After suffering the first of seven heartbreaking miscarriages in 1986, Rensselaer anthropology professor Linda Layne vowed to bring the subject of pregnancy loss to light. Now, nearly two decades later, Layne presents her findings in a new book titled Motherhood Lost: A Feminist Account of Pregnancy Loss in America (Routledge, 2003). In it, she challenges society and women’s movements in particular to publicly discuss the topic and to offer more helpful support to “would-be” parents.
About 15 to 20 percent of pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriage or stillbirth each year, according to Williams Obstetrics. In Motherhood Lost, Layne explains that the losses are seldom acknowledged or rarely discussed. “Grief for a dead loved one may be both inevitable and necessary, but the additional hurt that bereaved parents feel when their losses are dismissed and diminished by others is needless and cruel,” she says. “It is high time we recognize pregnancy loss and offer our support.”
The reasons for society’s silence are complex. Layne says she found that middle-class American women who suffered pregnancy losses in the late 20th century dealt with two contradicting forces. Factors like new reproductive technologies, smaller family sizes, and abortion politics, for example, changed the experience of pregnancy, and led many to think of their fetuses as “babies” much earlier than had previously been the case. But at the same time, she writes, parents who lost babies found themselves without adequate social support, since deep-seated cultural taboos prevented friends and family from talking about the loss.
Layne recommends that feminists promote open discussion of pregnancy loss and that doctors educate patients better about possible pregnancy difficulties. She also urges science reporters to offer more measured perspectives about the state of reproductive medicine.
“Over the years I have analyzed the cultural resources that women and their networks draw upon to make sense of their losses,” Layne says. “I have written this book in the hope of adding some lesser-known resources to the available repertoire.”
Motherhood Lost, which was released in late November, is already having an impact. UNITE and SHARE, two pregnancy loss support groups, have endorsed the book. Layne also is being quoted in The New York Times Magazine and The Boston Globe as an expert in this emerging field of research.