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October 09, 2015

Miscarriage matters: In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

Women's Health Miscarriages
Sad Girl 08032019 Photo by Anthony Tran /on Unsplash


My miscarriage happened on Dec. 8, 2008. I will never forget this day and I have secretly honored it every year since.

I was in New York City at the time, accompanying my husband at a dental convention. I was 10 weeks pregnant. All day, I was feeling a bit crampy, but I didn’t pay much attention to the signals my body was giving me. Around 3 p.m., I saw some bright, red spotting in my underwear. I was sad, but not afraid. I had had a bit of spotting a few weeks before and my doctor had said it was probably implantation bleeding as it was early on.

I met my husband in our hotel room and decided to take a nap. We had plans to go out for a nice dinner but I really didn’t feel like going out. I wanted silence and solitude.

A few hours later, I went to the bathroom and found blood clots coming out of me. Blood was dripping so heavily and thick. I yelled for my husband. Immediately he came into the bathroom. “Let's go to the hospital!” he said.

I looked at him. “No. We are losing this baby right now and I just want you to be here with me.”

There was nothing to be done.

And so he stayed. He sat on the edge of the luxurious hotel bathroom and held my hand while I bled and bled and bled -- for two hours. I cried my eyes out with the deepest devotion to my mourning. I mourned the death of my dreams, our dreams as a family.

It is now 2015 and I have two beautiful girls. I still often think of my baby boy. And no, the gender was never revealed to me but I just knew. I knew it was my boy. Maximiliano.

I have since dreamt of him many times. I still do. I still feel him.

                                                               -- Paula Andrea Betancur, Florida 

It is estimated 1 in 4 or 5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Yet, according to a study published earlier this year in the journal “Obstetrics and Gynecology,” most Americans believe that number is 1 in 20.

People “don’t discuss it,” Dr. Zev Williams stated in an interview with Newser. Williams, director of the program for Early and Recurrent Pregnancy Loss at the Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center in New York, continued: “I’ve taken care of sisters who didn’t know that each of them were having recurrent miscarriages.”

It is very difficult to find words that weave meaning around the vast heartache characterizing such loss. The bereaved often find more comfort and guidance in nature, poetry and dreams than well-intentioned discourse.

Those of us who devote our professional lives to holding space for birthing women know how heavy the shadow of “not discussing it” can be. Silent, unprocessed grief from previous pregnancy loss can deeply impact the trajectory of a mother’s future pregnancy and childbirth experiences.

As a birth doula, I hold the hands of women who face sudden, unexpected and intense emotional triggers during labor relating to prior abortions, miscarriages and/or stillbirths.


“It’s my past!” a mother says as she turns to me in a panic.

She is 10 centimeters dilated and ready to begin pushing a healthy little boy into our world. But instead of bearing down, she keeps crossing her legs in fear. Adrenaline floods her being, interrupting the physiological process of her intended natural, vaginal birth.

“It’s my past.” She looks at me in desperation. I hold her close while images of the story she shared when we first met come to mind.

The last time she had opened up with such vulnerability and strength, she delivered stillborn twins at full term. On a deep level, her body associates vaginal birth with loss. Afraid of repeating the trauma, she needs all the support her carefully chosen birth team can garner. So, we surround her with great love. Her husband, her midwife, the accompanying nurse and myself – we gather our strength to hold space.

We conjure up a love that is a worthy match for the intensity of her fear.


The joyous elixir of the birth of a healthy child always carries an accompanying companion -- death. Whatever is born in time and space will know an end. Forever paired, birth and death usually bookend decades of living. When it comes to the untimely death of fetuses or infants, these doorways of existence collapse onto each other, filling hearts with bewildering grief.

It is very difficult to find words that weave meaning around the vast heartache characterizing such loss. The bereaved often find more comfort and guidance in nature, poetry and dreams than well-intentioned discourse.

As a hospital chaplain specializing in the training of birth professionals to hold space for pregnancy loss, I’ve learned that being lovingly present matters much more than the speaking of carefully crafted words. I draw strength from the courageous example of a gentle-hearted husband sitting on the edge of the hotel bathtub holding the hand of his wailing wife.

For hours, he holds her hand.

October marks Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and commemorations on Oct. 15 -- Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day -- are scheduled throughout the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Australia. Courageously stepping forward, bereaved parents write poems, light candles, craft blankets, compose songs and share blog posts with the intention of honoring their children passed and transforming the silent stigma associated with pregnancy and infant loss.

AMY WRIGHT GLENN: Poems that honor the postpartum body following loss

“I feel a huge obligation to myself to finally recognize the truth in my experience and to share my story,” stated Betancur, who graciously gave PhillyVoice permission to publish her story. She shared her words in order to inspire “more empathy and more support and acknowledgment” as we transform our culture’s current approach to pregnancy loss.

Those suffering from miscarriage “often blame themselves,” Williams noted. Most people believe “lifestyle choices” -- heavy drug or alcohol use, for example -- constitute the leading cause of miscarriage. While a recent study in China highlighted associations between general population exposure to phthalates and early pregnancy loss, it is commonly accepted that around 60 percent of miscarriages result due to genetic abnormalities.

While blaming oneself doesn’t make intellectual sense, the need to acknowledge all of the feelings that flow from grieving pregnancy loss is essential. After all, feelings don’t need to make sense in order to be integrated. In her song “All She Needed,” Canadian singer-songwriter and birth doula Julia Diette Lynx offers wise counsel:

All she needed was a moment

to breathe in the pain

and breathe out her joy

on her darkest day.

This October, we remind ourselves to acknowledge “the darkest day” and make room for the stories, sadness, fears and dreams of bereaved parents.

We remind ourselves to hold space for breathing and grief.

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