a whole, has sanctioned abortion. I get that some people will recoil at the comparison, but it is what it is. I hate to get overly political, but it's pretty straight forward.
a. Every sane person agrees that a woman should be able to do whatever she chooses with her body.
b. Every sane person agrees that it's wrong to murder babies.
If you disagree with either of those points, there is likely something profoundly wrong with you. Let me reiterate, if you disagree with EITHER of those two points, there's a good chance that you are a very sick individual. A woman has the right to do what she chooses with her body; end of discussion. Murdering babies is wrong; end of discussion.

Where we run into trouble, is that we can't seem to agree, as a society, on the definition of the therms baby, murder, and "woman's body." That bit about not agreeing on the definition of, "baby," probably has an awful lot to do with people not knowing how to, or if they should, talk about miscarriage.  All I can tell you is that from where I stand, a 13 week old fetus isn't part of the mother's body, and frankly, it's not a fetus.  That was my son, and I will carry the burden of experiencing his death for the rest of my life. If you chose to believe that at 13 weeks you're dealing with "tissue" rather than a baby, then that's up to you and any divine power you believe in. All that being said, I think a lot of folks hesitate to even discuss the matter because it touches too close to such a controversial issue.

I believe the other reason it get's treated as taboo is that people feel a combination of guilt and responsibility that is completely unreasonably.

At several points, as I was engaged in that agonizing process of telling people the bad news, I felt guilty for having told anyone we were expecting.  I felt guilty that by sharing our happiness and excitement, I had unwittingly shared our tragedy and pain with people who didn't deserve to be exposed to such a loss.  But I don't feel that way anymore. One of the myriad things I read (big shock, I did a lot of research when this happened) was that there is nothing wrong with telling people about a pregnancy as soon as you find out you're expecting. It is a beautiful miracle, and a wonderful thing. Beautiful, wonderful, and miraculous things should be shared with anyone you care about. If, God forbid, they end badly, the same people should be there beside you, ready to share your burden.  If not, they were not worth your concern anyway. For a very short time, my wife and I had a child that we were ready to welcome into this world, and for the briefest of moment, I got to know that I had produced a son, even if he never had a chance to take a breath. That's a beautiful miracle. Miracles like that are not lessened by the tragedy of a miscarriage, and my true friends and family have shared in both my joy, and my agony.

As we've shared our tragedy, we've gradually found that we are by no means alone. While few people talk about it, the most conservative estimates say that 1 out of 5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage, with some estimates going as high as 1 in 3.  Granted, the majority of these happen in the first few weeks, so much so that some happen without anyone realizing, but even once the baby is far enough along to hear a heartbeat, one in twenty will pass before birth, and it turns out that given the large families my wife and I come from, there are multiple miscarriages within our extended families. I would suggest to any who read this, that if they should experience the heartbreak of a miscarriage, as the father or the mother, that they share their experience. It is difficult not to feel alone at such times, but he truth is that you are not alone. Countless other fathers and mothers have lost a child before it's first breath, and regardless of what our progressive society says, it was a child. Your loss does count, and there are others who understand, far better than they would ever want to, just exactly what you're going through.

My only other thought, which I truly hope and pray will be read by those who need to hear it, is that it is not your fault.  It is not you spouse's fault. Hold on tight to your marriage, and to all the things that matter to you. Through this terrible tragedy, my wife and I have grown even closer, and I pray the same for you, should you ever find yourself in our place.