Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Potential babies.

My friend R. had a miscarriage awhile back. She told me something about it. I asked if I could tell you guys. She said yes.

R. was in the third month of her pregnancy when an ultrasound scan revealed that the fetus was dead. It was about two months old, meaning that she had been carrying a dead baby inside her for a month.

Like a lot of pregnancies it was unplanned, but not unwanted. R is in a relationship and her circumstances are such that a baby would cause radical upheaval, but not disaster. She adjusted to the idea and announced her pregnancy, the news being greeted with approval and enthusiasm by her family and peers. She described to me a sense of having attained something important in the eyes of society, of having passed through a vital rite of passage. She was to become A Mother.

When she miscarried, the support somehow dried up.

Miscarriage is so common that the medical profession generally doesn't investigate the cause until the woman has lost her third baby. The most conservative estimates have about one in every five Western women miscarrying at some point in their reproductive lives, whilst others suggest that one in four might be nearer the mark. Superficially the figures suggest a rise in recent years, but any number of factors might affect the number of reported miscarriages, most notably the increased availability and accuracy of pregnancy testing.

Some miscarriages are heralded by bleeding or other symptoms, while some occur so early in the pregnacy that they might be mistaken for a heavy period. The fetus may have been dead for a considerable amount of time. Sometimes there's a discernable cause, but mostly there isn't; the embryo may not be viable, or it might not have implanted properly in the womb lining. It's complicated, and there is more myth floating around than there is truth. Society at present tends to blame the woman: there's an assumption that she must have dome something wrong. There seems to be an ever-expanding list of things that an expectant mother can do wrong.

The experience can be devastating, whatever the mother's age, however many children she already has. For R., the whole thing was compounded by the lack of empathy shown by many of the people who she turned to for emotional support. The way she tells it, she saw the miscarriage as a lost child but her friends saw it as a non-event. What was she grieving for, exactly?

I think this is partly down to the fact that a lot of women from R.'s generation (which is also mine) take a strangely black-and-white view of pregnancy. If we're okay with the concept of a woman aborting a three-month fetus, why should we respond to a miscarriage occuring at a similar stage in pregnancy as the loss of a baby?

Intent, my friends. It's all about intent. R. intended that her pregnancy should go to term. She intended to have a baby, to become a mother, that her potential baby should become actual.

We live in an age where a lot of absolutes, a lot of distinctions, are disappearing. Uncertainty and moral confusion are the order of the day, and nowhere do we see this more clearly than in the matter of pregnancy. Technology has advanced to the point where one can abort a fetus almost as old as the youngest viable premature baby. We have to stop looking to the external for all our definitions, and start to create our own. We have to realise that we can support a woman who ends her pregnancy by choice, and yet still have a place for the grief felt by R.

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