My Miscarriage Was “Common” — For Black Women That Isn’t Comforting, It’s Terrifying

Content warning: This article contains graphic details of miscarriage, pregnancy loss, and the Black Maternal Health crisis.
When I was 11, I was convinced I would one day have twin boys that I’d name “TreyVaughn” and “TayShawn.” Now, those names exist solely for comedic and nostalgic reasons on a list of baby names on the notes app on my phone that I’ve been adding to, subtracting from, tweaking and perfecting for over a decade. Even during the years I was certain I didn’t want kids anymore, when a baby was the furthest thing from my mind, the list continued. I’d hear a name, add it to the list. I’d reread the list, see the name “Wren,” shudder, curse the person I was when I picked that name, and take it off. Rinse, repeat. The list is in a note called “Future.”
This past summer, that future was here. I peed on a stick and it told me, unequivocally, that at least one of those baby names would be put to good use. In the second-floor bathroom of a house in my husband Josh’s home province of Newfoundland I saw the two lines and bound down the tiny staircase. He could see the excitement on my face. Before I could say anything, he said, “You’re kidding."
The look on his face — like the moment he saw me in my wedding dress, or his eyes right before the first time he kissed me — is one I’ll never forget. He picked me up in a hug and twirled me around. I was shocked by my own giddiness. Until that moment, I didn’t know how I would react. We had made the choice to try. This time, for real. I had decided I wanted to be a mother. But the part of me that was unsure for 30+ years whispered “do you really though?” Turns out, I really did. When those two lines appeared on that stick, I knew that I really did. When I jumped into his arms and giggled as he spun me around, I really, really did. 

The fact that miscarriages are common is one of the only widely known facts about them we talk about openly. When you’re having one, you hear it even more... “It’s very common,” would become three words I loathed.

Immediately, I felt the urge to temper our excitement. “It’s so early,” I said. I repeated this when we called my brother and sister-in-law and told them. We decided they would be the only ones we told… for now. It was so early after all. So I went back to Toronto and had to pretend I wasn’t pregnant. To fool my friends and not to raise suspicion, I called ahead at restaurants to tell them I’d be fake ordering alcoholic beverages. I sneakily pulled waiters aside to tell them to switch out my cocktail for a virgin option. I drank water at Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour (seeing her sober was 100% the perfect way to do it btw). Hiding this secret was actually fun. My body and I were collaborating on something only we could do together — a group project with a partner I didn’t hate. I felt an appreciation for my body that I had never felt before. 
I also felt like I was sharing this secret with my cousin, Connie. We lost her last May, just over a month before this news. She had four kids and loved being a mom. I could hear her voice in my head. “I got you a present, sweetheart,” I’d imagine her saying about what was growing inside me. Whatever the baby’s gender, I thought, they were a gift from Connie. They would be a continuation of her love, a physical manifestation of her light living on inside me. I realize now that this was grief talking. It feels silly now that I thought a collection of fetal cells in my uterus was a spiritual offering from my dead cousin, but it was comforting. It helped me cope with the grief of losing her that I still hadn’t processed and the guilt that came with knowing it was my fault we hadn’t seen each other as much in her final years. This baby would make up for all that, because we’d be together again, bonded by this secret inside of me. 
The bleeding started at eight weeks. It was slow at first. Spotting is normal, said Google. My doctor agreed. It stopped a couple days later. Josh, the eternal optimist, said he was sure everything was OK. He was still in St. John’s and I was back in Toronto. I was still the one reminding us not to get too excited but we were past that. We were both daydreaming about a life as parents — about sitting in the stands cheering for a little person made from our love. We couldn’t help it. Despite my best efforts, our hopes were up. 
Then, a week later during a screening for Barbie, a movie that has a wholesome subplot about mothers and daughters, the bleeding started again. This time, I knew it wasn’t normal. There were clots coming out along with an amount of blood that would only be deemed OK on the set of a horror movie. I filled a movie theater bathroom toilet with blood. I sobbed at the sight of it. Still, I took a deep breath, told myself everything was fine, and went back to watching Ryan Gosling try not to laugh through “I’m Just Ken.” By the next day, the bleeding was even worse and the cramping was unbearable. 
