Family Secrets Hurt the Worst: My Mother’s Miscarriage

I considered not telling this story, feeling it was not mine to share. I’m not going to talk about what it’s like to have a miscarriage, for I have never endured one. I am going to share my feelings about my mother’s and my family’s miscarriage, and how I felt as a young girl when I learned that my mother had lost a future child and I had lost a future sibling.

I was nine or 10 years old and my sister was three years older. Sometimes I would get sick and stay home from school, lounging on the couch all day, alternating between watching TV and attempting to sleep. But I never, ever witnessed my mom doing this. She woke up before dawn every day to go to work, and I only saw her lying down when I crawled into bed with her in the middle of the night. So when I got home from school one day, I was shocked to hear from my dad that my mother was resting because she didn’t feel well.

I vividly remember walking upstairs in the middle of the afternoon and going into my mom’s bedroom to see her. She was awake but she looked and spoke as if she were immobilized with pain. I remember feeling sympathy and love, remembering all the times she took care of me when I was sick. But I also remember feeling utterly confused. Why was she sick? Where was the pain? I wasn’t given any details until years later, when she told me about her miscarriage.

Learning of my mother’s miscarriage

The conversation is pressed into my memory because, although it was part of my mother’s past, it was news to me. We were sitting at the kitchen table when the topic of pregnancy and miscarriage came up. With a subtle change in her tone, my mom admitted to me and my sister that she had a miscarriage years ago. Immediately, an uproar of emotion filled my body as I recalled that day, years prior, when I came home and she was lying in bed.

Somehow, I felt betrayed, almost angry, that she hadn’t told me earlier. I reactively launched into a series of accusatory questions. What happened? Why didn’t she tell me and my sister? How did she feel about it now? My mother answered with a sort of detachment, mentioning that it is very common and noting the exact number of miscarriages that my grandmothers and aunts had experienced.

But there was no talk of healing. There was no talk of how she, or my family members, actively recovered from their emotional and physical losses.

For weeks following that initial conversation, I thought about the little brother or sister I might have had and how different my life would be. I was sad but I also didn’t completely understand my feelings. Not only was this a past event, it didn’t even directly happen to me, so what grounds did I have to feel this way?

Why do we keep miscarriage a secret?

Fast forward 10 years later, and I am an adult with friends and acquaintances who are starting to have children. While we still have a long way to go, women’s rights campaigns and feminist movements are inviting people to see the essential nature of personal healing, sharing, and community support.

Recently, I met a colleague who opened up to me about her unexpected pregnancy, explaining why she might seem a little preoccupied. Soon after, she told me that she had a miscarriage and wanted me to understand her emotional needs at that time and how it might affect our professional relationship. I was incredibly grateful for her honesty and I also felt that this was part of her personal healing process.

I couldn’t help but wonder, why do people keep miscarriages secret, especially when they’re so common? Who benefits from pretending that an experience is easy just because it’s normal?

The weight of secrets

Some people carry secrets around their entire life, not telling a single soul about their most intimate moments. Everyone has their own reasons for keeping a secret, and it depends mostly on the individual, the nature of, and reasons for the secret. But when it comes to miscarriage, there are many layers to navigate.

Just like stigmas surrounding mental health, miscarriage often carries feelings of shame in our society. Not only do women have to heal physically after having a miscarriage, they have to process the experience mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Now, let’s toss in society’s extremely high standards for modern women to be strong and emotionally stable, successful, and independently fertile. Needless to say, it’s a complicated mix, and everyone’s experience is going to be different based on past conditioning and current circumstances. But the complications don’t simply vanish when we refuse to talk about it.

There’s a big difference between secrecy and privacy, where something kept private is usually because it’s determined inappropriate or unnecessary for public display. But in the case of miscarriage, public display might look like an open and honest conversation, an invitation for people to connect on a common issue in our  human experience. Perhaps sharing our pain with others is one step towards healing.

I’ve personally adopted the notion that “if something can hurt you, then it can heal you.” When my mother kept her secret from me, I felt partially responsible for her suffering because I knew she was dealing with it all by herself. When my colleague shared her experience with me, I felt empowered by her decision to seek out support from her community. It gave me hope that if I were ever to experience something “normal” yet potentially traumatizing, the love and compassion of those around me would give me strength.

Many times, we suffocate ourselves with shame by keeping our personal pain secret. By doing so, we are actually encouraging others to abide by that same suppressive, social structure. But when we open up, feel our pain, and stand in our hurt, we can use it as a powerful source of healing.

Featured image by Cheril Sanchez
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