My Miscarriage Helped Me Become a Champion for Autonomous Reproductive Decision Making

During the fall semester of my junior year in college I found myself in an abusive relationship. My partner at the time was verbally, emotionally, and later physically manipulative. The relationship developed during a period of extreme depression and low self worth as I tried to suppress and deny my attraction to women by dating a series of men.

My first relationship with a woman had ended traumatically and due to my very religious upbringing I took that as a sign from God that it wasn’t the “lifestyle” I should be living. So I cut my own metamorphosis short. Rather than continue to transform into the beautiful queer butterfly I would later become I reverted to being the fear plagued caterpillar that followed the life she thought others wanted her to follow. This translated to putting myself in less than pleasant situations. It meant not believing that I deserved certain things. It meant being with men because it was what was my religion, culture, and family expected of me even if I was being abused and I was exceedingly depressed. In my mind, my family would prefer whatever personal hell I was in to my being a dyke.

To be honest, I didn’t even know I was pregnant until it was too late. I was away on a professional development retreat with a student organization. Our first night there I started experiencing what I thought were menstrual cramps. Given my history of very heavy bleeding and severe cramping I did not think it was unusual, at first. I then realized that it was a little early in the month for my cycle to start and became slightly perplexed. The cramps intensified and within minutes I was doubled over. From the bunk bed I was sharing with another student I felt the blood begin to run, as quickly as I could and without drawing too much attention to myself I grabbed my phone and headed to the restroom. By the time I got there the cramping was even worse and I realized that it was not just blood leaving my body. Horrified, my mind made quick associations and I called a close friend. As soon as she picked up I blurted out the words through the pain, “I know this is a sore subject for you and I’m sorry for bringing it up but can you tell me what it was like when you miscarried last year. I think I’m having a miscarriage.” As she described what she had seen I noticed similar substances and remnants leaving my body, I asked her to stay on the phone with me until it was over and cried, mostly from a mixture of fear and shock. I had no true friends with me on the retreat, no one I could tell in confidence, so for the rest of the weekend I kept it to myself, more suffering in silence.

When I got back to campus I went to my school health center and told the nurse practitioner that I thought I had had a miscarriage. She examined me, took my blood, and administered a pregnancy test. The results of the pregnancy test came back negative, however, there were elevated hormone levels which indicated that I had been previously pregnant.

At first I was not sure what to feel. My suspicions had been confirmed, yet it all suddenly became too much to process. I returned to my campus apartment and laid on my couch trying to make myself feel something, I’m not sure how long I lay there. Finally, my roommate came home and asked me if I was okay, she eventually got me to get up and go to our room. Once on the bed she asked me what had happened. It all came pouring out of me, when I had finished she told me how sorry she was and I realized she thought that I was sad. She had assumed because of my religious affiliation and my personality that I would naturally be upset at having had a miscarriage. However, as soon as her well-meaning apology was out there my emotions came home to me and it was not sadness that I felt, it was indescribable joy. The moment I recognized my true feelings another set of emotions quickly followed, disgust, fear, and surprise. Joy? How could I possibly be feeling joy?

I kept my feelings of gratitude to myself that day and for a long time after. While friends of mine in college were facing the decision of terminating their pregnancies or parenting I was hiding from the fact that I had not had to choose. The decision had been made for me, somehow my body and spirit knew that had I been faced with that decision I would not have been able to decide to terminate at that point in my life.

For years I vacillated between two forms of shame. The first form was directly linked to my relief and happiness as a result of the miscarriage. As someone who has close friends and family that have experienced miscarriage after a wanted pregnancy I felt so ashamed that I was thankful for mine. I silenced myself because I thought it made me a horrible person. I had never heard of someone being happy about their miscarriage and with conservative religion in my ear I thought I was a horrible person for feeling the way that I did.

The other form of shame came as a result of having people in my life that had chosen to terminate their pregnancies. Here were people I loved making difficult decisions and being ridiculed and stigmatized for it. And there I was, free from the burden of having to make the decision myself, and protected from being shamed by the public because my abortion had been spontaneous rather than medical.

I came to loathe myself for my happiness and was convinced that I would never be able to tell anyone, on either side, my story.  Things began to change as I bared witness to friends and colleagues publicly share abortion and miscarriage stories. Here were people who were either being ridiculed for the reproductive decision they had made or silenced because miscarriage makes our society uncomfortable. Yet, in all these stories I still did not see myself. I did not hear any miscarriage stories that did not end with, “it was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.” I yearned to feel validated, to feel that my experience was okay, that my being relieved, elated, and thankful for having a miscarriage was a "normal" reaction.

I want to be clear. I am not sharing my story in opposition to those who share their heartbreak around their own miscarriages. I am sharing my experience in the hope that it will bolster the effort to normalize all reproductive stories. My hope is that by sharing my narrative room will be made for someone else and potentially reduce the stigma faced by those who do have to choose to terminate, who did not have the luxury of “nature taking its course” like I did. I wholly understand that my reaction and experience are different from what is typically discussed and portrayed. I am also aware that it is only recently that cisgender women in particular have been sharing their miscarriage stories and the pain and trauma they have experienced from being silent and going unnoticed. I affirm these stories and am so glad that light is finally being shed on a topic we in the reproductive health, rights, and justice community have often shied away from. These stories should be normalized and these women should have the support they need.  This does not negate the need for my story being normalized and for all reproductive decisions and outcomes to be normalized.

People faced with difficult reproductive outcomes and decisions deserve to be heard, supported, and seen. No matter if we are deciding to terminate or are facing a miscarriage, we are entitled to the range of emotions that we feel and shouldn’t feel shame, even if we are thankful.