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Miscarriage: the unspoken loss

We all grieve and suffer loss differently. Some of us mourn in private, and some share our sadness publicly, as did Meghan Markle in her New York Times article this week, on the taboos of suffering a miscarriage. Judging by the comments, most readers seem to support her sharing this experience, which affects one in four women.

In September, the model and author Chrissy Teigen also shared her heartbreak at losing her 20-week foetus with her 33.2 million Instagram followers. Her husband, singer John Legend, was uncomfortable with the documentation. Still, she insisted it would help her and other women, and she posted photos of the couple cradling their baby swaddled in a blanket. The Duchess of Sussex also concluded that opening up about her experience would help widen the conversation.

A generation ago, these babies would have been whisked away by hospital staff with the parents never seeing or holding their son or daughter. In the 1980s, when a friend of mine suffered her second miscarriage, her London hospital confirmed the news by telling her she had “the remnants of gestation”, which she found devastating.

These days the situation is the polar opposite. Women have much more support from health professionals, from which Meghan would have benefited. For those who wish it, charities provide special containers for the remains, little “shrouds” can be put on the child, and photos are taken. You just have to Google “miscarriage” to see the number of associations and groups that pop up offering support. But a loss is still a loss.

So it is good news that these famous women have used their celebrity platforms to broach a subject that is difficult and sensitive. Miscarriage is under-reported, and not talked about enough, which could also be said about abortion. And there are parallels: what is there to talk about, what do you share, except an absence?

Many women won’t have shared the information that they are pregnant because they are waiting to make sure the pregnancy will go to term. So, when a miscarriage happens, no one knows, which makes the loss even more challenging to talk about. For everyone else, it is a non-event. No one knew about it, despite the very real loss for the woman. For many people, anything she says is too much information. A miscarriage is not an announcement you want to make to the world – it’s such intimate information, which is not easily shared. Even partners can find it too difficult to discuss.

At 39, Meghan is also an older mother. The likelihood of miscarriage increases and the possibility of conceiving diminishes. Our bodies tell us to have babies in our early twenties, although increasing numbers of women now choose to push that boundary.

In her heartfelt article about the losses we share, Meghan talks about zipping through Manhattan in a taxi. She passes a woman who was crying, and she asks the driver if they should stop. He says no. Why not? Because everyone in New York lives their life out on the street, he says, and someone else would surely stop to find out if the distressed woman was okay. She accepts this but is also troubled by it. Do we all only have so much sympathy to offer? 

Something similar once happened to me in Kabul. I was stuck in a traffic jam and from the car I saw a woman in a burqa crouched on the pavement begging. I got out of the car to give her some money, and as I got closer, I heard her wails. Our lives are filled with losses, this year it seems more than most. What we have learned is: whatever you have lost, it’s good to share.