Ten percent of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage. So why does the subject still feel so taboo? For women dealing with the complicated grief of miscarriage, it’s not the stat that’s comforting—it’s the knowledge that they’re not alone, that there is a space to share their story. To help end the culture of silence that surrounds pregnancy and infant loss, Glamour presents The 10 Percent, a place to dismantle the stereotypes and share real, raw, stigma-free stories.
When she was in the throes of postpartum psychosis after the birth of her daughter in 2011, Sarah Fader thought she was dying. She couldn’t sleep. Her anxiety was out of control. Most of all, she worried about who would take care of her toddler son and newborn daughter when she was gone. “It was so terrifying," says Fader, 40. "I did not expect that my mental health would go to that place. I was convinced that I was dying, and no one could tell me otherwise.”
Following her first pregnancy, Fader had experienced depression after she stopped nursing. She sought out medication and therapy, which set her back on track. The psychosis she was experiencing after her second pregnancy was significantly worse—the hormonal changes of pregnancy and childbirth had exacerbated her OCD and generalized anxiety disorder, she says (which some research suggests can be a common experience). “Any preexisting mental health issues can definitely be escalated during pregnancy and after childbirth,” says Courtney Glashow, LCSW, owner and psychotherapist at Anchor Therapy in New Jersey, who specializes in helping women after miscarriages. “Pregnancy and postpartum are fragile times for anyone, and it’s always helpful to have support, since you can feel heightened emotional issues.”
“I felt super relieved: I don’t have to risk my mental health to carry a baby.”
Fader eventually got help—she found a medication that worked for her and gradually felt stronger. But the terror she felt during that postpartum breakdown stayed with her. She had come to realize “with the subsequent birth of each child that I had, my mental health declined.” The thought of another pregnancy, another battle with perinatal mental health issues, was paralyzing.
Then in October 2012 Fader missed her period and took an at-home pregnancy test. It was positive.
“I was so scared to go back to that place when I found out I was pregnant for the third time,” Fader says. “On the one hand, I was really excited that I could potentially have a third child. But on the other hand, I was absolutely terrified that I would get even worse than I had the second time and be in a state where I could not function or care for myself or my children.”
At about six weeks' gestation, she miscarried. “I was having those conflicted feelings, and then I just got a really heavy period," says Fader, now the founder and CEO of mental health nonprofit Stigma Fighters. "And I felt super relieved: I don’t have to risk my mental health to carry a baby.”
Miscarriages are incredibly common: They’re estimated to occur in about 10% of known pregnancies, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Despite how common they are, our attitudes make talking about these experiences difficult, and the only permissible emotion is grief—shared quietly, modestly.
“While a miscarriage is a sad outcome, it was also a quick and possibly less complicated one.”
The truth is there’s no right or wrong way to feel after a pregnancy ends. Women experience a whole range of emotions—even relief—after a miscarriage, all of which deserve respect and empathy.
“If someone experiences a miscarriage, it is a cultural norm to see it as a devastating loss,” Glashow says. But feeling relieved when a pregnancy ends—perhaps it was not planned, not viable, not financially or socially feasible—is normal too.
Feeling relieved after a miscarriage comes with its own complicated grief. To help take on the taboo, Glamour asked women to share their stories.
“I was relieved to no longer be in limbo.”
Vanessa,* 32, was hit with conflicting emotions after finding out she was pregnant in May. The parents of a 20-month-old girl, she and her husband knew they wanted a second child but weren’t trying to conceive. They were just beginning to hit their stride as parents—two kids under the age of three would be a huge challenge. On top of that, Vanessa, who works in education, had recently negotiated with her bosses to work part-time. Finally, it felt she had achieved some balance.
After an at-home pregnancy test came back positive, she started bleeding at six weeks and made an appointment to see her ob-gyn. She was diagnosed with a large subchorionic hematoma, a blood clot between the uterus and the placenta. Some of these hematomas dissolve on their own but require bed rest or can cause pregnancy-related complications.
“My doctor informed me that the pregnancy might not remain viable due to the blood clot,” Vanessa says. “A week later I had a natural and complete miscarriage, which means my body fully expelled the pregnancy tissue on its own. I was relieved to no longer be in limbo—waiting to see what would happen—after receiving that negative diagnosis. Would I miscarry? Would I not? Could this cause pregnancy complications or a birth defect? Could the blood clot harm me? Would I be put on bed rest? Could I lift my toddler? There were so many unknowns, and while a miscarriage is a sad outcome, it was also a quick and possibly less complicated one.”
Vanessa says she’s felt a range of emotions since the miscarriage. “I’ve had a hard time knowing how much to talk about it,” she says. “It’s on my mind a lot, but it’s also a downer to bring up.”
Part of the struggle is that she doesn’t know exactly what to say. “I definitely felt loss—loss of this pregnancy and loss of a baby joining our family on that timeline," Vanessa says. "I also felt a little numb because it all happened so quickly. I barely had enough time to process the pregnancy itself. I definitely didn’t fully process the blood clot diagnosis and miscarriage until well after they happened. At the time I felt more at peace with experiencing a miscarriage. With some time, I started to have more of a range of emotions—sadness, guilt, jealousy, and pain, in addition to peace and acceptance.”