I went to my doctor. My blood hormone levels were too low, he said. In a healthy pregnancy, your HCG (Human chorionic gonadotropin, mostly dubbed the “pregnancy hormone”) levels are supposed to increase week after week. Mine were going up, but not by enough. “Based on your HCG levels and the bleeding, it looks like the pregnancy is no longer viable,” he said steadily as I cried. Josh was back in town and holding my hand. My doctor booked me for another ultrasound a few days later but for now, I was just supposed to go home and bleed out our hopes and dreams. 
Miscarriages are common. About 10 to 20% (roughly one in five) of known pregnancies end in miscarriage (it’s higher if you include people who didn’t know they were pregnant). And new research from 2021 suggests that Black women are 43% more at risk for miscarriage than our white counterparts. The fact that miscarriages are common is one of the only widely known facts about them we talk about openly. When you’re having one, you hear it even more. The nurse said it as I was getting blood drawn. When my doctor prescribed pills to help with the pain, the pharmacist said it again. My parents, who are both retired medical professionals, also said it. They’re divorced and barely talk, but they used the same talking points. “It’s very common,” would become three words I loathed. 
It’s hard to put the trauma of a miscarriage into words. It’s hard to explain the physical and emotional toll that losing a wanted pregnancy takes on your body and mind. One thing I can articulate is the rage I felt any time someone said, in an attempt to be comforting, “You know, it’s really common.” Grandparents dying is common. Cancer is common. Tragedy is common. And yet, people understand the social taboo it would be to respond to any of the above with a statement of the commonality of their grief. And the fact that miscarriages are more common for Black women isn’t comforting, it’s terrifying. It’s emblematic of larger societal issues — including a lack of adequate medical research — that Black people are disproportionately faced with this devastating situation.
Photo: Courtesy of Kathleen Newman-Bremang.
Another thing people kept saying to me: “We don’t talk about it enough.” So here I am, talking about it. Yet I disagree that miscarriages aren’t talked about. If you’re reading this, maybe you’ve had one. Maybe you came here to feel less alone. Maybe you’ve seen headlines about a celebrity’s miscarriage that becomes sympathetic social media fodder for a day before we move onto the next. Or maybe you know someone who has experienced the specificity of losing something you only almost had. I think miscarriages are talked about, and they are depicted on screen, but often not in ways that feel real or true. For Black women, this experience is underrepresented and when it is, its complexity is rarely centered. 
In pop culture and on film and TV — the place I generally go to either make sense of the world or to escape it — miscarriages are typically used as a plot device, a way to get a character out of a pesky pregnancy or as a copout so the writers don’t have to deal with abortion (see: the “convenient miscarriage” trope in TV most recently depicted on And Just Like That). As “common” as they are on screen, the gory details are usually spared. In Grey’s Anatomy, when Cristina Yang has a miscarriage in Season 2, the focus of her recovery is on her emotional coldness towards the incident (she eventually cries so hard she delivers the now iconic and much-memed “Somebody sedate me!” line), not the physical specifics. When Meredith Grey and Miranda Bailey experience their own in later seasons, the medical ramifications, aside from some blood, are also glossed over.
In Sex and the City and The Bold Type, Charlotte and Sutton display dueling emotions — one is relieved and the other slips into a deep depression — but once again the pain and trauma their bodies would have experienced is barely touched on. None of these characters underwent a D&C (dilation and curettage), the painful procedure in which they essentially go in and scrape out tissue from your uterus. And even if you don’t have to have one (I did not), once a miscarriage starts, it can last weeks, not just the final act of an episode of TV. In some cases, including mine, you can spend longer miscarrying than carrying the pregnancy. 

This kind of trauma shouldn’t be so common. The disregard for the health and well-being of Black women dealing with infertility, and of Black birthing people, should not be ordinary. I know my story isn’t special. I hope its familiarity is infuriating.

