Black Women and Stories of Infant Loss

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This month we honor the precious lives lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, and SIDS. October 15th is National Pregnancy Loss and Infant Remembrance Day. The statistics of pregnancy and infant loss reveal that these life-altering events happen often and affect more women than we realize, yet many suffer through loss in silence. 

According to research, Black women experience miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death more often than white women. Much of that is done in silence and many of those stories go untold.

Paula’s Story

In February of 2011, I lost my first child while 5 months pregnant, it was devastating. I felt broken, isolated, misunderstood, and ashamed. My family and friends were sympathetic, but no one could truly console me at that time.

I left my job without notice. I put my phone on silent and simply existed. In the months that followed I felt as if I was having an out-of-body experience. I saw my life passing by, but I didn’t care enough to participate. Anger, depression, and sickness set in. I was forced to be around people because I spent weeks at a time in the hospital due to an underlying condition. It was those heroes and the little faith that I had at the moment that kept me from going over the edge. The nurses and chaplain encouraged me to seek help or at least be in the presence of people who shared a similar story. So I would sit in a grief support group for infant loss in complete silence. I could only muster up the strength to whisper read the poems and prayers, but sharing my story was too hard. I couldn’t shake the guilt of it all. I was embarrassed that my body rejected my baby. 

One evening, another African American couple walked into the back of the meeting room and joined the group. It was then that I felt as if I wasn’t alone. Their presence made me realize that this sort of pain does happen within the black community and that support was out there that was specific to me as a black woman. 

Sierra’s Story

All I had confirming the pregnancy was the faint positive sign on two different pregnancy tests. The early signs and symptoms of pregnancy were more intense than my first pregnancy. I remember experiencing a wave of emotions one day at work. One moment I was happy and the next I was on the verge of tears. I took the intensity of the symptoms as another sign that this pregnancy was real. I was going to have another baby. I decided to take another pregnancy test a couple of days later. Those faint lines should be darker then, right? 

By the end of the week, the test was negative. I had no way of explaining what happened so I called my doctor for clarity. I went in for blood work, but it was too late. The next day I started bleeding.

At that moment, all the dreams I had about this baby came crashing down. I was devastated. By Monday, the results of my blood work confirmed that I was not pregnant. I was told that I had a chemical pregnancy. What was that? I had never heard of such a thing. I later learned that a chemical pregnancy is a very early pregnancy loss that occurs when a fertilized egg fails to implant in the uterus. Chemical pregnancies are fairly common, but most women may not even realize they’ve had a chemical pregnancy unless they take an early pregnancy test like I did. 

After the loss, I went to work like normal. I carried on with life as if nothing happened, but the bleeding was a constant reminder of what I experienced. I had to actively keep my mind focused on other things to avoid not breaking down at my desk or as I walked around the office. That silence was a terrible burden to bear. 

I struggled with calling my experience a miscarriage. By my calculations, I was about 5 weeks pregnant. I didn’t feel like I could claim that I had a miscarriage because of how early it was and I knew other people, like my friend Paula, that had miscarriages much further along in their journey. There was no ultrasound. I didn’t even hear a heartbeat. 

I spent the next few weeks engrossed in other miscarriage stories, listening to and reading as many as I could, trying to find the ones that validated the truth that I had a miscarriage, even if it was very early. The stories of other women gave me comfort, but most of those stories were from women that did not look like me.

Why We Share

In the memoir, Becoming, Michelle Obama described having a miscarriage as a “lonely, painful, and demoralizing” experience. Around 1 in 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage, Mrs. Obama explained, “When you have one, you will likely mistake it for a personal failure, which it is not.”

“Miscarriage happens all the time, to more women than you’d ever guess, given the relative silence around it,” Mrs. Obama wrote. We don’t often talk about these experiences because they can be physically and emotionally painful, but not talking can often cause more pain and prevent healing.

Gabrielle Union, Beyoncé, and Serena Williams have bravely shared their stories over the years and shed light on infant loss and miscarriage within our community. Hearing these women share their stories reminds us that it is important for us to be open about our struggles with fertility. Our voices can help build community, continue a conversation that is specific to black women and couples, and most importantly help us navigate through the grief, process the pain, and heal. 

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