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If Your Friend Has a Miscarriage, Don't Just Pretend It Didn't Happen

Photograph by Twenty20

I work in a school, and, as hard as this is to believe, teachers and administrators have as many cliques as the students do. As a newbie, I didn't fit into any of them. The first year was tough, but the following year brought more new teachers I immediately gelled with. One was a vivacious young woman we’ll call Mila, a gal who shared my love for cooking, science fiction and colorful leggings. We became close and each of us looked forward to school starting in the fall so we could spend more time together.

As we shared more of our lives with each other, Mila revealed to me her health struggles—she suffered from high blood pressure, hypothyroidism and polycystic ovarian syndrome. This fall, she was also diagnosed with type-2 diabetes. She told me that she and her husband wanted kids, but that the odds of her getting pregnant were very low.

Then, one morning, over coffee, we had our usual venting session. I complained about my most recent exercise injury, and she told me that her breasts were sore and her period was late. “But I was told I’ll probably never get pregnant, so I think there’s something else going on.”

I encouraged her to take a home pregnancy test. She did, and texted me later that it was negative. Imagine her surprise a couple of weeks later, when her urine sample at an unrelated doctor visit revealed that, despite the odds, a miracle had happened. She was seven weeks pregnant!

Mila was ecstatic. She only told me and our principal, just to give him an early heads up that she would be leaving work periodically for her upcoming appointments. We talked about the baby every day, as I was one of the only people who knew. I was pleased that she had confided in me and was asking me for advice. We giggled about her due date—absolutely perfect for a teacher: June 2nd. She’d have all summer for her maternity leave. I knitted a baby hat in preparation for the inevitable shower I’d get to organize.

Then the bleeding started, and never really stopped. My friend lost her little miracle.

I was devastated for her. Worse, I didn’t know what to do, or how to help in the aftermath. Though miscarriage is a loss, it’s not treated like a typical death in the family.

Women are powerfully directed to keep miscarriages a secret, which only results in an inability to properly process the death like a more visible, typical loss.

Here in the Midwest, we have very specific death rituals. The visitation, the funeral, the luncheon featuring mayonnaise-based salads and cookie bars, and, of course, friends and neighbors bring casseroles and baked goods to the home of the family to ease their burden. But Mila and her family would see none of that.

Women are powerfully directed to keep miscarriages a secret, which only results in an inability to properly process the death like a more visible, typical loss. Mila told me, “I lost a member of my family, but it’s like it never happened. But I’m still in so much pain. But no headstone, no cards, no calls, no casseroles.”

I called on my training as an educator and read up on how to help people process grief. I’ve pushed myself to be the best support system for her that I can be. I listen. I let her repeat her story as often as she needs to. I do not give advice, but I am here to help her through the transition back to work by helping her substitutes set up the classroom. I turned my back on any desire to off her platitudes like, “It was God’s will” or “Well, it was only nine weeks, and now you know you can get pregnant, so try again!”

Mila and I talked about it, and she agreed with me that the unspoken silence surrounding miscarriage needs to be broken. She bravely decided to go public with her loss on Facebook, and be honest with her students if they asked her why she was carrying around her heating pad and struggling to walk. This will be an incredibly difficult time for her, but talking about it openly with someone to lean on is the first step toward accepting what happened to the little miracle.

This weekend, I made her a Midwestern classic: broccoli, beef and rice casserole. Next week, it'll be lasagna and my famous monster cookie bars.

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