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OP ED: It’s time to end the miscarriage taboo – and talk about women’s bodily functions

The Ottawa Citizen by Laura Shine 25 March 2019

When the bleeding started, I didn’t want to believe I was losing my pregnancy.

I was aware this could happen. What I didn’t expect was the pain – a lot of pain. The heavy bleeding. The weakness, the fainting.

I didn’t know how these things went, so I ended up in the emergency. Instead of rest and a cup of tea, my pregnancy ended with the holy trifecta women know all too well: harsh lights, cold instruments, technical talk. Because the “products of conception” had passed, I didn’t need to undergo a “dilation and curettage,” which is exactly what it sounds like: the uterus is opened up and whatever is left is scraped out.

The nurse cautiously told me about a support group. Just in case. Grieving? Me? I said I wouldn’t need it. I was ashamed.

It turns out pregnancy loss is a common part of, well, pregnancy. Somewhere between 20 and 25 per cent of pregnancies end this way, on average. It’s actually a really tough job to sew these bits of different DNA together in a coherent and functional way. Because of this, miscarriage, well, just happens.

So, why is no one talking about it?

Most women, of course, have heard that early gestation is a somewhat insecure affair. But a large part of the problem lies in the everyday erasement of women’s lived experiences, especially their bodily ones, even more so when these have to do with fertility and motherhood. As any woman will tell you, speaking about the way your own body functions is a complicated and delicate matter that makes almost everyone ill at ease. Most women included.

When I started talking about my miscarriage, a surprising number of women confided in secretive tones that they, too, had silently suffered through pregnancy loss. Many had never told anyone but their partners. Some lost friends who weren’t able to deal with their pain. Grief, after all, is uncomfortable.

What I heard, over and over again, were stories of sorrow, but of shame and anxiety too. Many blamed themselves: Did I do something wrong? Could I have prevented this? And, especially: Can I actually do this pregnancy thing?

Taboos that surround women’s bodies, miscarriage shame included, can have severe consequences. Psychologically, physically and emotionally, women shoulder burdens they have little opportunities to unload, except in hushed tones with their closest allies and, in some cases, haphazardly compassionate medical personnel. Even technology is in on the pain game: The baby gear ads that had started to pop up in my news feed continued to haunt me for months, thanks to the malgorithms’ dogged determination.

Things may be changing, though. In the public sphere, there are attempts to shake things up.

These past years, organizations around the globe have launched campaigns to end “period shaming.” Monthly bleeding forces women in parts of the world into hiding; girls are excluded from school. “Aunt Flo” remains a source of stigma and humiliation in numerous cultures, including ours. Signs that times are changing, a menstruation emoji is coming to a phone near you, and a film about monthlies just won an Oscar. And yes, it’s on Netflix.

For her recently released Womanhood, Laura Dodsworth photographed 100 vulvas and exposed these portraits with women’s stories about their “private parts,” many of them laced with unease, trauma and shame, but also acceptance and self-love.

The bold and contested #shoutyourabortion movement is striving to open the discussion about abortion and tell the stories of ordinary women who made the difficult choice to end a pregnancy.

All these appeals reveal that the corporeal realities of women still remain vastly hidden, both physically and socially. Pregnancy loss is no exception.

The end of the omerta is long overdue. It’s time for us to speak up and proclaim that #miscarriagehappens. It’s time to end the miscarriage taboo.

Laura Shine is a Humanities PhD candidate and co-lead of Femmes Expertes, an organization fighting for better representation of women’s expertise in the media.