What Women Keep Secret: Lifting The Silence On Pregnancy Loss

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What stories are we too afraid to tell?

Millennial women are on the forefront of bearing social change, organizing, and protecting the rights which generations of women before them never had the privilege to defend. We are not timid, nor are we afraid to protest and demand our rights. Yet secrets still loom. Maybe it’s rape, domestic abuse, or most often hidden from the people around us – pregnancy loss.

As millennial women, it’s no secret we are getting married and having children later than previous generations – however, that doesn’t mean we are not sexually active or starting families. All women have different experiences growing up, especially when learning about sex. Some of us are told to not talk about it, others are taught how to protect ourselves, and many of us are taught nothing except, “Don’t ever get pregnant.” But what about loss?

With abortion being a fierce, political topic, we never speak about the trauma mothers suffer from losing life, even it was by choice. And for those who do not have a choice? Roughly 30 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage – 30 percent. Keeping in mind this number includes the earliest of pregnancies as well as later term losses; this means 1 in every 3 women will, at some point in their lives, have a miscarriage.

RELATED: What’s That? Millennial Women On Motherhood

Despite how common it is, it’s something I’ve never heard talked about in my circle of friends, on television, or let alone with the women in my life. Yet, it is still happening, and frequently, without conversation. The problem is, when we hide trauma, we allow it to grow. A part of our mission at Her Agenda is to provide you with inspiration, resources and advice, but equally important, to let you know as women you are not alone.

Her Agenda spoke with a Pregnancy Loss Support Program (PLSP) based in New York City. Naomi Skop Richter, a social worker, is Director of Community Programs at NCJW NY, overseeing PLSP and Nancy Berlow is a licensed social work supervisor and consultant specializing in pregnancy loss. Naomi and Nancy shared their thoughts with Her Agenda below about what pregnancy loss means, how it can impact women and their families, and what you can do to seek help.

Her Agenda: What’s the biggest misconception about pregnancy loss?

Nancy Berlow: Perhaps the biggest misconception is that it’s easy to get over it and “just move on,” as people seem to want them to do. No one really knows how people who’ve experienced a loss are feeling until they’ve had one. Women and couples feel hurt by comments from family and friends such as, “just get pregnant again.” They are hurt by their doctors’ comments who say, “you can always have another.” People feel misunderstood in how much they wanted this baby, not another one. Also, for many women, it’s not that easy to “just get pregnant,” and they may have gone through a great deal to achieve the pregnancy that was lost.

Naomi Skop Richter: Another big misconception is that it’s uncommon. Most women, when they first learn about their own loss, do not know how common pregnancy loss is. Working in this field, we know the statistics. Ten to 25 percent of clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, and 24,000 babies are stillborn in the U.S. each year. In the days and months that follow they often learn how many of their friends, family members, and friend’s friends have experienced a loss. You don’t learn this until you open up, and then you see that you are not alone.

Her Agenda: In what ways can pregnancy loss impact young women, especially as they are pursuing new careers and beginning their adult lives?

Nancy Berlow: Pregnancy loss can have a huge impact on young women. After a loss they can feel isolated from friends (and family) – many of whom are themselves getting pregnant and starting families. Even though the loss was not their fault, women often feel guilty and blame themselves for the loss. They may search for answers and want to know what they “did wrong.” Women feel that it’s difficult to focus at work, but not being at work is hard too, since they feel they were “supposed to be home with the baby.” There are many, many challenges while women and couples heal in the aftermath of a pregnancy or infant loss. A loss is very disruptive to relationships with friends, families, co-workers. And a loss has a big impact on the couple.

Her Agenda: How can friends and family be supportive of those who are or have experienced pregnancy loss? What should they not do or say?

Nancy Berlow: Family and friends can be supportive by giving women and couples space, while letting them know that they are there for them at any time. They should not offer advice or suggestions; but rather be a listening ear, non-judgmental and offer unconditional support. Saying, “I’m so sorry for your loss and for what you’re going through,” is a simple statement and it doesn’t require more than that to help bereaved parents feel cared about.

