The fine line of empathy in the world of miscarriage

So, I left Facebook with my ‘real’ personality (and that’s been wonderful, btw!), but I found I really needed my miscarriage support groups so I have a new profile that only sees them.  There was a heated discussion in one group recently that got me thinking about loss and pain and how we empathize with others as we own our own stories.  Someone made a comment that her loss was ‘just as bad’ and she was in ‘just as much pain’ as someone else and that person got very hurt.  All of a sudden, other people join in and you have lots of hurt and hormones flying around trying to evaluate each other’s pain and grief and the ‘equality’ of their loss(es).

I have very mixed feelings on the topic:  Like first off, why does it even matter?  Why do people feel the need to assert that their grief is just as much or more than someone else’s?  Why try to equate things when there is so much background that needs to be considered?  Can’t we just say that it’s different and support each other?

Given the way Society often seems to minimize our losses, I understand in a way.  We hear comments about how ‘it was early, there never was a baby (just a sac), it was in your tube so it wouldn’t have survived anyway, there was something wrong with the baby anyway, etc.’  All of these are comments by people who are really ignorant as to the impact of miscarriage.  This was our BABY we lost.  We had dreams for his/her future.  It’s important to us to not have our grief minimized by hurtful people.  It makes me so angry for my fellow loss moms when I hear that people want to ignore their grief or tell them they shouldn’t be grieving.

On the other hand, it gets tough sometimes.  Do you really think it’s reasonable to equate a chemical pregnancy to a baby born still at 38 weeks? (this was the situation in the miscarriage group, where the rules read “all losses are equal”)  I’ve not lost a baby at full term, but I can’t imagine saying her experience is the same as a chemical pregnancy.  Yes, they both ultimately lost a baby, but really?  I think most people would agree that those aren’t comparable (or am I wrong on this??) From what I saw in the comments, this was just salt in the wound of the woman with a stillborn child and she ultimately left the group and didn’t get the support she needed (which makes me sad and angry on her behalf, but I digress).  A chemical pregnancy and stillbirth are polar opposites along the pregnancy spectrum, so maybe it’s easier to make that call. In the middle weeks, it just starts getting fuzzy.  I don’t think that every week more of gestation means there’s more grief when that precious baby is lost, but it does seem to be a different physical and emotional investment as you move further along.  So I know it’s not a proportional thing, but is this yet another way we are unintentionally minimizing women by just lumping everyone into the same category of ‘miscarriage/loss’?

There are so many gray areas and things that impact our experience: Is it any worse when it happens later or earlier?  Does it hurt more or less that one mom has felt her baby kick and the other hasn’t?  Is it better or worse to have never seen a heartbeat than to have seen a healthy heartbeat?  Is it better or worse to physically have to deliver a baby than to have surgery to remove it?  Is it better to have a grave site or ashes around as tangible memories of our baby or is it better to have had the loss so early that you don’t have all those reminders?

Then there’s the background and other life circumstances-  Is it any easier for the mom who didn’t know she was pregnant yet or the mom who didn’t want to be pregnant at this time or is it harder because that’s an added new element of guilt?  Does a miscarriage hurt more after a couple has struggled to conceive for many months or years?  Does it get worse yet when the baby was a result of expensive reproductive treatments and now they have thousands of dollars in debt as well as a lost baby?  Is it better or worse if you have a child (or children) already?  Better that you have had the opportunity to raise a child already or is it worse because you understand even more the little things you will miss out on since this baby died?  Is it easier because you don’t have idiotic people telling you that ‘at least you have other child(ren)’ as if they are interchangeable?  Obviously these things are not the root cause of the grief, but does it compound it or does it make it more bearable?  I’ll bet it’s different for every woman anyway– but it’s important to remember when we’re relating that we often don’t know the whole story.

And then there’s my situation- recurrent miscarriage.  Does it get worse with each subsequent miscarriage?  I don’t think its a 1:1 situation, where someone who has lost 5 pregnancies has less grief or pain than the woman who has lost 6.  But yet, I do think that someone who has lost 6, 9, 11 babies has a very different experience or perspective than a woman who has lost one.  So for me, yes, the ‘recurrent’ element that gets ignored sometimes by people has added lots of extra mindf**k to my journey and grief.

I’ve had 5 first trimester losses and one second trimester loss.  Every single one hurt, so that’s why I would never say that a miscarriage shouldn’t hurt.  From this perspective I can say that any loss is a loss, regardless of week of gestation, cause, etc.  But I can also say from my experience** that for me the earlier losses were no where near as hard as my 16 week loss.

That’s why I think it’s extra hard when people try to make all losses ‘equal’.  There is such a massive spectrum and so many additional factors that it’s not possible to call them ‘equal’ but it’s also impossible to rank or place on a scale.  But I do think we owe it to each other to acknowledge that there probably is some variation. In the effort to not minimize one woman’s loss, we should take care to not go the opposite direction and minimize those who may have lost a great deal more.  It’s hard to see while in the situation, though, but it’s always important to work on our perspective.

I would never tell anyone who has had a stillbirth that I know exactly how she feels.  I know my latest loss was still 8 full weeks away from even the point of viability and that’s got to be a very different starting level than a woman who loses a baby that could technically survived outside his mother.  Likewise, I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt when I had a friend who has had one loss at 6 weeks pregnant that she conceived easily/naturally tell me over and over again that she knew ‘exactly how I feel’ (after my 6th miscarriage).   She already had three living children at the point when we were having this discussion-  I appreciated her attempt at empathy, but it also left me hurt and feeling more empty in her attempt to compare our situations.  There’s a level of complexity that divided our experiences.  I’m not minimizing her loss.  She lost a precious baby.  But I’ve lost 6.  How can it be exactly the same and why was she trying to make it the same?  Maybe it is and I’m just too raw right now to feel it.  It’s not a numbers thing, nor do I expect everything to  be equal to mean that people can relate to each other or empathize with each other.  It’s a fine line.

Most of the time I don’t think about this.  It’s when I see the discussion come up that I sometimes like to think it through and try to see all the sides of this.  I hope I didn’t offend or hurt anyone in exploring this topic, that would never be my intention- I am sending lots of love to ALL moms who have lost ANY pregnancy/baby.  And I’m giving myself a gentle reminder that we never know what anyone else has experienced, so maybe the best way to relate is not to directly compare lest we minimize someone unintentionally.

(**I know many other women have different experiences than this, I’m in no way declaring myself more ‘right’ or trying to hurt anyone, I’m just relaying my personal experience)