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Miscarrying While Feminist


Stories of miscarriage shock are becoming more common. Not the surprise of miscarrying—that remains—but a woman’s realization that she cares about the “clump of cells” she carried. As Alexandra Kimball’s recent essay in Canada’s Globe and Mailreveals, a modern woman is surprised to discover that, according to feminism, the difference between the death of a child and of an aborted fetus is simply the mother’s intent to continue the pregnancy.

It is easy to say that her essay—“Unpregnant”—is yet another example of the re-definition of reality that Stella Morabito has described frequently and well. (In fact, an #OhStella hashtag is surfacing.) But the essential pretense of abortion, that a fetus has no humanity, has been an established understanding for some time. We are no longer redefining reality. That happened years ago. Now young women are rediscovering truth as we have our own children. We are putting the redefined reality to the test and finding it wanting. Kimball did so:

I had looked forward to a feminist motherhood: a toy chest stuffed with gender-neutral toys; picture books about girl pigs who played baseball and boy penguins who raised chicks. I imagined a community of feminists who took turns babysitting while the others worked on their paintings or books. [That would have been a disappointing shock.]

Now, in my empty house, I wandered around our living room and looked at my bookshelves, the rows of Cixous and Butler and de Beauvoir, and realized that feminism had nothing to say to me. Here, lined up left to right, was sexual assault, abortion, childbirth, body image: but nothing about miscarriage. …

The more I considered it, the more I became convinced that the silence around miscarriage was connected to feminism’s work around abortion. How could I grieve a thing that didn’t exist? If a fetus is not meaningfully alive, if it is just a collection of cells – the cornerstone claim of the pro-choice movement – what does it mean to miscarry one? Admitting my grief meant seeing myself as a bereft mother, and my fetus as a dead child – which meant adopting exactly the language that the anti-choice movement uses to claim abortion is murder.…

After my miscarriage, when I thought about my abortion, it was with almost-envy for my younger self. I hadn’t fully appreciated how feminism had allowed me to process and eventually come to terms with that event. I had a language through which to express my feelings; I had other women’s stories to help me anticipate the abortion procedure and to realize what would come after. But in the months that followed my miscarriage, I had none of these things, and my sense of betrayal – in that primal, religious sense – was keen. Having a miscarriage was maybe the first thing I had gone through not as a feminist. I felt not just invisible to the ideology I’d grown up with, I felt forsaken.

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