I noticed this story in the NYT the other day. It recounts a story told by former President Bush during an interview about how his mother reacted following a miscarriage.
It’s not so much the story that Bush tells that interests me as the NYT discussion of it here. They paper uses it as a taking off point for a discussion about miscarriages and their aftermath. The story discusses the grief and yearning that women experience as well as the attachment that develops during or even before the pregnancy.
What’s striking to me is that the story is focused so exclusively on the effects of miscarriages on women. I assume in many cases, there is a second person involved who expected to be a parent of the contemplated child. And quite often that person would be genetically related to the child. Generally, had the child been born this person would be father. Surely it is noteworthy that the experience of that person is unremarked on and effectively invisible.
I’d like to offer several observations/questions here. First, it seems to me that the focus on the women who experience miscarriages is readily defensible. Surely the experience is different and far more acute for them. The experience of being pregnant must be different from the experience of expecting a child to be born without being pregnant, even if the non-pregnant expectant parent is deeply involved in the pregnancy. The pregnant women’s relationship to the anticipated child must be qualitatively different. This, of course, is consistent with my belief that being pregnant matters and that this needs to be recognized somehow in our calculations about parenthood.
Second, I cannot help but wonder about whether the experience of miscarriage is altered if the pregnant woman was not planning to raise the child and/or was not genetically related to it. There are at least three different possibilities to consider here: a woman pregnant via a donor egg who intends to raise the child, a woman pregnant via a donor egg who is acting as a surrogate and a woman pregnant via her own egg who is acting as a surrogate. I do not know if these populations have been studied–perhaps they are too small, too scattered and/or too new. But I’d be interested in the findings.
Third, I wonder about the reaction of all the other individuals involved. Most obviously, I wonder about the reactions of the non-pregnant partner, where there is one. This could be a man or a woman. Do the reaction of the men differ from those of the women? Do the reaction of men who are genetically related vary from those of men who are not genetically related? Again, I doubt there is much documentation of this, but it’s interesting to think about nonetheless.
And then there are those involved even more tangentially–I’m thinking here of those who might have provided gametes–eggs or sperm. Often–maybe even typically–they wouldn’t even know about miscarriages. But if they did, what would it mean to them?
I suspect there aren’t general answers for any of these questions. And many may be beyond the interest of anyone doing research. perhaps the only important thing is the one I raised first: being pregnant matters.