If a woman loses her child before the age of 12. If a woman loses a week of pregnancy, it’s considered an illness. Insurance does not pay for everything. The fact that women are ashamed and silent about a miscarriage has a system, says our author. She experienced it herself.
In 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies, there is an early miscarriage. Why does no one talk about it??
One Thursday morning I was sitting in the waiting room of the University Hospital in Basel, bleeding non-stop. A huge sanitary napkin lay in my underpants and sucked itself full. I felt the warm, thick blood that wasn’t seeping in fast enough. A wet lump of mucus formed and demanded a confrontation: Feel me, I am your miscarriage.
When I became pregnant, I was not surprised. I knew my cycle well, my boyfriend and I had been using the temperature method of contraception for a year and a half. If I was fertile, we used a condom, if not, no condom. It had worked out well, except for one night during the summer vacation when we were careless. My grandmother used to say: "The women in our family only need to hang the nightgown on the bedpost"."That was enough of an announcement for me.
A month later I had a positive pregnancy test in my hand. My friend and I were very happy. The child was definitely not planned, but we are both in our early thirties, many acquaintances are having children. We were old enough, we loved each other very much, it was not difficult for us to accept this change.
The day after I found out I was pregnant, I was barely six weeks along, it was my grandfather’s funeral. I walked around with a beaming face and told my whole family about it. My grandmother hugged me for a long time and said softly into the hollow of my throat: "A life goes, a life comes"!" My cousin’s husband was less poetic. " Six weeks? It’s very brave that you are telling everyone about it now." He meant it in wonder, but to my ears it sounded reproachful.
I never understood what the 3 month rule was about. Whoever loses his child before then, or decides to abort in case of trisonomy 21, must be able to share this loss somehow. The couple should be allowed to decide for themselves how they want to do it, but to put a "rule" before personal feeling seems disgusting to me.
If I lost the baby, I said cockily to my cousin’s husband, the whole world would know. That sounded incredibly strong and secretly I thought: good, did you make such a statement in front of this coon?. And fortunately it probably won’t hit you. A few months earlier a friend of mine had a miscarriage, otherwise all my friends with children had been spared. Then my hormonal logic told me: This will definitely not happen to you.
We started making plans
For a few weeks everything actually went well, even the check-up with the gynecologist indicated a healthy pregnancy. She did an ultrasound, we saw the little beating heart, my friend had tears in his eyes. We taped the picture to the refrigerator door, nicknamed the unborn baby, and started thinking: should we move in together?? Stocking up at work? Finding a midwife? No more eating Camembert?
I was happy and told everyone. The more I told friends and acquaintances about the pregnancy, the less I believed in the possibility of a miscarriage. As a journalist, I was used to my words making a difference. The same power I attested them now, where it was about my body.
"What happens now?"
Shortly after the start of the 11. Bleeding started in the first week. I stood in the shower and saw red discolored water running down my legs. For a second I thought: That’s what you get now: made strong and now it’s happening to you too. Two hours later, I was sitting in a gynecologist’s chair with my legs spread apart, looking at the ultrasound image flickering next to me. Our little embryo looked like it did at the first appointment. Only without a heartbeat. I looked over at my friend. He cried. Then I squeezed his hand. Now just do not get carried away. "What happens now?"
The resident on duty did her job well. She said in a gentle voice that almost every fifth pregnancy ends in an early miscarriage, and that there is a high number of women who do not even realize that they have been pregnant. In my case, the size of the embryo and the lack of a heartbeat are relatively clear signs of an impending miscarriage. I thought: What a terrible word. Abort. Like toilet. Or abortion. There is no way I would call my abortion one. Miscarriage at least calls a spade a spade.
"O. k., but what happens now exactly?", I asked again. I swallowed hard, my throat was very dry. It varies, the doctor replied, for some women it is like heavy menstruation, others experience almost contraction-like cramps. She will prescribe me a painkiller.
We went to the night pharmacy, got the medicine and rode home on our bikes in silence. At home we lit a candle, added the photo from the first ultrasound, hugged for a long time and cried. The prospect of becoming parents had blended seamlessly into our lives, and it seemed a betrayal to the universe that it would not be so now. As if someone had suspended a universal law. You will just have to manage without gravity, good luck. You are not parents anymore, sorry.
Saying goodbye to the idea of being a mother took strength, but it was even more painful to say goodbye to the conviction that I had done something wrong. When I told my grandmother about the miscarriage, she said, "Or maybe you’ve just had a little too much stress lately?"I condemned her for this, and myself even more, because the same thing had already gone through my mind.
