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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Aliza Shvarts and Name Calling

Several press releases later and the world is no closer to learning the truth behind Aliza Shvarts's senior project but frankly, it only holds my interest by this point as a jumping board to discussing terminology. Regardless of what she intended to do, she never had a miscarriage.

I am not just saying this because there is so much more to a miscarriage beyond the bleeding--it is a holistic experience encompassing emotions, intent, desires, pain, bleeding (amongst many other things). I am saying this as a statement to the basic biology lesson Ms. Shvarts slept through at her university: you can't have pregnancy loss without a pregnancy and you can't have a pregnancy without implantation. It is highly unlikely implantation ever occurred but without a beta hCG, a positive pee stick, or even 18 consecutive post-ovulation high temperatures, using the term "miscarriage" or "abortion" is only to press buttons. After all, how many women who are having unprotected sex around ovulation refer to their period as a miscarriage or their monthly abortion? Those who would demean the actual event.

Yet saying that she collected the blood of 9 periods doesn't have the same ring to it. Nothing shuts off discourse faster than mental images of full tampons and nothing pushes more buttons than using terminology tied to emotionally-charged events such as miscarriage or abortion.

The infertility community was buzzing with reaction to the event, from Square Peg, Round Whole's passionate post stating: "But this.... THIS. This makes me want to wretch, and scream, and yell. This is an abuse of - so many things. It is an abuse of a woman's right to do to her body what she chooses. It is an abuse of fertility. It is an abuse of technology. It is an abuse of common sense" to Vacant Uterus's explanation, "Hoax or not, it doesn't really matter to me. The damage is done. Whether her display is fiction or fact, the very idea of it still spits upon all that I hold sacred and painful and private. She's taken my very most deeply painful experiences and made a mockery of them. For that, I have no forgiveness."

Yet after the initial gut reaction, I keep returning to the idea of the terminology used and how words hold more than their definition.

Julia at I Won't Fear Love had a post this week about the imaginary line existing at week 20, the time period when a loss switches from being called a miscarriage to a stillbirth. She writes:
A somewhat significant chunk of the obsessing has been about whether if things were to go to shit now I could hold off delivering until Monday, when we would officially be over 20 weeks. Apparently I am way too attached to let anyone call my son a miscarriage. Veterans of subsequent pregnancies, tell me please, is this normal or am I bringing the crazy extra hard this week?
Jeanette at Keep Me In Stitches had a similar, powerful thought from the other side of the 20 week fence:
I hate that I don't have a picture, either mental or real of what she looked like. I hate that I let the hospital *dispose* of her. I hate that they never told me I had the option of burying her. I hate the word dispose. I hate the term "Late term miscarriage." I hate the term "Gross genetic defect." I hate that my only daughter is in heaven and not here with me. I hate that people don't really consider her a loss because she never really lived. I hate that I get so sad whenever I think of her. I hate that I seem to be the only one on earth who mourns her loss. I hate that I have no grave to visit.
Beyond the switch from miscarriage to stillbirth, there are the terms associated with loss that make us cringe. Spontaneous abortion. Though it is the body doing the aborting, the term has such loaded connotations in this day and age that it feels emotionally irresponsible to continue to use this term in reference to a pregnancy loss. Blighted ovum. Chemical pregnancy.

It's not just pregnancy loss that comes with hot-button words. I cringe every time I read an article that uses the term "implant" with IVF. Embryos are transferred; they're not implanted. We only wish we could implant embryos. Adoption language is continuously changing, trying to respect all members of the triad rather than presenting a particular view through word choice. Even common words such as "ours" and "own" become emotionally-charged when coupled with nouns such as "child."

Yes, they are all just words and they are merely representative of the ideas they define. But words can be a powerful medium and their misuse is what rankles and raises the emotional response in those who feel the weight of trespass.

Which words push your buttons?


bleu said...

Words do hold so much power so often. It is compounded by growing up hearing "sticks and stones" chanted over and over and believing that when the words do really hurt you you must be weak somehow.

Advanced maternal Age is a huge hot button for me, on many levels. But with all things I think it is the intent behind the words that gives it the power to hurt.

On a side note there were some studies, in Japan I think, my RE told me of where they actually did implant the embryos into the uterine lining. I was particularly interested in this after my first IVF negative. It is interesting to learn that the numbers did not go up and actually went down a bit when the implantations took place.

Just thought you might want to know.

Jess said...

I'm not one to get really riled over adoption terminology. But recently (as in I just posted a post containing this) I got a note from a church member saying they missed us while we were out visiting our daughter's "real" mom.

I was like...Huh? It didn't make me angry so much as it made me sigh. People are not very bright sometimes.

I don't like when people said to me (they dont' as much anymore) when we had Ava and were pregnant that we'd "see when we had our own child soon" or that we loved Ava but "when we had our own"...blah blah blah. I mean? Huh??? It's not even the ownership and the real meaning of the word that I hated, it was the idea that Ava was somehow LESS when she's NOT.

People are just harmlessly stupid sometimes. But even harmlessly stupid hurts my brain!!

It's interesting about the embryos and success rates that bleu talked about. Very interesting.

JuliaS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JuliaS said...

"Habitual Aborter" the term stamped all over my medical records. "Incomplete Abortion" the term given to the miscarriage I had where I retained the placenta and had to have my first d&c. (like I botched the job and they had to fix my mess) "Missed Abortion" & to slightly lesser extent "spontaneous abortion". While I know that the complete definition of abortion includes my experiences - society/media, whoever - has conditioned us that it is a term for something we "choose", all while the medical community bandies it about as commonplace. I didn't choose it - any of it. And that first term - the worst of the worst for me, causes so much deep and abiding pain. Who wants to be slapped with that title?