KATHLEEN newman-bremang
For me, it took several weeks of excruciating pain, lots of drugs, and multiple visits to the emergency room before what medical practitioners call the “products” were fully passed. I hated every medical term used to describe the blood clots and incessant massive flow that was coming out. They didn’t feel adequate. The pain was shocking. Worse than any cramping I had ever experienced, and more acute than the pain of tearing my achilles tendon during a rec league basketball game which was, up until then, the worst pain I had ever felt. I had to wear triple pads (three overnight heavy duty pads stacked on top and beside one another; it would have been better to go the full diaper route but I couldn’t bring myself to wear them) and moving around was difficult and uncomfortable.
I stayed in bed or on the couch, alternating between weeping and sleeping, calling my surgeon sister-in-law to make sure I wasn’t dying, and convincing myself that I was. My best friends sprung into action in the ways they could — Liz’s maternal instincts kicked in and from experience, she graciously talked me through every fear and every physical discomfort I had in store, Kayla cried on the phone with me, Kumi showed up with Thai food and cleaned out my fridge, Allya sent flowers. Josh was beside me for most of it, sitting through the rom-coms and the breakdowns, and yet, I had never felt more alone. 
During my second trip to the emergency room after the bleeding and cramping wouldn’t stop, the doctor on-call read my ultrasound results out loud to me in a hallway with other patients present, as he was rushing to be somewhere else: “Uh, yeah, you have fibroids. They’re pretty common.” What he left unsaid is that fibroids are also very common among Black women and, in some cases, can cause miscarriages. I’d had multiple ultrasounds at this point and no one had told me about my three fibroids, the largest being 13 centimetres big (one of my ultrasound technicians was so incompetent, he fumbled around for several minutes attempting to use the machine before my husband had to step in and tell him it wasn’t even plugged in.)
I asked the ER doctor what having fibroids meant in my condition. He said, “Yeah, they’ll probably have to remove your uterus” as he walked away in a hurry. A few days later, after being in the ER for nearly 48 hours, I finally was able to talk to an obstetric gynecologist who assured me that I probably wouldn’t have to have a hysterectomy, and that many women carry pregnancies to term with fibroids. But at that moment in the emergency room in Toronto, thanks to bad bedside manner and a clearly overworked and inconsiderate doctor, I was scared, uninformed, and unable to ask for clarification. 
Almost two months after my miscarriage started, I was given Misoprostol, a pill used to produce more cramping and bleeding and consists of some of the same meds used to induce an abortion. Because of where my fibroids were, my doctor said, they were blocking visibility to see if the miscarriage was complete. By then, I’d been to the emergency room four times and I was exhausted mentally and physically drained. I just wanted it to be over. As frustrating as the experience was, I was also grateful that I wasn’t dealing with the financial stress of medical bills on top of everything else. That said, our healthcare system in Canada — specifically Ontario — is far from perfect.
From experience and anecdotes from friends, our concerns go unvalidated, our pain isn’t taken seriously, and our well-being isn’t prioritized. The Black Maternal Health crisis is well documented in the U.S. and the UK, and still, there is much to be done to make hospitals safer for Black women and Black birthing people. In both places, the maternal mortality rate is over three times higher for Black women. In Canada, tracking race-based health data is basically nonexistent. As my friend Amanda Parris, the creator of the documentary series For the Culture with Amanda Parris which delves into the Black maternal health crisis in the episode "Standard of Care," said when she shared her own experience, “I am a statistic that no one is collecting.”
What the statistics (when they are being collected) don’t tell you is the human story behind each number. We’ve been telling those stories at Unbothered for years. And yet, when I was experiencing it first hand, I was still shocked by the lack of care and felt completely unprepared for the emotional spiral that came with the physical trauma.
I also, naively, really didn’t think it was going to happen to me. Black women are supposed to be fertile. We’ve been sold this myth our whole lives. Dating back to the horrors of chattel slavery when Black women were valued based on their fertility and used to breed more enslaved people, to the mammy stereotype which depicts Black women as one-dimensional caregivers relegated to domestic and childcare work, all the way to the welfare queen myth. “The stereotypes of Black women’s reproduction all lean towards hyper-fertility — the welfare queens, not knowing when to stop having babies, not being able to afford their babies,” Rosario Ceballo, co-author of the research paper Silent and Infertile, told The Guardian last year. “There’s a real dichotomy between perceptions of women of color who just have too many babies, and white women whose ability to have babies we need to assist and support.”
