Miscarriage hurts: Why should insensitive medical terms make it worse?

Words matter in times of vulnerability.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Rachel Paula Abrahamson

While suffering through a miscarriage, the last thing a woman needs to hear is talk about a "blighted ovum" or "incompetent cervix."

But that's often the reality of medical discussions about pregnancy loss, and that's why London-based psychotherapist Julia Bueno wants to change the way doctors talk about miscarriage.

“We remember the words that soothed and helped, and we remember the ones that stung and made things worse.”

“Medical language is of necessity for the medics, of course, but unfortunately it often jars enormously with the lived experience of losing a yearned-for baby,” Bueno, 47, told TODAY Parents. “Blighted ovum or fetal demise to describe a pregnancy that has, or will miscarry, can’t possibly capture what the truth for many couples is: Their baby and future family dream has been suddenly taken away.”

Just as distressing are misogynistic terms such as failed pregnancy, hostile cervical mucus and incompetent cervix, which often make a woman feel she is to blame.

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“We need to think about softening the language around pregnancy loss in clinical settings so that it conveys a better understanding of the grief, shock and loss involved,” Bueno explained. Though miscarriages are not typically medical emergencies, words matter in times of vulnerability.

London-based psychotherapist Julia Bueno explores the emotional and psychological impact of miscarriage in her book "The Brink of Being."

Bueno knows from personal experience. She suffered four devastating pregnancy losses — including the loss of twin girls when she was 22 weeks pregnant. In her new book “The Brink of Being,” Bueno recalls how a physician once referred to her deceased baby as products of conception.

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“We remember the words that soothed and helped, and we remember the ones that stung and made things feel worse,” she revealed.

It’s a topic that comes up frequently in Bueno’s office.

“One woman who went for her scan was told, 'I’m afraid to say it has ceased to exist,’” Bueno said. “Can you imagine?”

Compassion make all the difference when delivering hard news. “You want a sonographer to take your hand or look you in the eye,” Bueno said. "It's actually quite simple."

Though miscarriage affects one in four women, Bueno notes there is no established narratives or trajectories to get a conversation going. This leaves many feeling alone in their grief.

"When a friend’s father dies, you ask questions like, ‘How is your mom getting on?’ ‘What will you miss most about him?’ Bueno told TODAY Parents. “When it’s a baby that no one knew, it makes the conversation more difficult. If you know someone who had a miscarriage, you can start by saying, ‘Tell me your story. Start wherever you want.’ The miscarriage doesn’t end when you stop bleeding.”

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