Since the miscarriage Vanessa and her husband haven’t been able to conceive again, which has been difficult. “Having a miscarriage accelerated my emotions to have a healthy pregnancy again and have another baby," she says. "I think that I’m reflecting more on the miscarriage because I don’t have another pregnancy to focus on right now.”
“Relief played a huge role.”
Loren Waldron, 44, and her husband had tried for eight years to get pregnant before she decided she was done with the endless fertility specialist appointments and doses of Clomid. “It just never happened. I never got pregnant, and so we just accepted life as it was and really stopped trying,” Waldron says. “And then, lo and behold, in 2014, I got pregnant randomly without trying. It was a big shock.”
Waldron’s polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) makes her periods irregular, so missing one wasn’t out of the ordinary. But when the New Jersey corporate communications and marketing professional saw the two pink lines appear on her home pregnancy test in April 2014, she was cautiously hopeful. The symptoms of early pregnancy were all there too: tender breasts, jet-lag-worthy fatigue, frequent trips to the bathroom to pee, and a swollen feeling in her uterus.
“I had thought it was like the movies…but it wasn’t. That was almost the more confusing part of it. Here I was experiencing this loss, but I couldn’t feel it and I couldn’t talk about it.”
Because of her history, Waldron underwent a slew of early blood tests and ultrasounds with her high-risk fertility doctor that showed her levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), commonly called the pregnancy hormone, were up and down. Around eight weeks' gestation, Waldron got a call while she was at work: Her plummeting HCG levels could mean she was having a miscarriage. Waldron scheduled another ultrasound, hoping to hear a heartbeat she knew was unlikely to be there.
Despite the fact that she was having a miscarriage, Waldron struggled with the fact that she still felt pregnant: her sore breasts, full uterus, and fatigue hadn’t gone away with that heartbeat. She wasn’t sure if the nausea she still felt was morning sickness or sickness at the whole emotional situation. “I had thought it was like the movies: If I was going to miscarry, I was going to be humped over a toilet bowl in pain, and there was going to be a lot of blood, and I was going to really feel it,” she remembers. “But I didn’t, and that was almost the more confusing part of it. Here I was experiencing this loss, but I couldn’t feel it and I couldn’t talk about it.”
While she was heartbroken that her unexpected pregnancy was ending, she also wanted it to be over quickly. Waldron underwent a dilation and curettage, or a D&C, two weeks later. “My feeling was, Let’s just get this over with. I was so excited, and then I was so deflated, that I felt like, Let’s just be done with this; I just want to be done,” she says. “Relief played a huge role. I think most people who have experienced miscarriage feel relief in some sense, but there is a little guilt in that relief too.”
“A great weight had been lifted from my shoulders.”
Jody Mullen, 37, was 11 weeks pregnant with her second child in January 2015 when she started spotting as she walked from the subway to the Brooklyn church where she sings professionally. “That had never happened when I was pregnant with my first son, who was two at the time, so I went to the ladies’ room instead of going into rehearsal,” Mullen says. “I was very scared and upset when I saw the blood and went outside to call my ob-gyn, who told me to call 911 and go to the nearest hospital.”
An ultrasound revealed Mullen’s worst fears. “All you could hear was static and no fetal heart tones. The E.R. doctor on duty had the unpleasant task of confirming for us that our little baby had passed away and was only measuring eight weeks' [gestation] at that point. I felt like I died,” she remembers. At first she didn’t want to undergo a D&C, even though she understood her baby had died. “After I got home, however, I started to really regret that I was still ‘pregnant,’ so I checked myself back into the hospital about 48 hours later to have the surgery.”
Mullen was left reeling. “I was absolutely heartbroken and in shock,” she remembers. “Going from having an estimated due date for a second baby to having an empty uterus made me feel like absolutely nothing was as it should be in the universe. I found that I did want to talk about it, but that it had to be with people who understood my feelings about it. Many people are uncomfortable with other people’s grief and will try to dismiss your feelings with a cliché. I did not want my baby dismissed. We hadn’t been able to meet, but I loved her.”
Mullen sank into an “awful funk,” she says, left to ruminate on why this pregnancy she had so desperately wanted had ended. Then genetic testing after the miscarriage revealed why the unthinkable had likely happened: Mullen’s baby had trisomy 22, a chromosomal abnormality that usually results in fetal death in the first trimester or, more rarely, in the second or shortly after birth. “Once I heard that, it was as though a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders,” she says. “That day I was almost giddy with relief.”
With that diagnosis, Mullen felt she could let go of her guilt and self-blame. “I kept asking myself what I had done to cause the miscarriage, even though logically I knew it wasn’t my doing," she says. "This was hard, scientific evidence that I hadn’t done anything. It didn’t take away the sting of the loss, but it did assuage me of my guilt.”
It also made her confident about trying to get pregnant again. “I desperately wanted to try again, and the pathology testing confirmed for us that it had just been a sad, and common, accident of nature rather than an ongoing problem that was likely to recur,” she says. “For some reason, we still keep pregnancy loss hush-hush. I just think that is so damaging. Women should be able to talk about their feelings—whatever they may be.”
*Names have been changed.
Kaelyn Forde is a writer in Jersey City covering women’s rights, politics, and motherhood. Follow her @kaelynforde.,"
Originally Appeared on Glamour