What’s the Message on Miscarriage and Abortion…Suffer in Silence or Be Shamed?

Robin Marty

In 140 characters, Penelope Trunk started a controversy around how women should react to a miscarriage. Is it best to suffer in silence? Are you ever allowed to be grateful? And above all, are you EVER allowed to discuss abortion?

This weekend I learned of the latest social media scandal.  Penelope Trunk, a very reflective and sometimes controversial social media personality, sent a tweet stating "I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up three-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin."

In 140 characters Trunk started a controversy of how a woman should react to a miscarriage. Is it best to suffer in silence?  Are you ever allowed to be grateful?  And above all, are you EVER allowed to discuss abortion?

Recently I experienced my own miscarriage, which I also openly discussed online. After discovering during a routine appointment that the fetus had died weeks earlier, I was left then to decide how I wanted to approach the failed pregnancy, what interventions I preferred to take, and most of all, how I would deal with that emotionally.  My twitter reaction also included anger at the health system.  But unlike Trunk, I didn’t receive a backlash of scorn for being public.  Instead, I received, both via twitter and facebook, an outpouring of sympathy.

There’s two real differences between her situation and mine, of course.  One, Trunk has tens of thousands of followers.  What these people have forgotten is that twitter is an opt-in messaging system.  If you do not like the information you receive from her, you have the ability to cancel anytime by unfollowing. 

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But instead, people chose to contact her and tell her what a horrible person she was.  Why?

Because, unlike me, she spoke directly about abortion.  For her, her miscarriage was a relief because she did not want to have another child.  She had explored her options and realized how long it would take for her to terminate her pregnancy under the rules of her state, and they were extensive and time consuming.  With a three week wait, even should she still be in her first trimester, the procedure would have become more invasive as well, as the means and recovery time change as you progress in your pregnancy.  She not only had the audacity to express her relief, but also point out how onerous the medical system for terminating a pregnancy had become, even though it was still a legal process.

Here is my confession:  during my wait, I would have been utterly grateful for a natural miscarriage as well.  A natural miscarriage would have saved me surgery and what I am realizing now is a much longer recovery process.  It would have allowed me to proceed without medical intervention, something that was stressful and extraordinarily expensive even with my medical insurance.  And it would have saved me the mental anguish of waiting to see what will happen next, and knowing that I was carrying a dead fetus inside of me, unable to do anything on my own to make that end.

A missed miscarriage has a lot of similarities to abortion.  Physically, as I have mentioned before, the process for ending the failed pregnancy is the same as for terminating a live birth.  But emotionally, they can also be quite similar.  From the moment I learned that we had lost the baby, all I could think about was the dead fetus inside of me, and how desperately I needed to have it out.  I was repulsed, literally sickened physically, by what I felt was this dead thing inside of me that my body couldn’t figure out how to reject.  I had this sense of panic, feeling utterly trapped until a doctor could arrange to remove it for me and let me move forward with my life.

I have never experienced an unwanted pregnancy, but I imagine that many of those emotions are the same.

Like Trunk, I began to receive emails from irate readers once I made that additional step to compare miscarriages and abortion in a previous column.  When I was simply experiencing a miscarriage, I was an innocent victim in people’s eyes, deserving their support.  Most continued to support me afterward as well.  But once I used my story to draw parallels to reproductive health issues, and try to talk more about the potential inadequacies in women’s health care, that’s when the critics began to voice their complaints. 

I received emails from people telling me I should be ashamed for trying to use my lost child as a political tool, or that with my background as a pro-choice activist they assume I always wanted to experience an abortion and finally got my chance.  Of course, they didn’t come from anyone I knew.  But they obviously felt that they knew me enough to judge my reaction to my loss and my subsequent actions.

Every woman experiences a miscarriage in her own way.  There will be anger, relief, sadness, frustration and an overwhelming batch of emotions with no real name.  But the idea that we can be open about our losses, but not about the real life medical and societal impact lessons we learn from the event is the true frustration for me.   We don’t just have to suffer in silence anymore, we can take action as well.

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