What Meghan Markle Opening Up About Her Miscarriage Means for Women’s Health
By Tina Charisma, a UK based writer, speaker, and consultant with a focus on advocacy, culture and sustainability. She has held various roles including as a Youth MP, an Economics and Finance Chair for Model United Nations, as well as in the House of Commons and the UK Department of Education.
Charisma writes for Global Citizen as part of the Contributing Writers Program aimed at finding and giving a platform to new, unique, and powerful voices around the world.
“The Losses We Share” — Meghan Markle could not have chosen a better title to summarise the challenges that we all, in one way or another, experienced this year. A global pandemic, political polarisation, and racial reckoning, these are among the events that have swept the world this year.
In a moving opinion piece for the New York Times published this week, the Duchess of Sussex revealed details of her miscarriage in July 2020.
“I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second.” The Duchess’ voice on her miscarriage joins that of many other women who have been open about their experience of miscarriage.
More recently, Chrissy Teigen, and previously former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, as well as British royal Zara Tindall have all shared publicly about their experience of loss at various stages of pregnancy. In doing so revealing a common and shared experience for so many women and their families, at a time of another common experience of the world facing a global pandemic.
“Are we ok?” Meghan asks in her article. The question pierced right into my heart as it possibly did to many that read it. Because it is a question we should all be asking one another. I know several women close to me including my mother who have had a miscarrige. Miscarriages, like many other female experiences, remains a taboo topic. It is a hidden war room that occurs due to the shame, loneliness, and loss that comes with it.
Men are not exempted from the grief, and most recently Teigen’s husband John Legend has spoken openly about the loss of his unborn son Jack. Grieving a loved one is a painful experience that many around the world have had to come to terms with this year.
The death of a foetus before the full-term pregnancy, never meeting them or having the opportunity to watch them grow, is another layer of grief. But miscarriages happen far more frequently than many of us realise. According to Britain’s NHS (National Health Service), among women who know they’re pregnant, it’s estimated that 1 in 8 pregnancies will end in miscarriage.
It takes strength to come to terms with it, and genuine vulnerability to share about it. Meghan’s openness in her experience is strength, reminding many about the need to check in on themselves, and confront the often-uncomfortable discussions we avoid, including that of maternal health.
Meghan’s openness has been appreciated both by charities and women’s organisations who see it as a step towards families dispelling the taboos associated with miscarriage, accessing the needed support, and debunking the myths of silence that comes with miscarriages.
The Chief Executive Officer of Sands, a stillbirth and neonatal death charity, released a statement saying: “The sad reality is that stigma surrounding pregnancy loss and baby death leaves many parents feeling isolated, so it helps enormously when someone in the public eye speaks out as it lets everyone affected know they are not alone.”
The diversities in our bodies as women make us all truly remarkable. While some women may find it challenging to get pregnant, others go through the sometimes-frequent experience of having miscarriages.
The expectations we have of life, ourselves, and the natural processes of how bodies “should” operate can feed into our preconceived ideas, and taboos that keep us quiet. Sometimes things do not go as expected. We, in turn, carry the shame, fear, and doubts. When, in fact, we are all quite different yet able to have shared experiences.
Around the world, the disparities in maternal health and mortality are evident in the statistics. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), of maternal deaths globally in 2017, women in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia accounted for 86%.
In wealthier countries, particularly in the UK and US, we see the disparities emerge within ethnic groups, with Black women five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than white women. In the US, Black women are 2 to 6 times more likely to die from complications during pregnancy than white women.
Efforts to reduce maternal mortality, as part of the UN’s Global Goal 3 for health and well-being for all, are ongoing. Strategies have been drawn up by agencies such as the WHO to target inequities and ensure women’s access to health care around the world.
But the need to further the work of maternal health charities, creating safe spaces to heal, and support those who experience various forms of maternal complications is also needed. As the WHO notes: “Every year, nearly 2 million babies are stillborn, and many of these deaths are preventable.”
As a result of the trauma from the different tough experiences in our lives, it is normal for fear of miscarriages to stay with mothers long afterwards.
We too will likely never be able to forget how 2020 changed our lives in one way or another, but knowing that we live in a world where despite our social status, economic backgrounds, or geographical location there are experiences we share, makes the need to open up about our vulnerabilities all the more necessary and part of our humanity.
Despite the fear of judgement, our lives form part of experiences that someone, somewhere can relate with — making Markle’s, and everyone other woman’s openness on their miscarriages, so brave. As the world continues to grieve and heal for the losses that we have suffered in various ways, Markle’s message is clear and poignant. Life is truly a gift.
If you're a writer, activist, or just have something to say, you can make submissions to Global Citizen's Contributing Writers Program by reaching out to firstname.lastname@example.org.