Last Friday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, posted that he and his wife Priscilla were expecting a baby girl. He also revealed that they had suffered three miscarriages in their journey to get a baby. That post was extremely personal and it has done so much good. It is helping create awareness on miscarriages and letting couples who have been there to feel less alone. I was so thrilled to log onto Facebook and Twitter and find I had been tagged by friends thrice on that post. I have been writing about miscarriages for 2 years now; sharing the stories of our loss and grief. For the last two weeks we have been having this conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #StillAMum and I have received amazing feedback – the conversation goes on every Thursday from 10am. To see Zuckerberg share their personal struggles is extremely encouraging. Why? Because we need to talk about this taboo topic and encourage other women to talk about their experiences. Here are several reasons why we should talk about miscarriages.
Miscarriages are very common. 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage. This means that best case scenario, 1 in every 10 women will have a miscarriage or worst case scenario 1 in every 4 women will get a miscarriage. Each year in Africa, 4.2 million miscarriages are estimated to take place. The ratio of miscarriage rates is 22 per 1,000 women. This estimates to one miscarriage per seven live births. Studies also show that 1 in 100 women will experience recurrent miscarriages (three or more successive miscarriages).
A lot of misunderstanding and stigma: For something so common, there is a great deal of misunderstanding and stigma surrounding miscarriages. Although majority of people know that most miscarriages occur due to a genetic or medical problem out of the control of the parents, there are still many that believe – incorrectly – that things like stress and lifting heavy stuff can cause miscarriages. The reason why such misunderstandings keep gaining popularity is because miscarriages are not talked about. And we should change this. Lack of knowledge has also caused a lot of stigma. In Africa especially, women who have had miscarriages are thought to be bewitched among other ridiculous beliefs. These women are seen as inadequate and are often chased away or replaced by a second wife who can get children.
Miscarriages are very traumatic, physically: I remember I actually went through labor and pushed except my beautiful daughter was not alive. I was in a lot of pain, both physically and emotionally. Some women have to go through surgery to remove the baby as well as cleaning procedures. If the pregnancy was far along, you are given medication to stop breast milk from flowing. I remember I had back problems for over 2 months. I went through a myriad of lab tests until I was fed up with hospitals.There is a lot of antibiotics and painkillers involved and it is not a pleasant experience.
Miscarriages are devastating emotionally: Losing a baby is an extremely lonely thing – most people don’t think it’s a big deal. After all, the baby was not born. But what people need to know is that our baby was a real person regardless of how far along the pregnancy was. Even if they were not born, we loved them. We carried that baby; we had big dreams and plans for her/him. Majority of the time we can’t even have a funeral so we have no closure.I have spoken to women who had contemplated suicide –some have tried and thankfully failed. This is why we should not be quiet about this. We need to let these women know that their pain is legitimate; that it matters.
Silence on miscarriages causes women to feel alone and guilty: To be honest, most of us who have gone through this secretly blame ourselves. We feel like we didn’t do enough due diligence to prevent the loss. Actually, nearly half (47%) of women feel guilty about their miscarriage. After suffering a miscarriage, two out of five women admit to feeling they had done something wrong during the pregnancy. Even if we ate well, rested a lot and went for all check-ups we feel like we let our husbands and the baby down.
Miscarriage doesn’t just affect the mother: Losing a baby affects both men and women. I have watched my husband grieve for our 2 babies for the last two years; I know how hard it has been for him. I once received an email from a man asking me how he could support his wife who had just had a miscarriage. We should talk about miscarriages because all of us are navigating this devastating loss in the dark.
We need your support, not gossip, not questions: Imagine your 6 months pregnant neighbor leaves home, goes to the hospital and comes home no longer pregnant. Most people start whispering that she has had an abortion. What that woman (and the rest of us) need is for you to visit her, help her with housework (because the pain is also physical) and show her love. It is difficult to fit in with women who have kids. We keep quite when they are swapping stories about breastfeeding and diapers. We feel like there is a sorority we are not qualified to join. What we need from you is once in a while stop talking about your adorable kids (no offense) and find out how we are doing. Alternatively, we can all talk about the reason we have met or better still, the weather.
These are some reasons we need to talk about miscarriages. In the same way we grieve for losing a parent, friend or a child who was live-birthed, it needs to become just as normal and accepted for us to share and grieve communally for lost pregnancies. Because the pain is just as real and lasting.
Author: Wanjiru Kihusa
I am Wanjiru Kihusa and I’m a writer and founder of Still A Mum – an organization that seeks to reduce maternal and newborn deaths in Africa. I am especially passionate about women and children.
I blog to share my thoughts and experiences hoping that in the process someone will learn from my life.