Health

The Agony of Seeing Miscarriage Stories Shared Online

I want people to be able to talk about their loss, but seeing these posts opens up a wound for me.
Woman holding gray baby shoes.
Natalie Jeffcott / Stocksy

There is still a misbegotten stigma associated with miscarriage—regardless of how common it is—often accompanied by an uncomfortable silence surrounding the loss of a pregnancy. For some women, along with feelings of grief and sadness comes shame too; many who miscarry blame themselves on some level. Recently, though, people have become more open about their losses, finding community and support on social media. Mothers who’ve experienced loss can feel isolated and alone in their grief, so speaking out and learning that they aren’t alone can provide comfort—for some of them.

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It's crucial to raise awareness about what miscarriage entails. But there also exists a lack of sensitivity for those who've lived through this type of loss. Native Londoner and mother to one living child, Emily Conroy, has had three miscarriages in three years. All too familiar with the grief of a miscarriage, she finds advocacy posts and stories of about them difficult to read. “Pregnancy loss awareness posts send me down a spiral of sadness,” she says. “They make me aware of the worst thing that ever happened to me. Knowing that someone else also suffered doesn’t make my pain any less palpable. In fact, being reminded of it is traumatizing.”

Conroy recognizes that advocacy is important, and that building a community to help each other grieve is valuable. But posting in-depth social media posts, to her, isn’t the best way to go about it. There needs to be a deeper understanding of the various ways in which people grieve—not all of these ways require reminders, she says. “An overabundance of information and sharing can be overwhelming and seem like an exercise in competitive misery,” she tells me. A poorly timed social media post or loss story, she says, can send many mothers back into the depths of their grief and undo months or years of healing.

On the flip side, Jessica Zucker, a Los Angeles-based licensed clinical psychologist and creator of the #IHadAMiscarriage social media campaign, feels that women have a right to share their loss stories without fear or censorship. “The antiquated stigma and silence surrounding this topic, and many other women's health-related topics, must shift, and the primary way for this to occur is by creating space for disclosing our love, pain, grief, our hope.” She believes that the responsibility of protecting your mental health—if you had a miscarriage and don’t want to be reminded of the loss—lies on you, not the vocal advocates on social media. “If these stories feel harmful, then I think it's best to shy away from reading them,” she says. Zucker warns that “curtailing stories for fear of triggering other women may ultimately be a disservice to the woman looking to finally share her traumatic experience.” Here’s the thing, though: A mother like me, who lost a pregnancy seven years ago, may do well handling her grief in the day-to-day, but when she accidentally stumbles upon a story of loss on her newsfeed, that seven-year gap disappears. The wound feels fresh again, and the damage is done. I can unplug from social media, meditate, do yoga, practice whatever self-care is in my repertoire, but the scab is off and the pain returns.

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And of course it's not just my larger public newsfeed. As a mother, I have found community and friendship in mom's groups on Facebook and WhatsApp, but in those safe spaces too I am at risk of stumbling on loss stories. Because of the familiarity and common ground found in these groups, people who have had miscarriages feel comfortable sharing, often in great detail, their loss stories. Posts discussing play-by-plays of the pains and agonies of a miscarriage, from spotting to cramping to tissue expulsion, or detailing hours of preterm labor and the inability to stop the contractions that will produce a baby too young to be considered “viable” for transfer to the NICU, are shared in hopes of finding solace and support from their mothers-in-arms. Stories like these, with details that so many of us know from personal experience, can be an ice pick to the heart of a grieving mother. It could help mothers who have experienced loss to practice self-advocacy by recognizing triggers in social media and responding in a way that protects their mental health, says Keisha Wells, a Georgia-based licensed professional counselor. It is possible, she adds, to recognize the need and make space for mothers who wish to share their stories.

A social media break may help women regain their footing, Wells says. Also, adjusting news feed settings to unfollow someone recently pregnant or experiencing a loss, or leaving moms’ groups where stories of loss are common, may be the move for mothers who are triggered by reading others’ stories. “Taking a personal time-out on these outlets is an assertive move that can benefit one’s mental health and morale,” she says, explaining that we cannot control what other people post—we can only control what we see and how we respond. “It’s okay to establish and maintain this boundary.”

There is no easy answer to whether we should censor our stories of trauma. It’s imperative that no one feel minimized in their feelings or their responses to loss, but it's just as important that the world at large is made more aware of the frequency with which miscarriages happen and how they can change people forever.

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