Getty Images"I felt more like a failure than I'd felt in a very long time," Lisa Ling explained on the View last Friday, regarding the miscarriage she suffered six months ago. "We actually [hadn't] been trying that long. I don't know that I took it as seriously as I should have because it happened so fast. But then, when I heard the doctor say there was no heartbeat, it was like bam!, like a knife through the heart."
To help deal with her grief, and to help others dealing with similar issues, Ling recently launched the website The Secret Society of Women, a sort of online confessional space, where women can share everything from hidden feelings of grief to secret addictions, and find understanding and consolation from fellow members along the way.
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Though enduring a failed pregnancy is a seldom-discussed situation that can feel extremely isolating for women, it's not at all uncommon. According to the American Pregnancy Association, of the 6 million pregnancies which occur every year in the United States, approximately 600,000 end in miscarriage.
Dr. Kristen Swanson, the lead researcher in the world's largest study of couples who miscarry (she's been studying them since 1982) and Dean of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing, is quick to point out that the even the statistics around miscarriage can be misleading because they refer to known events, while many women lose their babies unknowingly.
"Miscarriages are much more prevalent than we give them credit for being," she says, going on to estimate that a good "15 to 20 percent" of pregnancies end in miscarriage.
Yet despite their prevalence, losing a baby before term seems to carry a stigma that resides somewhere between shame and superstition, causing women like Lisa Ling to feel alone. Shine recently caught up with Dr. Swanson to discuss.
It seems like we've progressed in so many areas around reproduction-from birth control to self-administered pregnancy tests-and yet there's still this reluctance to talk openly about miscarriage. Why is that?
When you get pregnant, everyone wants to be happy and hopeful. Who wants to hear that concrete fact that there's a 15-20% chance that you will go on to have a miscarriage? We don't want to confuse the hopefulness of birth with the sadness of death.
What is the difference between dealing with death and dealing with a miscarriage? How is the grief different?
For a woman who has just lost her child through miscarriage, she feels it as a death.
Interestingly, there have been a lot of studies done trying to find a correlation between the gestational age [of the fetus at the time of miscarriage] and the level of grief felt by the parents. People thought that the longer a woman was pregnant, or if she had been feeling the kicking, the higher her level of grief about it would be. That actually hasn't been proven to be true-it's a very unstable statistic. But the duration of grief with miscarriages is different than, say, losing a live child. The grief in most people that have suffered miscarriages usually drops within the first 6 to 12 weeks. That doesn't mean they are totally over it, it means that it's no longer a preoccupying sadness.
What about the couples that aren't over it that quickly?
I tell the couples that if they are still having a preoccupying sadness after 3 months, it might be time to see someone, like a counselor.
How can couples coping with miscarriage begin the healing process?
One of the first things I say to couples who come to see me is that when you lose something, you have to name it for yourself to know what it is. You also have to allow your partner to name for his or herself. Usually, for the mother-it's the loss of a child that is the hardest. Interestingly, for a lot of partners, their biggest loss is their access to their partner, this feeling of "I wish I could do something to lift her out of this but I don't know what to do."
What do you tell couples who are struggling with the feeling that they are never going to feel good again as a result of miscarriage?
All of us on this planet are hardwired to deal with comings and going, especially living and dying of the natural order. Sudden car crashes, losing a ten-year-old, these things are harder to rebound from, but the natural cycle of miscarriages and people dying in old age-we're made to heal and deal from that. But we also have a healing process that must unfold. The wailing, and the crying, and the being confused, the looking for answers-whether that's in a glass of champagne or running three miles a day-those things are parts of our process, so lean into your grief. You were hardwired to do this, and it is not going to last forever.
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