The physical pain began at night, two days after the diagnosis. I lay on the bed and had contractions every quarter of an hour. With each contraction my body tensed, then ejected bloody shreds. The first two hours I spent alternately in bed and bathroom. At 1:30 in the morning I told my friend to try to sleep. By now I had an almost constant stomach ache and took up quarters in the bathroom.
I had "Planet Earth" on my laptop. I walked up and down, stretching and bending in turn to relieve the pain. I watched five young mountain goats being chased by a small fox. The chicks escaped, the fox stayed hungry. "If he doesn’t find something to eat soon, he’ll have to die," said presenter David Attenborough in his grandfatherly voice.
It calmed me down. I thought: one comes and one goes. We are natural beings and a miscarriage is something natural. There is no cause, no divine plan. Just my body and its nature. At half past four in the morning I fell asleep. I had not taken the painkillers.
In the following days I still had heavy bleeding, but no more contractions. Two days after the Geissli night, something plopped into the toilet that felt like a slippery water balloon. "I think I just expelled the placenta!"I shouted to my friend. We briefly considered fishing her out and looking at her, but decided against it. We didn’t want to know that precisely.
Girlfriends reacted with astonishment
Then came Thursday morning in the hospital. I had come here with a good feeling, physically I felt a little weak – the Geissli night was only a few days ago – but nervously stable. In the previous days, I had talked to many friends on the phone, drank coffee, and talked. I had considered it my duty to explain to them what a miscarriage is like.
Many reacted with sadness and astonishment. Partly because they hadn’t known how often miscarriages happen, and partly because they hardly knew anyone who talked about it. I kept hearing the same thing: You’re so brave for telling this, you’re doing so well. That reinforced me, but also got on my nerves: Why the hell is no one talking about this?
After two hours and a request to the woman at the counter ("Excuse me, but I’m having a miscarriage – could I have my turn soon, please?"), I went in?") I was taken to the same examination room where I had been diagnosed with the miscarriage a week before. Unfortunately, this time it was not a sympathetic doctor who was there, but a young assistant doctor with 15-hour duty written all over his face.
Impatiently he said: "You are now in the 11th month. Week pregnant . what is your problem?"I looked at him in disbelief. I was no longer pregnant, I said. "Oh well. And since when do you know that? Has anyone examined you?"I nodded and told him about the diagnosis. "It’s been a week now? What are you doing here?"
I was worried about the bleeding, I explained, and my gynecologist’s secretary told me to come back. He shook his head. "A miscarriage like this doesn’t just last a few days!", he shouted in an old-fashioned tone and wrote something on a piece of paper. " Medication?" I did not understand. He looked annoyed. "Did you get any medication??"
Uh yeah, I said, but I wasn’t going to take it. He looked at me as if I had gone mad. Then he sighed loudly, did another ultrasound and prescribed me a drug that is actually used for stomach ulcers, but has the side effect of causing a miscarriage. So that everything really comes out. At the end I asked him for a doctor’s note for the week. He said, "Well, most women go back to work shortly after that."
I said nothing, took the certificate, said goodbye and ran out of the room as fast as I could. A lump of mucus settled in my sanitary napkin again. Come on, feel me, I am the miscarriage that you are not taken seriously about.
Miscarriages are a taboo
That day in the hospital I realized that miscarriages are not a taboo subject, because we keep quiet about it. They are a taboo subject because they don’t fit into the system. Miscarriages are a drag, an annoying, expensive side effect of producing offspring. That’s why the health system makes us see them as failures and keep quiet about them.
Our shame is deliberate, because it is the only way to legitimize the fact that health insurance does not cover all costs incurred until the third month. Before that, the woman must contribute proportionately to the cost of her "early abortion" – in my case, that was four ultrasound exams and five appointments. Cost over a thousand francs.
It’s the same system that doesn’t pay for my contraception or my annual checkup with my gynecologist. But I am generously compensated for everything if I make it past the third month of pregnancy.
Either my body is mocked or glorified. No wonder, we do not want to talk about it.
All the more important to do it anyway. The fear of talking about shameful physical experiences (including abortion, rape or unfulfilled desire to have children) is not ours. We did not choose them. We are told. We tell ourselves that we are protecting ourselves with our silence, but in fact we are protecting the system. It’s a powerful system, with good reasons. Most of them have been thought up by men.
And it will not change from one day to the next. We will probably still have to pay for our failure body in thirty years time. But we can make sure that we are no longer ashamed of it. So grandmothers no longer blame stress. So that overtired residents can be read the riot act, for example by the midwife who, by the way, was also in the room and calmly filled out a document. So that no one tells me I am brave again. So that it is no longer courage, but a matter of course.
In the meantime my miscarriage was two months ago. Me and my boyfriend still talk about the little embryo from time to time, it will probably never be completely gone. But we are no longer sad about this, but hopeful. One more cycle of rest, then we can try again.