Things not to say are: you can always have another, it was meant to be, this was God’s plan, and, the best thing to do is just get pregnant again as fast as you can.

Her Agenda: If pregnancy loss is more than common, how come so many of us keep quiet about it? How come we rarely hear about it?

Naomi Skop Richter: Historically there has been silence surrounding issues like infertility, pregnancy loss, and even sex. While “Sex and the City” did a great deal to open up conversations about sex as women in their late 20’s and 30’s today were coming of age, we still have a long way to go to lift the silence around intimacy, pregnancy, and loss.

In our grandparents’ generation pregnancy wasn’t discussed, must less pregnancy loss. Maternity clothing styles hid pregnancies, and woman were even encouraged to stop working after they began to show. Much has changed in women’s lives, but I think these attitudes prevail for some and social media creates additional pressure for many women in portraying an outwardly “perfect” life. Times have changed though, and we know how important it is to seek support to go on to become good partners and often, parents.

Today, there are stories of women who had losses 50 and 60 years ago, who are coming to memorial services and gardens to honor the babies they lost, about whom they never spoke of. We hope PLSP is helping to remove the silence. As we empower couples to heal following their losses, they are often more comfortable and able to speak about those losses one by one – this is opening the conversation.

Nancy Berlow: Pregnancy loss is an “under–recognized loss.” Because the loss is not tangible, it is hard for people to recognize and for some to speak about it. People feel like “maybe it’s not such a big deal and they should not discuss it,” even though it has a big impact.

Her Agenda: What type of support do you offer at PLSP?

Naomi Skop Richter: PLSP’s mission is to provide comfort and validation to those experiencing pregnancy loss from the time directly following their loss, and for many years to follow. PLSP also works to improve the quality of care in the field of perinatal loss in New York City and beyond. Primarily we work to support women and couples through their loss directly through our peer support model of phone counseling and support groups. We also provide trainings where we educate professionals including nurses, doctors, social workers, genetic counselors, child-life specialists to improve the patient experience of women and couples experiencing loss.

Nancy Berlow: We offer telephone counseling to women and couples who have suffered any type of pregnancy loss including first trimester, second trimester, stillbirth, newborn infant death. We also offer support to those who have terminated their pregnancy due to genetic anomalies. Additionally, we offer telephone counseling for Pregnancy After Loss. Women/couples (including all LGBT couples) are invited into our seven week closed support groups after they have completed telephone counseling. The support groups take place in NYC while telephone support is available and offered nation-wide.

Her Agenda: What can we do to open up the conversation? Is there a right way to talk about loss?

Naomi Skop Richter: As PLSP seeks to expand our reach, one of our greatest tools is awareness. By pushing the conversation into public spaces, in articles like this one and our upcoming program, “One Woman’s Story: Healing, Loss and the Creative Process,” which is open to all, we are encouraging people to talk about pregnancy loss.

Nancy Berlow: As hard as it is, I encourage people to find their voice when it comes to talking about pregnancy loss. It can help by prefacing a statement with, “this is a hard thing to talk about, but I’d like you know this is what I’m going through…” It can also help to let people know what you need such as, “I don’t mind if you ask me questions but there may be times when I won’t feel like talking. Please don’t forget to text or leave me messages just so I know that you’re thinking of me.” It can help to figure out what support you think you’ll need, while realizing and communicating that this may change over time.  

To find out more about PLSP, their resources, and information on pregnancy loss, you can visit them at pregnancyloss.org or email them at plsp@ncjwny.org.

Eve Stern

About Eve Stern

Eve Stern is the Managing Editor of Her Agenda. She revels in spreading and sharing stories - as a journalist, sociologist, and policy analyst. Contact Eve: eve.stern@heragenda.com
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