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After suffering the first of seven heart-breaking miscarriages in 1986, anthropology professor Linda Layne vowed to bring the subject of pregnancy loss to light. Now, nearly two decades later, Layne presents her findings in a new book titled Motherhood Lost: A Feminist Account of Pregnancy Loss in America (Routledge, 2003). In it, she challenges society, and womens movements in particular, to publicly discuss the topic and offer more helpful support to would-be parents.
About 15 to 20 percent of pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriage or stillbirth each year, according to the comprehensive research guide Williams Obstetrics. In Motherhood Lost, Layne explains that the losses are seldom acknowledged or rarely discussed.
Grief for a dead loved one may be both inevitable and necessary, but the additional hurt that bereaved parents feel when their losses are dismissed and diminished by others is needless and cruel, she says. It is high time we recognize pregnancy loss and offer our support.
The reasons for societys silence are complex. Layne says she found that middle-class American women who suffered pregnancy losses in the late 20th century dealt with two contradicting forces. Factors like new reproductive technologies, smaller family sizes, and abortion politics, for example, changed the experience of pregnancy, and led many to think of their fetuses as babies much earlier than previously had been the case. But, at the same time, she says, parents who lost babies found themselves without adequate social support since deep-seated cultural taboos prevented friends and family from talking about the loss.
Layne recommends that feminists promote open discussion of pregnancy loss and that doctors educate patients better about possible pregnancy difficulties. She also urges science reporters to offer more measured perspectives about the state of reproductive medicine.
Over the years I have analyzed the cultural resources that women and their networks draw upon to make sense of their losses, Layne says. I have written this book in the hope of adding some lesser-known resources to the available repertoire.
|Rensselaer Magazine: June 2003|
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