The holidays bring up a myriad of feelings including joy, anxiety, excitement, and, sadly, loss over a recently departed relative, parent or spouse. But one unspeakable source of sadness that is seldom openly discussed is miscarriage.
While the birth of a new child is often thought of as a returning of a relative or ancestral spirit, miscarriage is steeped in taboo.
Traditionally, our lifestyles supported and honored our ability to talk to the “knowing and knowable” spirits of the yet-to-be-born, the living and those who dwell in the afterlife. This cultural practice helped, in unexplained ways, to experience uninterrupted pregnancies holistically. But it has not addressed the issue of struggling with miscarriage.
I, however, can guarantee you that a Black woman will be struggling with loss due to miscarriage this holiday season. I can say that because of my personal experience.
Before God gave my husband and myself our blessing of joy, I suffered three miscarriages. As a licensed marriage and family therapist, I also know that miscarriage mentally hits Black women much harder than other women.
African-American women are two times more likely to have a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death as compared to white women. Socioeconomic status does not influence these results. There is no clear reason why Black women experience miscarriages more often than white women, but research hints to the racial trauma we experience.
Sadly, these higher levels of pregnancy loss add to the already higher rates of depression and anxiety Black women face and there are few programs offering support specifically geared to women who have experienced miscarriages.
This lack of support creates feelings of loneliness and isolation, which, for a Black woman, can increase her potential for depression. It doesn’t help that disconnection from traditional cultural moorings can contribute to further alienation in our daily experiences of being Black.
The best way to support Black women experiencing miscarriages is to first invite them to talk with trusted family and friends and to seek counseling from African-centered trained therapists. During this painful time, I believe we need to recognize and do the following:
#1 – Black women need to be held after experiencing a miscarriage.
We may say we don’t; we may even push you away. But we need to be held physically and emotionally during this time of loss and not just in the initial days after losing a baby. We also need to be held for weeks, months, and even years after our losses.
#2 – Experiencing a miscarriage is not a “keep it together” situation.
The loss of a pregnancy, a child, is traumatic, regardless of the stage of pregnancy a woman was in. Black women are prone to experience this trauma more intensely because of all the hats we wear and how we are forced to move through society.
Losing babies hits our wombs inter-generationally and trauma is etched into our psyche from the Middle Passage to slavery to the present. Be careful not to encourage a Black woman who has lost a child to hold it together. Avoid common sobriquets like: “It will be OK,” “Just keep praying,” or “In due time.”
These phrases mean well, and may even be true, but they also carry the message that Black women should move on because prayer and faith are supposed to be enough comfort. The phrases endorse the need to always be strong and hold it together. But, when we allow ourselves to fall apart, true and authentic healing can happen. It is important to allow a Black woman to process the grief felt with pregnancy loss. This brings me to my final point.
#3 – Expressive healing is what Black woman need after a miscarriage.
We need different forms of expression. We don’t always need to talk. Sometimes we just need to be in the presence of people creating peace and positive energy.
This can be through music, dancing, church, poetry, or many other healing forms of expression. Often it is these deeper forms of expression, not related to our verbal abilities that allow a Black woman to not forget the hurt of losing a baby, but rather cope with it in healthy ways.
I pray that this article and my story will help others think of the many untold stories of pregnancy loss.
And if you are reading this, and still waiting on your blessing, I say to you I see you Sista: your pain is valid, your emotions are justified, and you are not alone.
The Association of Black Psychologists, Bay Area Chapter (ABPsi-Bay Area) is committed to providing the Post Newspaper readership with regular discussions about critical issues in Black Mental Health. The ABPsi-Bay Area is a healing resource.
We can be contacted at ([email protected]) and readers are welcome to join with us at our monthly chapter meeting, every third Saturday at the West Oakland Youth Center from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.