By Katie Silberman
Web Exclusive, January 28, 2008
That thing they warn you about: it happened to me. I got pregnant. I was thrilled. I told a bunch of family and friends—and then I lost the baby in my second month. I had to untell a whole lot of people. That story was swirling around in my head. You know the one. The one "They" always say about how you're "not supposed to tell people too soon."
I always hated that one. I hated it when my sister would whisper that her friends were pregnant, and then warn me, "...they're not telling people yet." It seemed so negative and scardey-cat to me. I always swore that when I got pregnant, I'd tell the whole world.
Well, I did (practically). And it was great. I got the most wonderful responses, full of excitement and anticipation and appreciation for my husband Bryan and me. We had a great two months—it was fun when my clothes started not to fit; it was fun when my husband had to go out at night and get me ginger ale, just like in the stories. We even got a few cards and gifts.
Then we went for our first OB appointment. The doctor saw the baby on the ultrasound, but she could not detect the heartbeat. "I think your baby has died," she said. The words didn't even sink in. My husband and I are pretty optimistic people—it truly had not even occurred to either one of us that the baby might not be okay. When we finally registered what she had said, the news was crushing; it was devastating; I felt like a balloon had been popped.
Any loss can surely be utterly distressing, painful and sad. What seemed different about this particular loss, besides the fact that it was happening to us (this wasn't supposed to happen!!!), is that when I was pregnant I was coming from a place of such elation. It wasn't just normal life—it was flying high, excitement, euphoria, anticipation. And then the crash. The distance to fall seemed farther—the chasm between zenith and nadir more vast.
That's where "in praise of telling people too soon" came in. My husband and I were crushed with grief and disappointment. All I wanted to do was to lay on the couch in my bathrobe all day (sometimes Bryan would gently inquire around 4 o'clock in the afternoon whether I wanted to get dressed. I would scowl at him and say no.) Not up to talking on the phone, I sent out an email message to my friends and family briefly explaining what happened. Along with "untelling," I explained that I did not much feel like receiving calls. We were inundated with caring replies, and reading the messages that poured back in was all I felt like doing those few weeks. Bryan smiled that every time I checked my email, tears rolled down my cheeks as I was touched by the waves of support from the people who loved us, recognized what we were going through, and offered us their kindness. If we had not had the outpouring of care and support from our friends and family, I am certain that couch-laying phase would have lasted a lot longer than it did.
The thing about miscarriage that I most feared was that it seemed so invisible. I hadn't really looked pregnant yet; the baby was just a tiny thing (the size of a raspberry, the books said). With the code of secrecy surrounding the "don't tell too early" story, there did seem to be a residual sense of shame about what was happening; as though it should be kept in the realm of women's maladies that happen "down there," in the dark, that we're not allowed to talk about. But I knew that something real had happened to me; it was not invisible.
If I had kept my pregnancy and miscarriage a secret, if I had bought the shame story, then I would not have been real. I can't even imagine having to fake it with the most important people in my life: to pretend that nothing was wrong, during one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life. That, to me, seems much more traumatic than having to "untell" and then tell the people who love you that you could use a little love and support. And then let them give it.
Katie Silberman is Associate Director of the Science & Environmental Health Network, a national non-profit organization. Katie and her husband live in St. Louis, MO with their very busy toddler, Lincoln.