Pregnancy Loss During a Pandemic:
The compound pain of miscarriage in isolation
by Elle Wang, Ph.D — founder of Emilia George
Content note: this post discusses miscarriage and pregnancy loss.
Since I first conceived of my company Emilia George, there’s been one constant: I now talk to pregnant women every day, and I absolutely love it. Sharing this moment of celebration is so uniquely special. How to best navigate professional life as we simultaneously grow our families is a boundless topic. And right now, as we all do our best to weather the storm of Covid-19, an openness to talking about the vagaries of pregnancy and new motherhood is more important than ever.
Yet during (or perhaps because of) this strange time I’ve found myself having a different kind of conversation about pregnancy; one that’s often conspicuously hidden, whether or not we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. These conversations — the quiet shadow to jubilant discussions about baby names, stroller models, and growing abdomens — are focused on the pain of pregnancy loss.
At first, I arrived at these exchanges indirectly. Given the myriad of issues stemming from Covid-19, staging regular photoshoots for Emilia George’s seasonal campaigns has obviously been out of the question. No problem — I reached out to women early in their pregnancies to find models for individual photoshoots that could be done at home. I was thrilled when a number of mamas on a mission jumped at the opportunity, but as those things went, delays were abundant, and by the time I got back in touch with my models, weeks had passed. Most women were still on board, but two shared with me the four most excruciating words a recently pregnant woman can utter: “I lost the baby.”
What these expectant moms have gone through is an under-discussed tragedy at any time, but compounding the pain they were and are experiencing has been the isolation wrought by the novel coronavirus. Managing the deep emotional toll of miscarriage calls for the ongoing support of family and friends, a key network from which many of us are currently cut off for safety’s sake. And in addition to being privy to the experiences of the brave women who shared their stories with me, I learned for myself how unbelievably difficult this particular kind of isolation can be.
Through a home pregnancy test, during the course of the lockdown here in New York, I learned I was pregnant for the second time. My husband and I were elated . . . briefly.
It pains me to write that I miscarried only a few days after taking the test. The pregnancy was so brief that my obstetrician didn’t even use the word “miscarriage,” referring to this short state only as a “chemical pregnancy.” But even a chemical pregnancy like mine still feels like a loss. I cried. My husband was disappointed. And yet we knew this would have been even more grievous, had the pregnancy been farther along.
But even a chemical pregnancy like mine still feels like a loss.
As we tried our best to manage our disappointment as a unit of two, I became acutely aware of the double sense of isolation — first, from extended family and dear friends, due to the ongoing need for social distancing, but second, because honest and open discussions surrounding miscarriage are something we as a society have yet to fully normalize.
This is problematic and hurts women: There is the support we lose when we’re unable to be open about pregnancy loss. There is also perhaps no other time in a woman’s life that she’ll question herself as much as after miscarriage. The ruminations are beyond dreadful. What could I have done differently? How was this my fault? This terrible, if misplaced, sense of guilt that compounds mourning only increases our pain, while repairing nothing.
What we need in order to heal is to feel supported (both emotionally and physically), loved, and secure. Most of all, what we need at a time like this is not to feel alone.
. . . There is simply not enough attention paid to women going through loss.
I’m so proud to accompany women from their first trimester through the postpartum months and beyond. Something I’ve fully internalized over the past few months is how important it is for Emilia George to hold space for the entire range of experiences related to pregnancy and motherhood. Most often the occasion is a cause for celebration and excitement. But as the particular isolation and difficulty of navigating pregnancy loss during Covid-19 has revealed, the journey can suddenly look very different. And there is simply not enough attention paid to women going through loss.
As someone in a position to support new moms from the very first step of their journey, I believe it’s paramount to acknowledge the pain of miscarriage and to make plain a willingness to include this in our manifold conversations about pregnancy. Losing a pregnancy is very personal, but it’s a tragedy a woman should feel wholly supported in trying to process. To all the women who want to become moms but haven’t yet been able to, or who have already embarked on this path but are facing difficulties becoming a mother for a second or third time, please know that I see you, I hear you, and you have my heart.
Beyond opening up a conversation, I’d also love to learn more about what effective support looks like to you. Whether you’ve lost a pregnancy or supported another woman through this painful time, what helped? How can other women, your natural partners in this journey, be of assistance? I welcome your feedback (in comments below) on this crucial topic.
Elle Wang, Ph.D is the founder of Emilia George, a high-end maternity workwear company she started during her pregnancy to produce top-quality and professional-looking maternity clothing. Elle is also an advisor and strategist for Partnerships, Business Development, and Stakeholder Management at the United Nations in New York.
Images courtesy of Elle Wang, Ph.D.