The first time I rode in a limo was to bury my baby sister.
I was five-years-old, and unaware of exactly how close I was to my whole world crashing down around me. Weeks prior, my mother had gone into labor and was rushed to the hospital early one August morning and had an emergency C-section.
That day, I remember being both worried and excited to meet my baby sister. Would my parents forget all about me? Would she be my best friend? Would I still be my dad’s favorite?
Hours after my father loaded my mom into our Buick and took off down the freeway, she gave birth to Charise, a little honey-colored girl that everyone swore was my twin.
Two weeks later, however, my sister was dead, nearly taking my mother with her.
According to the New York Times, Black infants are “more than twice as likely to die as white infants — 11.3 per 1,000 Black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies.” Even more startling is this gap is wider now than it was in 1850 when most Black women in America weren’t even considered human beings.
These days, Black women are not only three to four times more likely to die during and after child birth, but we also experience pregnancy loss, including miscarriages, at higher rates than our white counterparts.
My mother was no exception.
Before my younger brother was born — six years after the death of my baby sister — my mother suffered multiple miscarriages. Each time she’d get her hopes up about having another baby, only to have her dreams dashed weeks, or even months later. While her faith in God helped her stay optimistic about welcoming another child, many women have a difficult time coping with the feelings of loss, disappointment, anger, and guilt associated with experiencing a miscarriage.
In her best-selling memoir, Becoming, Michelle Obama described having a miscarriage as a “lonely, painful, and demoralizing” experience. Though it is not rare — around 1 in 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage — Mrs. Obama rightly explained, “When you have one, you will likely mistake it for a personal failure, which it is not.”
Though it can feel “utterly devastating,” as the former First Lady explained, “Miscarriage happens all the time, to more women than you’d ever guess, given the relative silence around it.”
And yet, many women continue to suffer in silence, while seemingly benign questions about when they’re going to have a baby or what caused their miscarriage tears at their soul.
While Many women choose to act like the whole thing never happened, or downplay the emotional toll of losing an unborn child, Angela Ford Johnson, a Philadelphia-based life coach and psychotherapist, says it’s important to acknowledge what happened and deal with the feelings surrounding it.
“Initially people will talk about the five stages of grief, going through the denial and anger and ultimately ending up at acceptance, but it’s different for Black women,” Ford Johnson tells ESSENCE.
“I can’t tell you how many clients that I’ve had that have experienced a miscarriage and it comes up almost like an afterthought. We’re just so used to not acknowledging some of the traumas that we go through,” she says.
Unfortunately, not taking the time to acknowledge the challenging things we’ve experienced in life doesn’t help either.
“If you don’t process it it doesn’t go away,” explains Ford Johnson. “There are many things that we never fully get over but they resurface in other ways. You might ask yourself why am I carrying this anxiety or why do I have these thoughts of depression. Sometimes it might be completely clinical, but other times it’s just buried trauma.”
She adds, “When you bury things they come up again, we’re not sure when they come up or how, but they always resurface when you don’t face them.”
Instead of ignoring that it happened or waiting for time to dampen the pain and devastation of a miscarriage, Ford Johnson suggests engaging in a few healthy ways to cope. While she suggests speaking with a counselor or therapist, Ford Johnson understand many Black women don’t feel comfortable seeking professional help. In this case, she says women should allow themselves to actually feel the uncomfortable feelings; seek comfort from a trusted friend or family member; and find a way to honor the child they lost.
“I know people always say time heals everything,” Ford Johnson says, “but not really, especially if you’re not taking any sort of actions.”
Ford Johnson also suggests women develop a plan to avoid triggering conversations, when possible, like opting out of discussions about babies and family planning at holiday gatherings. “Give yourself permission to skip family functions,” she says. “You’re not obligated to go.”
Most of all, Ford Johnson says women should remember that “whatever you feel is valid.”
“Allow yourself to feel the disappointment, but also know that even though this is a desire of your heart, it’s not who you are,” she advises.
“It’s just a part of your journey that you’d like to experience,” she continues. “Yes this happened, but it doesn’t mean you won’t have another opportunity. And if you don’t have another opportunity, it doesn’t define you as a woman if [having a baby] doesn’t happen.”