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Why is miscarriage so hard to talk about?

Miscarriage: you probably know what the word means, and given that one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, you likely know someone who’s gone through one.

But for Angela Garbes, it’s a highly problematic term.

Garbes wrote about this issue as well as her own experience with miscarriage in an article for The Stranger called “What I Gained From Having a Miscarriage.

In an interview with KUOW’s Bill Radke, she explained that other words with the prefix “mis” -- mistake, misplace, misstep -- point out that something is wrong.

“They all seem to imply that you have had an active role in making it so,” she said. “I think it shapes the conversation and steers women towards feeling ashamed, feeling guilty.”

In her piece, she wrote that despite scientists knowing that the majority of miscarriages are the result of chromosomal abnormality, a condition that scientists know very little about, in a 2013 survey of women who had experienced miscarriage, 47 percent of them reported feeling guilty about it. 

"Pregnancy loss," she said, is a much better term.

“It makes the most sense to me, because it’s what it is,” she said.  "You were pregnant, and you lost that pregnancy, and now you’re not pregnant anymore.”

Garbes experienced two miscarriages, and while her first one came as a bit of a relief, her second miscarriage was devastating.

“It wasn’t just something that was happening, it was something that I was losing. There was a part of my life that was going away,” she said.

One of the challenges she faced during her miscarriage was talking about it with her doctor.

“I felt that he handled it well, but there wasn’t much of an invitation to have a deeper conversation about it,” she said.

Dr. Kristen Swanson has been aware of this dilemma — the disconnect between how motherhood is spoken about clinically, versus how it is talked about by women — for years. 

She’s the dean of the College of Nursing at Seattle University. She first started studying miscarriages when she made it her dissertation topic nearly 30 years ago.

While doctors struggle with talking to patients about the emotions that accompany miscarriages, she said it’s improving.

“I believe now we are much more aware as a society, and that includes medical care,” she said. “We’re starting to get more and more research done on how do you prepare people for what lies ahead now that you have miscarried.”

Caring and empathy toward the woman experiencing the loss is vital she said.

“First of all you try and understand the event as it has meaning in her life,” she said. “At the very core of it, you convey your belief in this woman and her capacity to come through."

"Take cues from the person in front of you. They share that they've had a miscarriage. Answer with, 'Wow, how was that for you? Answer with something that says I'm ready for more conversation," Swanson said.

Year started with KUOW: 1985 – 1986, 1991 – 2004, 2012