Thursday, October 9, 2008

Barren myths

Barren Myths #1 – if you don’t have a child then you’ve never been pregnant

When that friend is swooning with hormones and gives you the pitying look or the mock sincerity of “oh lucky you, you wouldn’t know what this is like” - she is often wrong. Miscarriage, abortion, foetal death, still birth and relinquishing children for adoption amounts to many unaccounted for pregnancies.

Just how many pregnancies end this way for Australian women, we don’t know. Not all States are required to keep such comprehensive data. Early miscarriage alone is almost impossible to track as not all require medical intervention.

Not all women want to talk about their miscarriages; especially repeated ones when well meaning acquaintances didn’t even know they were trying to conceive. Recovering from an abortion is a bit of a party stopper; such information is usually shared only with those who are trustworthy.

But giving a child up for adoption, particularly in an era of being removed from the public, family and friends (usually to a state or church run institution) and go to full term, then hand over a child after birth is something else. In many cases women never get to see or hold their child removed from them at birth. Then it is back out in the world before the breast milk has dried or ligaments shrunk back into place. While such homes for "unmarried mothers" tended to close by the early 1970's, some families still choose to seclude pregnant teenage daughters. I have met more “relinquishing mothers” than I ever suspected.

Good reading on this subject includes Merryl Moor’s PhD thesis “Silent Violence: Australia's White Stolen Children” (which can be read online).

Try not to make assumptions about your seemingly barren friends. They might just know even more than you do.


Desci said...

It's posts like these which make this blog so important. I've never thought about this angle before, but I know my Aunty was gang raped at 13 and went interstate to have the baby in secret. The midwives say it died during the birth, which is likely because she was 13 and had health problems, but who knows.

She later married and had more children, but had she not have, had that experience been so painful that she couldn't imagine reliving it, even in an atmosphere of timeliness, choice and love, I wonder what she would have said to people asking why she didn't have children.

docwitch said...

Having experienced a few miscarriages, I was introduced to this 'underground' world of women who have experienced pregnancy loss - miscarriage or abortion.

I was stunned by the number of women I encountered who had experienced these events. It made me realise that it's so prevalent that, although miscarriage and abortion are not exactly rites of passage, they are significant events experienced by a large number of the community.

What I have also been struck by is the discomfort and nervousness of friends of mine who have had abortions, (when they first know of my own experiences). I understand their initial discomfort, and their fear of judgement. But to me, abortion is also pregnancy loss - but loss that is not supported or validated by the wider culture. These women often don't feel they have the same right to grieve, or feel that women who miscarry, or 'lose' babies have more of a 'right' to feel this loss. It's as though guilt is the only supported emotion for them.

I know none of this is new, but I've been struck over and over by this pattern of response. I find it sad, and quite divisive.

Also, I often get asked why I don't have more children, and that having one child is selfish, but with this history behind me, the issue is still very fraught.

Like you highlight AOF - it's not always an obvious choice.

Another Outspoken Female said...

Desci - gang raped, pregnant, sent away as if punished, 13..! I don't know if any of us can ever imagine the horror of that scenario, even single slices of it. Girls were often told their baby had died. I guess the only way to know is a death certificate. There were so many lies and that was a common one.

Docwitch - I'd say the women I know who have not had an abortion and/or miscarriage are in the minority. You are right, it is all loss.

The issue of a second children, is a particularly vicious one. Pressure to conform and relentless at that. Horrible.

Stay strong :)