(Stigma Series - Part 2 of 6)
I’ve put off writing this post for as long as I could because I know how heavy of a topic it is. I
know the joy it can rob you of. I know the despair that can linger long after the incident. I know
the strain it can put on marriages. I know how heavy the burden can be when you feel like you
have to carry it alone. If there is at least one thing I hope this blog post does, it’s to start an
uncomfortable conversation in which we can face the reality of these misfortunes in order to
remove the stigma. Also, to encourage those who have gone through it, and feel like they can’t
talk about it, to start the healing process.
I know my audience on this blog is perhaps a younger audience, that probably isn’t even
thinking about the obstacles they might face when trying to have kids. But it’s important to
support one another as a community. We rejoice with each other, but also mourn with one
another (Romans 12:15). I’m hoping that by shedding a small light on this topic that is often
seen as taboo, we can see just how common it really is, and that no one is meant to go through
it alone. But first, let’s start off with some definitions and statistics.
Definitions & Statistics
Miscarriage is the loss of a baby before the 20th week of pregnancy.
o About 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. Some go
through a miscarriage without even realizing it, not knowing they were pregnant
in the first place. That’s about a total of 23 million miscarriages that occur
worldwide every year.
Stillbirth is the death of a baby before or during delivery.
o About 1 pregnancy in 100 at 20 weeks of pregnancy and later is affected by stillbirth.
Infant mortality (or infant loss) is the death of an infant before his or her first birthday.
o In 2019, the infant mortality rate in the United States was 5.6 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant after one year (or longer) of unprotected sex.
o About 12% of women (aged 15 to 44 years) in the United States have difficulty
getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term (impaired fecundity).
o About 6% of married women aged 15 to 44 years in the United States are unable
to get pregnant after one year of trying (infertility).
o Infertility is not just a female problem. In about 35% of couples with infertility, a
male factor is identified along with a female factor. In about 8% of couples with
infertility, a male factor is the only identifiable cause.
I’ve debated whether or not to share my story, but it only seems fitting that I do as I talk about
this topic. Before we had Amelia (our first born) we had a miscarriage. We’ve only shared this
with our family and close friends after it happened, but I guess we’re all friends here now. At
week 5 we found out I was pregnant, and at week 6 we found out I was having a miscarriage. It
was a strange thing to wrap our mind around. We hadn’t even told our family we were
expecting yet, but now we had no (good) news to share. It definitely took me a while to process
my emotions around it, but looking back at it - and I say this only for my case and fully knowing
this is not the narrative or experience of many other couples - God’s timing was perfect. God
knew we weren’t ready to be parents. We weren’t in the right headspace, emotionally,
mentally and even physically. That year was the hardest year of our life (so far) and throwing a
baby in the mix would probably have been… well, I don’t know. But it would have made it that
much more difficult. But like I said, this isn’t the case for many who are so ready and prepared
to become parents.
We were lucky that the misscarriage had no dangerous health consequences. Some come with
life-threatening medical complications that leave the expecting mother hospital bound for days.
We mourned something that we were joyus about for a week. Some experience a deep grief
that was preceded with months of anticipation and excitement. We were lucky that after a few
months of waiting, and a few more months of trying we were able to conceive again, and this
time carry to full term. Some don’t get to experience that blessing. Why does that happen to
some couples, and not others? I have no idea.
The big question that’s on someone’s mind going through any of these misfortunes is always
“why?” Besides the fact that doctors can’t always tell you what caused those things to happen,
it’s as simple and as complicated as our fallen humanity. Once sin entered the world it was
accompanied by pain and suffering. Going back to the beginning, Eve’s curse was not a light
one. “To the woman He said: I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain
you shall bring forth children;” (Genesis 3:16) And here we are, thousands of years later, even
with the best technology and medicine ever known to man, we are still suffering the same fate
If you want to read more about infertility from a theological point of view I recommend picking
up a copy of Under the Laurel Tree by Nicole Roccas.
How to be Helpful
The truth is more couples than you realize have gone through these issues. When I asked
friends on social media about these struggles, about 70 brave people answered and 41% of
them admitted to suffering through a misscarriage or stillbirth. Another 52% acknowledged
struggling with infertility. Of course these numbers were not done under a controlled study, but
it does illustrate how real people who you and I are friends with are struggling with issues that
we have no idea about.
What was hopeful to see was how many young, single, and even parents ask how they can help.
What can they say or do for those going through it? To those I say thank you. This is where
removing the stigma starts.
So here are some of the insights I’ve received from others that I’d like to share with you:
“Please stop asking when we are going to have kids. We want to and are trying, but can’t.”
