Em Rusciano is bravely showing us that miscarriage is not a shameful secret

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When I read Em Rusciano’s heartwrenching post about her recent miscarriage, all the pain of my own pregnancy losses came flooding back.

The first time I had a miscarriage, I walked into a one year old’s birthday party. I had been pregnant. I had been expecting my own baby. Now that dream of a baby had been ripped away and I was off to celebrate another mother’s little miracle.

As I walked into the backyard, I fought back tears. I wanted my baby. Why did they get a baby and I didn’t? I only lasted a few minutes, before running out in tears. Still, I didn’t tell anyone at that party about my miscarriage. I didn’t tell anyone until my son was born. I only shared my grief in retrospect.

I lost another pregnancy in between my son and his sister, and then another between the birth of my two daughters. My fourth and final miscarriage was an unplanned pregnancy about eight years ago. I still recall in vivid detail the surreal mortification of it all, as I sat in agony on a toilet in Westfield, a lost life being flushed away in some public bathroom.

I didn’t tell anyone about that one, either. Not until it was well and truly over.

When Em announced she had miscarried at 13 weeks, I was there again, in those bathrooms, in that pain. I was empty again, both literally and metaphorically, mourning the babies I never got to hold.

But Em is braver than I was. She had the courage to talk about her miscarriage as it was happening, rather than keep it hidden and only reference it after the fact. She has the sense and the strength to take time off to grieve, to move through her pain, and to honour her need to heal.

I didn’t do that. Most of us don’t do that. 

We keep our miscarriages secret, for months or even years, only acknowledging them when we can discuss them without pain. We announce other losses, of course: the death of a parent or sibling, the stillbirth of a child. But we do not announce miscarriages. They are too nebulous, too shrouded in secrecy to discuss at the time.

What is miscarriage, anyway? It is not a simple bereavement; unlike other losses, a miscarriage is the death of another expressed by our own body. But it isn’t an illness, either, though we might feel unwell. It feels deeply private, almost shameful, a failure of the body, a glitch in the reproductive cycle.

But miscarriage is not shameful, and it’s remarkably common, with up to a quarter of recognised pregnancies miscarrying before twenty weeks. Still, though we are starting to talk about miscarriage, there is still no accepted narrative for how to grieve.

Many of us go straight back to work after, or even during, a pregnancy loss, and many of us hide our miscarriages from friends and co-workers. Consider American sports broadcaster Sarah Walsh, who described having a miscarriage live on air, or Australian journalist Allison Langdon, who told The Australian Women’s Weekly recently about hiding her own miscarriage from her 60 Minutes colleagues.

And this is why Em Rusciano’s post is so important. For too long, we have spoken about miscarriage only in retrospect, with the detachment afforded by time. But miscarriage doesn’t happen in retrospect. It happens in the present. And it needs to be acknowledged and honoured in the present, too.

Prospective parents need time and space to grieve their loss, and they need understanding and support from loved ones and colleagues. And women need time out to heal physically as well as emotionally.

My heart goes out to Em and Scotty, but I also applaud them, for honouring their heartbreak, and their unborn baby. I do not believe that things happen for a reason – awful things happen at random, to fine people – but I do believe some good can come out of tragedy. And in this case, I hope that Em’s courage will help other women to speak up about their miscarriages as they are happening.

Because pregnancy loss doesn’t happen in retrospect. And our support and care shouldn’t either.

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