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Illustration by Eleanor Doughty

The Public Pain of Announcing Your Miscarriage on Facebook

Jennifer Purdie

Pregnancy announcements, whether elaborately planned or quick and spontaneous, have almost become a genre on social media. But many parents-to-be struggle with what to say when those pregnancies end in miscarriage.

Illustration by Eleanor Doughty

As people get older, one of the first things they notice about their changing Facebook timelines is that clever pregnancy announcements begin to populate the social network. While some status updates are simply ultrasound photos and excitement, Pinterest offers more than 1,000 ideas on how to publish pregnancy announcements. From enigmatic posts that leave friends wondering, "Is she pregnant?" to celebrities who deck themselves out in allusions to art history and embark on underwater photo shoots to announce they're expecting, parents-to-be invest time and creative brain power when sharing such notable news on social media.

But although social media has made sharing pregnancy news easier—you used to tell only family and friends about your incoming bundle of joy with a series of phone calls; now, should you choose to post your announcement on a platform like Facebook, you can notify your entire network with a single click—these announcements pregnancies create an added pressure. Though you expect to post adorable baby photos a few months later, it doesn't work out that way for everyone.

In late 2015, 31-year-old Tanisha Shanee of Brooklyn, New York, received surprising, life-altering news: She was pregnant. Shanee felt elated; four years prior, she had experienced a miscarriage and thought that maybe this time motherhood would become a reality.

Read more: For Indian Women Who Have Miscarriages, Grief Is Met with Silence and Shame

Shortly afterwards, when she was about two months along, Shanee announced her pregnancy on Facebook. At first, some people responded with surprise—they knew of her previous miscarriage—but Shanee says she knew it came from a place of love. Overwhelmingly, she received well wishes. "People were happy for me and showed a lot of support," she says.

Three days after her posting, Shanee found herself in the hospital having emergency surgery. She was unaware she had an ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when the fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tubes, ovary, cervix, or abdomen and never makes it to the uterus. As with all ectopic pregnancies, she lost the baby.

Three days after the surgery, she posted a heartfelt video letting everyone know what happened. Her feelings about posting the news fluctuated between just wanting to get it over with to looking at it as a necessary part of her grieving process. "Telling people was hard and I felt happy to make it through," Shanee says. "By this point, I was happy to make it through all of it. Some people lose their lives with an ectopic pregnancy. I was OK, but I kept thinking, Maybe I'm not supposed to have children."

We had pregnancy loss before social media; posting about it is not a requirement.

Shanee says she received sympathetic responses to her second post. She also learned of a friend who had experienced an ectopic pregnancy, and it made her feel better to have someone to talk to. But she still felt it difficult to put her raw feelings about such a sensitive subject out on the internet.

The fact that women don't often speak openly about miscarriages makes talking about them to a wide network of acquaintances even more difficult. Thirty-six-year-old Jennifer Chen experienced a miscarriage ten weeks into her pregnancy and also posted about the loss on Facebook. "After speaking with several friends, I realized that so many women had miscarriages, but nobody ever talked about it," Chen says. "I wanted to be honest, even though it scared the crap out of me, because I knew that I wasn't alone and maybe it would help someone else who felt lonely and ashamed." Five months later, she had a second miscarriage at six weeks along and posted about it again. "It was right around my birthday. I was deeply sad to be turning a year older and still not pregnant." Posting about it did bring some comfort, Chen says; friends reached out, making her feel less alone.

Although the experience can be an isolating one, losing a baby during pregnancy is quite common. According to the American Pregnancy Association, 10 to 25 percent of recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. The term miscarriage refers to a pregnancy that ends on its own before the 20th week of gestation; pregnancy losses after that point are generally referred to as stillbirths, which affect one percent of all pregnancies according to the CDC. Ectopic pregnancies occur in one out of 50 pregnancies.

I wanted to be honest, even though it scared the crap out of me, because I knew that I wasn't alone.

Combined with the widespread popularity of social media—at the end of 2016, Facebook had 1.86 billion monthly active users, and Instagram had 600 million—many women of child-bearing age could face this question: How should I handle presenting the news of my pregnancy loss?

Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and the author of The Power of Different, recommends not posting at all. "It's not a great idea," Saltz says. "The reality is, the response has the potential to be a very mixed bag, and people are so vulnerable during this time. We had pregnancy loss before social media; posting about it is not a requirement. It's possible someone will say something as good as they can say, but it will still feel hurtful.

"Everybody's tendency is to want to eliminate the pain and undo what happened to you in a way," Saltz continues. "Although it comes from a place of empathy and they say things like, 'Next time it'll work out,' and 'You already have a child,' it can make it feel like you're being dismissed in the moment, and it's not reassuring."

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Instead of posting online, Saltz advises those experiencing a pregnancy loss to tell others about it in person, which will allow them to show compassion through body language and not just words. "When communicating on an individual level, you can be touched and see facial expressions; it can make you feel more supported," she says. Saltz also recommends asking a close friend to spread the word for you, or telling people in individual or small group emails so you can maintain more control over how you receive the responses.

Shanee admits she would announce the news of her miscarriage differently if she could do it over again: She says would wait until after the first trimester to post about the pregnancy, though she wouldn't avoid posting about it at all.

Nevertheless, both she and Chen have happy endings to their stories. Chen gave birth to twin girls on February 15, 2016, and Shanee launched a series of online seminars where people can share their own stories about loss. She hopes the storytelling platform can help others going through similar experiences to feel less alone. "I shut down and became depressed," Shanee says of her ectopic pregnancy. "I know there are many people like me, and I want them to see there is more to life. I am putting a positive light on something so tragic."