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I Grieved My Miscarriage Alone Because of Fear, Shame & Guilt

Courtney E. Smith

On the first day of October, Chrissy Teigen shared an Instagram with photos and thoughts on her recent loss, the loss of the pregnancy she’d been carrying for six months. I didn’t have to read what she wrote, although I did. It was the first photo of herself in the hospital, her face covered in tears and crumpled in grief that telegraphed to me something I’d felt before. It was a recognizable pain. I knew she’d experience a miscarriage.

I didn’t know I was pregnant when I had a miscarriage seven years ago. I called in sick to work for two days and went through it alone because I didn’t know how to talk about it or who to talk about it with. Because women often don’t talk about it, I was unprepared for the physical pain I felt. My miscarriage was a chemical pregnancy, which experts think accounts for 50 to 70 percent of miscarriages. It’s described as experiencing period-like symptoms of bleeding and cramping, but what I felt was more intense than my period has ever been. It was excruciating. I intuitively knew what was happening.

I miscarried just after a breakup. It was one of those relationships where we had fun together, but it was apparent we weren’t going to last. I couldn’t call that guy for consolation — it would end with us getting back together, even if only to commiserate. I didn’t want that. Seeing Teigen talk about her miscarriage, years later, marked the first time I felt like I could talk about it. Out loud. On social media. In this article. I can finally say it happened. And we should be talking about miscarriages, not only to remove the stigma but to prepare women for what to expect and encourage them to seek help if they want it.

Emotionally, I was in shock. I had never gotten pregnant before, and in the back of my mind, I sort of thought I never would. I was ambivalent about having kids and wasn’t in a financial place to have one then. If I hadn’t had a miscarriage, I probably would have had an abortion. But I still felt a heavy sense of loss — they call it ambiguous loss. There is no way to get a sense of closure when this happens, no matter what type of miscarriage you experience. As it was happening to me, I felt a deep depression and despair. I couldn’t help imagining the life that could have been that now felt out of reach. At the same time, I was emotionally grappling with feeling like I was a biological failure. People have been having kids for millions of years, procreation is the goal of life — and I couldn’t do it. The experience made me question all of my decisions and what I was doing with my life.

Looking back on it now, I wish I had talked to a friend or two about it at the moment. I didn’t know who to turn to, though, because talking about reproductive challenges and failures has carried such a stigma for women for so long that no one I knew had admitted to me that they had been through a miscarriage. Without knowing someone who had experienced it, I wasn’t sure who to turn to. The few conversations I did have about it, some months later, were unsatisfying because the friends I turned to didn’t know what to say or ask. They just asked how I knew it was a miscarriage. We’re led to believe a chemical pregnancy is a non-event. It can be, for some women. For others, it’s significant.

When you are conditioned to see parenthood as an inevitable life stage, how do you mark the next level of maturity if you don’t have kids — especially if you’re a woman?”

The depressive episode that started during my miscarriage stayed with me for a while. I re-evaluated my decision to be childfree and, ultimately, decided that I genuinely didn’t want to have a child. Having a miscarriage pushed me to fully embrace that decision and work through my worries about the stigma that exists for childfree women: that they’re selfish, irresponsible, immature, not maternal, somehow less than perfect women. I am still working through the layers of issues I have that make me not interested in being a parent, but I no longer accept the narrative that I’m a terrible person or feel guilty for not choosing parenthood. 

My miscarriage brought me that clarity. Part of the emotional upheaval I felt during it was guilt about feeling relieved that I wasn’t going to have a child — and that I wasn’t going to have to have an abortion. Those are heavy and complicated feelings to navigate when every message from your biology and society drills into you that it’s your job, your purpose to have a kid. When you are conditioned to see parenthood as an inevitable life stage, how do you mark the next level of maturity if you don’t have kids — especially if you’re a woman?

For me, a miscarriage was a lonely, painful, scary experience. I had so much to face, both physically and emotionally, and I was so alone when I did it. That’s why I’m speaking out about my miscarriage now. It’s why I applaud Chrissy Teigen and John Legend for sharing their sadness so publicly. We’ve buried miscarriages in shame and social stigma for too long. I shared my story widely with my friends on Instagram, and the support I got back, and the stories of friends who had miscarriages I didn’t know about, was so emotional. It’s time to normalize talking about our miscarriages and the many forms of grief that come with them — whether it was a pregnancy that was wanted or not.

A version of this story was published October 2020.

Before you go, check out the stories of these celebrity moms who opened up about their experiences with miscarriages

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