“It’s more common than you think. Don’t assume we don’t want to have kids.”
“It helps to know we aren’t alone and we can talk about it.”
“Miscarriage is more common than people realize, and often unexplained and that’s okay too.”
“Don’t ask when we’re having kids, when we’re having siblings for kids, or how long we’ve tried.”
“Don’t belittle my loss or rush me through grieving. Having another won’t replace the lost one!”
“It’s not helpful to tell us that this was God’s will that the child didn’t suffer, but passed away instead.”
Here is another helpful response from my brave friends, Cathrine Eskander and Sam
Mechail, who are struggling with infertility:
“The most helpful thing you can do with somebody who is going through infertility is to hold a
space for them to talk about and process what they are going through. That doesn’t mean you
have to understand what they’re going through - but to give them the space and time to process
all their emotions accordingly. That’s the biggest help in a situation like this - an opportunity to
be comfortable in all positions.
The most unhelpful thing people do in infertility is trying to brush it off with terms and phrases
like “it could be worse”, “at least you are able to get pregnant, some people can’t get
pregnant”, etc. Another huge unhelpful thing is people’s assumption of who’s at fault - the
woman or the man. If you look at the history of pregnancy and fertility - it’s almost always
blamed on the woman, unfortunately. In the olden times the thought process was if a couple
can’t get pregnant it’s because the woman is barren or has some issues. That thought process
has crossed generations unfortunately, and isn’t helpful.
Another huge thing that’s not helpful is people not understanding that they are going through a
very emotionally and physically demanding process. Events and gatherings will be missed
because of that hectic lifestyle. Sometimes people ask “why are you so quiet”, “why aren’t you
joking with us anymore” - and little do you know they just went to 7 doctors appointments in a
week and have been on the phone for 24 hours this week with insurance, etc.
We also want other people to know It’s okay to go through this process, but that doesn’t mean
that it’s an easy process. Don’t be so hard on yourself because it’s not your fault or your
partner’s fault - it’s just another chapter in your story. What’s helpful is reframing it - it’s not
that we can’t get pregnant but we are taking another route towards pregnancy. We are still on
the journey of becoming parents - it’s just that our journey is a little different”
An eye-opening article was written by Tasoni Sarah Girguis on infertility and her struggle with
secondary infertility, which I highly encourage you to read.
To Those Going Through Infertility
(Section written by Catherine Eskander, LAMFT)
As hard as it is going through this difficult journey it’s important to maintain and increase
connection in the marital relationship. It’s very easy to put all the focus on treatment, and to
neglect the marriage, which could lead to heightened tension, anger, resentment and
arguments. This is the perfect time to strengthen the relationship by focusing on
communication, being open about how one is feeling, giving each other the space to express
and process whatever feelings are coming up, validating and empathizing with the other, as
well as supporting and encouraging each other. Spend time together, laugh together, go on
your vacations, be present with one another, and enjoy special moments together.
Another important thing is self-care. So much energy is being drained with non-stop medical
visits and treatment that ends up consuming you. Self-care, even if it’s just for a couple of
minutes a day, can help regain energy so that when the stress and overwhelm of treatment
hits, it doesn’t cause you to crumble. Self-care can be very easy and take just a couple of
minutes, like taking a quick walk, adding 5 extra minutes to a shower, calling or texting a friend
that makes you feel safe, listening to your favorite song, etc.
We agreed that our community can do a much better job at addressing infertility. One goes
from being prohibited to date to being married and thrown into all the difficulties of marriage,
including conceiving. That leaves people going through it with a huge struggle of feeling
insignificant, feeling so embarrassed, and overall feeling down and depressed.
Another stigma I wish we as a community would face and change is adoption. Because it’s
another beautiful way to bring a child into your world. But that’s a whole other topic on its
own. My friends Laura Michael and Madona Lawindy did a nice podcast episode on Adoption,
which you can listen to here.
It’s up to us and future generations to change the narrative being told about infertility,
miscarriages, and infant loss. It’s important to stop repeating false theology around why people
suffer through these adversities; and start by holding a safe space for others to come forward
with their pain and grief which gives you the opportunity to pray for them and be there for
them. Let us be a listening ear, and a comforting person to our friends and loved ones. And for
those dealing with it all I pray that you are able to find the courage to talk to others that can
ease your pain and help you walk through this season of life. That God can give you the
strength to navigate this difficult path. And to remember that our God is a faithful creator, and
He won’t abandon you where he brought you.
“Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.”
(1 Peter 4:19)