CommunityLet’s Talk: Miscarriages

Michelle Zohlman
writes on August 31, 2021

Today’s topic is a tough one in particular for me. I’ve come to learn that it’s not an easy one to discuss, and I haven’t perfected how to say it. Because of this, I’ve found that I just blurt it out. Plus, let’s be honest, is there any eloquent way to say it? 

A few weeks ago, I had a miscarriage. 

It is still incredibly raw and painful – both physically and mentally, but after discussing it with my partner, I knew I wanted to share this with others since there’s a bigger picture to my loss. 

Here’s the thing, I’ve always had empathy for women who wanted to be mothers, who were struggling to be parents, or who opted for an abortion or adoption. BUT, experiencing it changes you, whether it’s the excruciating pain, discomfort, or experiencing grief and loss (and so much more)

Ultimately, this experience made me see the world differently, whether it was friendships, my own relationship, society, and yes, the tech industry. I thought I would share some of these insights, as they may be valuable for those who have gone or are going through this, or for those who are learning how to support a friend and/or improve workplace culture.

Questions / Comments 

As you might imagine, I’ve gotten my fair share of questions or comments over the weeks. Some are appropriate and empathetic, and others, well inconsiderate and…cruel, to be quite honest. I know that these folx meant well, but the impact was me trying to “pretend I was OK” or running to the bathroom immediately to cry. Sad, but that’s my truth y’all! 

Below are some questions or comments I personally wouldn’t recommend. Keep in mind that everyone is different, but if you have questions, let the person miscarrying set the boundaries. 

  • “Were you going to keep the baby if you didn’t lose it?” I mean, I just well up in tears thinking about this question that was asked. When confiding in my pain around this, a good friend said to me, “it doesn’t  matter because you had a choice taken away from you.” Let me tell you, that was a breath of fresh air. 
  • General comments I’ve received also include around drinking and “going out.” I imagine this is because people believe that going out, “forgetting my problems,” or “blowing off some steam” can give me a night off or something. Maybe someone else would find that valuable (perhaps I will in the future), but while I was miscarrying, it sucked because it insinuated that this is something a night of letting loose can help recover. (Plus, let’s not forget alcohol is a depressant, so probably not the best option when you’re depressed!) I will say it’s been nice having friends understand I’d like to not be alone but don’t necessarily want to “party”. 
  • “Were you trying to get pregnant?” Y’all, this one gutted me as well. It’s another example of those questions that just aren’t necessary to the conversation. Why does it matter if I was trying or not? Does that somehow relieve me of some pain? Do I not get to experience the grief or the feeling of loss that occurs? 
  • “Let us know what you need.” I view this one as a double-edged sword depending on the person. Some individuals prefer to have the ball in their court to tell people exactly what they need from them. On the other hand, some folx just want to be taken care of during this experience. It is one of those situations where you want to tread carefully and determine the best way to be supportive. Either way, you probably want to be there for the person in some capacity even if they don’t outright say precisely what they need because that’s difficult. Anything from texting them to check-in, just chat, visiting, or sending a gift might be an option depending on the person.   

Break the Taboo + Learn

As someone who is known to speak quite freely, I always assumed this was an easy topic to bring up and put on the table – I knew it wasn’t necessarily comfortable, but it still feels like a “hush, hush” conversation AKA a taboo topic. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when we tend to overly sexualize women as a society rather than accurately and compassionately speak to their actual experiences. 

This is why we need to challenge these norms and create an environment in our communities and in the workplace where this can be discussed with little awkwardness (ugh, so many awkward moments).

So, how do we break this taboo? It starts with educating ourselves to better understand what we women go through and improve support. The fact that this is barely spoken about tells us that we don’t honestly know the whole experience of miscarriages, including the intersectionalities of women’s identities – someone of a different age, gender, race, economic status, or sexuality probably has different experiences. We can’t just listen to one experience such as mine, a straight, white woman with excellent insurance. 

By learning about the different experiences of women who miscarry, we are then able to speak about it, which leads us to normalize this topic. We don’t want women suffering in silence. We don’t want women having to choose between sitting in a meeting and taking time off to physically and mentally go through their miscarriages. Additionally, we want women to be able to talk about it at work if they feel ready to do so. I feel so fortunate that I could confide in some folks when I just couldn’t handle showing up to lead meetings or presentations. It breaks my heart to think that other women have to do that. 

Change the Workplace 

This leads us to my favorite topic: how this can change the work culture, specifically in the tech industry. While you might never experience a miscarriage (and I hope you never have to), you can still learn and advocate for women in your life and in the workplace to have better support when looking to become pregnant or terminate an unwanted pregnancy. 

We need everyone, including men, to be able to know how to talk about this. Just because you don’t experience this firsthand doesn’t mean you get to opt-out of the conversation. Although it is not just men who opt out of the conversation, in my experience so far, my worst conversations have been with men, even including doctors, which left me dumbfounded. 

We see talks about being inclusive time and again in the tech industry. Still, the narrative doesn’t include women and their experiences such as assault, unwanted or wanted pregnancy, miscarriages, IVF, etc. So what might inclusivity for women look like? Whitney Wolfe Herd is an example that comes to mind. While at Tinder, she experienced harassment and left the company that she helped build to start over and create Bumble. It is no coincidence that the CEO of Bumble herself experienced sexism and now made some of the most inclusive policies that I’ve seen for women, specifically women who need support in various ways. This includes bringing children to the office, flexible work hours, extended maternity/paternity leave, and paid leave to victims of violence and for miscarriages. 

Additionally, she has dabbled in politics advocating for women as she testified before the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence commitment about unsolicited explicit photos sends to female users on dating applications. From the workplace to advocating for change in the system, these are examples of allyship and change needed in the tech industry. 

So, I challenge you (like we’ll be doing here at Treehouse) to begin or continue conversations around this topic as well as begin brainstorming and researching what you need to learn and what changes need to happen in your workplace. 


Resources:

IG Accounts to Follow

  • @notquiteknockedup 
  • @tinyheartsrememberedinc
  • @mamapsychologists 
  • @onemissingmum
  • @ihadamisscarriage 
  • @misconceptioncoach

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