To end the stigma around pregnancy loss, we need to talk about it openly.
In a society that lays paramount importance on progeny, pregnancy loss is still a tabooed subject. Such topics are carefully brushed aside and more often than not, spoken in such a manner as if it does not exist. The social response to such an occurrence across class, caste and other strata is meted out on most occasions, solely on the woman.
Motherhood everywhere has been long glorified. Child-bearing and child-rearing have been historically seen as synonymous to that of an ‘ideal type’ of feminine identity. It is only recently that such a discourse has been contested and the scholarship on women’s voluntary choice and autonomy on their own bodies is gaining momentum.
While on the one hand there is a massive glorification of biological child-bearing, at the other end of the motherhood spectrum, is also a high percentage of women who experience pregnancy loss. This, however, continues to remain a topic that has garnered very little attention in mainstream discourses. A more common term in regular parlance is ‘miscarriage’, although this term is now challenged and replaced with the word ‘pregnancy loss’.
Disaggregated statistics in India on pregnancy loss is scarce, the reason being the silence and stigma associated with it. Although statistics indicate to a certain number, there still remain a high percentage of women who never talk about the loss they experienced. Of this, there are a considerable number of women who experience loss even before they know they are pregnant, or a pregnancy is clinically recognised.
Lack of information on sexual and reproductive health, lack of access to basic healthcare facilities and lack of autonomy and choice on their own bodies, deprive many women of the most fundamental reproductive rights even today. In a hyper-consumerist world where one is constantly fed with images from popular culture, little do silenced narratives of alternate family structures or those of loss and grief find space.
Pregnancy loss is a serious isolating episode in a woman’s life that affects her not just physically, but also psychologically. Furthermore, the social context and the strata that one belongs to also might have severe social repercussions as to how the woman is treated once her partner, family and those in the community know of the pregnancy loss.
In a society that lays paramount importance on progeny, pregnancy loss is still a tabooed subject. Such topics are carefully brushed aside and more often than not, spoken in such a manner as if it does not exist. The social response to such an occurrence across class, caste and other strata is meted out on most occasions, solely on the woman. Despite the fact that 15-25 per cent of pregnancies end in a pregnancy loss for reasons that are beyond one’s control, nonetheless, it is the woman who is often ridiculed for “miscarry-ing” (a term that largely connotes as if the pregnancy loss is self-generated) the child.
That women, who are childless/ childfree, are referred to as ‘barren’, ‘infertile’, etc., is not uncommon. At the same time, it is also interesting to note the range of responses that women who experience pregnancy loss often bear the brunt of. From the barrage of unsolicited advice that a woman is bombarded with, to those that go on to brutally trivialise the issue, women face it all.
Following a pregnancy loss, if not spontaneous, there is an additional ordeal of going through a medical termination of pregnancy which adds on to the trauma. Often the physical pain and trauma after a medical termination of pregnancy is so unbearable that a woman doesn’t even express her emotional distress. Although abortion is legal in India, research shows that more than 80 per cent women do not know about its legality.
Therefore, in order to ensure that women across backgrounds have access to immediate healthcare facilities, that the stigma around the issue is removed, we must open up discussions around pregnancy loss and reproductive health and rights. This Women’s Day, when popular culture bombards us with ‘unreal’ ideal types of women and womanhood, let’s shift the narrative to real issues of women. When we talk of grief, let’s also talk of grief amongst men/fathers too, for as long as we impose the progeny narrative solely on the woman, for as long as we keep saying ‘men do not cry/men do not have emotions’, we will continue to propagate problematic gendered norms and behaviour. It is about time we break the silence!