In 1985, I suffered a miscarriage. My dearly-longed for baby died within me, and my body refused to miscarry the dead fetus.
The technical term for a miscarriage is a spontaneous abortion. A missed abortion is the situation in which the embryo or fetus dies, but the body does not miscarry. The pregnancy appears to continue.
I know this because, in 1985, I suffered a missed abortion. My dearly-longed for baby died within me, and my body refused to discharge the dead fetus. I carried my child dead, knowing it to be dead, for a further three weeks. My obstetrician insisted it would be healthier if I miscarried naturally. Finally, that not having happened, he intervened with a D&C.
I was at last free to mourn the child who would never be. And my world went to grey and sepia.
Years later, I had cause to remember those dreadful days of dragging myself into the office every day, carrying my dead child—the anguish; the unutterable grief. It all came rushing back to me one afternoon when a coworker who had also suffered a miscarriage asked to see her personnel file.
A difficult supervisor was making her life miserable, and she decided to take matters in hand by visiting Human Resources and viewing her personnel file. She wanted to know exactly what the supervisor had written about her. Permitted to examine her records in the presence of an HR employee, she sat down to page through the folder.
In those pre-HIPAA days, doctors could write almost anything in a work excuse note; there was no privacy concerning one’s personal medical information. And so, as she sorted through the pages of information and misinformation, she came across the “Please Excuse From Work” note provided following her miscarriage. Her ob/gyn had written, “Absence due to recovery from a D&C performed following spontaneous abortion”.
But across the word “abortion”, someone had written in bold, black ink, “MURDER”.
She sat there, shocked to her depth and core, holding that bit of paper in a shaking hand, staring at the libelous judgment scrawled across the note.
Still shaking, she turned to the waiting HR employee. Shoving the note under her nose, she demanded to know what the hell was going on. Why was this…this filthy lie…written on her medical excuse?
“Oh,” Ms. HR said casually, “we thought we’d caught all those.” Without another word, she took a bottle of cover-up, casually dabbed it across the appellation, and handed it back.
Disbelieving; too shaken to dispute and not knowing quite what else to do, my coworker slipped the note back into the file, closed the folder, and left.
Later, as she tearfully described the situation, another staff member clued us in. Heaven knows where she’d gotten her information, but in this instance the gossip mill seemed trustworthy, for she claimed that an HR employee had been discovered writing the word “Murder” across medical notes and insurance claims for all female employees who had either actually had an abortion, or suffered miscarriages. The employee, apparently ignorant of either the term spontaneous or missed abortion, had assumed the meaning to be the elective procedure. She made her damning judgement, scrawling reprehensible accusations over the reality of the agonizing truth.
Human Resources staff had been forced to dig through mounds of files, finding and correcting all those in which she’d written her libelous remarks.
Obviously, I thought in fury, they hadn’t corrected all of them! For a moment I considered demanding to see my own personnel file, certain that it, too, would either be libeled, or (just as damning) covered in white-out. But recalling the weeks of my colorless world, the hours of grief and mourning for my unrealized child, I could not bring myself to do it. I could not look at that word written across the source of my pain.
Thirty-some years later, I still shake with anger as I recall this event.
But the reason I am writing all of this is because, not long ago, I read a news story about a young woman enduring the agony of a non-viable pregnancy–an agony that I so well understood. The woman had been denied a medication prescribed by her doctor, one that would cause her body to begin naturally miscarrying the dead fetus. A pharmacist had refused to fill the prescription. Shaming and judging her, he claimed that she was trying to abort a living child, and denied her the medication. To obtain the prescription that would end her pregnancy with a dead child and circumvent a surgical procedure, she was forced to drive for hours from that rural pharmacy to another town.
For just a moment, time reversed its flight, and I stood with that young woman in her grief, her anguish and misery, and, most of all, her innocence in the face of the most terrible of all accusations by someone self-righteous and wrathful.
I experienced every minute of her suffering as if it were my own. And, just as I had once consigned that smug, sanctimonious, faceless HR employee to the uttermost depths of hades, I now wished the same fate upon this unknown, censorious pharmacist.
I know that we are to judge not. And I do not even believe in hell. Yet sometimes, remembering, I find myself hoping that they both, the self-righteous HR employee and the contemptuous pharmacist, will find there is a special corner of a Very Hot Place reserved just for them.