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Motherhood Lost

A devastating personal experience drove Linda Layne to devote two decades to studying issues surrounding pregnancy loss. Today she is a leading national advocate for reform.

By Amber Cleveland

A woman wakes up with a start in the middle of the night. In pain and unfamiliar with her surroundings, she stumbles in the dark to the bathroom. Sitting alone on the cold floor, she tries to recall the advice a nurse had given her a few days before about how to know if she were bleeding to death. Lacking medical assistance and adequate information about what is happening to her body, she is frightened and alone.

That was Linda Layne’s experience during her seventh and final miscarriage. The devastating loss occurred while she was staying the night at a stranger’s home in Oregon where she was conducting field research.

At that time Layne, the Alma and H. Erwin Hale ’30 Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences, had been dealing with pregnancy loss for 10 years and had received various medical treatments after suffering miscarriages in the emergency room, her doctor’s office, an abortion clinic, and her own home. Although each loss differed in the level of care she received, every experience shared the common thread of confusion.

“I was physically or emotionally unprepared for each of my losses, which made the already distressing experiences overwhelming,” says Layne. “Our society makes sure that pregnant women know what to expect during labor and what their options are if difficulties arise — such advances have not occurred regarding pregnancy loss. We keep women in the dark about the possibility of miscarriage. Then, when a loss is imminent, caregivers begin to discuss a woman’s options with her. A crisis is not the right time to give people information.”

Nearly 1 million women suffer miscarriages annually in the United States alone. For the last 20 years Layne has been fighting for the rights of each of them.

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