HOW TO TALK ABOUT PREGNANCY LOSS
Despite being a writer, I’m oddly at a loss for words when it comes to talking about a woman’s pregnancy loss, whether it be a miscarriage or an abortion.
I want to be sensitive, I want to be specific, I don’t want to project, or transfer, or for a well-intended word or phrase to be misconstrued or, god forbid, inflict harm. I am even more at a loss when it comes to talking about my own pregnancy losses, strange for me because I don’t know exactly what to call these “losses.” Miscarriages? I missed what exactly? “Babies?” Do I have the right to call them that when no actual baby was ever born, or lost? Was each “one,” more simply, a ghost? Three little ghosts that never will manifest but somehow may always haunt me?
For some women, a pregnancy loss is straightforward; it was just something that happened by choice or necessity but not something that dismantled their lives. For others, it’s an earth-shattering devastation, not a choice at all, and a loss that jeopardizes one’s entire sense of self. Of course, this range of experience depends on a whole set of individual life circumstances, desires and intentions. For some women, naming the-horrible-thing-that-happened-to-them and speaking it aloud makes it too real, and by giving “it” a name “it” becomes too much pain to bear. For others, naming the thing is empowering, and helps release pain and make sense of “it.” For me, the loss of words, not having the right ones, has created far more distance than connection in some friendships where we have experienced similar loss, but not in the same way.
I appreciate how in this New York Times op-ed Dr. Julia Bueno, a psychotherapist specializing in pregnancy loss, reminds us to make space for a myriad of pregnancy loss experiences and interpretations. She also offers women a gentle reminder to grant ourselves and each other permission to talk about loss on our own terms, with our own words, reminding us of the right to talk about the “pregnancy” or the “embryo” or the “baby" with language that feels right for us. That could range from talking about the “embryo” that was there and then wasn’t to talking about the “baby” as something that represents so much future that never had the chance to be.
One woman’s emotional attachment or lack thereof to a pregnancy loss isn't universal, and to categorize and generalize the loss hurts more than helps. Staying open to listening to what it meant for her, period, is a positive start. Don’t make assumptions. Ask how she feels. Perhaps she will tell you. Perhaps she won’t. But in order to be heard and understood women also have to be willing to share. A real conversation is a reciprocal process which takes two— or more —to make the thing go right.