And Jess - I bristled for you. Real as opposed to fake? Good grief.

Julia said...

"Implanting" embryos drives me batty.
"your own" kid to an adoptive parent makes me want to kick the speaker in the groin.
Making like dead babies don't count, as you can imagine is one of them red buttons for me too.
Pissing on immigrants who don't speak English in their homes is also a favorite.
I am sure there's a lot more. I just seem unable to summon them due to the late-night head haze I have been fighting in order to compose this here comment. The post is so compelling, I just couldn't leave it till morning. G'night, then.

Aurelia said...

Well every word of your post as well as your above commentators, plus---incompetent cervix.

Like our cervix's could've studied harder for the exam and passed, but they didn't, so they and by extension, we, are incompetent.

A word I'd like to see replace habitual aborter by the way, is recurrent pregnancy loss, (RPL), and for missed abortion, missed pregnancy loss (MPL). Covers it medically, gives the Docs the damn acronym, but shows some respect for me.

"Miracle" or "Blessing" or other religious terms when used to refer to a pregnancy or baby after a loss/infertility is another. God doesn't love some people or some pregnancies and hate others. He gave humans free will and we've fucked it up collectively. So assuming my current pregnancy is a blessing, implies that my previous babies were hated by God and didn't deserve to live. Except that I know that every time a baby dies, God weeps.

Blaming God also lets the medical profession off the hook.

Lastly, I wish that the art world would see that our words are Art, and our blogs and pictures are Art, and we've been doing it since long before she hit art school.

And frankly we've been doing it better than she ever could. Why is it that the true stories of women who have actually lived something are considered a lesser representation by the art world than her imitation?

Is it because we are women? Because we are the shunned of the world--the bereaved mothers who count for nothing? We know that we are not "professional" artists, but sometimes, along the way, we do make art.

And instead of paying attention to pretenders like her, maybe the world could pay attention to us.

loribeth said...

I never know how to refer to myself. Am I childLESS? That sounds so forlorn, so less-than, so lacking. Which I am, in some respects, but I'm trying to look positively at all the things I have in my life & not dwell incessantly (except perhaps in my blog, lol) on what I do not have.

Am I childFREE? That's how many people refer to it, in an attempt, I suppose, to put a positive spin on the situation. But that implies that I am happy to be "free" of children, as though they are a burden. Some people do feel this way & are happy to call themselves childfree, but that's not me either.

Julia's post about the 20-week mark really struck a chord with me. The timing shouldn't matter, but it does because it determines the kind of treatment you will get & options offered to you. And it bothers me when people toss around the term "miscarriage" to mean any kind of pregnancy loss. When most people say the word "miscarriage," the image it conjures up is some period-like cramping & bleeding and a small blob of tissue, not a "baby" -- it's a minimizing kind of term that downplays what we go through when we lose a pregnancy, at any stage.

**susy** said...

ITA w/ aurelia and the whole "blessing/miracle" terms when it comes to pg after IF/loss. It's exactly what she said, were the previous pgs not 'blessed'? Are "you" blessed b/c your pg, and I'm not blessed b/c I'm not? I do understand where ppl wld say / feel this, but sometimes it just hits me wrong.

A personal one that makes me wanna punch ppl in the mouth is, "you'll see, when you're pg..." or "you'll see when you have kids...". I understand these ppl are trying to share and try to include me somehow, but, it sounds to me like, "you're ignorant to all motherhood, pg issues until you've been there. YOU just don't know, and I do." That's what I hear when they say "you'll see..."

And I totally cringed too at the "real" parent comment. some ppl...

Rachel said...

I hated seeing spontaneous abortion on my medical chart.

1st child, as in, "Is this your 1st child?" How much detail do you go in if you lost the first child you carried?

"Real baby", as in the baby I miscarried wasn't a real baby.

"Real mom", I was raised by my step-mom and have no real relationship with my biological mom, she is definitely not my real mom.

When people use these terms, I try not to get too bothered by them, but catch me when I'm emotional and it is difficult.

G said...

I can't scrub "incomplete abortion" out of my head from my third d&c from retained product after the stillbirth of my son. It seemed so unjust that my chart should read that. In fact, my husband and I took the time to explain to the admitting nurse our situation, not that she really cared.

I hate knowing that my chart reads that, after all I went through, it just doesn't seem right.

**susy** said...

I'm back b/c I remembered another that absolutely drives me crazy.

When Dr's or academic professors or legitamate news sources quote that women have a 28 day cycle and ovulate on the 14th day after your period starts.

W.T.F??? Dr's and teachers who are suppose to be the ones we learn from (to some degree) completely getting it wrong. I reamed the other day for quoting a Dr on that. It's not so black and white.

Natalie said...

A couple of people in the extended family have very innocently referred to my loss as a miscarriage and that REALLY made me flinch. They honesty didn't know the term was stillbirth, they'd never heard of it. But to have Devin referred to as a miscarriage is just SO wrong to my ears. He was a full term baby!

I am also extremely insistent that people understand that Devin is my firstborn. It's just a word, but it holds SO much meaning behind it.

Articles using "implant" rather than "transfer" in regards to IVF just makes me roll my eyes. Irritating, but I expect no better.

I agree with you, btw.... her collecting blood from periods just is not nearly as button-pushing as "miscarriages."

Bea said...

Even "mum" or "parent" can be tricky. Do you have to have a born, living child?


Vacant Uterus said...

You already know some of the words that push my buttons but I wanted to pop my head up to say YES! to every single comment here. All of these words hurt me too; if not because of my own specific experiences then because I carry the hurt of this community with me. We have to stick together and carry each other.

Aaron said...

I hate the word "chemical" pregnancy. As if something that could have potentially been your child should be referred to as a chemical!

Malky, posting on Aaron's laptop.