My husband has been writing lately about things that people have said that bug him, and it has me thinking a lot. Of course I’ve written about the top things that should never be said to a grieving parent and the stupid things people say and all the other things that bug me, but the thing that bothers me the most, that hurts the most, is probably the most controversial and misunderstood thing out there that no one wants much to talk about or think about and read about and so, well, let me just say it out loud:
A stillbirth is NOT a miscarriage, and a miscarriage is not a stillbirth.
A stillbirth is NOT a pregnancy loss.
A stillbirth is a dead child.
Now we could turn this into a political argument by left and right-wingers all day long. We could say technically in most states, a stillbirth is a child born twenty weeks or later and a miscarriage is 19 weeks or earlier. We can talk all day long about women’s rights and who’s on first and what’s on second but that’s not at all what this is about.
This is about babies dying and parents grieving, and people who want to compare that grief of a dead child to the grief of a miscarriage—and it is NOT the same.
I’m not saying miscarriages aren’t painful, horrible, undoing griefs. I’m not saying that we don’t grieve when we have them. I’ve had one. I had a miscarriage. I know what it feels like. I know how much it sucks. But no matter how much it sucks, it was not my dead child held in my arms after my stillbirth.
I’m not here to argue that moms and dads who delivered their baby at 16 or 17 weeks and held them in their arms aren’t parents. If you held your baby in your arms and you named your baby, then go ahead and tell me about it and let me grieve with you and let us talk about the child who died. I don’t care about weeks defining a stillbirth versus a miscarriage. And if you have a miscarriage, I will still show compassion and understanding, and I will long with you. I will share your grief.
But, what I do care about is when someone asks me how old my child was when she died, and when I say “at birth” (because honestly when I say 33 weeks the look is even worse), I get that look of “oh” that look of “loss of potential” that look like “oh, well, at least she wasn’t a child.”
What the fuck? I hate that look and that inference.
What I care about is when people refer to Grace’s death as a “late miscarriage” or a “miscarriage” or a “loss.” She was none of those things. She was a child that died.
Miscarriage and stillbirth are not the same thing.
I hate it when people post things on my Facebook page about miscarriage or people send me articles about miscarriage implying with that quiet gesture that Grace was a miscarriage, a mistake, somehow avoiding the reality that a child died.
My child was NOT a miscarriage. Got it?
My child was a baby who died for no good reason. Who was the perfect weight and height and size for her 33 weeks (and if you want to be really technical then 32 weeks and 5 or 6 days), who could have survived outside my body had she not stopped breathing inside my body. Why she stopped breathing, I’ll never know.
But I do know that holding her in my arms, her four pounds feeling like 100 pounds was a completely different experience than feeling blood run down my legs, watching my underwear and clothing become soiled, running to the emergency rooms as clots fell out of my body and watching that give way to intense cramping and pain and heartache. But it was different.
And that was a miscarriage NOT my dead child.
And those are two entirely different kinds of grief.
So if you want to sympathize with mothers and fathers who have experienced stillbirth, never refer to their child as a miscarriage. It does a disservice to the grieving parents of both.
Language matters. A great deal.
Even Wikipedia backs me up on this one when defining stillbirth, “…and the word miscarriage is often used incorrectly to describe stillbirths.”
So stop it, okay? It’s not the same.
And to a mother and a father whose experienced one or another or both, it matters. It matters a great deal.
It matters to me.
It matters to my Grace.