Weighed down by myths of hyper-fertility and the intensity of the grief I was feeling, I blamed myself. I felt like there was something wrong with me, an infertile Black woman. A walking oxymoron. An abomination. My body couldn’t do the one thing I wanted it to — the one thing it’s supposed to be good at. I know that was all just the white supremacy talking, but my brain couldn’t catch up to my heartbreak. After my miscarriage, knowing everything I know about Black Maternal Health (another terrifying stat: the disparity between Black and white infant deaths today is actually greater than it was during slavery), I also felt a crippling fear of the future. What if having a baby kills me? Statistically, it might. What if we waited too long and I never get the chance to find out? I had medical questions I didn’t have answers to.
My GP said I wasn’t able to be referred to a gynecologist because I was no longer pregnant. My dad, a retired anesthesiologist, pulled some strings and called a former colleague which is the only reason I now have a doctor who actually knows about fibroids and can talk me through my fears (although I’ve been waiting months to get in to see her. Heavy Sigh.). The unfairness and glaring mess of the healthcare system was on display during this entire process. And I’m one of the lucky ones who have family members in the medical field who could make calls on my behalf. I kept thinking of the countless other Black women who don’t have those privileges and who this system fails. The commonness of our experiences isn’t something to be celebrated or used as comfort. It’s an indictment on the entire healthcare system. 
I am lucky to have access to therapy. By the end of the fall, while my physical symptoms were getting more manageable, I started to resent my career, my body, my age, my acquaintances on social media who all seemed to have what I wanted, my friends with kids who were in a club that wouldn’t let me in. The smallest things — a pregnancy announcement post, a commercial, a scene in a TV show — would send me into a fit of tears. Instead of facing these feelings head on, I decided on a dissociate-and-distract strategy. I decided to be a Strong Black Woman™. I threw myself into work. I kept busy. I kept up appearances online. Turns out pretending to be OK only really helps you pretend to be OK. I thought throwing myself into work had actually helped me to be OK. I’m OK now! I’d tell concerned friends. But nope, I was just pretending. 
In September, I finally called my therapist. I sobbed so hard for our entire hour-long session that my eyes hurt and my throat was sore for days. I knew that would happen. She said it was healthy to let my feelings out. I stopped calling her. She’d recommended a grief group to attend. I never went. I felt embarrassed that I wasn’t that far along when I miscarried and I thought it would be insensitive to share space with people who had miscarriages after hanging sonograms on fridges and having baby showers. Their grief was so much greater than mine, I told myself. I had no right to be this broken up when there are people who have stillborns or who have had to deal with several miscarriages. I didn’t think it’d be OK to share that I felt like I wouldn’t survive another one. So I just went on pretending. 
In a way, I think I still am. This Black Maternal Health Week marks the fifth month that I have been waiting for results from a sonohysterogram. I might need surgery. I still cry at commercials and spiral after a certain influencer’s social posts. I’m not OK. And that’s the most common thing about this experience. None of this should be OK, no matter how frequent it is. And again, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m alive.
I think of Brittany Watts, the Black woman in Ohio who was charged with a felony after she miscarried into her toilet. I think of Kaitlyn Joshua, a Black woman in Louisiana who wrote about how dangerous it is to live as a Black pregnant woman in her state. I live in a country that won’t criminalize me for having a miscarriage or restrict access to essential care, but Black babies are more likely to be premature in Canada and Black women are at higher risk of pre-term births. Around the world, Black women going through the most vulnerable experiences of their lives are being neglected and disrespected. This kind of trauma shouldn’t be so common. The disregard for the health and well-being of Black women dealing with infertility, and of Black birthing people, should not be ordinary. I know my story isn’t special. I hope its familiarity is infuriating.

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