By: Tasnin Khan
Miscarriages. We’ve been wincing at the word and tiptoeing around the topic for ages. But finally, we are starting to bring out of the shadows the pain and misinformation surrounding this taboo. Brave women like Gabrielle Union (who has had not one, not two, but eight or nine miscarriages) and former First Lady Michelle Obama are coming forth to tell their stories. I tip my hat to these women for their resilience and strength to overcome and not lose hope in the face of loss.
Gabrielle Union and her husband Dwayne Wade recently welcomed their baby girl, Kaavia James, last November via surrogate. They opened up about their unique journey to becoming parents to baby Kaavia in conversation with Oprah, which aired on OWN. While Union introduced us to a little bit of the pain and challenges that came with her miscarriages in her book “We’re Going to Need More Wine,” the couple decided to sit down and detail more about their experience leading to Kaavia with Oprah. They wanted to take away some of the shame that surrounds miscarriages, infertility, and other birthing options like surrogacy. Mostly, they wanted others to know that they weren’t alone in their challenges, that they aren’t somehow deficient.
Although Gabrielle Union didn’t initially want kids, she fell in love with the idea of becoming a mother soon after weaving herself into the lives of Dwayne’s sons. She recalls distinctly the sting that followed the first miscarriage, soon after her engagement when the couple had shared the good news with their loved ones and emotionally attached themselves to the idea of welcoming the baby that unfortunately did not come.
Even after several failed in vitro fertilization attempts, accumulating a handful of risks, and suffering through the side effects of a frenzy of hormones being injected into her body constantly, Gabrielle Union could not let go. She did not know at the time that she had adenomyosis, a condition in which endometrial tissue grows into the uterine wall and can cause painful periods and as in her case, infertility. (See more information on adenomyosis here: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/adenomyosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20369138)
Although it was not her fault and not age-related, Union was even willing to put herself through the last option that would involve surgery and put her at great risk. She says to Oprah, ”I could not let go of this idea of creating this life within me that I could feel, that tied me to him, and that the world could be a part of. I’m not letting myself and all these people down. I need to be pregnant for everybody, including myself."
Despite all the suffering the couple had to endure in facing their own challenge to getting and staying pregnant, they received immense backlash and unwanted input from those around them. From prying people asking deeply personal questions, to those blaming Union that this is the result of her putting her career first, to social media bullies even commenting that her husband deserved a “younger woman that can have kids for him, a whole woman, a real woman” the couple’s challenging journey on its own was simply not enough; they had bricks thrown at them at every corner. Insensitive, downright callous comments made matters all the more taxing every step of the way.
Sadly, this isn’t uncommon in the way that we respond to miscarriage and infertility in society. Sometimes, we bash, we blame, we label these women “barren,” adding to their pain when they are marked already with a flurry of pain, loss, and confusion that some of us will never know. How misguided this is when all they need is everything but that sort of insensitive, blasé demeanor from us.
Other times, we brush it under the rug altogether and fail to provide the right information for women to notice when something may not be going right in their bodies in the first place. 10-25% of women experience miscarriages. That’s up to 1 in 4 women. It’s time that we change the narrative and create a safe, supportive space to share our experiences and knowledge of women’s health. If you or somebody you know has experienced a miscarriage, know that you are not alone, that you are not weak or inadequate.
Everybody’s journey is different, and that is okay. Some advice from the Wades: be sensitive and respectful when approaching couples because you never know what they are going through. If asking anything, the best thing to ask is simply, “How are you doing? Is there anything that I can do for you?” Anything beyond this is deeply personal, and it’s best not to pry; a couple will share with you when and what they are ready to. Let the Wades and their beautiful story hold up a light to hope and the possibilities that exist.
Check out the audio for Part 1 and Part 2 of the Wades’ full interview with Oprah using the link below: